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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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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about recycling in Austria

Austria is keen on recycling, but the many different types of waste cans are sometimes confusing to newcomers and foreigners. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about recycling in Austria

Recycling is very much a part of Austrian culture. You will also find different bins for different waste items in almost every household in the country.

Every year, in Vienna alone, about 100,000 tons of recyclable organic material is collected in over 80,000 containers and processed into compost. This, in turn, can be collected by citizens in household quantities – so you can use your own trash to grow your plants.

Glass is also collected in separate containers, at over 2,500 public locations and at the dung places in the city. However, as they can be noisy, people should only dispose of glass waste between 6am and 10pm, according to the City of Vienna.

READ ALSO: How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Vienna legally

There are several containers throughout the cities where you can dispose of your waste. Still, it is crucial to do it right – and your neighbour will knock on your door if the things you are putting your paper together with your “common” trash.

Here are the main types of waste cans you will find in Austria – it is worth pointing out that these are based in the capital Vienna and might look a bit different depending on your region.

Waste paper

The Altpapier Karton, a red-coloured waste carton, is where you should dump your newspapers, magazines, catalogues, brochures, books, writing paper, letters, copybooks and telephone directories, as well as clean frozen food boxes, paper bags, and cardboard boxes (folded or filled with paper).

This is not a place to drop any composite materials, such as milk and beverage cartons, carbon paper, dirty papers, or receipts.

Organic waste

Also known as Biomüll, it usually has a brown colour. This is where you should throw away your lawn, tree and hedge cuttings. Weeds, shrubs, windfall, leaves, water plants, unseasoned and uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps, stale bread, coffee grounds, or tea leaves.

Organic waste disposal is no place for plastic, eco plastic bags, or eco plastic products. You should also not throw away meat, bones, food leftovers, large branches, eggs, dairy products, content from vacuum cleaner bags, cat litter, varnished or laminated wood, hazardous waste, composite materials such as nappies or milk cartons, or soil.

READ ALSO: Why does Vienna’s waste department have a helicopter and a military plane?

Clear glass

The clear glass (Weissglass) container, a grey one, will hold clear non-returnable glass bottles and pickle jars (they should be empty but not necessarily cleaned). You can also drop clear, condensed milk and soft drinks and any clear glass containers and transparent wine and liquor bottles.

Do not throw in any coloured glass, bottle caps, corks, lead seals (such as champagne bottles), screw tops, plastic bottles, mirrors, window glass, flat or wired glass, light bulbs, china, crystal glass or drinking glasses.

Coloured glass

The green container is reserved for Buntglass or coloured glass. This is where you should throw your coloured non-returnable glass bottles, such as slightly coloured glass, wine, soft drinks, and liquor bottles.

Brown and green glass can go in here together, along with other non-clear glasses. 

READ ALSO: Austria to challenge EU nuclear green label in court

Just as with the clear glass, it is essential not to throw bottle caps, corks, lead seals (such as the ones from champagne bottles), screw tops, plastic bottles, mirrors, window glass, flat or wired glass, light bulbs, china, ceramics, crystal glass or drinking glasses.

Plastic bottles, drink cartons, cans

The yellow collection container will receive any plastic bottles, drink cartons and cans (Plastikflaschen, Getränkekartons, Dosen). This includes all plastic bottles for drinks (PET bottles), for supplies such as vinegar and dairy products, detergents and household cleaners, and plastic containers for cosmetics and toiletries.

READ ALSO: Hasta la mista, baby? How to vote for your favourite Vienna trash can joke

You may also add other plastic bottles, beverage cans, food cans, metal foil, metal tubes, metal tops of jars, and bottles.

Do not turn in any plastic bottles, engine oil bottles, lubricant and adhesive bottles, plastic cups, plastic foil, plastic bags, meat trays, styrofoam, rubber foam, wood, textiles, canisters, buckets, cookware, tools, cables, wires, bathroom or kitchen taps, pipes, steel straps, paint, varnish, and spray cans, etc.

Other waste

The black box will receive all your other waste (Restmüll) and any other residual waste that shouldn’t be thrown in the recycle bins and is not hazardous or bulky.

Hazardous waste or bulky trash

It is illegal to dispose of hazardous or bulky waste in these containers. Instead, there are several collection points in Vienna and other cities where you can leave them. City services will also collect bulky waste for a small fee.

Do you have any more questions about recycling and waste separation in Austria? Get in touoch at [email protected] and we will find the answers for you.

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