After two years of being in places that don’t really celebrate Christmas in style, we teamed up with GowithOh to highlight things to do in Vienna for Christmas. We wanted to really have a chance to be in the Christmas spirit, and with several Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkten) we figured this would be a great place to do just that. There are some other things to get you into and keep you in the spirit, too.
While most of the city is surprisingly under-decorated for the Christmas holiday, the Christmas markets definitely make up for it, especially the one located in front of the city hall, Rathausplatz. If you don’t get a smile on your face just walking up to this spot, you better double check to make sure you don’t have your Scrooge switched on!
There are 12 markets beginning around mid-November and running through Christmas; however, keep in mind that in Austria, like much of Europe, the 24th is the day of the big celebration. About half of the markets will be closed after the 23rd. All of them will close early on the 24th, and only a small number will still be going strong after the 24th.
Since we arrived on the 23rd, we ended up missing a bunch of them. However, we managed to attend some of the larger markets. Our apartment is in the 11th district, so we took the fabulous metro and visited the Maria Theresien-Platz (MTP) market first where we picked up some lovely waffles to give us enough energy to make it to the larger, more crowded, and way more festive market at Rathausplatz.
If you prefer smaller crowds, you’ll like the MTP market more, but really Rathausplatz is the place to be. This is also where I picked up my first cup of glühwein (although reportedly the best is found on Graben street). When you place your order for the mulled wine, you pay a deposit (2.50€) on the cup. If you wish to keep it as a souvenir, then no problem. Just leave with it. Otherwise, you return the cup to either refill it or get your deposit back. This is how it works at all of the markets.
When checking out the food stalls, I can also recommend you get the Käsekrainer. It was amazing. It’s basically a bratwurst with cheese inside. I’ll admit I moaned when I bit into it.
Besides yummy food, there are all sorts of handicrafts, ornaments, etc., for sale. Rathausplatz also has areas more focused on kids, including a “fun train.” You’ll find all kinds of fun workshops for the little ones.
Based on where we’re staying, our route was MTP, walk to Rathausplatz, and take the metro to Schönbrunn Palace for their market (see below for more info).
When planning for Christmas, your first thought is probably not “Ferris wheel” and amusement park. But why not! The site of Wiener Riesenrad not only has a very cool Ferris wheel (you can even have a candlelit dinner on the wheel!), but several other attractions that the kids will love. Tigger especially loved the bumper cars (2.50€). Madame Tussauds is also there.
The wheel is a bit of splurge and costs 9€ for adults and 4 for kids.
There is a small Christmas market here which is mostly food and drink oriented, but its design and lack of crowds make it especially more enjoyable for families with small children. If you go on Christmas Day, you will pretty much have no wait for any of the rides or activities.
Take the metro, tram, or train to the Praterstern station, and the park is across the street. You can’t miss it. In the station, just follow the Ferris wheel symbol to get to the right exit.
The Schönbrunn Palace complex (trust me)
Perhaps visiting a former imperial palace isn’t exactly your idea of excitement. Especially on Christmas. However, you’ll want to come here because the complex also houses a Christmas market with the palace as a backdrop. In addition, they have lots of activities for kids, and the world’s oldest zoo is located on site. It’s open 365 days a year. This market is also one of only three that are open on Christmas Day.
If you do happen to want to also see the palace, it’s open as well for tours.
Enjoying the lights
Outside the markets, you’re not going to find many decorations or lights. However, in the 1st district around Stephansplatz, you’ll find plenty to enjoy. The area right around the cathedral isn’t that heavily decorated, but once you get on side streets, especially around shops, you’ll easily find them.
This amazing structure located in Stephansplatz is a great place to visit even if you aren’t interested in attending Mass. The interior is quite breathtaking. They also have some great decorations inside the cathedral, as one might expect.
This is a great starting place to just walk around the city center, take in all the tremendous history, and do some serious people watching. It’s a transportation hub so very easy to get to.
While you’re in the area, you may want to pop over to Cafe Sacher at the Hotel Sacher and have a cup of coffee while indulging in a slice of Sacher-Torte made from the original recipe. If you’re there on Christmas, though, consider making reservations or standing in line for a while.
In general, this is really a great time to visit Vienna. For the most part, crowds are practically nonexistent. When you ride the metro, you’ll generally have plenty of room and no problem finding a seat. There is a palpable energy of celebration in the air that can be quite infectious.
And Vienna is just an amazing place to visit period.
Which of these things to do in Vienna would interest you most during the holidays?