One of my favourite cities, Vienna is always charming and elegant, but never more so than during Advent, when she puts on some of the best Christmas markets anywhere – just like she has for hundreds of years. Nothing tacky here; in Vienna, Christmas markets are all about style.
Records show that huts for selling sweets and baked goods were set up on Graben street by St Stephen’s Cathedral as far back as 1626.
On present-day Graben, conifers from the Vienna Woods are for sale among the grand and gorgeous buildings and monuments.
In 1780 – 1781, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart resided at no. 17 Graben, Today, this building houses Pension Nossek, my favourite Vienna B&B. It always thrills me to open the heavy wooden door and climb the winding stairway, thinking he did the same 229 years ago. I wonder if he ambled along the Christmas stalls, drinking mulled wine.
Main Christmas markets venues are Rathausplatz (City Hall), Schloss Schönbrunn, the cosy, narrow alleys and passageways of Spittelberg, and the baroque palace Belvedere, where you can combine Yuletide browsing with a visit to the world’s largest collection of symbolist Gustav Klimt’s golden paintings.
At Schönbrunn, history once again commands attention. This Christmas market is relatively new (only since 1996), so little Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna did not experience it. I’m sure she would have been delighted, though; legend has it, she was a lively, carefree child. Oddly, I can’t seem to visit this Habsburg palace without picturing the little girl running around the grounds with her 15 older siblings, blissfully unaware of the horrible fate that awaited her on Place de la Concorde in Paris that October day in 1793.
The Christkindlmarkt by the imposing City Hall is the most famous of the city’s markets, visited by as many as 3 million people each year. Blown glass, handicrafts, Christmas tree ornaments, beeswax candles, wooden toys; it’s a veritable kaleidoscope of colours. The scent of roasted chestnuts and freshly baked goodies pervades the air. Punch and mulled wine taste better when served in porcelain mugs. If you forfeit the 2 Euro deposit, you can take the specially made Christkindlmarkt mugs home.
Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz is vibrant and lively, and full of children. During Advent, City Hall hosts the Christkindl Werkstatt, a workshop for children aged 3 – 18. About 80 000 children stop by here in the weeks before Christmas and entire school classes reserve time. With rosy cheeks, all flush with excitement and anticipation, they queue outside.
Inside, happy children dressed in aprons and bakers’ hats are covered in flour, baking – or playing with rolling pins. Others make animal pictures and wooden frames, key rings, leather bracelets, candles, ceramic cups and goblets – all sorts of wonderful, self-made Christmas presents.
If you’re considering a city break with kids before Christmas, Vienna is the natural choice. And if you’re thinking of enjoying a weekend sans kids, Vienna is also an excellent option. At night, the Christmas markets look especially bewitching. It might be a bit of a chill in the air, so try a mug or three of lovely mulled wine or Weinachtspunsch. A designed-for-the-occasion mug in one hand, the love of your life in the other… very romantic.
This post is part of Lonely Planet’s Blogsherpa carnival on magical/memorable city experiences.
Historic Centre of Vienna is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.