Imagine sitting beneath a star-strewn sky on a balmy summer evening, listening to a bit of Puccini or Pink Floyd. Or perhaps Sibelius. Or Sinatra.
That’s the Rathaus Film Festival…
- Evening showings of operas, concerts, and gigs on a giant screen
- Separate gastronomy section with more food and drink than you can shake a conductor’s baton at
- 2021 dates: July 3rd to September 4th
- See also: English cinemas | Events in Vienna
The film festival
Each summer, the square in front of Vienna’s city hall turns into an open-air cinema with a difference when the Rathaus Film Festival rolls into town.
The term film festival is a little misleading. We’re not talking about Steven Spielberg retrospectives or a celebration of Estonian film noir. Instead, it’s all about the music.
A giant screen shows recordings of opera productions and concert performances from across the music spectrum. Everything from the Beatles to Bernstein. It’s all open air and set against a backdrop of fine central European neo-gothic architecture. You can’t get more cultural bonus points than that.
Of course, man cannot live on culture alone. This being Vienna, the area leading up to the seating around the giant screen becomes a gastronomic paradise, with close to 30 bars and restaurants serving food and drink from around the world.
Plates of couscous and curry jostle with sausage and suckling pig, pasta and pancakes. Grab a steak or try some teriyaki salmon. All washed down with your beverage of choice.
And if this all sounds like a marvelous way to pass a summer’s evening, it is. With one caveat. It does get incredibly busy. Some 950,000 visitors took in the atmosphere in 2019 (less in 2020 for obvious reasons). Most years, finding a place to sit and eat can be especially tricky in the hour or two preceding the film.
The film festival originally focused on opera alone, but now there’s a distinct mix of musical styles.
Classical compositions still dominate, but jazz, blues, rock, folk, even punk (albeit unplugged) make regular appearances.
My last trip to the event involved Ed Sheeran in concert at Wembley. A recording of Eric Clapton’s Baloise Session might be followed the next day by an operetta by the Hungarian composer, Emmerich Kálmán.
For the full 2021 programme, check the official website once it becomes available.
2021 dates & tickets
The 2021 film festival shows its wares daily from July 3rd to September 4th.
The films usually begin around dusk, but the food stalls tend to open late morning and stay open through to midnight.
So how much is entry to this cultural extravaganza going to cost you? A big fat nothing.
You buy your food and drink as you’d expect, but the film showings are free. No ticket required.
A word of warning, though. Don’t turn up just before the scheduled film start hoping for dinner and a show. Apart from the need to get a good seat by arriving earlier, you usually can’t eat or drink in at least some parts of the auditorium. So if you want to sit and enjoy a meal, you might need to eat before taking in the film.
Equally, the event may be subject to COVID-regulations. Last year, for example, we had limited seating, advance reservations, and strict separation of film and gastronomy sections. So check the official website for details.
You can come and go as you like (assuming no unusual public health measures); you have no obligation to remain until the end if the mezzosoprano takes too long to finally succumb to a tragic illness in Act III.
How to get to the film festival
Subway: Reach the Rathaus on the U2 subway line; get off at the Rathaus stop (surprise surprise)
Tram/bus: Alternatively, take trams 1, 71 and D to Rathausplatz / Burgtheater or tram 2 to Parlament
Address: Rathausplatz, 1010 Vienna | Website