Christmas in Vienna

If you are lucky enough to be participating in the Vienna Advent Sing Festival, you will be able to experience the magic of wintertime in Vienna firsthand. The city transforms into a winter wonderland. Thousands of travelers head to Vienna to shop at the many Christmas markets, see the exquisite light displays, listen to Christmas concerts, and sample delicious holiday treats.

Here are Music Contact International’s recommendations for the best of Vienna during the advent season.

Vienna Christmas Markets: Christmas markets are an old tradition from the Middle Ages and remain a very popular destination in Vienna, becoming a bit more modern without losing their traditional touch. Vienna’s Christmas markets are open from mid-November until Christmas and will charm you with their small wooden huts, traditional handcrafts, modern souvenirs, Christmas music, colorful lights, sparkling decorations, and of course, local delicious food and warm drinks. I recommend visiting a few different markets because they are all unique. Here are some recommendations:

  • Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace: Vienna has held the Christmas market in Schönbrunn Palace since 1993 and every year, about one million people visit the Palace to experience the real Christmas market atmosphere. About 80 booths, colorful decorations, and quality products make it an interesting Viennese attraction you shouldn’t skip.
  • Prater Winter Market: Under the motto, “Prater Rocks!” the winter market at Riesenradplatz in the famous Prater gardens offers an exciting program throughout the winter season. The market features all the usual vendors plus live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel while you are there and get a great view of the city!
  • The Wiener Christkindlmarkt am Rathausplatz is located in front of the City Hall, and if you only have time for one market, visit this one. It showcases around 150 sales stands offering Christmas gifts and tree decorations, crafts, culinary delights, sweets and warm drinks.
  • The Christmas Market at Freyung is a little more genteel and traditional than the glitzier, larger markets, but it is the oldest of all the markets in Vienna, originating in 1772. The food stalls at this Christmas market are particularly good, serving up traditional cured and smoked meats and cheeses.
  • The Belvedere Palace Christmas Market runs all the way up to Christmas Eve and is one of the newest and least commercial markets held across the city. This makes it a much more intimate affair than the bigger markets, such as the one outside the Rathaus. Held in front of the magnificent Belvedere Palace, there are stalls selling traditional handicraft items, Austrian food and drinks, and Christmas decorations, and don’t miss the wonderfully lit palace façade.
  • The Christmas Market at Karlsplatz is run by an association of arts and crafts professionals, and all of the items sold at the market have to pass a committee and all must be made by the actual seller, so you can be assured high quality goods. There are also traditional cakes, mulled wine and punch, live music, and a live nativity scene for children. All of this takes place in front of the Karlskirche, one of the finest Baroque churches in Europe.

Wiener Eistraum – Ice Skating: The Viennese adore ice skating in the wintertime. There are ice rinks set up across the city during the winter months, including in the gardens of the Wilhelminenberg Palace and in front of the Rathaus to host the “Ice Dream” event made up of skating and curling. Over the Christmas period, there is a 6,000 square meter ice rink set up between the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Inter-Continental Hotel The ice rink is very popular; you can hire ice-skates for a few euros and opt to take part in a lesson. Furthermore, if the city is experiencing an exceedingly frosty year, the river Danube freezes over, inviting throngs of skaters to glide onto the temporary natural ice rink.

Enjoy some hot (or cold) drinks: A fine idea for that steaming mug of something warm is Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch), which comes in dozens of flavors and keeps the chill at bay on a cold winter’s evening. There are plenty of non-alcoholic options, too. The markets serve punch in collectible mugs, and each market has a unique design. You pay a deposit when you order, so you can keep the mug and lose the deposit (which is perfectly fine behavior). If you are more into beer, Vienna has many breweries and despite the cold you should try some good craft beers. Visiting specific breweries will give you a chance to warm up after spending the day outside enjoying other attractions. Because the beers in menus are changing and are a little different depending on the place you visit, drinking beer in Vienna is a great way to experience part of Viennese culture!

Take a photo at the Belvedere Palace: This is missed by most people, but an absolute must. There’s a lake in front of the Upper Belvedere Palace. In the evening, when the sky turns twilight blue, it’s a beautiful place to take an iconic photo of the building, the lights, the market, and the reflections in the water. 

Listen to an advent concert: There are many concerts to enjoy (besides your own performances) during the Christmas Season in Vienna. For example, there are the special “Strauss and Mozart” Christmas concerts at the Kursalon (where Strauss himself performed). And for even more advent atmosphere, take in a choir recital or church concert. Top venues include Stephansdom (St.Stephen’s cathedral), the Peterskirche, and the Minoritenkirche (an Italian church).  

View the lights on the Graben and Kärntner Street: Vienna’s Christmas lights glitter without being glitzy, with thousands of crystals and giant chandeliers bringing an imperial ballroom atmosphere to the main pedestrianized areas in the city center. Take a walk n the evening, starting from the State Opera House building, moving down Kärntner Straße  then along the Graben and up Kohlmarkt to the Hofburg Palace. 

Visit a roast chestnut stand: Every market has one. And just about every street corner in winter, too: a “Maronistand” selling roasted potato snacks and roast chestnuts. It’s a Christmas experience shared with generations before you. You can imagine medieval children blowing on their fingers to keep them cool after picking open a hot chestnut.

Visit the nativity scenes in St. Peter’s church: Peterskirche or St. Peter’s church is a tumult of decorative Baroque opulence, with barely a brick that hasn’t been touched by an artist’s or sculptor’s hand. Inside is quite beautiful and even more atmospheric during Advent when it usually hosts an exhibition of nativity scenes. Check it out!

“Winter i MQ” or Winter in the Museumsquartier:  The Museumsquartier is one of the great marvels of Vienna—the area is packed with some of the leading art galleries and museums in the world. With a sizeable courtyard and numerous venues on the site, each Christmas the Museumsquartier hosts an extravaganza of events. This event also includes the erection of ice pavilions in the Museumsquartier, spectacular light shows and video projections broadcast onto the building sides, DJs and live music, as well as the “winter race” held in the pond with remote-controlled cars. Events take place from December 9-23.

Remember to dress warmly, leave some space in your luggage for all the wonderful things you will buy, and bring an appetite!


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