X-mas / Weihnachten, Vienna
The days leading up to Christmas are alive with Christmas markets almost everywhere. Some are more tourist oriented, basically being a souviner market, but others are more traditional.
However on the namesake day for these markets, the evidence of Christmas markets was there, but the majority was broken down like clockwork as the bells rang 4pm on Christmas Day. Only those stalls in the area of Stephansplatz and Maria-Theresien-Platz showed any life after this point. Honestly, it was a bit sad to see these being broken down so fast and thorough before Christmas was even over because at least in most of the world, the cheer continues through the weekend at a minimum.
In comparison, some of the more busy markets in places like Prague will stay until New Years.
The website of Vienna Tourist Office lists a dozen Christmas markets: http://www.wien.info/en/shopping-wining-dining/markets/christmas-markets
This page, which is updated each year so I hope the link will work in the future, lists all the practical information you need, like location and opening hours, and contains links to the individual websites for each market.
My experiences at those markets I visited are described here in separate tips. I have not seen them all, though. Since last year's information might not be valid any more for future years I am not including opening hours and such in these tips, please check the abovementioned website and the links in it for future reference. There you'll find the up-to-date info.And yes, it is in English, and it is available in a load of other languages, too.
The Christmas market in Freyung, called “Altwiener Christkindlmarkt is the most traditional one. Already in the 1770s a Christmas market took place in this spot. It occupies an old-town square in the Inner City in romantic setting. The square is quite narrow so prepare for dense crowds.
Every afternoon at 4 p.m. live Christmas music will be performed.
Schönbrunn palace has its own Christmas market in the Cour d’honneur in front of the main palace. Its clientele consists, which is no surprise, of 99% tourists. The setting is beautiful, there is room to move, the assortment is quite upscale with some nice artisans’ products and a lot of kitsch, and prices are what you’d expect at a tourist hotspot. The food stalls are upscale, too, and there are some really tasty options for a snack or quick lunch!
The market in Stephansplatz is small and mostly directed to tourists. It is more a ‘souvenir’ market than a real Christmas market. It occupies the lane along the southern side of the cathedral. Since you are likely to visit Stephansdom anyway you can just as well have a look along the market. It closes quite early in the evening, no Glühwein after something like 8 p.m.
Just a few steps from Rathausplatz there is already the next market between Kunsthistorisches and Naturhistorisches Museum. The stalls offer roughly the same stuff as their colleagues by the city hall, but I liked the setting in the park-like square between the two large museum buildings. The statue of Maria Theresia on her throne in the middle is overlooking what’s going on on the market.
This Christmas market in the courtyard of the old hospital is where locals go for their Punsch outing. It is a bit away from the centre and not in the focus of most tourists.
There is an ice rink for curling and some rides for kids. One Punsch stall had a live brass band playing. Merchandise involves both artisans’ products and cheap knickknack, but I did not see the usual tourist stuff. There are also lots of food stalls of all varieties.
It is a bit tricky to find. Take the U-Bahn to Schottentor, then the tram 43 or 44 to stop “Lange Gasse”. Then walk through the arched passages from either Alserstraße or Spitalgasse to reach the backyard with the market.
Many thanks to penelope4 for taking me!!!
Just for the record... The "Christmas market" in Naschmarkt consists of one short lane with a handful of stalls on the edge of the permanent grocery market. Not worth the detour unless you intend to visit the food market anyway.
A small Christmas market occupies the front yard along Upper Belvedere Palace. The setting is beautiful, but the stalls are the usual ones selling about the same stuff as in Rathausplatz or at the museums. This market can easily be combined with a walk of Belvedere park and/or a visit to the palaces, so it will make a nice addition to tourists’ agenda.
The atmosphere on this market is highly weather dependent due to its exposed location. If the weather conditions invite for a walk in the park, the market will be busy and lively and enjoyable. On a sunny Sunday afternoon it will attract lots of visitors. In less favourable conditions, like clouds and icy wind, it will be almost deserted.
The market in front of the city hall is widely considered the busiest and touristiest of them all. It is nevertheless worth visiting, especially at night for the illuminations. The location is convenient and easy to reach and the opening hours are a bit longer than elsewhere (open until 10 p.m.). The stalls and goods on offer are the average stuff that you’ll find on most markets, though. Families will find some rides for children which will make a nice addition.
The market in Karlsplatz was my personal favourite. The setting in front of Karlskirche is pleasant and spacious; even if the market is busy there is no squeezing through narrow alleys but enough room to move freely.
In Karlsplatz the stalls are given to artisans who sell their hand-made produce. The selection of goods is far above the average of most other markets. Really nice, unique and beautiful things, but take into consideration that quality has its price.
For children, there is for example pony riding, a very funny eco merry-go-round built from garbage and operated by two cyclists (photos 4 and 5) and fairy-tale reading. They have theatre performances and artist shows every now and then so check what’s on.
For “emergencies”, of course they have public toilets on the market but next to the square there is the university building which has better, free ones…
Apart from the famous Glühwein which we Germans consume on Christmas markets, the Austrians have another speciality in the field of seasonal hot alcoholic beverages which is known as Punsch. Punsch comes in countless varieties and is made from fruit juices with spices and honey and a shot of rum or amaretto. I found it even tastier than Glühwein!
Now here is my personal favourite: the apple and prune punsch (Apfel-Zwetschken-Punsch) as served by a certain stall where they make their own – I do not know the name of the stall, but it is easy to recognize because of staff “uniforms” which consists of striped sweaters and woollen hats in navy and white (photo 3). I found them at Altes AKH and also at Karlsplatz.
Christkindlmarkt is the austrian name for "Christmas-market" and the most beautiful in many ways is for me the one in Schoenbrunn castle.
There is a big number of shops lined up in a big cercle in the court in front of the castle.
You may easily go around for shopping as there are no small paths with other customers pushing you around.
There is a lot of space to walk or take a rest at one of the 4 food-stands in the centre of the market with a lot of tables and space around them.
In Vienna you will find more than 10 big Christkindl-markets
read more about them in my "shopping-tips"!
I've been in a fair few European capitals in December but I think it's highly unlikely that anyone does Christmas better than the Viennese. The place seems somehow made for Christmas and you will have absolutely no problem finding a Christmas Market to shop or browse in. The biggest and probably the most commercial is at the Rathaus and then various other smaller ones are dotted around at regular intervals. On Freyung, the Square we stayed on, there was a great market, small enough to get around easily and with quite a lot of crafts and home-made foods. A little way up the street was Am-Hof, specialising in antiques and bric-a-brac and outside the Kunsthistoriche Museum was the best craft market I came across. I bought wax stars here and some ceramic jewelry . I also bought cute little wooden toys for the 'kinder' in my life and a black ornamental cat for myself. Sometimes the crowds are so thick that it can be difficult to see the stalls, so if you're an early bird then your chances of some relaxed shopping are greatly enhanced. Most of the markets stay open until around 9 in the evening and it's really nice to stop and have a hot punch on your way back home.
In Vienna (like many other places in Europe), there is a tradition of Christmas markets in the holiday season. These markets are not just for shopping -- but are social events. People enjoy good conversation along with traditional Christmas snacks (such as Heisse Maroni) and drinks (such as Punsch).