You might think that ‘budget travel’ automatically means you won’t be eating at fancy restaurants, sleeping in 5 star hotels or enjoying any luxurious, worldly experiences that often come with a hefty price tag. And for the most part, this is true. But would you believe that you can enjoy a world class opera in Vienna for the same price as your morning bagel and coffee?
I’ve seen my fair share of musicals, ballets and theatre but a night at the opera in Vienna seemed too good to pass up. Especially when I heard that, with a bit of planning, you can get same-day tickets for only 3 euros at the Wiener Staatsoper (The Vienna State Opera). The catch? The cheap seats are not seats at all – they’re actually standing room tickets. For some (cough, cough, Wes), standing for a 3-4 hour performance is not an option. But I wasn’t bothered by this and I knew that I could always leave at intermission if I need be. Plus, the Wiener Staatsoper is said to be one of the top 10 opera houses in the world! My mind was made up: it was my last night in Vienna and I knew I couldn’t miss this chance.
After my experience, I’ve compiled a list of 8 tips and tricks to help you enjoy a night at the Opera in Vienna!
The Vienna State Opera hosts opera, ballet and concert performances year-round and almost daily. You can find the full schedule here and the site also indicates how long each performance is, their current seat availability and the lead performers.
Online Ticket Options
Tickets can be purchased online and range from as low as 10 euro to well over 200 euro. If you’re not interested in standing rooms tickets and don’t want to spend precious vacation time waiting in line, online tickets may be your best option but require booking wayyy in advance. If the cheap standing seats intrigue you, keep reading!
While these days the opera doesn’t call for a tux or ball gown, it is still considered a ‘dress to impress’ event by many. If you’re backpacking like I was, this may pose a problem. Especially when, after weeks on the road, having a clean outfit is a victory in itself. My advice is to wear your finest outfit for the night to avoid being turned away (apparently that still happens!). As it was winter, I resorted to all black everything: boots, tights, skirt, top, scarf, jacket. With a bit of jewelry and some lipstick, I felt like I fit right in (at least to the standing section group). Whatever the season, a scarf is helpful for standing seats (I’ll explain later). Ladies, avoid the temptation to wear heels. The line to buy tickets can be up to 3 hours, not to mention the opera that you’ll be standing for.
Early Bird Gets the Worm
Tickets for day-of standing room generally go on sale 80 minutes prior to the show’s start time with people waiting in line even 3-4 hours before a show during peak season. If you’re facing the front doors of the opera house, the standing room line will be along the left side of the building (opposite side of the gift shop). For a 7pm start time, I arrived shortly after 5pm and followed the signs marked “Stehplatz-Kasse.” There were already about 50-60 people ahead of me but luckily we were nice and warm and didn’t have to wait out in the cold.
- Parterre: 4 euro (Closest to the stage, ground level)
- Balcon: 3 euro (Mid level balcony)
- Galerie: 3 euro (Highest level balcony)
Of the 3 options for standing room, I chose Galerie with the hopes that I would get to stand closer to the center. Apparently the far left/right sides have an obstructed view so best to aim for center. Know what you want to buy ahead of time and try to have exact change. You can only buy one ticket per person so you’ll have to wait in line with your whole group. If you’re standing in the far back, binoculars can be rented for 2 euro which I found helpful.
Patience is a Virtue
And now, you wait. If you’re traveling alone, a book helps kill the time and I would pack a dinner or pick something up on the way. Did it bother me that I was eating fried noodles out of a box while sitting on the floor during my last night in Vienna? Not one bit. Those noodles were delicious and I was giddy with excitement (my first opera!). Plus, nearly 50% of the people in line were doing the same. Some had even brought folding stools to sit on! Smart chickens.
Off to the Races
Even though you’ve bought your ticket, the seats are not assigned and so the next parts of the process all happen fairly quickly. Just follow the crowd up the stairs towards your section but I would suggest skipping the (free) coat check until you’ve actually gone up and saved your spot. You’ll likely have to wait in line once more until the theatre doors open. Once you’ve arrived at your section, you’ll see one monitor per section of the railing.
You’re entitled to the entire section with a designated monitor. This is where a scarf comes in handy: observe the others and wrap your scarf around the railing to reserve your section. Don’t worry, the rule of the scarf is obeyed by all and now you’re free to explore the beauty that is the State Opera House.
Enjoy the Show
I had such a great experience at the opera in Vienna and I hope you will too! I saw the Italian opera Barbiere di Siviglia (or The Barber of Seville). No matter the language, the monitors have several options for translation so you’ll actually be able to understand the plot. The title didn’t ring a bell to me at all but when the performance started with the iconic, “Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!” I couldn’t help but smile.