Nightlife in Vienna: come and have a ball!

by diane.naar.elphee

Since the success of TV shows, like “Come Dancing” and “Dancing Stars”, across the world no-one can deny ballroom dancing is hip!

Vienna, with its rich ball tradition, has got to be the best place for donning fine gowns and practicing or perfecting waltz, polka or rumba steps.

Where to dance

The majority of Vienna's 300 Balls, held all over town in stunning palaces, grand hotels, concert and opera halls, take place between mid-December and Shrove Tuesday. Some are very elegant affairs, others less formal - one such is the Bonbon Ball (www.bonbonball.at), held at the Vienna's Konzerthaus.

If you decide to join in the fun you'll notice how many young people attend. Learning to waltz is very much a part of growing up in Vienna and once the proficiency level has been reached, the teenie dream is to be chosen to open the famous Opera Ball, where international celebrities, Austria's high society and high ranking politicians share the ballroom floor for a night (www.wiener-staatsoper.at. Tickets from 230 euros).

The humungous Hofburg Palace is a great location for dancing the night away, and summer balls are becoming popular nowadays. The zaniest is the Aid's charity Life Ball (the 19th Life Ball takes place on May 21st  2011; www.lifeball.org ), and for the first time, in summer 2010, an Imperial Fete was held in the Spanish Riding School (www.fete-imperiale.at/en).

For a list of other Viennese balls see: www.ballkalender.info.

The dress code

Attending an elegant ball usually involves a certain dress code: for ladies long gowns and for men tuxedo with tails or uniform; only debutantes where white, by the way. Entry tickets cost between 30 and 300 euros.  If you don't have the right dress for the occasion, then for around 130 euros appropriate attire can be hired, visit www.kleiderverleih.at.

Perfect the moves

And if you want to learn how to waltz or you feel the need to practice a few steps on the day, just head over to the centrally located Elmayer Dancing School. I used to think I had two left feet but, after just under one hour on the dance floor, I was whizzing round like a spinning top. A private lesson (50 minutes) costs 58 euros for couples (or individuals) and can be booked at short notice between 8am and 10pm providing they have space; visit www.elmayer.at/en.

Let the festivities begin

Every ball has an official opening ceremony, that usually lasts about an hour and where straight-backed young couples show their dancing skills, so only when you hear the words “alles waltzer” you'll know the ballroom floor is open for everyone.

Enjoy the night, "prost!" (the German word for "cheers").

More nightlife

Visit my overview on Vienna nightlife or read my other guides: Nightlife in Vienna: concerts and operas and Nightlife in Vienna: music for everyone.

Where to stay

For a full list of my recommendations on where to stay in Vienna, see Vienna Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Vienna.

diane.naar.elphee

As a local guide and Vienna expert I’ve spent many years sharing my passion for this city with visitors from all over the world.

I started writing about  Vienna a few years ago for Fodor’s. I now regularly update and write for travel guides including, among others, National Geographic/Spirallo, DuMont, Baedeker, Marco Polo and Polyglott.

Leaving  Yorkshire to come to Vienna decades ago was the start of 30 years of exciting global travel: I lived in Spain, spent months in Brazil, crossed South Africa, New Zealand, India and Japan. I’ve seen most of the USA, S.E Asia and China but today my trips keep me closer to home. I love Italy and Switzerland. And when I’m back in Vienna you’ll probably find me in one of the many art museums, comfortable coffee houses or concert halls - apropos music: sometimes it’s hard to choose which performance to go to there’s always so much on.

My Vienna

Where I always grab a coffee: Café Sperl at Gumpendorferstrasse 11. For an excellent café melange, meeting friends or perusal of various broadsheets, this is my home from home.

My favourite stroll: this might sound a little morbid but I love to stroll through cemeteries, especially Vienna's huge Zentralfriedhof. The commemorative graves of Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Salieri and Mozart – to name just a few – are to be found in the composers section and, with the help of a brand new multimedia guide, relatively easy to find.

Books for inspiration: Frederic Morton: A Nervous Splendour and Thunder at Twilight for a better understanding of – and an easy approach to – Austria's fascinating history. These two “gossipy” historic novels allow a clever insight into what led to the empire's ultimate collapse in 1918.

The most breathtaking view: St Stephan's tall and slender steeple, lovingly known as “Steffl” by the Viennese, towers high above the roofs of the city centre. The climb up 340 spiral steps, for a terrific view across the rooftops of central Vienna, may be a little strenuous, I know, but certainly worth the effort. Alternatively, the half hour walk uphill to the Gloriette terrace, in the park at Schönbrunn Palace, allows the best vantage point from which to enjoy the beautiful sprawling gardens.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: come in plenty – both indoors and out. A favourite of mine is in Belvedere gardens, where park benches stand between a maze of hedges that have been cut to shape by master craftsmen, offering a tranquil shady corner, particularly during warm summer days.

Shopaholics beware: style-conscious shoppers looking for funky fashion will find the latest trends on Neubaugasse and the adjacent Lindengasse – these side streets are an alternative to the, sometimes overcrowded, commercial Mariahilferstrasse. And as for gifts, gadgets and gimmicks, I always find something to buy at the design shop in the MAK (Museum of Applied Art) www.makdesignshop.at.

City on screen: Perhaps the best is The Third Man, a black and white film classic staged in allied-occupied Vienna following World War II – starring the great Orson Welles as Harry Lime. Before Sunrise, a romantic love story featuring lots of sights and sounds of the city, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

City soundtrack: Well do I have much of a choice? The Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss Jr. Clichés are sometimes unavoidable and some things just don't seem to change. However, for me it has to be 'Vienna waits for you' – from Billy Joel's breakthrough album The Stranger, simply my favourite!

Don’t leave without... tasting: Tafelspitz, Wiener Schnitzel, Sachertorte, Apfelstrudel and a delicious glass, or two, of Viennese white wine, try a Grüne Veltliner or Weiss Burgunder from one of the best Viennese vintners – www.wienwein.net.