Getting Festive in Vienna

Countless Christmas markets may spring up in cities across Northern and Central Europe during the coming months, but it is Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt that deserves a special mention.

The tradition of winter street markets in Austria dates back to the Middle Ages and markets selling festive items and seasonal food have since then become a staple event of Austrian culture. To this day markets remain extremely popular with Austrian natives but also with visitors from all over the world.

From mid November till approximately Christmas day Vienna is littered with festively themed markets of various sizes.

Yet such a brief description does the concept of Christkindlmarkt little justice.

It is the festive atmosphere generated across the city that truly makes for such a special experience. The sights, smells and tastes of Vienna at Christmas time mean, year upon year, it becomes a hugely popular spectacle. The joyful sensation of crisp winter air, festive music, tasteful decorations and traditional hot food really needs to be experienced to be fully believed.

Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt offers plenty of shopping opportunities. The main locations are so popular that they often attract huge crowds. Fortunately the number and variety of different markets and stalls across the city ensures overcrowding is rarely an issue.

Almost all of the markets contain quaint stands selling souvenirs and traditional decorations, but jewellery, ornaments, clothes and children’s toys are also frequently available. With the exception of special crafted items, which can be expensive, market prices are also generally reasonable.

Depending on location, other entertainment besides shopping, might include Christmas music such as choirs, carol singing or busking musicians. Many of the markets in Vienna also cater for young children with organised games, shows and story telling a frequent occurrence.

However all in all, arguably the most appreciated quality of  Christkindlmarkt is the food. In Austria it is common to visit a Christmas market with purely the intention to eat. Hopping from one stall to the next tasting the traditional delicacies on offer is, for many, the best way of all to experience Christkindlmarkt. Some culinary highlights to look out for include Gebrannte Mandeln (toasted almonds), Maroni (sweet chestnuts), Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Bratkartoffel (baked potatoes) and Bratwurst (fried sausages).

Strolling and shopping can of course be thirsty work. Luckily Glühwein (hot mulled wine) is another core ingredient of Christkindlmarkt and an absolute must try for a first time visitor. The aroma and sweet taste certainly heighten the festive feeling of a market, but even more importantly, the wine’s warmth is a great way to stave off the winter chill.

With so many different markets located all across the city it can sometimes be hard to choose which one to visit first. Here is a list of the best-known:

Rathausplatz (1010, Rathausplatz near U2 Rathaus)

Open – 12 Nov till 24 Dec 2011, daily 10am to 10pm

The city’s largest and most famous market, located in the square between the Rathaus and the Burgtheater, is a highlight for visitors eager to get into the Christmas spirit. Walk in the bewitching garden amongst the decorated trees or browse the 150 advent themed stalls. The giant advent calendar is also very popular particularly with younger visitors.

Spittelberg (1070, quarter between Stiftgasse and Breite Gasse near U2/U3 Volkstheater)

Open – 17 Nov till 23 Dec 2011, daily 2pm to 9pm

The Spittelberg market, located in Biedermeier an historic quarter of the city, spreads across a collection of narrow paved alleyways, niches and courtyards. Its stalls, which are intercepted by many small bars and cafes, mainly sell traditional craftwork.

Schönbrunn Palace (1130, main entrance Schönbrunn Palace, near U4 Schönbrunn)
Open – 19 Nov till 26 Dec 2011, daily 10am to 9pm

The former summer residence of the Austrian Emperors, the Schönbrunn Palace, is festively illuminated during the Christmas season which provides a spectacular backdrop. Far from tacky goods, stalls sell products of workshops, from candle makers to glass blowers. The large Christmas tree and carol singers are also particular highlights.

Weihnachtsdorf (1030, Prinz Eugen-Strasse 27)

Open – 18 Nov till 23 Dec 2011, daily 11am to 9pm

One of the latest additions to the Christmas Market scene in Vienna, this popular Christmas Village is set against the glorious baroque backdrop of the world-famous Belvedere palace.

Adventmarkt (1060, Mariahilfer Strasse 55)

Open – 13 Nov till 24 Dec 2011, daily 9am to 8pm

Probably the best possibility to grab a Gluhwein or Punsch during Christmas shopping at Mariahilfer Strasse, one of Vienna’s main shopping streets. This market is located on a small square in front of the Mariahilf church, offering mainly food but also Christmas decorations and original gifts.

Weihnachtsdorf im Alten AKH (1090, Universitatscampus at Spitalgasse/Alserstrasse)

Open – 12 Nov till 23 Dec 2011, daily 2pm to 10pm

The Christmas Village at Vienna’s former General Hospital (Altes AKH, University Campus right now) enchants the visitor with its cosy atmosphere. The decorated market stalls located in narrow alleyways offer an array of beautiful Christmas gifts as well as mulled wine.

Altwiener Christkindlmarkt at the Freyung (1010, Freyung close to U2 Schottentor)

Open – 19 Nov till 23 Dec 2011, daily 10am to 9pm

This traditional Viennese Christmas fair is situated in one of the most beautiful squares in the heart of Vienna, the Freyung. It features a mixture of exquisite craftwork, special treats typical for Christmas time in Vienna and a varied cultural programme – in a somewhat quieter and less touristic atmosphere.

Gardens of Hirschstetten (1220, Quadenstrasse 15)

Open – 17 Nov till 18 Dec 2011, Thursday to Sunday 10am to 8pm

This market in the 22nd district offers the omnipresent Christmas presents and handmade gifts as well as Punsch and Gluhwein. Apart from that, Christmas exhibition displays, winter and advent tales – worth seeing, especially for children.

Wintermarkt at Riesenradplatz (1020, Prater on Riesenradplatz)

Open –  19 Nov 2011 till 8 Jan 2012, daily 11am to 9 pm

This idyllic Christmasmarket is located right beside the Riesenrad (Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel) at the entrance to the Prater amusement park. Make sure to treat yourself to a Gluhwein or Punsch while shopping for Christmas gifts. Hint: The market is open on New Year’s Eve as part of the Silvesterpfad as well.

Adventmarkt in front of Karlskirche (1010, Resselpark in front of Karlskirche, next to the entrance of U1/2/4 Karlsplatz)

Open – 18 Nov till 23 Dec 2011, daily 12 noon to 8pm

Focusing on authentic handicrafts made by local artists rather than massproduced Christmas gifts, this very atmospheric market is located in the Resselpark between Karlskirche and the Technical University.

Weihnachtsdorf Maria Theresien-Platz (1010, Maria-Theresien-Platz, close to U2 Museumsquartier)

Open – 16 Nov till 24 Dec 2011, daily 11am to 10pm

Located on the large square between the two main museums, this Christmas Village opens its doors this year for the 4th time amongst the world-renowned sights of Vienna’s majestic Ringstrasse. Festively decorated market stalls as well as a vast array of culinary delights can be experienced.