A Christmas in Vienna is one not to be missed. It’s worthy of “bucket list” inclusion and one you will remember for a very long time. Soft sparkling lights, gently falling snow, the smell of freshly roasted chestnuts, and musicians marching through the streets. It sounds and feels like a fairytale, but Christmas in Vienna is very real. The Christmas markets in Vienna are truly something magical.
From mid-November until the end of December, Austria is the place to enjoy traditional Christmas markets. Festive lights, seasonal treats and snow-covered roofs make for a special experience that only Austria can provide. Austrians often refer to the Advent period as the country’s “fifth season”. Vienna always shines, but during the Advent season, it dazzles. Festivities take place in historic squares and pedestrian areas, making long walks from cafés to museums and shops even more enjoyable.
The Christmas Markets of Vienna
In Vienna, the markets are an age-old tradition that put a smile on everyone’s face and provide an overwhelming spirit of Christmas. The forerunners of the present-day markets date back to 1298 in the Middle Ages when the Duke of Austria granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding a “Krippenmarkt” or December Market. The character and prevalence of these markets has naturally changed considerably over the centuries.
Vienna itself says that there are 20 official Christmas Markets. There are in fact many more smaller ones. As you walk through the central old city, you’ll come across small squares (or platz) where small markets and vendor booths are open and waiting for you.
The most well-known and largest market is at Rathausplatz and known as Vienna Christmas World. The market sits right in front of the Rathaus (Town Hall) with some 150 booths. The adjacent City Hall Park has an ice rink, ice paths through the park, and a children’s area with nativity path, reindeer train, ferris wheel and carousel. The unique arts and crafts blend perfectly with baked goods and sausage stands.
The Imperial and Royal Christmas Market on Michaelerplatz, in front of the Imperial Palace features Austrian products, sweets, pewter figures, hand-made crafts and more in its white huts. The Christmas Market on Stephansplatz focuses more on tradition, with some 40 booths and huts beside St. Stephen’s Cathedral offering high-quality Austrian products. The Advent market at the Opera House has gingerbread, cheese, meats, punch and wine from regional producers in Austria.
Enjoy the Lights Above The Graben And Kärntner Strasse
The Christmas lights of Vienna shine with a magical beauty. Thousands of crystals and giant chandeliers make you feel like you are in a large imperial ballroom as you walk along the main pedestrian areas in the old city center. Start an early evening walk from the State Opera House building, down Kärntner Straße to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, then along the Graben and up Kohlmarkt to the Hofburg Palace. Walk through the Palace grounds and you’ll end up back at Ring Strasse (and just a few blocks from your starting point).
Walk the Ringstrasse
The Ringstrasse is the grand boulevard that circles the historic Innere Stadt (Inner Town) where ancient fortifications once stood. Along the “Ring” you’ll see museums, parks, restaurants, five-star hotels, luxury stores and Christmas markets. Ringstrasse is decked out with lights and many Christmas displays to highlight Vienna’s impressive architecture. You can walk the “Ring”, get on a public bus or tram, or take a scheduled sightseeing tram with guide.
Weihnachtspunsch Or Glühwein?
Most street corners feature a mulled wine or punch stand where locals and visitors gather for a warm drink and conversation. The local Lions Club has a number of drink stands along with a slightly lower price and a Styrofoam cup. The markets serve their punch in collectable mugs with a unique design for each market. You’ll pay a deposit when you order your drink, so you can keep the mug (or just buy the mugs separately). The slightly more popular steaming mug of warmth is Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch). It comes in dozens of flavours across the old city. The more traditional drink is a mug of hot Glühwein (mulled wine). You can’t go wrong with either and should try both. Either choice will take the chill away on a cold winter’s evening. Multiple drinks into the evening may have you singing songs from the “Sound of Music”.
Try Maronis (Roasted Chestnuts)
You’ll find at least one “Maroni Stand” at every market and at many major street corners in the winter months. They are selling roast chestnuts from one steaming steel barrel and roasted potato snacks from another barrel. It’s a Christmas experience that goes back to the Middle Ages. You can almost imagine children blowing on a hot, freshly peeled chestnut to cool it down. Now you can follow in their footsteps.
Eat Sausage or Leberkäse? (or both)
Sausage stands are year-round in Vienna, but they seem more inviting in winter. Austrians love their meat and the roadside stands don’t disappoint for taste. If you need some food energy and a break from exploring, try a Käsekrainer or Bratwurst. The other must try Viennese snack is Leberkäse. It is a kind of rectangular sausage cut as a thick slice of meat on a fresh bread roll with mustard. It is an Austrian staple, cheap and delicious. It’s my personal favourite- I’ve eaten a lot of Leberkäse.
Your Christmas spirit will come alive in this fairytale setting. Vienna is really the perfect destination for Christmas – this is Christmas in Vienna.