Vienna is the perfect destination for New Year revellers on a budget, with free entertainment into the early hours and plenty of champagne or mulled wine to toast a stranger with
Instead of ‘Happy New Year’, the Viennese will wish you ‘Guten Rutsch’. It is debated whether this means ‘a happy sliding’ or not, but either way it perfectly reflects Vienna’s New Year celebrations; starting slowly, gathering speed, until you crash into the New Year with wild abandon. Ever a sophisticated city, the slide is grown-up and well-mannered, with fur coats, mulled wine and endless replays of the 'Blue Danube' waltz - but a slide it is, nevertheless, which might explain the need for all the lucky pigs.
They are everywhere: ceramic, plastic, glass, cheap and tacky, expensive and elaborate, pigs are sold on every street-corner. Pigs mean good luck in Austria and are given to friends and family to accompany them on the hazardous slide into the New Year, so it was only fitting that we should begin our celebrations by seeking out our own pig.
In Vienna’s patisseries, the pigs are of the expensive, elaborate and edible kind. The Viennese have always embraced the challenge of shaping marzipan and truffles into intricate forms, so the pigs are naturally also given the artistic treatment. The chocolate counter at Julius Meinl, the Harrods of Vienna, held nougat snouts, marzipan pig ears and champagne truffles à la rosy-cheeked pig in profile. We took our pigs out on the streets, and found the so-called Silvesterpfad in full flow.
Vienna is a great place to be for New Year for both young and old, and especially so for budget travellers. ‘The New Year’s path’ begins every year at 2pm, is free and continues well into the early hours. It consists of a number of stages dotted around the inner city, each with a programme of entertainment from all corners of the world. Schubert, pan flutes or ‘Whisky in the Jar’, every taste is catered for. More a web than a straight path, the streets are lined with stands where you can buy mulled wine, sekt or champagne to warm you up. All night, people are following the path, breaking into spontaneous jigs or waltzes as the music dictates.
The streets were therefore packed, and increasingly so, as the slide began to take shape, despite temperatures approaching -10°C. Meanwhile, queues were forming outside Café Sacher, of the famous Sachertorte, and other cafés, where Einspanner coffee is served with a glass of water on silver trays, perhaps accompanied by one of Austria’s deliciously rich cakes. We took our sweet cravings to the panoramic Sky Bar on Kärtnerstraβe, where we took a break from the crowds and the cold whilst admiring the view over Vienna’s landmarks.
The most famous part of Viennese New Year, however, is surely the New Year’s Concert, televised in over 50 countries. People have been waltzing off the hangover to the tune of the Strauss family’s lively music for decades. At the Musikverein, immaculately dressed Japanese women wandered around in sumptuous kimonos for the first of the two concerts, while Austrian ladies wore expensive fur coats and gala dresses, with white tie for their partners. With tickets at €280 each (more when bought through ticket touts), we decided to opt for the televised version on New Year’s Day and went for wiener schnitzel at the excellent but affordable Café Einstein instead.
The streets were alive with people, firecrackers and music when we emerged. The various stages now had swelling crowds with mulled wine or champagne in hand, others milling to and fro on the Silvesterpfad. A multitude of fur coats were on display; PETA cannot have many members in Austria. Whilst half of Vienna was threading the Silvesterpfad, however, the other half was overlooking them from viewpoints on the city’s surrounding hills, and so we joined the exodus headed for Döbling, the 19th district.
Döbling is called Vienna’s wine district, partly because of its many vineyards, but also because it houses many of the city’s best heuriger, traditional Viennese wine taverns, which are only licensed to sell home-made wines during limited opening periods. Most are closed over the festive period, but Döbling is also the home of Leopoldsberg, Vienna’s most famous viewpoint, and this was our target.
Guided by fireworks and the noise of firecrackers, we reached a ledge packed with people letting off rockets with reckless fervour. Some sent the earth spraying in the vineyard below, covering us in sparks, others filling the night sky in fountains of suns and stars or brightly-coloured tutti-frutti bouquets. Explosions were everywhere. It was bitterly cold, the air was heavy with smoke and the intense bombardment was loud in our ears.
When the car radios played the 'Blue Danube' waltz, something of an unofficial national anthem, I found myself a dance partner and twirled around in the narrow space between two parked cars. Far below, Vienna’s lights spread out through the haze, jubilant fireworks mushrooming up from the broad plain.
The countdown sounded and we toasted our neighbours with sweet Austrian sekt. We left the old year behind and embraced the new with cheers, congratulations and a further exchange of pigs, whilst the most elegant of cities beckoned to us from below; to call it a night with a final waltz, or to rejoin the festivities on the Silvesterpfad? Guten Rutsch indeed.
Where to stay:
• On a budget: www.pensionkraml.at
A clean and spacious, family-owned pension with modern décor, four stops from the city centre. Double rooms start at around €60.
• Mid-range: www.vho.at/aviano/index.en.html
Superb location in the old town. Double rooms from around €130.
• Blow the budget:
Steeped in tradition and history, Hotel Sacher is only a few steps away from the Musikverein and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Double rooms start at around €350, with early booking discounts.
Food and Drink:
• Sky Bar:
Tel: 0043 1 513 17 12
• Café Sacher:
Tel: 0043 (0) 1 51 456 0
(Advance bookings highly recommended)
• Café Einstein:
Tel: 0043 1 405 26 26
• New Year’s Concert:
0043 1 505 65 25
NB! Tickets are allocated by draw, which is open only during January. Plan ahead!
It’s more fun to explore on the night, but a programme is available in advance. Check www.wien.info/