Vienna is almost too beautiful to describe. Finely ornamented cathedrals with vaulted ceilings and spires. Marble palaces that stretch for miles. Grand fountains, broad squares, magnificent parks, leafy green boulevards, colossal copper domes, baroque apartment buildings with red-tiled roofs ‒ it’s one of the grandest sights Europe has to offer.
But while its scenery is a marvel, it’s not the reason for Vienna’s success. Artists, students, workers, and immigrants have flocked to the “City of Dreams” since time immemorial, drawn by its dynamic economy, vibrant culture, and comfortable lifestyle. If you’ve ever thought of living in Vienna, Austria, here’s what you should know.
There’s a Strong Demand for Workers
Vienna employs around a quarter of Austria’s workforce and generates roughly a third of its GDP. But while the city is still a manufacturing giant (focused primarily on machinery, chemicals, metal products, and electrical components), most of its economy is centered around the service sector (finance, tourism, hospitality, commerce, healthcare, transportation, administration, etc.).
The city’s thriving business sector and aging population has created a rising demand for foreign workers. As the older generation retires, the younger generation hasn’t been able to fill the gap, forcing companies to look elsewhere, mostly to America and their European neighbors. Foreign workers have begun streaming into the city in recent years. While some take positions with Austrian firms, most are employed by multinationals. Many of the Global 500 have branches throughout the city, including Deloitte, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon.
Cost of Living is Low
European cities aren’t cheap, but Vienna is less expensive than most. While the cost of housing has climbed steadily in places like London and Paris, it has remained relatively low in Vienna. The city is divided into 23 boroughs (known as Bezirke), centered around the Innere Stadt (Inner City), the city’s historic core and now a world heritage site, filled with upscale shops, cafes, and art galleries, as well as the city’s business sector.
But whereas most cities have begun to see vast discrepancies open up between their neighborhoods, Vienna’s social housing program has kept costs fairly uniform across the city. Rent is tightly regulated and close to a quarter of the city’s housing is directly subsidized by the government. As a result, most residents spend no more than 20-25 percent of their income on rent, while the average American spends 30 and the average New Yorker spends 58.
This is a welcome surprise for most expats. Rather than living out in the suburbs, many can afford apartments close to the city core. Homes are larger here as well, at least compared to other major European cities, making Vienna one of the best places to live on the continent.
It’s Easy to Get Around
Vienna has an extensive and efficient public transit system. Neighborhoods are connected by a network of buses, trams, trains, and subways that can take you anywhere you want at a fraction of the cost in places such as New York or London. An annual pass costs a little over $400 in Vienna, compared to $1,500 and $1,700 respectively in these cities.
Public transportation isn’t the only option for getting around, however. Vienna is one of the most bike friendly places in the world. Its cycling network extends nearly 1,000 miles, linking all its major neighborhoods, landmarks, and attractions. Cyclists can cruise along the Danube; past town hall, Parliament, neo-gothic cathedrals, the opera house, and the Hofburg palace complex; or head outside the city to explore Danube Island, Kahlenberg Mountain, and the Lainzer Tiergarten Wildlife Preserve.
Living in Vienna also makes it easy to travel around the rest of Europe. Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic are all less than a day away thanks to Railjet, Austria’s state-of-the-art train service. For less than $50, you can spend a day exploring some of Europe’s most magnificent cities, such as Venice, Zurich, Prague, and Budapest.
Streets are Safe
Vienna hasn’t had to worry about crime for years. Violence, vandalism, theft, pickpocketing, and public disorder are almost unheard of. When a Viennese citizen leaves their house, they don’t have to be concerned about whether they’ll be mugged or even insulted, regardless of where they’re going or how late they’re staying out.
Lots of Active Expat Communities
Vienna’s situated in the heart of Europe, but connected to the entire world. There are a hundred languages spoken here, by communities of every nation. Expats looking to make friends will find it easy to connect with fellow countrymen and women. So whether you’re looking to travel, socialize, or network, you can find a group of like-minded people to do it with.
The Schools are Great
Vienna has a first-rate education system. Its pre-schools, elementary schools, and high schools are highly ranked and provide students with a thorough foundation in science, literature, and math ‒ all at no cost! And while public universities are only free to Austrian and European citizens, foreign students pay only $1,000 – $2,000 per year for tuition.
However, Viennese schools are not built for non-German speakers. While English is common in the business sector, it’s not spoken in the classroom, outside foreign language lessons. For this reason, many expat parents prefer sending their children to international schools instead. These not only follow a curriculum similar to their home country, they also teach students the idiosyncrasies of the Austrian German dialect, making it easier for them to adapt and make friends in their new city.
Cultural Landmarks are Everywhere
Austria was an imperial capital, seat of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Habsburg Dynasty. But it was the capital of European culture as well, home to Mozart and Beethoven, birthplace of the waltz and the snowglobe. It also operates the world’s oldest zoo, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, opened in 1752. In fact, you can hardly turn around without encountering some towering, historical monument, such as:
- Schönbrunn Palace. Summer home of Austrian Emperors from 1569 until 1918, this astounding Rococo manor conveys the power, authority, and grandeur of the Habsburg Royal Family. Its suites are some of the most finely designed and decorated in existence.
- Kunsthistorisches Museum. Explore the Habsburg art collection, one of the largest and most distinguished in the world, with notable works by Raphael, Velázquez, and Johannes Vermeer.
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Famous for its massive spires and intricately tiled roof, the staggering size of St. Stephen’s is offset by its complex and elaborate artwork, which includes relics inlaid with gold and precious stones, as well as the marble tombs of Habsburg nobility.
- Wiener Staatsoper. Home of the Vienna State Opera, this Neo-Renaissance theater was rebuilt after WWII and is one of the most awe-inspiring venues in the city. It hosts over 300 performances a year, as well as the iconic “Opera Ball” at the end of Carnival.
- Austrian National Library. Constructed like something out of a fairytale, the state hall of the Austrian National Library is an exquisite domed structure, 65 feet tall, adorned with colorful and extraordinary frescoes, as well as life-like marble statues.
Balls & Festivals are Held Regularly
Viennese know how to have a good time, with fun and festive events to keep you entertained throughout the year.
- Christmas & New Years Markets. Celebrate Christmas and ring in the new year with craftsmen, chefs, and local artists. A traditional German custom from the Middle Ages, it’s a chance to experience the glamour of the city’s most noted landmarks, decked out in holiday fashion, including city hall and the incredible Belvedere Palace.
- Vienna Ice World. From January through March, Vienna transforms Rathausplatz Square into a massive, open-air ice skating rink. Strap on your skates and show off your moves in the main rink or glide peacefully along ice paths set among the city’s trees and lights.
- Steiermark Frühling Festival. Welcome the arrival of spring with huge helpings of apples, beer, wine, and pumpkins. Watch as Vienna is turned into a pastoral wonderland, with booths, cabins, flowers, and mulch from the Alpine Mountains, designed to bring a taste of traditional, country life to this modern city.
- Calle Libre Street Art Festival. Held along the Danube Canal, this celebration draws painters from all over Austria and the world. Visitors can observe their whole process up close as they change gray, featureless concrete into vivid and dynamic murals.
- Vienna Philharmonic Ball. Vienna holds over 450 public waltzes a year, but none so grand as this. Visit the Musikverein Building, one of the city’s greatest neo-classical concert halls, and dance the night away, accompanied by the enchanting melodies of the Viennese Philharmonic.
- Krampusnacht. A mix of Christmas and Halloween, the annual Krampusnatcht parade is a truly unique event, held in celebration of Krampus, Santa Claus’ evil brother. Partygoers roam the streets in bizarre costumes made from horns and goat fur, giving everyone a fun holiday scare.
Help Moving and Living in Vienna
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