Vienna’s ball season is in full swing. Each year around 450 balls attract 540 000 dance enthusiast and socialites who are keen to experience the spirit of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Johann Strauss known as “The Waltz King” was the superstar of his time and his Blue Danube Waltz is played by a live orchestra at every Viennese ball. But Viennese balls are not only an important cultural fixture of Austria and its imperial past, but also provide a large source of revenue for the city of Vienna with an annual turnover of EUR 175 million.
Alexandra Dubsky, 1 February 2024
Nothing guarantees that authentic Cinderella feeling more than attending one of Vienna’s numerous balls. January is the season of balls, and Austria’s glorious imperial past combined with clever marketing has turned Vienna into the global hotspot for the most charming ball events worldwide. Viennese balls which take place at Vienna’s prestigious palaces make you feel like time has stood still since the time of the Emperor Francis Joseph (1830-1916) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Vienna’s Chamber of Commerce, the Wirtschaftskammer Wien (WKO), expects a whooping yearly turnover of EUR 175 million and around 540 000 visitors for this year’s ball season. This makes ball tourism a behemoth in the hospitality and tourism sector. The numbers of ball attendees have outgrown pre-pandemic levels, with more and more international visitors from Germany, the US and of course China who are keen to get a glimpse of Austria’s world-famous “Sisi” past.
According to the WKO, balls are experiencing an amazing comeback. This is reflected not only in higher number of visitor, but also in an increased spending per ball guest. The average attendee spends EUR 320. This amounts to a 10% increase in spending compared to pre-pandemic levels. Those revenues also show how important this part of the Viennese culture is for the local economy – from the tickets to the champagne and the snacks offered throughout the night.
More than 450 balls take place in Vienna every year. The most famous is certainly the Vienna Opera Ball, the only event that brings net profits for the opera house on that evening. The Opera Ball is attended by 7000 ball goers which include a prominent mix of artists, politicians, entrepreneurs and socialites from Austria and abroad.
During the event, the opera house is open from the cellar to the attic and is open for all guests to explore and danc in. Every year, gaming-operator Casinos Austria sets up a gambling station especially for the evening. Restaurants, champagne bars, oyster bars, a disco and a wine tavern are installed to cater to the ball goers. This year the opera ball takes place on 8 February 2024.
The Vienna Opera Ball has proved to be a real export hit, with follow-up events in other cities around the globe – most famously in New York City. In 2005, such an event was held for the first time in Dubai and Zagreb and in 2007 in Kuala Lumpur.
Another highlight for the Viennese society is the prestigious Ball of Industry and Technology Techniker Cercle which took place on 20 January 2024. The origins of this ball date back more than 170 years. The net proceeds of this ball were dedicated to supporting needy students of the Imperial-Royal Polytechnic Institute in Vienna, the predecessor institution of the Vienna University of Technology. This historical commitment has been carried over today, with net proceeds going to research and teaching at the Vienna University of Technology.
The ball is attended by the who’s who of politics, industry and society, with the Austrian Chancellor typically giving the opening speech. This year, Chancellor Karl Nehammer opened the ball and was spotted mingling and chatting away with fellow attendees from Austrian and international high society until the early morning hours.
Among Vienna’s finest balls ranks the traditional Hunter’s Ball (Jägerball) that always takes place on the last Monday in January at the Vienna Hofburg and at the Spanish Riding School. With around 5000 guests, the Jäger Ball is one of the most popular balls in Vienna. What sets the Jägerball apart is its dress code. Instead of long evening gowns, a smoking or a tailcoat, ball goers are required to don the Austrian traditional dress the Dirndl or its male equivalents.
Another famous ball is the Philharmonic Ball, Ball der Wiener Philharmoniker, which traditionally takes on the Thursday before the Techniker Cercle (18 January 2024). Just like the Techniker Cercle, the Philharmonic Ball takes place in the Musikverein, known worldwide as the venue for the famous New Year’s Concert. Although the ball is only 81 years old, it has become one of Vienna’s most popular balls for the cultural elite at home and abroad.
Regardless of which ball one attends, these events are part of Austria’s cultural heritage, just like visiting a traditional coffeehouse or strolling along Vienna’s historic Ringstrasse. Waltzing the night away at one of these balls is just plain fun and what is not to love about attending a ball in a beautiful historic palace, with great music and surrounded by sophisticated ball goers in their beautiful attire.