Discover a festive wonderland at Vienna’s Christmas markets. These staunchly traditional markets, complete with chalet-style stalls, sparkling fairy lights, and the soft sounds of Christmas music, take the business of merrymaking very seriously, and are a must-visit for any Christmas lover.
To help you maximise on the Christmas cheer, we’ve put together a quick guide on the top things to do at Vienna Christmas markets. There are nine different activities on our list, so rug up warm, and head out for a magical dose of authentic Viennese Christmas delight.
1) Sample Weihnachtspunsch
Along with the fun of sparkling white snow and cosy hats and mittens comes the reality of rather frosty temperatures. Combat the chill with a steaming mug or two of Weihnachtspunsch, and feel the warming spirit of Christmas (or alcohol) spread from your nose to your toes. Weihnachtspunsch (known as ‘Glühwein’ in Germany) literally translates as ‘Christmas Punch’, and is typically a hot, sweet mixture of tea, spices, sugar and rum or brandy. At most markets, you’ll pay a deposit for your first mug, which can be redeemed for cash when you’ve had your fill or kept as a souvenir of your visit.
2) Buy a Lebkuchen Heart
A popular treat during Yuletide celebrations in Europe, Lebkuchen is a biscuit similar to gingerbread that’s made with honey and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Lebkuchen are served to house-guests at Christmastime to mark the beginning of the festive season. You’ll see heart-shaped Lebkuchen of various sizes at all markets, usually decorated with frilled rings of icing and bearing messages. Seek out the most outrageous message for a memorable Christmas gift.
3) Snap Selfies at Belvedere
Schloss Belvedere is the gasp-worthy backdrop to the Weihnachtsdorf Christmas market. Set against a lake, the upper Baroque palace rises adorned in a sparkling regalia of Christmas lights. Enter from the southern gate to capture the vista in its glorious entirety: the traditional Viennese Christmas markets, the twinkling fairy lights, and the magnificent palace spread before you. Photos or it didn’t happen!
4) Listen to an Advent Concert
The magical soundtrack to the city’s Christmas markets features contributions from a wide range of musicians. Choral singers, gospel choirs, trumpeters, harpists, soloists and more build a cheerful Christmas atmosphere that can be enjoyed at any market. Take the time to listen and pay tribute to musicians you’ll see performing on the street, and perhaps even go to an Advent Concert. There are plenty on offer, from the Vienna Boys’ Choir at the MuTh, to the Wiener KammerOrchester accompanied by trumpet soloists at St. Stephen's Cathedral.
5) See the Christmas Lights
The opulent glimmer of Vienna’s Christmas lights will bring a sparkle to the eye of even the staunchest Scrooge. Without being tacky, the host of festive lights that illuminate Vienna’s avenues and boulevards create an imperial ballroom atmosphere, with crystal chandeliers and sparkling candelas twinkling everywhere. To capture the best views of the lights, take a stroll from the State Opera building, to Kärntner Straße, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Graben and then up Kohlmarkt to Hofburg Palace. Most Christmas markets in Vienna also feature a big Christmas Tree, each decorated to a different theme.
6) Warm Up with Some Roast Chestnuts
Perhaps the defining fragrance of Vienna’s Christmas markets, the seductive smell of chestnuts roasting at a Maronistand (German for Roast Chestnut stand) can’t fail to inspire some Christmas cheer in you. Sweet chestnuts are roasted on a steel drum above an open fire, and sold in small packets. This festive treat has been around for centuries, so if you’re seeking some tradition (and a hand-warmer) pick up a packet as you stroll through the markets.
7) Take Part in Christmas Sports
In anticipation of time predominantly spent eating, drinking, and parting with your hard-earned cash, you may decide that a spot of ice skating or curling is in order, just to keep the scales balanced. There are skating rinks dotted around the city centre, including at some of the Christmas markets. The parks next to Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz feature ice rinks with skates for hire, as do the gardens of the Wilhelminenberg Palace. Throughout the festive season, there’s an enormous ice rink set up between the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Inter-Continental Hotel for curling and skating. If you’re been really good this year (and haven’t consumed too much Weihnachtspunsch) Santa may even freeze the Danube for you.
8) Eat a Sausage
No trip to Vienna at Christmas is complete without sampling a sausage. Known as ‘Wieners’ the world over, in Vienna you’ll probably hear them referred to as Frankfurter Würstl. When visiting Vienna Christmas markets, you’ll want to specifically seek out the Käsekrainer sausage. This is a large sausage filled with small chunks of cheese (‘Käse’ in German), usually fried or grilled to serve hot, wrapped up in bread with mustard and ketchup. Käsekrainer sausages are deliciously warming and unhealthy – the perfect snack to keep you going on your Christmas market discovery quest!
9) Buy an Artisan Ornament
Contrary to what you might expect, Vienna’s Christmas market wares are remarkably tasteful, with local authorities working to provide a space for artisanal goods and crafts over mass-produced tat. You’ll find items like handmade candles, glass-blown ornaments, old-fashioned wooden toys, leather clothing and accessories, traditional pottery, honey, preserves, wine and schnapps in plentiful supply. Karlsplatz, Spittelberg and Am Hof markets are good destinations if you’re seeking authentic gifts and souvenirs, whereas the giant Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz tends to offer a broader range of goods, from tacky tat to artisan treasures. Items to look out for and take home as gifts include Lebkuchen Hearts, nativity scene sculptures, ceramic candle holders and souvenir Weihnachtspunsch mugs.