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
- 2020 dates: July 4 to Sept 6 (but with a slightly different format)
- 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 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 is 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. 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 productions, but now there’s a mix of musical styles.
Classical compositions still dominate, but jazz, blues, rock, folk, even punk (albeit unplugged) make regular appearances. A recording of Eric Clapton’s Baloise Session might be followed the next day by an operetta by the Hungarian composer, Emmerich Kálmán.
2020 dates & tickets
Dates for 2020 are July 4th through to September 6th, with showings each day.
The films usually begin around dusk, but the food stalls tend to open late morning and stay open through to midight.
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 is 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 the raised seating parts of the auditorium. So if you want to sit there and enjoy a meal, you’ll need to eat before taking in the film.
Things are slightly different in 2020, thanks to temporary public health requirements. For example, the open-air cinema and gastronomy areas now constitute two completely separate event locations, there is some table service at the cinema seats, and space is limited. So you will be better off reserving a table. For full details of this year’s exceptional changes and reservation options, see the official website.
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