Embracing the Christmas Spirit in Vienna: A Guide to Vienna’s Christmas Markets
When I told people that I’d be swapping the Australian sun for the European winter, many people called me crazy.
But I knew I wanted to spend the majority of my 15 month trip in Europe. Hence there was really no way for me to avoid the cold European winter.
Travelling in Europe in winter has its advantages; you don’t have to spend hours fighting the crowds, everything is cheaper and some of the most famous tourist sites look absolutely amazing when they are covered in snow.
But one of the greatest advantages of travelling in Europe at this time, at least in November and December is the Christmas markets.
My decision to start my trip with Vienna wasn’t just about the comfort of knowing I’d be staying with familiar people (as my friends live in this city), but also because its famous for its Christmas markets.
Almost every main tourist site in Vienna is home to a new Christmas market and by the end of my weeklong stay in Austria, I had almost been to too many of them!
Although I didn’t need to do any shopping, the Christmas markets are always beautiful and a perfect place to sit back and drink the typical Christmas alcohol of gluhwein (mulled wine), hot punch and hot chocolate with rum!
For someone that loves Christmas as much as me, they were the perfect opportunity to get ready for the holiday season.
Rathaus Christmas Market
This is one of the biggest and most popular Christmas markets in Vienna. My friend, Lukas dubbed it really touristy. But as I’ve said before, sometimes the most touristy sites are popular for a reason. This is very true of the Rathaus Christmas Market.
The Rathaus was one of my favourite buildings in all of Vienna, and combined with the beauty of the Christmas market, it made for a magical photo. Everything is decked out for Christmas, the trees are even home to Christmas lights of candy canes, Christmas stars and everywhere you will find the famous German/Austrian spirit of Christmas- the Baby Jesus! In this part of the world, it’s Baby Jesus, not Santa that brings the gifts to the children on Christmas Eve.
I especially loved the giant candles at the front of the Christmas market. Whilst the Rathaus Christmas market surely isn’t the most authentic market in Vienna, it is the best decorated and still remains one of my favourites.
St Stephens Cathedral Christmas Market
This Christmas market is located right next to the famous St Stephens Cathedral in the centre of Vienna.
It was great to have my first Christmas gluhwein while the 12pm bells were ringing from the Cathedral.
The benefit of this market is the beautiful surrounding of the cathedral and one of the busiest part of Vienna. It’s a good spot for people watching!
Old Hospital Christmas Market
The Christmas market at the Old Hospital is actually dubbed a ‘Christmas village’ rather than a Christmas market.
This was one of the less touristy Christmas markets we went to. I could see locals drinking, eating and shopping and didn’t hear any English the whole time I was there.
It’s so local in fact that we didn’t even have to pay the usual deposit on our mugs when we ordered our hot cider! One of the main reasons we had come to this market was because my friend said it was the best hot cider in Vienna. She was not wrong! The best thing about the cider is that they don’t do it too sweet. Instead if you like it sweet you can add sugar to it.
This was great considering I don’t like my cider very sweet. You also drink your cider right next to a pen full of the cutest ponies and some cute farm animals.
It’s seriously the best drink in town.
Maria-Theresien-Platz Christmas Market
This is also a Christmas village and owned by the same people that organise the Christmas village at the Old Hospital.
We only walked through this Christmas market as it is located between the two major museums in Vienna. But this is the place where you can usually get a photo with the real Baby Jesus! When she is there at least (strangely I’m told it is usually a woman with blonde hair that plays the Baby Jesus).
At this market you can also have a nice lunch or dinner of hot soup that comes in a loaf of round bread that has been scoped out. It looked absolutely delicious, although at this point I was too full from lunch to think about ordering one.
Karlsplatz Christmas Market
This Christmas market is the most artisty of all the markets in Vienna. If you actually want to do some shopping for Christmas presents and souvenirs, than I would recommend heading here. You’ll find lots of local hand crafted Christmas decorations, candles and jewellery. It is really cool!
I also love the whole Christmas atmosphere at this market as well. They spread out hay in front of the church and you’ll find a huge pen full of cute farm animals. Steffi said there is usually a really cute pig but he wasn’t there this year.
Of course, even though it was only 10am we had our first hot punch of the day at this market. I ordered the elderberry punch and it was super delicious.
We didn’t stop at this market for a drink but only walked through it. It was packed full of locals enjoying an after work drink and the atmosphere here seemed really cool!
It’s a really small market but a great place to get a drink or local produce.
The Spittelberg is unique in that it is one of the only Christmas markets in Vienna that is located along a series of little alleyways. In a way it reminded me of the block arcade in the Melbourne, with the whole small alleyway atmosphere and cute little alleyway stalls.
The Spittelberg market is also home to some great handcrafted items, similar to the market at the Karlplatz.
It is also unique in the sense that a lot of the local stalls and shops that exist all year round in the Spittelberg convert into Christmas themed stalls. So you won’t just find the pop up Christmas huts like at the other markets, but some of the local sellers selling their wares.
I had the most amazing organic cider at one of those local sellers. I also ordered some fresh Langos as a late night snack.
Belvedere Christmas Market
The Belvedere was one of my favourite places in all of Vienna. It’s often considered a smaller sister to the Vienna’s most famous Schonbrunn palace. But I preferred this palace, especially at night time when its light up. There was also not nearly as many tourists as the Schonbrunn which was good.
The market here is the third of the Christmas villages and is associated with the villages at the Old Hospital and the Maria-Theresien-Platz. Given its backdrop it a famous tourist site, it is more touristy than some of the other markets.
But I had an amazing hot chocolate with rum which was great to drink while overlooking the beauty that is the Belvedere.
The Belvedere is also a great market to head to if you are hungry. You’ll find traditional winter dishes of Raclette (pickles and ham covered in Raclette cheese), hot baked potatoes and many stalls full of hot wine, hot punch and hot chocolate.
Schonbrunn Palace Christmas Market
Visiting Schonbrunn palace was the first time I imagined just how busy Vienna could get. We were surrounded by thousands of tourists who all hopped off tour buses. Hence I wasn’t really prepared to wrangle with the crowds surrounding this particular Christmas market.
And Beyond Vienna?
If you have time, heading out of Vienna can also get you to some amazing small town Christmas markets.
We visited some great ones in the centre of Salzburg, up in Salzburg fortress and the most amazing Christmas village in the small Austrian town of St.Wolfgang. But that is a story for another post!
Christmas is always a special time of the year for me. My grandmother and my mother are both obsessed with Christmas to the extent that our own houses are decked out from head to toe in Christmas decorations. Visiting the Christmas markets in Vienna definitely helped to make me feel better about not being in Australia for Christmas this year!
Have you visited any other Christmas markets in Vienna that should be added to this list? Comment below!