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CULTURE

Why everything in Austria is closed on Sundays – and what to do instead

By law, most shops and supermarkets need to stay closed on Sundays. Why is that and how can you still buy what you need?

Why everything in Austria is closed on Sundays - and what to do instead
Even stores in Vienna's famous shopping street, Mariahilferstrasse close on Sundays. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

In December 2021, as Austrian shops and stores suffered heavily from fewer sales due to pandemic restrictions, the country made a surprising decision: it would allow shops to open on a Sunday to make up for lost sales.

It was the first time in decades that trade was allowed to open on a Sunday, prompting Austrian media to say things like “a sacred cow is killed in Austria“, a strong image to show how the country views its holy Sunday as a rest day.

At the time, authorities and workers’ unions were quick to reiterate that the one-off exception should not be seen as a move towards Sunday opening more generally.

Shops also had the choice to open, and coming to work was voluntary for workers too. Plus, they got double pay and an extra day off.

READ ALSO: Austria to open shops on last advent Sunday after lockdown

What does the law say?

The regulations for opening hours are very strict in Austria. The current 2003 federal law (though the tradition of having shops closed comes from much earlier than that) states that general open times that stores are allowed to have are Mondays to Fridays from 6am to 9pm and on Saturdays from 6am to 6pm.

That means that most trade shuts down in Austria promptly on Saturday at 6pm (or earlier) and will only resume the following Monday at 6am.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, mainly bakery businesses, gas stations (and they can sell fuel, but also “small sale items”), and shops in transit areas.

Federal states can also decide on some exceptions, including serving commuters, tourist areas, and events or “special occasions”.

These provisions make it possible that most shops in train stations, for example, are still open.

Where does this tradition come from?

Austria is a very religious country, with Christianity by far the largest religion. In a 2001 census, 73.7 per cent of the population indicated that they were Roman Catholic and 4.7 per cent Protestant.

These numbers have slightly dropped, and in 2016, Statistik Austria found that some 64 per cent of the population was Roman Catholic.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s church tax, and how do I avoid paying it?

Sunday is seen as a holy day by much of the population, and the Austrian Church for long has protected the day’s status as a “rest day”. But that is not all.

The idea that Sundays are not for shopping and that keeping shops closed is a way to preserve the Austrian quality of life is treasured in the alpine country.

Even with the exceptional opening during the pandemic, a University of Linz survey showed that only 15 per cent of consumers would use the day to buy goods.

Ask any Austrian or check any poll results, and you will get similar justifications: “Sundays are for family”, “Sundays are for culture, nature, rest”, “workers deserve their Sunday rest as well”, all the way to “plan your shopping better”.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about supermarkets in Austria

It is one of the few areas where most of the parties (including the socialists in Vienna), the Church, workers’ unions and most of the population actually agree on.

What to do on a Sunday with an empty fridge?

Just because shops close every single Sunday doesn’t mean that you won’t find yourself surprised with an empty fridge on a Sunday morning, especially if Saturday was a holiday (and shops were also closed).

The federal law itself provides for several exceptions that you can take advantage of – even if some of the prices could be higher than those in supermarkets.

First of all, it’s worth remembering that bars and restaurants are still open on Sundays, or at least they are allowed to open. Bakeries also usually stay open and food delivery services can operate normally as well.

READ ALSO: Seven weird things about life in Austria you need to get used to

Shops and supermarkets that are in transit and touristic areas also remain largely open, so places located inside train stations, airports, and transit areas are a possibility.

In Vienna, the Billa supermarket at Praterstern, or the one at Franz Josefs Station, and the many shops at Westbahnhof and Hauptbahnhof are always crowded with Sunday shoppers.

Another easy (though likely expensive) solution is to head to a convenience store at a gas station. Some of them can offer quite a large selection of food and drinks and stay open on Sundays – they are also a good alternative for late night shopping in some cases.

Enjoy your Sunday

The closed stores can be quite a cultural shock for many immigrants coming from different “24/7 services” types of cultures.

This is one of the things that are not likely going to change anytime soon, and over and over again, the country has decided to keep Sundays for rest.

READ ALSO: Six of the best things to do in spring in Vienna

Austrians deal with it by doing most of their grocery shopping after work hours (or hectically on Saturdays), in short runs to the supermarkets – which also goes with the culture of eating fresh meals.

On Sundays, especially when the weather is nice, they flock to parks, trails, palace gardens and many areas and events, most of them free, their cities have to offer.

It is a day to slow down, and there are numerous ways to enjoy it that do not include “capitalist” traditions such as going to the mall – at least according to the locals.

Member comments

  1. A retail-free Sunday is bliss. We are able to focus on enjoying a day without interruptions from retail pressures. In over 20 years in Vienna, I have been to Billa at Praterstern only once (around 2011). Nowadays, with the possibility to order online, there really is no excuse to have to do the “walk of shame” to the Billa there.

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For members

LIVING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

Retiring to Austria to spend time in fresh alpine air is a dream for many people, but who is actually eligible to retire to the Alpine Republic? Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

People from all over the world can retire to Austria, but unlike some other European countries, Austria does not have a residence permit tailored to retirees.

This means anyone wanting to retire to Austria has to go through the standard immigration channels, with different rules for EU and non-EU citizens.

Here’s what you need to know about retirement in Austria and who is eligible to retire in the Alpine Republic.

FOR MEMBERS: How can British second home owners spend more than 90 days in Austria?

What are the rules for retiring to Austria as an EU citizen?

The process for citizens from EU and EEA countries to retire in Austria is relatively simple due to freedom of movement across the bloc.

There are a few rules though.

To stay in the Austria for longer than three months, retirees will need to be able to support themselves financially (e.g. through a pension) and have sufficient health insurance.

When it comes to accessing a pension from another EU member state, this is typically taken care of by an insurance provider in Austria who will deal with the approval process between the states. Access to public healthcare in Austria is also available to all EU/EEA citizens.

Currently the pension age in Austria is 60 for women and 65 for men. More information about pensions in Austria can be found on the European Commission website.

FOR MEMBERS: Five reasons to retire in Austria

What are the rules for retiring to Austria as a non-EU citizen?

The most popular visa route for non-EU retirees hoping to live out their golden years in the Austrian Alps or the grandeur of Vienna is to apply for a settlement permit

This is issued to people that do not intend to work in Austria and is referred to as “except gainful employment” (Niederlassungsbewilligung – ausgenommen Erwerbstätigkeit) by Austrian immigration.

To qualify for the settlement permit, applicants must prove they have sufficient funds, comprehensive health insurance and a place to live.

Proof of sufficient funds means applicants must have a regular monthly income from a pension, profits from enterprises abroad, income from assets, savings or company shares. 

The minimum amount is €1,030.49 for a single person, or €1,625.71 for married couples or those in a partnership. 

READ ALSO: Baking away solitude: Vienna cafe hopes to unite world’s grandmas

Third-country nationals also have to provide evidence of basic German language skills at Level A1, in line with the Common European Framework of References for Languages. The diploma must be no older than one year when submitted with the application.

However, the application process will be entirely in German so for people that don’t have advanced German language skills, it’s best to hire an English-speaking immigration lawyer.

Additionally, Austria has a social security agreement with several non-EU states, including the UK, Canada and the USA. This allows some people to access their pension directly from Austria, depending on the agreement.

Again, it can be useful to find an English-speaking advisor to help with the bureaucratic part of accessing a pension in Austria if you don’t have strong German language skills.

After five years of living in Austria with a settlement permit, visa holders can then apply for permanent residence.

Want information on pensions? Then check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Useful vocabulary

Retirement – Ruhestand

Pension – Rente

Social insurance – Sozialversicherung

Health insurance – Krankenkasse

Settlement permit – Niederlassungsbewilligung

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