How to Work (and Survive) in Vienna

Getting my creative work done while on the road will always be delightful and challenging at the same time: Every new place has its own advantages and disadvantages, and it always takes some time to find out about them.

Having spent five weeks in Vienna now, I can honestly say that this is a great place to work, live and travel. Here’s why – and some thoughts on how to tackle your creative work in this marvelous city!

An Ode to the Coffeehouse

Wanna get things done in an elegant atmosphere with as much inspiring input and as little distraction as possible? Be sure to give the traditional Viennese “kaffeehaus” a try! While you’ll have to learn to decipher lots of weird coffee specialty names (Here’s the best dictionary I could find online!), you can spend a great couple of hours there among like-minded people, brainstorming a project or outlining your next writings.

In some of these coffeehouses, the age-old literary culture still is alive, and you can almost feel the spirit of writers like Arthur Schnitzler and Karl Kraus when you’re sitting at one of the small tables next to a window, contemplating your words while observing the bypassers or the elegant (and often entertainingly arrogant) waiters in their dress coats.

There’s no music to distract you, only the other guests around you talking in their strange Viennese dialect. And while the prices aren’t really cheap in the more central areas, it’s absolutely okay to just order one coffee and spend hours hanging around, reading newspapers or writing in your agenda. This may feel weird especially for Americans who are used to get thrown out of a place after finishing their meals or drinks – but it’s actually part of the coffeehouse tradition!

Cheap Connectivity

As it turns out, calling a German phone number from my Austrian cellphone is cheaper than calling a German phone number from my German cellphone from within Germany!1

Apparently, there are few countries with such a competitive telecommunication landscape as Austria. Plans offering 1000 voice minutes, 1000 SMS and 1000 megabyte of data will cost as little as 9 euros a month.

For short-term visitors, SIM cards and 3G sticks are inexpensive, easy to get and don’t even require any kind of registration.

There are also free wi-fi spots available in Vienna, like in the courtyard of the Museumsquartier.

One Golden Rule: No 11 oz. Schnitzels Before Work

Viennese cuisine is both tasty and heavy. If you want to explore it, better don’t plan to get much stuff done afterwards! Eating the largest schnitzel in the world or one of the inexpensive and yummy pizza slices that are for sale everywhere will hopefully leave you satisfied, but probably also a little too full to really focus back on your work once you’re done.

Talking about work and delicacies: What is great to let the work day phase out with some light writing or brainstorming are spritzers: White wine with sparkling water can be found everywhere; from the most deteriorated snack bars to the finest restaurants. (And, of course, in the coffeehouses!)

Don’t Get Yourself Killed (by a Car)

Vienna is probably one of the safest cities on this planet. It’s so chilled and relaxed you almost wonder if it can be for real.2

The only major danger seems to be the city traffic. Honestly, Viennese drivers are hands down the worst I have ever seen. Neither in Bogotá or Bangkok, Rome or San Salvador did I see as many traffic accidents as here! Apparently, everybody wants to get everywhere fast, so be sure to not stand in the way.

To move around, public transport is a great option. Subways, buses and cable cars serve the whole city and operate regularly during the day. At night, certain routes will close and you might have to wait a bit longer for “nightline” connections. A monthly ticket costs about 50 euros.

Sundays for Real

In most parts of the Western world, shopping hours aren’t really restricted anymore. Even in Germany, supermarkets will now often be open until 10pm or midnight. Things are different in catholic Austria, though, where it can be hard to even find an open restaurant on a Sunday evening in some parts of the country. While you will find lots of options in the more touristy areas of Vienna, planning ahead and getting anything you need before Saturday afternoon could be helpful, so you don’t have to starve.

This experience of a “real” Sunday has another notion, of course: It reminds us that while workdays may be for work, it’s also important to have days off, dedicated to leisure and idleness. Being in Vienna to get work done can be great, but being here to simply lay back and relax a little will always be an integral part of sustainable creativity, as the wise artist Michael Nobbs calls it.

Inspiration is Everywhere

Rarely have I been in a city as inspiring as Vienna. Just watching the people can be amazing: The public here is an interesting mix of old-established Viennese couples, snotty youngsters, immigrants from the Balkan States, Japanese tourists, struggling artists, new-rich opera-goers and impoverished bohemians.

Apart from that, is there anything they don’t have around here?

  • Baroque castles and parks? Check.
  • Ongoing intellectual discourse in coffeehouses, universites and beyond? Check.
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites? Check.
  • Major international organizations, like the UN and OPEC? Check.
  • Immigrant culture? Check.
  • Stunningly beautiful architecture ranging from classicist to modern? Check.
  • Well-deserved fame for music, fine arts, and theatre? Check, check and check.
  • All in all, one of the highest-ranking cities for quality of life worldwide? Check!3

The Bottom Line: If you’re struggling with finding input for your creative work, taking a walk around Vienna will most likely provide you with the spark of inspiration you were waiting for!

  1. To be more precise, it costs about nine times less to make the call from Austria! I should probably inform a cartel authority or something about that! []
  2. Until someone grabs your purse at the Naschmarkt, maybe… Yes, pickpockets are everywhere, even here! []
  3. Okay, I will be totally honest with you: I miss Ocean access and a more tropical climate. Especially in late October. And even more especially as I’m sitting here with an unpleasant cold! But then, this is how life is, and our heating is doing wonders! []

Comments 25

  1. Pingback: Pieces of Vienna

  2. David November 16, 2011

    I live in Prague where, in the centre at least, there’s no such thing as a holiday.

    That’s what I like about Vienna and what I’ve seen of Germany. That there’s one day in the week where everyone can chill out and do something different.

    I’m sure some people like H+M, Zara and Marks + Spencer being available in Prague, but from 10-7pm on a Sunday? Or on a national holiday to commemorate something important to the nation? Surely there are better things to do with your friends and family.

    • Fabian November 19, 2011

      Yup, I agree with you. Even though I have to admit that I enjoy having the possibility to do my groceries on a late Saturday evening, I think that a day in the week to let everything rest and all the people relax is a good thing! I’m not a huge fan of Sundays, but it’s nice to see how the atmosphere changes and everybody is just calm and enjoying their free time!

  3. Tony January 26, 2012

    Its good to know that a lot of things can be done here in Vienna, hope to crash in this little town soon.. Nice post Fabian!

  4. Nora May 9, 2013

    Cool ! This is Vienna. Maybe I can add my favourite places: MQ and Donaukanal

    • Fabian May 9, 2013

      Sure can, Nora! Espeically if they are such nice places… perfect for this wonderful spring weather! :)

  5. Khaja October 27, 2013

    Looks like a nice place to live and work. I am planning to visit austria soon. Any further advice or suggestion guys. It is easy to find Part time jobs there?

    • Fabian October 27, 2013

      I suppose it is, but of course it depends on your background or if you’re willing to work on the countryside or waiting tables in the cities. Make sure to get a work permit/visa though, in case you don’t have one already!

      • Khaja October 28, 2013

        Thanks Fabian, My Background is in Sales, Marketing and service Industry. How bad is the language barrier in these fields If i wanted to try out.

        • Fabian October 31, 2013

          Khaja, I guess it depends a bit on the company, but I’m afraid that generally German knowledge will be required. That said, I’d look out for younger companies with more of an international focus. They might well be interested in someone with your background and language skills!

          • Khaja November 19, 2013

            And Fabian, Is it really hard to find a place to live in Vienna? I heard housing in Vienna (or anywhere in Austria) is really expensive and Landlords don’t rent out the place to the tenants directly. Is that correct?

          • Fabian November 19, 2013

            “Expensive” depends on your definition. It’s definitely cheaper than, say, London or Zurich. But also more expensive than many places in Eastern Europe or other parts of the world.

            For starters, I’d recommend to look for a shared apartment. That’s less expensive, more fun, and also less hassle with Landlords. German keyword for your search is “Wohngemeinschaft” or WG.

  6. Khaja November 19, 2013

    Fabian, If you don’t mind can you give me some more details on housing. such as, How much is the monthly rent on an average? Let it be shared or individual stay. Does Vienna have real estate agencies in suburbs where they put houses on listing for rent and all that in that are and surroundings? Like we get to see in countries like USA, Australia, and UK. I found couple of websites on the net. But they seem little expensive.

    I appreciate your advise in this regard.

    Khaja

  7. R.K. December 18, 2013

    I’ve been living in Vienna for several years now and do not like it at all. My experience dealing with the people here on a daily basis has mostly been very unpleasant. I am a 33 year old professional, well-travelled, polite, observing person who has lived in many different places spanning most continents, and for me the rave about Vienna’s quality of living is unfounded and is described from a tourist’s perspective. I personally know of many expats from around the world who were unpleasantly surprised by living here and subsequently left. Viennese people are known (and have been known) for being difficult, rude, racist, unempathetic, and judgmental (and mostly judge incorrectly!). If anyone is thinking of living in Vienna, I would genuinely suggest a vacation instead! Be a tourist, enjoy your time but leave. If you do end up living here, I truly wish you a much better experience than I and many others have had. I suppose when you are living a student and/or single ‘going out’ life style, things are a bit different anyway.
    But, not for me.. I’m waiting for my last day here and won’t ever return.

    • Fabian December 18, 2013

      R.K., I’m sorry to hear about your bad experiences and hope you’ll be able to move on soon. It’s true that I’m quite an outgoing person and enjoyed my time in Vienna thoroughly. Your judgement seems to be overly harsh in parts, especially when describing the Viennese people. They have a special vibe that might be hard to appreciate depending on your own preference. That said, I’ve met many other expats who love the city and the people living there, but of course my experience is just as anecdotical as yours.

  8. Saggy February 24, 2014

    Can you please let me knw, how abt the avg travel, living, food cost in prague. Also the avg normal monthly expense. Life insurance cost. I am trying to look for opportunity in vienna or prague in IT.

    • Danish March 20, 2014

      I am totally surprised to read 2 different stories from Fabian and R.K.
      However, I totally agree and give my 200% support to R.K what he have mentioned. I am a multi-cultural person lived in 3 different countries and 4 different cities. I have grown-up with people coming accross the world where more than 200 different nationalities are living together, but mostly all of my friends are coming from Germany. I am an open-minded person, very talkative, communicative, easy to be friends and easy to talk with. Together with my wife, we have visited Austria and specially Vienna atleast 4-5 times for holidays during winter (christmas time) as well as in summer and fell in love with this city. Therefore we have decided to move down and settle here in Vienna now. We are living here for last 7-8 months and I must say, the most horrible months for me, especially where I am coming from. No doubt the Vienna city is very beautiful and public transportation system is amazing and dirt cheap (36 euro per month un-limited use for U Bahn, S Bahn, Trams and Buses 24/7) but the people here are totally RACIST, RUDE, MEAN, UN-POLITE, NARROW MINDED and Diffult to interact with. If you are a non German speaker (like me) than your life here is nothing else than a hell. You cannot do any single thing without speaking the German language. Thank GOD my wife speaks German so we could communicate and resolve all the matters here. People don’t like to speak with you in English even though they can communicate in English. There is a big debate going on that Austrians don’t like expats and they don’t want expacts in their country, however, they are trying to accept the fact they have to live with people coming from other countries. Coming from Sales and Marketing back-ground, I can easily inter-act with people from almost every nation and be friends with them. Guess what? Inspite of living here for months now, I could make a single friend whom I can go out for a beer. I am giving another couple of more months to myself before taking another step of moving the hell out from this racist and rude country.
      And I forgot to mention, doesn’t matter how good your cv is with fantastic social and communicative skills, amazing international back-ground from one of the best and one of the biggest companies in the world, you will still not find the job here because Austrians would prepfer to hire their own Austrian people (or white skinned people) rather than expats like me and I am the biggest example from this racism when I went for an interview to the same company where I worked for more than 7 years in another country. HR was impressed with my open-minded, multi-cultural background, with my communication and interpersonal skills, as well as with my experience that they wanted to hire me on spot. But, the line manager (an austrian racist) told me that, he don’t care how much of experience I have. He don’t care that hiring me will make his life easy because he don’t have to train me even for the single day and I can perform my job from the very next minute, He said to me” he don’t care with my experience, he would still prefer to hire an Austrian. Dosn’t matter if its a fresh graduate from college where he have to spend months to get him trained as long as he is an Austrian and not an expat like me”.
      In comparison, I was in PRAGUE in Jan 2014, beautiful city with very humble, down to earth and easy going people. Although they could not speak English or German, still they try to communicate with you with their broken English and broken German unlike Austrians who can speak English but pretend they cannot understand single word what we are saying….

      Cheers
      Dani

      • Khaja March 21, 2014

        Danish, May i ask which country are you from? I mean Nationality.

  9. Danish March 20, 2014

    In addition, due to the fact that I cannot communicate properly in German, I can understand that finding a sales and marketing job will be difficult, therefore I started to look for small jobs in small, mid and big sized companies to get a start in back office role or any reasonable role where I can utilise my knoweldge and my experience, but with my surprise, today after 6 months, I have more than 200 job rejections. The companies here, simply don’t want to give me a chance as a career changer or what ever…..

    • Fabian March 20, 2014

      Hey Dani, I’m very sorry to hear about your bad experiences in Vienna. Fighting racism is an ongoing struggle, and I’m sure that many Austrian people are taking part in it. That said, the story you tell from your interview sounds disgusting. I hope narrow-minded people like said manager will learn their lesson and understand that the color of skin, nationality, gender, sexual orientation etc. don’t have anything to do with the quality of your work.

      I hope that things will improve for you and that you’ll have a better experience in the months to come!

  10. Sanja Plavsic - Brandt May 21, 2014

    Hi Fabian !
    Yes, Vienna is beautiful ! But that’s all. The people are rude, racist, haters, do not like foreigners at all. If someone wants to live here they better get used to that. I recommend visiting only. It’s not an open city like Paris or Berlin.
    All I wondered while reading what you wrote was: where does he come from and how long has he been here.
    The expats you met most probably work for IAEA or other organizations and get a LOT of money, it’s easy for them to like whatever city they get as much paid at.
    So please be realistic and objective :-)
    I thought for a moment that you are austrian because of the way you wrote. Reading this I would have thought: wooow just the place I wanna live at !
    I’ve lived here for four years now and I lived all around Europe. …these NAZIwannaB’S here…I haven’t seen anywhere else !
    No wonder Hitler was austrian :-)

    • Fabian May 31, 2014

      Hi Sanja,

      Sorry to read about your experiences, and also about the way you express them. Talking about being “realistic and objective”, I have a hard time envisioning *any* people *in general* to be “rude, racist” and “haters”. Seeing speculations about my contacts in Vienna and plenty of proof for Godwin’s law doesn’t really make things better.

      I probably wouldn’t have published your comment for its lack of constructiveness, but I have respect for you, as you’re using your real name.

      I hope you’ll either have more enjoyable Vienna experiences in the future or find a better place to live in.

      With this, I’ll close comments on this post. I’m not here to defend racist, stupid and inexcusable people you or anybody else may meet in Vienna – or elsewhere, for that matter. That said, I still invite everybody to go there open-minded if you’re intrigued. Your experience will certainly vary from my own, but not necessarily in a bad way.

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