Do you like Christmas?
In Vienna, it’s pretty safe to say that many people do. No surveys needed, just a will to go out in late November and December; or at least a social media account. You’ll find Vorfreude, or joyful anticipation, everywhere you go. I know, consumerism and all that, but isn’t it wonderful to see all this merry decoration, colorful lights and people smiling at each other while sipping on some hot punch?
It’s not clear when it all started. Some claim that the Viennese Christmas markets date all the way back to 1298 when Albrecht I let the people have a December Market. Others speak of Albrecht III and the year 1382, it was however only a renewal of general market rights. Some of them took place in November and/or December; nevertheless, there were most probably no Christmas markets as we know them today in the medieval Vienna.
Their real predecessor may have been the Thomasmarkt that took place from middle December into the first days of January on today’s Stephansplatz and Graben area. It was first mentioned as early as 1600 and was held until 1761. If the right name is what we need, the Nikolo-, Weihnachts- und Krippenmarkt on Freyung was the first market actually called a Christmas market. It was first mentioned in 1722 and today’ Altwiener Christkindlmarkt builds on this heritage.
This tradition has evolved and Vienna counts nowadays with numerous markets – so many that you would need to visit at least one a day to see them all. Around the middle of November cute wooden stalls open on the most beautiful squares around the city. Every market is a little bit different, but in general they sell christmassy objects of any kind, seasonal treats and this one thing that makes even the grumpiest Viennese smile a little: Punsch.
Punsch (or punch) is a hot drink made of fruit juice, spices and usually wine or other liquor. I didn’t know it before coming here, but now it’s my favorite winter beverage. It comes in many flavors and the vast majority of them are delicious. I usually order Beerenpunsch (berry punch), mostly because it contains actual berries that turn into the perfect snack after you’re done with your drink.
To be honest, the main reason for people living in Vienna to go to a Christmas market is to drink some punch with their friends or their significant other surrounded by lovely little lights, beautiful decoration and aromas of all the festive treats possible. Sometimes it even snows what adds a touch magic to the scenery. It is truly the most wonderful time of the year and makes the already stunning Vienna even prettier… and so much cozier!
There are over 20 official and countless other Christmas markets, many of which take place only on one weekend. I have visited at least most of the official and some of the smaller ones and picked the ones that I like – and revisit – the most.
Here it goes, my 5 favorite Christmas markets:
Technically speaking, it’s not a Christmas market. What made me put it on this list is that it does have what we enjoy the most: hot (non-)alcoholic drinks. They are sold not in wooden stalls, but in walk-in tent-like spaces; their flavors are usually also far from the usual. Moreover, it is where you’ll find DJ sets, live concerts and various other events. In the background, Leopold Museum is the canvas for artistic light projections what enhances the modern vibe of this place.
MuseumsQuartier is definitely an alternative for everybody who doesn’t care much about Christmas, but still wants to enjoy the hot drinks we all love. Also, it is always the first one to open, so anybody longing for his favorite winter beverage after long months of the no-market-season rushes there already in the beginning of November.
Where and when?
MuseumsQuartier, 09.11 – 23.12.2018
Monday – Friday: 4 – 11 pm
Saturday & Sunday: 1 – 11 pm
The Christmas Market on Karlsplatz specializes in arts and crafts, so if your heart beats for unique products, it is definitely the market for you. There are also shows, activities and workshops happening during which you can watch craftspeople at work. Check out the program here.
Nevertheless, I like this market mostly for other reasons:
- It is simply gorgeous;
- There is a straw playground in the pond area (yes, you can play in it);
- There are lamas walking around! I don’t think I have to praise them because nowadays everybody knows that lamas are cool, but there is one piece of information you may need when you meet them: their names are James and Luis.
Where and when?
Karlsplatz, 23.11 – 23.12.2018
Daily: 12 – 8 pm
If it wasn’t for the long commute, it would be number one. It’s a cozy, intimate market up on one of the Vienna’s neighbouring hills. To me, it has the most authentic Christmas atmosphere – no crowds, some wooden stalls with hand-made gifts, Christmas trees, soft music (!) and all kinds of treats. There is also a special bonus: a spectacular view over the whole city.
Where and when?
This year it is unfortunately closed, as this secret tip became less and less secret. But don’t worry – it will reopen in 2019!
What I love about the Christmas market at Spittelberg is… Spittelberg. It is a relatively small heritage district just outside the city center that looks just like back in the 19th century. The Christmas market takes place usually on a couple of its narrow cobblestone streets and on the charming courtyard of Amerlingbeisl that is probably the most breath-taking place on Earth at Christmas time.
Spittelberg takes you on a beautiful journey back to the times when it wasn’t part of Vienna yet, but a quiet place away from the big city life. Is there any better time to visit it than when it turns into Christmas wonderland?
Where and when?
Spittelberg, 15.11 – 23.12.2018
Mondays – Thursdays: 2pm – 9pm
Fridays: 2pm – 9.30pm
Saturdays: 10am – 9.30pm
Sundays and holidays: 10am – 9pm
To me, this Christmas market is the most complete one. Even though it is not small, it does have an intimate atmosphere as it indeed looks like a village. You will find unique gifts (oftentimes from far away) in the classic wooden stalls, just like my all-time-favorite snack: huge apple-flavored pretzels.
As you stroll down the narrow alleyways listening to soft music playing seemingly from the trees, you will notice that some stalls have turned into indoor bars, restaurants and even a marketplace. It is this year’s Christmas revolution; as of today, it is the only out- and indoor market in Vienna. If I’m wrong, let me know! If there are even more possibilities to at least sometimes hide from cold and rain and still enjoy a good punch, I definitely want to know about them.
Where and when?
Former General Hospital (“Altes AKH”) / University Campus, 17.11 – 23.12.2018
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 3 – 10 pm
Wednesday, Saturday, holidays: 12 – 10 pm
Sunday: 12 – 9 pm
Bonus: What about the rest?
Where is the most famous one, the Christmas market on the City Hall Square (Rathausplatz), you ask? Of course, it is the largest one in Vienna and nobody has any doubt about its beauty. It is definitely a must-see and it would be pity not to see it at all; however, it’s too crowded to be able to enjoy it in the long run.
When to go? First rule: avoid the weekends. However, if you’re staying just for a weekend, try to go during the day to do some shopping and/or enjoy some punch in peace and go again to see the lights from afar in the evening.
Then, there are others that are also worth going to, mostly because of their location:
- the one at Maria-Theresien-Platz is right between the monumental twin-museums Natural History Museum and Art History Museum,
- the one in front of Schönbrunn and the one behind Belvedere have both a stunning palace as their backdrop,
- the Stephansplatz Christmas market right next to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the most central one and you will end up there anyway, even if you don’t want to. But you probably do.
And what about you? What is your favorite Viennese Christmas market?