When I first heard Vienna compared to Paris, I knew it was a city I’d love when I finally made it there.
My first visit though, was somewhat of a fluke. When planning a trip to visit the Christmas markets in Munich & Nuremberg, it worked out a friend was planning a trip to Vienna during the same time. Luckily, I was able to join their trip for a few days, taking an early morning train from Munich to Vienna.
Researching for our German Christmas market trip, I kept seeing Vienna’s markets referenced as some of the best in Europe. Happily the descriptions of idyllic Christmas couldn’t have been closer to the truth- beautiful lights, dozens of Christmas markets and cozy cafes, Vienna is a gorgeous place to visit for holiday cheer.
3 Reasons to Visit Vienna in Winter
Vienna is home to some of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe
Few things put you in the holiday spirit as quickly as a Christmas market in Europe, especially the ones in Vienna- they’re the epitome of Christmas.
Although our time in Vienna was short, we had time to visit six of the city’s markets.
- Wiener Christkindlmarkt at the Rathaus: Vienna’s most popular Christmas market. The stunning Rathaus makes a beautiful backdrop, and 150 vendors draw huge crowds. Surrounding the market, there’s an ice rink and big area for kids with lots of holiday activities. Although I enjoyed this market, it wasn’t my favorite- seeing so many booths selling generic imported items kind of dulled the ‘Christmas magic’ vibe
- Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace: Although a 30 minute ride on the metro, this market was our favorite. Not only is the palace an impressive backdrop, but the market felt more traditional. I’ve heard this market is popular for New Year’s, in part, because of its daily jazz performances
- Weihnachtsmarkt am Spittelberg: My other favorite Christrmas market, you’ll find the Spittelberg market down two side streets. There are over 100 huts selling handmade items, food and huge mugs of gluhwein (seriously, they’re bigger than other markets). Don’t miss the giant latkes here, so good
- Karlsplatz Art Advent: We also loved this market, set up in front of the Baroque Cathedral Karlskirche. All of the crafts for sales are handmade by local artists, we heard all vendors have to pass a panel of judges before they can apply for a stall. On the Monday evening we visited, we also loved the vibe at the gluhwein booths, it felt like mostly locals coming together to catch-up and rejoice in the holiday season (aka less touristy than some of the other markets)
- Altwiener Christkindlmarkt on the Freyung: We passed through this market on a run through the city center. At the time, we didn’t know it dates back to 1772, which makes it the oldest Christmas market in Vienna. It’s on the small side, but felt authentic. Be sure to not miss the giant nativity scene painted on the back of the huts
- Weihnachtsmarkt am Stephansplatz: Another Christmas market we stumbled upon by happy accident. Finishing up our city sightseeing run, we literally ran through this market on our way to the metro. Set against the St. Stephens Cathedral, it’s gorgeous day and night. After giving the booths a quick browse, we stopped for gluhwein in a cute boot before getting on the metro
Check each market’s website for specifics, but most are open from mid-November through New Year’s Eve. As in Germany, the majority of stalls are cash only- especially for small purchases.
Vienna takes Christmas lights seriously
In the lead up to Christmas, Vienna is transformed. Christmas lights illuminate every street in the city center.
Wandering the city, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported to another era. The alleyways, while always beautiful, are decked out with sparkling lights.
Key areas to wander:
- Alleyways: Griechengasse, Franziskanerplatz
- Streets: Stephansplatz, Karlsplatz, Maria-Theresin-Platz, Graben
- Bonus: Many of the above streets are also the city’s most popular shopping areas and pedestrian only areas
Cold weather is the perfect reason to warm up in a Viennese coffeehouse, or indulge in Austrian cuisine
Bopping from market to market and wandering the streets in search of dazzling Christmas lights meant spending a lot of time outdoors. Luckily, Vienna has no shortage of cafes and cozy restaurants to relax and take refuge from the cold in.
Only in the city for two days, we weren’t able to visit every place we wanted, but a few we made it to and loved:
- Cafe Sacher: A true Viennese experience. Coffee house in the middle of Vienna specialising in chocolate cake
- Cafe Central: Iconic. Live piano music, a grand interior and delicious treats. Must order: Cake and a melange, which is espresso with steamed milk and milk foam. Lines can get long, we came late afternoon (~4 pm) and were seated immediately. But, when we left an hour and a half later, the line was out the door
- Demel: Beautiful dessert shop with great apfelstrudel. Don’t miss the cafe on the second floor
- Gerstner K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker: Stunning cafe, we popped in for a coffee to warm up, but heard there’s also a champagne bar upstairs
- kaffemik: Perfect for a quick morning coffee before exploring
- Eberts Bar: With all the gluhwein we drank, you may think we’d have no appetite for cocktails. You’d be wrong ;). We only stayed for one drink, but appreciated the depth of the menu
- If Dogs Ran Free: Our final stop for a night cap on our one night in Vienna, the atmosphere here is a bit trendy, but the old fashioned is great enough to make up for it
- Gastwirtschaft Steman: Traditional dishes, worth the wait for the schnitzel
- Ulrich: Excellent breakfast- after a night of gluhwein antics, a giant green smoothie and veggie omelet was just what I needed
- Amerlingbeisl: We came to this gastropub for our last meal in Vienna (a late lunch) and were surprised by how great everything was. Good range of traditional Viennese dishes and modern European fare
Tips for visiting Vienna in winter
- Dress warmly: Wear layers, and bring a waterproof jacket as well as footwear
- Plan on walking & taking public transit: Vienna’s city center is compact enough to explore on foot. If you’re traveling to any of the outer neighborhoods, the metro/tram/bus systems are easy to navigate. Like Germany, Vienna’s public transit runs on the honor code- you buy a ticket once, validate it and don’t need to take it out again unless an official asks to see it. We bought day passes both days in Vienna (~€7), which made it easy for us to get around the city quickly and visit different areas
- Round up to tip: Unlike other European countries, we did notice Viennese waiters expected a small tip for their services. In most instances, rounding up to the nearest euro (or a few euros above) will suffice
- Getting to/from the city:
- Train: If you arrive by train, you’ll likely start your time in Vienna in the Wein train station. From there, we found it easy to take the metro system to our Airbnb
- Airport: There are several trains that run from Wein and Mitte, but CAT (arrives/leaves from Mitte) runs the most often (twice hourly), and only takes ~15 minutes from airport to city center
- Uber: The Vienna airport isn’t too far from city center, although we took the train, we also looked up Uber rates for comparison and noticed they were ~€30-50 one way, which may be a more convenient option for a group
- Where to stay: Knowing our time in Vienna would be short, we opted to stay in a central Airbnb in the Josefstadt neighborhood. Our Airbnb was on several tram/bus lines and a short walk from both the metro and Wiener Christkindlmarkt am Rathausplatz (score!)
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