With its handsome palaces, fancy coffee houses, cosy wood-panelled Beisln and labyrinthine of smart cobbled lanes, Vienna – the beautiful Austrian capital steeped in hundreds years of history and counts Mozart, Strauss and Freud among its residents – is seemingly made for Christmas. Here’s how you can easily fall for its elegant seasonal charms…
Vienna is often referred to as one of the most beautiful country capitals in Europe and even the world, and Christmas is a truly magical time to visit. When I visited Vienna I was stunned by the city’s cleanliness, charm, and the Baroque-styled structural beauty. Admittedly, I was only there to see a few concerts in some of Vienna’s world-class music venues, but I stayed longer than I expected because there is so much to see in Austria’s capital city. Here’s why Vienna is often cited as the Christmas capital of Europe.
The seasonal balls
Balls are a huge part of Vienna’s culture and during the holiday season, the capital ramps it up several gears. Over Christmas, the city hosts a plethora of balls, including the Bonbon Ball and Opera Ball. Whether it’s a masquerade ball or any number of other themes, it’s a very magical time. Just make sure you research the dress code and etiquette of your chosen ball before you go (to avoid standing out from the locals)!
Winter in the Museums Quartier
This area – spectacular even out of season – becomes even more entertaining during the wintertime. Every year the Museums Quartier hosts different events ranging from ice rinks to live music and DJ’s to movie projections displayed on the side of the elegant Baroque buildings. All of this blended with the majestic Christmas lights that illuminate the whole area is a wonderful spectacle to see. This was one of my favourite areas of the city, even in mid-April, so whenever you choose to visit make sure you add the Museums Quartier to your Vienna itinerary.
Belvedere Palace Christmas Market
All Vienna Christmas markets are beautiful but Belvedere Palace was easily my favourite part of Vienna. Now it plays host to one of the most recently added Christmas markets in the city. It’s not only a newer market but less busy, more traditional and more intimate than some of the larger Christmas markets in Vienna. In addition to seeing the lights at night, make sure you visit during the day to take in the sheer beauty of the area.
The New Year Concert
Perhaps the biggest event in Vienna (and the final event of the holiday season) is the now enormously popular New Years Concert performed by the famed Wiener Philharmonic. The performance has quickly gained a worldwide reputation, now being televised and played on radio to over 90 countries around the world. Held in one of the great venues in Vienna, Musikverein, it’s a classic and lively experience for all. Definitely a must-see when visiting Vienna for the Christmas holidays.
Rathaus and Schonnbrunn Palace Christmas Markets
These Christmas markets are both considered to be the best in Vienna and I would recommend paying them both a visit. The Rathaus and Schonnbrunn Palace each provide excellent backdrops to the most authentic markets in Vienna and you won’t find any plastic figurines or gimmicky products being sold at any of the stalls here. If you want to see authentic, handcrafted works of art and craftsmanship, these are the markets you need to head to.
In addition to the artistic products, you will also be able to buy Victorian-style candies and sweets. Among the treats you’ll find traditional gingerbread, cheese layered onto dark bread, roasted chestnuts, pastries, cookies, and steaming baked potatoes. Shopping aside, there are also concerts, guided tours, and events such as cookie decorating for children held in the buildings surrounding the markets.
I would personally recommend visiting the markets during dusk to avoid the large crowds but still get a taste of the beautiful lights. Whether you’re planning to visit Vienna during the Christmas holidays or another month, also make time see Hofburg Palace – an elegant Baroque palace with museums, the Stephens Cathedral city icon located in the middle of city centre square, Prater – a public park with an iconic Ferris wheel and Hundertwasser House – a community movement and artistic centre. I truly loved my week in Austria’s beautiful capital city and hope to return one day…I’m sure you will too.