Europe’s Christmas Markets are a wonderful treat for all the senses – especially the taste ones! Miss 11 and I headed off in early December for an Austrian and German adventure to check out as many of the markets that we could manage. First stop was Vienna, the exquisite capital of Austria, home to Imperial history and Baroque architecture, with the musical accompaniment from Mozart and Strauss, and home to Sigmund Freud. Plenty to see and explore. It is importantly also home to over 20 Christmas Markets.
Set in the spectacular backdrops of Vienna, they are an exquisite way to explore the city and feel truly festive. They are an age old tradition, with the forerunner to present day markets from the Middle Ages. The first record of Vienna’s December Market was in 1298, when citizens were grated permission to hold a Krippenmarkt (December Market) during Advent. Early markets started by only selling meat, but evolved to provide other everyday purchases, then eventually seasonal decorations, crafts and treats accompanied with entertainment such as singing and dancing.
Christmas markets received a significant boost in the 16th-century, when the teachings of the German protestant reformer Martin Luther suggested that the birth of Christ was a more appropriate gift-giving day than other saints’ days. This was the beginning of the practice of Christmas gift- buying and festive markets have been popular across Europe and beyond ever since.
One of the biggest and most well known Christmas Markets in Vienna, you cannot avoid being in a Christmas mood after this. Here you will find dozens of booths filled with contemporary and traditional Christmas decorations and gifts. Full of live music, it is also full of traditional and classic Viennese cuisine with incredible aromas abounding. There is plenty to do for children, including some amusements and the big wheel. A big hit for Miss 11 was getting to ice skate. The ice rink is fun, with some gradients that allow you to gain some speed which was great fun! It is situated right in front of the City Hall and with a picture perfect backdrop it is a wonderful sight! You can go inside the City Hall where children can make Christmas cookies or candles. As Vienna’s most popular Christmas markets it is also the most crowded, so prepare for that.
Christmas Market, Schloss Schönbrunn
For an elegant Christmas market Schloss Schönbrunn is a perfect setting with the Schönbrunn Palace as it’s background, it presents the most beautiful and magical scenery. There is a spectacular towering Christmas tree that will completely mesmerise you. The market offers the perfect Christmas touch, with handmade Christmas decorations, and gifts that are made using natural materials. Of course, there is a complete food and drinks range including warm Christmas cookies, snacks, and mulled wine. Combined with visit to the Palace and the nearby Children’s Museum there is plenty of things to do in the area. We also met St Nicholas here.
Weihnachtsmarkt Am Hof
Situated a few streets away from the main tourist zones of Graben and Kaertner Stree. This is a smaller but quality artisan gift market, with ceramics, jewellery, glassware, leather items and hats. The Christmas decorations were splendid. It is also well known for its variety of sausages and ham, along with hot baked potatoes, waffles, and gingerbread.
Another large scale market with more than 70 booths from local craftspeople and artisans. Situated in front of the baroque Church of Saint Charles Borromeo. It is also a popular area for many live concerts on regular basis. In addition, the Christmas market features many live concerts on a regular basis. It is the place to go for hand made items.
Christmas Market on Stephansplatz
Next to the iconic St. Stephen’s cathedral there is a small Christmas market. It is quite small and overcrowded, but worth a walk around if you are in the area.
One of our highlights was the mugs that they used, you could buy your own mug for around €4, and then when you are finished with your drink, you could keep the mug as a souvenir or return it and get your money back. This meant that there is not wasteful disposable couples. Each market has their own design, and I imagine could turn into fun collectibles for the different markets you visit.
Did you know? Snow globes were invented accidentally in Vienna . Mr Perzy, a surgical instruments mechanic created one in 1900 as the result of an experiment to try and improve the brightness of the newly vented and not very bright electric light bulb. Inspired by the shoemakers of the time, who utilised a glass globe filled with water in front of a flame to get more light from a candle, Perzy tried to re-create this in front of a light bulb. It didn’t work that well. One day he used a white powder, semolina, used for baby food and poured it into the glass globe. It got soaked up by the water and floated very slowly to the base of the globe- the effect reminded him of snowfall. The beginning of snow globe invention. For the first 40 years of production, a church was always added. Following the Second World War, his son added different designs, such as Christmas trees, Father Christmas and snowmen figurines. The company continues, and exports the snow globes around the world. You can visit the Snow globe museum there too, and buy many in the Christmas markets.
Top tips for visiting a Vienna Christmas Market
Pick your favourite market – there are so many to see, so do your research about the ones you want to see. All have stalls with food, Glühwein and cooked chestnuts, but each one has their own distinct style. For kids the to ones are Karlsplatz or Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz. For excellent photos, Schloss Schönbrunn is superb.
Visit at the right time – they get very busy in the evening, so choose a little before then and be ready to leave when it becomes dark if you struggle with the crowds. It worked for us not to be visiting on a weekend as it was much quieter.
Bring cash – especially small notes. Some stands will accept credit cards but many were cash only, or there were difficulties getting the card reader to connect. Easier and quicker to have cash.
Make sure you try these foods – Maroni (Cooked chestnuts), Kaisekrainer (Sausage with cheese in the middle), the famous Bratwurst (hot dogs), Soup in a Bread Bowl, Pretzels, Waffeln (Waffles), Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Heisse Bauernkrapfen (doughnuts), Glühwein (mulled wine) and Punsch (Alcoholic Punch, if you don’t want to go with the alcoholic version choose Kinder Punsch).
Go to as many as you can – I’ve only been able to cover a few in this blog, but there are many around the city. Check them out as you sightsee and explore, and of course enjoy! Have a Glühwein for me!
Dress warmly – the Markets are mainly outside, and it can be cold, especially with the wind chill from the River so wrap up. Layers, gloves, and hats are important! The hut punsh and Glühwein help too!