From mid-November until Christmas Day the city of Vienna transforms into an opulent winter playground, full to the brim with lashings of seasonal spirit, endless cups of warm Glühwein and gingery wafts of Lebkuchen. Set against the backdrop of the architectural grandeur of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, its Christkindlmarkts are as picturesque as a tasteful advent calendar.
Unlike in other European cities, Vienna’s historic craftsmen have managed to survive. Although big-brand retailers have muscled into the Stephansplatz and Kärntner Strasse, it hasn’t stopped the likes of the 200-year-old confectioner from carrying on their businesses. The city side streets are ripe for retail discovery.
From your Wener frühstück in the morning to a night-cap at Loosbar and all your shopping in between, Vienna is the ideal festive destination. monocle takes you on a 48-hour jaunt for those unique Christmas gifts that you won’t find on any other high street in the world.
48 hours in Vienna
Driver: Austrian Chauffeur Limousines has a handsome fleet of cars.
Where to stay: Hotel Bristol offers a peek into Vienna’s imperial past.
Breakfast: Café Prückel has plenty of newspapers and 1950s décor.
Lunch: Brötchen at Trzesniewski.
Dinner: Skopik & Lohn has a Viennese menu with a French twist.
Shopping: Explore the Christkindlmarkt between the city hall and Burgtheater.
Fashion and art
Launched in 2007, Wubet is the stunning scarf brand founded by Austrian-born Arnold Haas (left). After a five-year stint living in Ethiopia, former fashion stylist Haas decided to start a textile collection inspired by traditional Ethiopian designs. With two collections a year, each unisex scarf is woven on a traditional antique loom and is displayed in the Wubet store like an artwork. Doubling as a gallery, the shop also showcases the works of artists that have caught Haas’s discerning eye. The Wubet collection is currently turning to Chile for its expansion to knitwear with winter woollies made from the the softest alpaca.
- Altmann & Kühne
Step into the whimsical world of Altmann & Kühne where people queue up for tiny chocolate bonbons that are handmade and preservative-free. Each batch of chocolate takes up to half an hour to make and is packed in a series of colourful boxes designed by the Wiener Werkstätte art school. The shop interiors designed by famous Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann have been preserved in their original state. It’s a fitting showcase for a beautiful array of colourful chocolates including their signature grillage: a chocolate cube made with almonds that also happens to be their most expensive confection.
- Saint Charles Apotheke
Founded by Viennese Alexander Ehrmann, this atmospheric herbal pharmacy sells chemical-free medicines and remedies alongside cosmetic and body products. Its range is largely made up of herbs and plant extracts from the Austrian mountains, handsomely packaged and displayed on the store’s rustic wooden shelves. Saint Charles is situated on the site of a former apothecary founded in 1886 and Ehrmann has preserved its original interiors as much as possible. Pop into Cosmothecary opposite for make-up and finish at pharmacy restaurant Alimentary, where offerings are based on the principles of slow food.
4.Zur Schwäbischen Jungfrau
This shop is the elder statesman of Viennese retail. Its 300-year history is as illustrious as its clientele, which has included Archduchess Maria Theresa, Empress Sissi and most recently the king of Malaysia, who ordered a table set and bed linen for his palace. In 1959, the business was taken over by Hanni Vanicek (below), who started at the store as an apprentice. Spot her bustling around one of the store’s three cosy floors stocked with hand-crafted home furnishings including napkins, bathrobes, bedsheets, cushions, cashmere blankets and lace tablecloths.
A graduate of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, ceramicist Sandra Haischberger (right) is modernising porcelain with her minimalist designs. Her understated tabletop collections come in an array of soft pastel colours and include fetching grooved mugs and teapots. The Feinedinge shop is attached to the atelier so you can pop your head round to see Haischberger at work.
- Loden Plankl
Up and running since 1830, this family-run store specialises in traditional Austrian clothing. It’s the sartorial ambassador for all things well made and Austrian, including a vast array of coats made from the country’s most famous textile export, loden: that thick, heavy and waterproof wool. Whether you’re looking to dress up like a von Trapp or simply want an impeccably tailored goat-suede jacket, Loden Plankl has something for everyone. Rifle through the shelves of the wooded chalet-style store and discover a variety of modish clothes, slippers, knitwear and an extensive selection of beautifully hand-embroidered kidswear.
- Camille Boyer
“The idea behind the shop is not just to sell stuff but also to make people aware of Austrian and other emerging designers,” says half-French, half-Argentinian Camille Boyer (see above), who moved to Vienna five years ago after working in fashion in Paris and then Shanghai. Stocking native brands such as Rosa Mosa, Andy Wolf, Rose Beck, Pia Mia and Meshit, Boyer is championing the fashion of her host country among other European gems in this cosy little womenswear store. It’s nestled in the avant-garde Seventh District of Vienna and you can pop in for a full wardrobe makeover including accessories and spectacles.
Owner, Camille Boyer
“Coming from Paris, Vienna is still a small scene in terms of fashion. Although its not yet developed, things are really happening in the Seventh District with an increasing number of independent fashion brands. Austrian fashion is a lot more innovative than French.”
- J&L Lobmeyr
More glass museum than crystal shop, J&L Lobmeyr is a lavish and ornate treasure trove of chandeliers, mirrors and glassware in the centre of the main shopping thoroughfare, Kärntnerstrasse. Dating back nearly 200 years, the store is peppered with Hungarian Herend porcelain, Biedermeier pieces and drinking sets by Adolf Loos, as well as more modern pieces by designers such as Claesson Koivisto Rune and Polka. Headed by three sixth-generation cousins, the firm has a client list that has included the Austrian Imperial Court. Each item is handmade by one of 25 craftsmen using ancient and increasingly rare techniques.
Managing director, Jarosinski & Vaugoin
“Vienna is Europe’s best-kept shopping secret and one of my favourite shops is Materna. It’s a family-owned shoe business and they have customers from all over the world flying in for just one pair of shoes that are completely bespoke.”
- Jarosinski & Vaugoin
Silver manufacturers since 1847, Jarosinski & Vaugoin once provided silverware for Austrian embassies around the world. A close collaboration with the designers and artists of the Wiener Werkstätte workshop under Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann points to the reason behind the shop’s renown. The store makes everything from paper knives, pens, cufflinks and baby rattles to traditional dinnerware, as well as more obscure items such as grape scissors and asparagus servers. Items are crafted in the backroom atelier on machines that were used 150 years ago.
Fashion and art
Founded by Korean Myung il Song, this fashion store also has a gallery called Song Song. It’s a shopping experience that includes the pretentious affectation of having to ring a doorbell but it’s worth looking past the gimmick. With collections from Céline, Delvaux, Paul Harnden and Dries van Noten amidst a selection of Piet Hein Eek furniture, expect to walk out a little less well off than you walked in.
- Nina Peter
Founder Nina Peter’s family have a history of glove-making dating back 160 years but she decided to relaunch the business with creative director Gregor Pirouzi. The result is a collection of classic designs mixed with bold high-fashion gloves sporting detailed embellishments. All are made with the highest quality leathers, from python to calfskin.
This over-the-top tearoom is a step back into a baroque age. When walking along the pedestrianised Kohlmarkt, wafts of fresh pastry and chocolate draw you straight into Demel. Dating back to 1786, the imperial confectioner’s name is synonymous with beautifully packaged quality confectionery, cakes and chocolate. Order a melange and apfelstrudel from one of the stern-looking waitresses and watch your order being made by an army of patissiers. The shop is stacked high with the famous oval-shaped chocolates called langues de chat (cats’ tongues), an essential addition to your suitcase – and stomach.
Influenced by Japanese minimalists such as Yohji Yamamoto, the avant-garde pieces of designer Karin Oèbster (below) are largely black and white, though accessories made from horn and ebony retain their natural hue. Oèbster refuses to sell outside of Vienna and only makes three pieces of each style, so you won’t risk bumping into someone wearing the same thing at a party.
Exquisite hatters are a dying breed and that’s what makes Mühlbauer so special. The company began trading in 1903 and their hats are still made by hand and take up to six hours to make. Thanks to fourth-generation brother and sister Klaus and Marlies Mühlbauer, the hat designs have moved with the times and kept the heads of fashionable folk warm since the two of them took over at the beginning of this century. With everything from hunting-inspired hackensacks to alpaca beanies, merino-wool flat caps and rabbit-fur headwarmers, there’s a hat for everyone in every size.
“Aside from a couple of the big chain stores that have managed to get in, a large number of old independent stores in Vienna have managed to survive. There’s a special law that protects old shops from having to pay high rents once the company changes hands to the next generation.”
A year ago half-Swedish, half-Austrian Sandra Nalepka opened Designqvist, a homely store that specialises in kitchenware from the 1950s and ’60s. Pick up handsome pots, pans, vases, and tableware with a Scandinavian slant from lesser-known designers such as Swedish Göte Augustsson. Nalepka will tell you about the history and origin of each item with an infectious enthusiasm.
Previously called At First Sight, this womenswear store has a personal approach to service. Friendly half-Japanese, half-Austrian founder Vivien Sakura Brandl (see below) can often be found behind the till in her signature black specs and is passionate about her clothes and accessory picks. “I try to find small young brands that are produced in Europe with quirky cuts,” she says. It’s a successful approach and the cosy shop located in the up-and-coming Seventh District is a treasure trove of over 30 brands with a line-up of lesser-known designers, including silk dresses from Austrian Claudia Brandmair and knitted gloves from best-selling Mija T Rosa.
Vivien Sakura Brandl
“I love the Seventh District. In the last five years something has really started to happen in this area. Young independent shops are increasing and the rents are also going up. It’s a really interesting place to watch.”
- Julius Meinl
There isn’t a single Austrian who won’t be familiar with the famous Moor logo of Julius Meinl. The history of this gourmet emporium dates back to 1862 when founder Julius Meinl started to sell pre-roasted coffee. The flagship Graben store is its most famous and stocks over 16,000 delicacies from all over the world. Despite its vast inventory, the store painstakingly sources small specialist producers and rare delicacies. Stock up on poppy-seed cake from the Waldviertel region or venison sausage from Arlberg and your purchase will be packed up for you and, if you so wish, delivered to your door.
Founded by husband-and-wife team Erich and Ingrid Hartmann over 30 years ago, this store specialises in custom-made buffalo and ox horn-rimmed spectacles. Each pair takes up to eight hours to make and is meticulously hand-crafted in an atelier on the outskirts of Vienna. Step into the cosy wooden shop with the original interior of a century-old comb manufacturer and get measured up. Expect a three to four-week wait for delivery, although impatient types can get measured for a prêt-a-porter style or pick up a pair of sunglasses or horn accessories, including combs and jewellery.
- Rudolf Scheer & Söhne
Ask any Viennese resident to nominate one shop in their city that they think is really special and they’ll point you to Rudolf Scheer & Söhne. The bespoke shoemaker made shoes for the Habsburg monarchy and the store is a step back in time. Steeped in the rich history of a family firm that dates back to 1816, Söhne’s stately wooden atelier-cum-shop is now run by seventh-generation Markus Scheer (see left). Hand-crafted by a team of 15 shoemakers in the store’s first-floor atelier, each pair is an investment that comes with a lifetime guarantee. For those looking for a slightly more affordable piece of Scheer, pop into the firm’s two new adjoining showrooms that offer leather accessories, shoe-cleaning kits and homewares that include a reproduction of the original light that shoemakers (including Scheer) used two centuries ago to cobble well into the early hours of the morning.
Owner, Rudolf Scheer & Söhne
“Vienna is possibly the last city in the world with so many shops selling hand-crafted products compared with other cities where these things have all been nearly lost.”
- Huber & Lerner
Stock up on Christmas cards, an array of ribbons and wrapping paper, including handmade Indian paper. Founded in 1901, the firm specialises in bespoke stationery and counts high-profile diplomats among its clientele. If you want to buy a loved one some personalised letter paper the express service takes four days and the firm will ship overseas.
When former primary-school teacher Sonja Völker started designing and making clothes for her two children, little did she know how successfully her homespun talent would translate into a profitable business. Ten years since she first sat down at her sewing machine, Völker now has three Herzilein shops in Vienna selling both her own creations and a carefully chosen selection of other kiddie toys and clothes. Her extensive collection includes colourful kidswear that sports her signature bold, bright and cutesy prints. Her most popular items are the felt backpacks, towels and blankets that can be fully customised with decorative embroidery and a child’s name. Shopping at her newest shop on Wollzeile in the centre of the city is akin to stepping into an Enid Blyton book.
This specialist lighting shop was started by Wolfgang Karolinsky, who sought out the original makers of the Wiener Werkstätte lamps he owned. Discovering that most of the manufacturers had the original equipment he bought it all up and reproduced the lights himself under the Woka name. The store’s collection features everything from chandeliers to desk lamps.
Although Chronotek’s interior is nothing special it houses some spectacular watches. The collection is made up of antique, vintage and modern timepieces, including limited-edition Patek Philippe, Franck Muller and Rolex models. Founded by three watch-mad friends 20 years ago, the store’s inventory is sought after by collectors around the world.
- R Horn
Whatever the weather, Robert Horn (see left) – the cheery owner of this fine leather-accessories brand – can often be seen in one of his three shops in the city wearing a set of shorts, blazer and high socks. His shop stocks an array of handbags, purses, briefcases, purses and key-ring chains. Everything is hand-crafted from the finest calfskin and nubuck in an array of colours, including this season’s popular cobalt hue. All products have a signature double-folded stich: a laborious technique that ensures no open-cut edges are visible. As a finishing touch, products are lined with a green moiré silk or beige suede.
Owner, R Horn
“The great thing about Vienna is that its city centre is so compact. A lot of the shops that are really worth visiting are clustered in the central pedestrian area: the Innere Stadt. The city also benefits from its beautiful rural surrounds – a walk in the Wienerwald is a must.”
The idea for this vintage furniture and accessories store was conceived over a couple of glasses of pink sparkling wine shared by friends Alexander Bechstein (see right) and Peter Lindenberg. What started as a hobby has turned into a booming business and the duo’s sense of humour is translated into their choice stock, which includes a Vintagerie-branded sparkling rosé from Bründlmayer as a nod to how the shop came about. Other finds include chandeliers, Wiener Werkstätte pieces, rare Austrian flatware, an original Braun SK4 radiogram and vintage furniture that make for playful yet considered picks.
Although we usually think of Naples as the mecca of men’s tailoring, Vienna has been the unsung hero of bespoke sartorial style for centuries. Knize has suited Austrian, Swedish and Spanish royalty since the 19th century when Czech master tailor Josef Knize founded the firm. Its made-to-measure suits have a one-year waiting list so if you want a suit in time for Christmas, tread the maze of the Adolf Loos-designed store and pick up ready-to-wear items. For prêt a porter, the store also stocks brands such as Tod’s, Brioni, Lock & Co and Swaine Adeney Brigg, along with a womenswear section.
Park’s minimal two-storey concept store is a gallery of goodies stocked with an eclectic inventory that is hand-picked by founders Helmut Ruthner and Markus Strasser. A good mix of books, fashion and accessories from heavyweights such as Maison Martin Margiela and Raf Simons sit happily alongside lesser known Austrian designers such as Stephan Schneider. There are also one-off art and design pieces by Anneliese Schrenk. Thanks to Strasser’s previous stint as womenswear designer at Raf Simons, his collection for Park’s own-branded clothes is as covetable as their other stock.
- Café Prückel
Café Prückel is a hotspot for both the well-heeled and bohemian locals who populate its weathered banquettes from morning until night. Originally designed in the style of famous Austrian artist Hans Makart when it opened in 1904, its interior décor was later updated by architect Oswald Haerdtl, resulting in the 1950s-style setting that is so loved today. With large windows to people-watch, it’s the perfect breakfast spot. Get stuck into its broad selection of newspapers and order a traditional Viennese breakfast: Wiener Frühstück. A generous serving of Styrian fried-egg dish Eierspeise should do the trick for those nursing a hangover.
Café Sperl Sigmund Freud was a regular here. It’s one of Vienna’s oldest cafés and exerts its charms in the form of silver trays, marble tables and crystal chandeliers.
Pop in for a decadent bite of Austria’s most famous chocolate cake: the Sachertorte dates back to 1832 and includes a thin yet significant layer of apricot jam.
Opposite the Naschmarkt food market, this coffee house re-opened in 2007 after a stylish modern refurbishment by Conran & Partners.
Specialising in open-top sandwiches (brötchen), the 100-year-old (and nigh on unpronounceable) Trzesniewski is a city institution loved by locals and tourists alike. Manned by a small army of pink-and-white pinafored matrons, its long glass counters groan under the weight of picture-perfect rectangular sandwiches. Choose from 22 different types of mayonnaise-based spreads – including egg, mushroom, herring, liver, crab or tomato – then order a miniature stein of Pfiff beer. Don’t expect a table: seating is limited and most stand at the counter. The perfect spot for a light lunch before some weighty shopping.
Best for lunch
Enjoy traditional Viennese home cooking amidst simple decor in the First District.
+43 1513 5288
Zum Schwarzen Kameel
A beautiful art nouveau interior and the most authentic wiener schnitzel in town.
Equally good for a late-night drink as it is for midday sustenance, this is a hangout for artists and filmmakers in the Freihaus quarter with a great atmosphere and great food.
+43 1587 8297
- Skopik & Lohn
“If you were to imagine what a Viennese restaurant in New York would look like if it were opened by a Viennese immigrant, that is what I aimed for with Skopik & Lohn,” says Horst Scheuer, one of the two charismatic restaurant-founders. The duo have achieved all the buzz of a Big Apple restaurant thanks to a recipe of hearty food, vintage Thonet furniture, a good wine list and well-heeled clientele, all finished off with dramatic ceiling scrawls by Austrian artist Otto Zitko. From their French-Viennesse inspired menu, opt for the particularly good Wiener Schnitzel that comes with either a cucumber or warm potato salad.
Best for dinner
A Viennese menu in a restaurant housed in Vienna’s impressive Burgtheater. Expect traitional dishes with a modern twist.
Out of the way on the very edge of town but make the trip: this restaurant is in a 12th-century building that is one of the city’s most precious art-historical buildings.
Foodies can enjoy the fine dining creations of head chef Peter Zinter.
- Meinl wine bar
Oenophiles head to this wine mecca in the basement of Julius Meinl’s vast gourmet supermarket. It stocks over 2,000 wines, an impressive 500 of which are of Austrian origin and displayed throughout the bar; the chesse selection is impressive, too. Enjoy a glass of Bründlmayer’s Gruner Veltliner with a plate of beinschinken mit kren (ham with grated horseradish) to keep you going until dinner time.
This is a clichéd hotspot for good reason.
Le Loft Bar & Lounge
Found in the Sofitel hotel, this 18th-floor bar has 360-degree views of the city.
A Bar Shabu
Great music and absinthe.
+43 650 544 5939
- Austrian Chauffeur Limousines
Although you can get around Vienna on foot it’s just not practical to lug around heavy shopping. Austrian Chauffeur Limousines has been run by the Tiller family for over 50 years. Drivers speak knowledgeably about the city in several languages and get you around in their fleet of Mercedes S-Class cars.
- Hotel Bristol
Sat right next to the Vienna State Opera, Hotel Bristol is undergoing a restoration phase with new suites to open late next year. Its Jugendstil and art deco style will be preserved as part of the project that will also spruce up its public area and restaurant. Its current suites are so imperial that it is like stepping into an exquisite antique shop for a peek at the old nobility.
Hotel Palais Coburg
An opulent choice.
Brand new design hotel is convenient and comfortable.
This affordable hotel has its own on-site bakery.