When the sun is shining in Vienna, there are few better places to be than the gardens of the Prater. Home to a sprawling amusement park – notable for the Ferris wheel where Orson Welles delivered his nihilistic monologue in The Third Man – it also contains one of the city’s most famous beer gardens. The Schweizerhaus has existed in this location in one form or another since 1766, and its reputation rests on doing two simple things very well: perfectly-soft, meaty pork knuckles the size of rugby balls, and glass tankards filled with beer so frothy that it’s impossible to drink them without getting bubbles on your nose.
‘Every year I always go to the Schweizerhaus with my friends,’ says Johann Diglas, whose family have run coffeehouses in Vienna since 1875. ‘We have a few beers and then summer has officially begun.’ We are sat in the hedge-lined garden of Café Diglas in Schottenstift, where Johann is sipping a white wine spritzer. ‘It’s half wine and half soda water. It’s very traditional for Austria,’ he says. Locals will tell you that the drink was invented in the country as an easy way to create bubbly wine. I discover, too, that drinking outdoors is intimately intertwined with Viennese culture. ‘Since the 1800s, people in Austria have felt that the coffeehouse is like their living room. Gardens like this one are the living rooms of summer.’
That concept, with all its welcoming ambience, is played out all over the city. At Heuer Am Karlsplatz, which shares a building with the Kunsthalle Wien art gallery, I have beer and burrata on a smart outdoor patio which has proven so popular they’ve had to set up wooden picnic tables and chairs in the adjoining park to cope with the overflow. At Glacis Beisl, a restaurant specialising in Wiener schnitzel, they serve their craft lagers in wine glasses – a world away from the foaming beers at the Schweizerhaus – but it’s their spacious courtyard that’s the real draw. I also spend an evening among the hundreds of Viennese who visit the Ottakringer brewery’s outdoor events during the summer, listening to Austrian cover bands play classic rock while drinking beers under the very silos they’re made in.
Looking for a view over the city, I head to the Dachboden bar on the roof of the 25Hours Hotel. It’s a fashionable hangout, with a disassembled drum-kit suspended over the bar, an extensive cocktail list and great views over the baroque MuseumsQuartier. However, for me, the best views in town are to be had from the bar on the roof of the Hotel Lamée. Here I sip a spritzer of my own while looking across at the majesty of St Peter’s Church – just 400 metres away – the most striking landmark on a skyline dotted with spires.
A short walk brings me to the Donaukanal, which borders Vienna’s city centre and was once an arm of the Danube before being converted into a regulated canal. The last 15 years have seen a rejuvenation of the area, particularly since the opening of Strandbar Herrmann in June 2005 demonstrated the appeal of water-side drinking.
Hermann remains one of the best, with deckchairs set up on a patch of sand and a young, hip crowd whiling away their day drinking bottles of beer and nodding their heads to reggae. Wandering further down the canal, I find Blumenwiese, which serves frozen daiquiris and puts an altogether more upmarket spin on the beach bar idea. By this point I’m ready to cool off with a swim, but the canal water doesn’t look too inviting. This is where Badeschiff Wien comes in: two barges that are permanently moored in the canal and house both a bar and a shimmering blue swimming pool.
Refreshed after my dip, I hop on a D Tram and head 20 minutes out of the city centre to my last stop, Heuriger Schübel-Auer. Will it, I wonder, be worth the journey? A ‘Heuriger’ is a type of traditional wine tavern located close to a vineyard; Schübel-Auer’s is just two blocks away. Before the city expanded, it was surrounded by fields, and stepping into the courtyard, I feel transported back in time to a rural idyll. It’s no surprise when you consider that the place has been owned and run by the same family since 1711, and that the table I sit down at is shaded by the branches of a 150-year-old chestnut tree. Wrought-iron lamp posts complete the atmosphere, although their powers aren’t needed in the dappled sunlight. The signature drink here is a DIY version of a white wine spritzer: one of their own bottles of wine served with an accompanying soda siphon. I mix my drink and put my feet up. As living rooms go, this will take some beating.
For Lonely Planet Traveller.