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Fairytale Vienna, where the LGBTI community puts a fresh spin on tradition

Fairytale Vienna, where the LGBTI community puts a fresh spin on tradition

It may be one of its most famous sights, but Vienna is more than Schönbrunn Palace.

It’s been named the city with the world’s highest quality of life in a recent ranking and is famed for its fairytale atmosphere – but there’s more to Vienna than initially meets the eye.

The Austrian capital’s rich history is rife with gay figures, setting the scene for it’s modern status as the country’s epicenter of gay life.

Architecture in the city shows heavy influence from the Belle Epoque and Baroque periods.
Architecture in the city shows heavy influence from the Belle Epoque and Baroque periods.

And which better place to choose than a city of stunning beauty, bursting with palaces and well-kept parks as much as clubs and bars, known for residents who aren’t just fond of but perfected the coffeehouse culture.

Gay life in Vienna is all about the districts of Mariahilf (sixth district) and Margareten (fifth district) with the Wienzeile, the twin roads running either side of the River Wien, marking the districts’ border.

With its borders roughly marked by the U-Bahn stations Karlsplatz and Pilgramstrasse, the center of Vienna’s gay quarter appears in the form of the Naschmarkt – the name literally translates as snack or nibbles market (albeit more of the sweet kind), but it offers everything, from fruit to clothes and a fun flea market.

Trawling the Naschmarkt, you'll come across plenty of fresh produce – among other things.
Trawling the Naschmarkt, you’ll come across plenty of fresh produce – among other things.

From there, it’s just a 10-minute walk to Vienna’s prime address for LGBTIs: the Rosa-Lila-Villa, often just called the Villa, impossible to miss with its pink-and-purple façade.

It offers everything, from support and housing to plenty of opportunities to find a space in the city’s lively community and make new friends, be it through attending some of their casual meetings or heading to Café Willendorf on the ground floor.

Trying to find Vienna's prime address for LGBTIs? Simple – just look for the pink-and-purple mansion.
Trying to find Vienna’s prime address for LGBTIs? Simple – just look for the pink-and-purple mansion.

Speaking of cafés – the coffee house culture often associated with Vienna is still popular today, not just with tourists, and they’re as much part of the gay community as club nights and Vienna Pride.

Café Savoy may just be the gayest coffee house in not just the city but the country, and stepping over the threshold, into the café’s opulent, lavishly decorated bar is like being catapulted back in time.

Catering to (not just) a gay audience, it was also built by a student of local gay architects Eduard von der Nüll and August Sicard von Sicardsburg, who built the Vienna State Opera. The duo also were partners in business as much as in life.

Pausing for a Melange in Cafe Savoy's parlour feels like stepping back into times long forgotten.
Pausing for a Melange in Cafe Savoy’s parlour feels like stepping back into times long forgotten.

Vienna’s lesbian community, while considerably smaller than the gay scene, also enjoys its very own meeting place: the Frauencafé.

Now often better known as f*c, it’s run by the community for the community, with its arms wide open to welcome everyone but cis men and a door policy relying on self-identification.

Once dusk rolls around, the cozy streets transform into the community’s place to be, with bars and clubs transforming the city from tranquil tradition to buzzing with energy.

By day, Vienna can sometimes feel a little sleepy – but once night falls, it's thrumming with life.
By day, Vienna can sometimes feel a little sleepy – but once night falls, it’s thrumming with life.

Especially popular with young guys, Mango Bar is a favorite to kickstart a long night. Its limited space means plenty of opportunity to rub shoulders (or more…) with the locals, before heading to clubs like Why Not to dance the night away.

Slightly more upmarket bar Felixx is another popular destination, just like the gay nights held in some of Vienna’s biggest or most popular clubs – and most of them remain open well into the wee hours of the morning, too, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the nightlife to the fullest.

In case party culture isn’t your thing, or you’re looking for something nice and quiet to do to cure a hangover, remember you’re still in the middle of the city.

It may look tranquil, but in summer, the Donauinsel hosts Europe's biggest free open air festival.
It may look tranquil, but in summer, the Donauinsel hosts Europe’s biggest free open air festival.

Shopping is always an option; but Vienna’s museum quarter, always good for some exploring to expand your cultural horizon, also blends into the gayborhood, and for days spent basking in the sun doing nothing, the Danube river is just a few stops on the Subway or bus away.

In summer, the Donauinsel in the middle of the river plays host to a number of events, most famously the Donauinselfest – a free-of-charge, open-air festival, said to be Europe’s biggest open air as it attracts about three million people every year.

Alternatively, there’s always one of the city’s most beautiful gems, an attraction popular with everyone: Schönbrunn Palace, former residence of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, better known as Sissi.

Schönbrunn Palace is always worth a visit, be it for a concert or to just enjoy the gardens.
Schönbrunn Palace is always worth a visit, be it for a concert or to just enjoy the gardens.

Much like the rest of Vienna, it’s got a distinct fairytale feel to it, despite the masses of tourists – and the Palace Gardens, together with the whole estate, are something that’ll never fail to delight.

Excellent transport links, and the nightlife at your door, come with a rent premium, though – rents sit at at about €15.50 (£12.18, $17) per square meter in newly built homes, but some searching can land you a decent-sized, well-kept property for about €600 (£471.83, $657.69) a month.