[Bear in mind that public health measures may change much of the below depending where Austria is in terms of COVID come February 2021.]
I’ll be honest. February is probably the quietest month in Vienna, with the fewest annual events and festivals. Think of January and take away the fun bits.
One thing very much in February’s favour is fewer queues and crowds. In 2021, February 1st to 6th is the so-called Semesterferien, when Vienna’s schools are all on holiday. A lot of Viennese take off with the kids for a week (skiing), leaving more space for the rest of us.
Still, here are a few seasonal ideas for you…
Top activities in February 2021
Have a ball
(The Kursalon ball venue)
February’s major claim to fame is that this is probably the busiest month of the ball season. So if you’ve ever dreamed of doing the waltz in the city that invented the dance, then now’s your chance.
There is the Johann Strauss Ball*, for example, at the famous Kursalon, where the man himself performed. And many more, including the world-famous Opernball (next one is in 2022), though tickets and tables for the latter are not always easy to come by if you’re a mere mortal.
However, it seems likely the ball season more or less skips 2021 entirely, thanks to COVID-19 and the associated public health requirements.
Popular tours & classical concerts
Given there are fewer people around, February is the time for booking those activities that are often very busy or over subscribed the rest of the year.
I’m thinking here particularly of:
- The Schönbrunn Palace tours (do the Grand tour)
- The Spanish Riding School (book to see the morning training)
- Classical music concerts (especially at the two top venues: the Musikverein and Konzerthaus)
- Opera tickets (particularly for the State Opera house)
- Vienna Zoo (which has various indoor enclosures if you’re worried about the weather)
Enter the Ice World
It always starts in January but hits its peak throughout February: the Wiener Eistraum (Vienna Ice World; open all month) offers a wonderful outdoor ice skating experience right in the middle of the city.
The square in front of the Rathaus turns into a split-level ice rink, with skating trails and other rinks spread among the trees of the Rathaus park. It’s all lit up delightfully at night.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can refresh yourself at various stalls and outlets selling mostly organic fare (except when there’s a ban on such things).
Oh, and don’t worry if you forgot your skates – simply hire them on site.
Catch an exhibition
Vienna always has numerous exhibitions on at any one time, though COVID has played havoc with museum plans. Some suggestions for February based on schedules at the time of writing are:
- I enjoyed having my ignorance about the Aztec culture ripped apart at the excellent Aztecs exhibition at the Weltmuseum that continues through to April 2021
- The MAK museum dedicates an exhibition to a design name that left his indelible mark on (and in) Vienna’s buildings: Adolf Loos. Their Sheila Hicks exhibition also looks wonderful
- Catch the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Kunstforum Wien (recently extended so now on the whole month)
- The MUMOK has three Warhol exhibitions running concurrently, though the Misfitting Together one ends on February 7th
Catch the flowers
Flowers? Ah, yes, and no ordinary flowers, either. The International Orchid Show sets up in Hirschstetten (next one is in 2022, though: February 19-27). Some 40 exhibitors add more than a few spots of colour to the Viennese winter.
Of course, you can always do as the Viennese do and flee the city for the slopes.
February is the main month for skiing in Austria, and the Semmering alpine ski resort, for example, is not much more than an hour away, so suited to a day trip.
It’s probably best not to do this in the Semesterferien week, unless you want to spend your day being abused by impatient Viennese as they push their way into the lift queue. Think of Rome’s Colosseum, but with ski sticks instead of gladiatorial swords and you get the idea. (I’m only partly exaggerating.)
Not outside, I should add. The state-run indoor swimming pools are nice and warm, but your holiday treat is a day or two at Therme Wien, which is the spa baths complex. Hot water from thermal springs feeds its various pools.
The Therme also offers all the usual spa treatments and a restaurant. Incidentally, it sits right next door to one of the city’s more renowned cake and confectionery outlets: the Kurkonditorei Oberlaa. (And it has its own subway stop.)
Tip – Dress up warm
I don’t have the stats, but I’m pretty sure February is our coldest month. Minus temperatures are no surprise.
That’s not all bad, of course. Snow is possible, which makes the city look even more beautiful (at least until it melts). And there is a certain pleasure to be had in entering a coffee house or Konditorei and warming yourself with a hot coffee topped by whipped cream or with a classic dish like Schnitzel or Kaiserschmarren.
Having said that, February last year (2020) proved to be the second warmest in Austria since records began over 250 years ago. Indeed, one of the Vienna weather stations recorded its warmest ever February and the average temperature in the town centre was 4.6°C above normal.