Visiting Austria during the festive season is a bucket list item for many, and whether you do a weekend city-break in Vienna, or a driving tour around the country, the Christmas markets will leave you dazzled.
Christmas markets – also called Christkindlmarkts, Weihnachtsmarkts, or Advent markets – originated in Germany, however Vienna hosted a 'December Market' as early as 1298. The markets are more than a tourist attraction, they hold a deep cultural and historical significance…and amazing shopping opportunities! The markets in Austria are open from around late-November to roughly Christmas Eve.
Avoid driving to the markets (especially in Vienna) as punch will be flowing and parking spots limited. Dress for the cold; it dips below freezing in November and December in Austria. Be prepared to stand a lot as well; though many of the markets will have some seating and firepits near where the food stalls are, it can be difficult to get a space with all the crowds.
What to buy at the Christmas markets
The most unique things you can find are handmade crafts; wooden toys, nutcrackers, a huge variety of ornaments (glass baubles, potpourri and wood ornaments, fabric animals, for example), beeswax angels, carved wooden candle holders, lanterns and knitted clothes, just to name a few. Some stalls, especially in Vienna, take cards, but it is much faster to bring cash and avoid the long lines at ATMs.
If you get hungry, there are plentiful food and drink options. Some staples you'll find at every market (though often with their own regional take) include mulled wine in souvenir mugs, hot chocolate, candied apples, gingerbread hearts, bread-bowl soups, paper cones filled with warm chestnuts, potato pancakes, roasted nuts, and of course, sausages and pretzels.
The best Vienna markets
Vienna has the most Christmas markets of any Austrian city, and depending on what you consider a 'market', there's more than 30 to choose from. Below are some of the most popular, where you can easily spend an entire evening.
This market is the largest and possibly the most spectacular in Austria. With the backdrop of City Hall, there are over 150 vendor stalls and the adjacent park has an ice-skating trail with little Christmas surprises at every corner. It's very family-friendly with loads of activities for children like candle-making, game booths and cookie decorating. It does get very crowded, so it’s best to go during off-peak times like weekday mornings.
The Art Advent market is located in front of the Karlskirche. The crafts here are spectacular, and there are even fashion shows and busker events on weekends. All the food here comes with an organic certificate.
The Advent Market & Old Viennese Market
These markets are side by side, so it’s easy to go between the two. They are far less touristy than Rathausplatz so, other than the amazing food, drinks and shopping, you’ll also have the opportunity to chat with locals. The Old Viennese Market is actually the oldest in the city, with beautiful wooden signs to guide you around.
Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace
One thing you’ll notice all over Vienna are paintings by Gustav Klimt, a painter best known for The Kiss. Many of the markets will carry Christmas items with Klimt motifs and what better place to see Klimt than Belvedere Palace, where many of his most famous paintings are housed. Afterwards, step out into the Christmas Village which is teeming with many art-inspired crafts.
Christmas Market on Spittelberg
Looking for an escape from the usual crafts you’ve been seeing? The Christmas Market on Spittelberg will be just the place for you; festive alleyways full of artisan goods and antiques like rugs, tarnished silver jewellery and ceramics. It’s the perfect place to find something for that tough friend who only likes 18th-century war medallions.
Christmas Village at Maria-Theresien Platz
Set between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art, this is the perfect place to refresh yourself after seeing the vast collections. The market also has some of the greatest Austrian doughnuts you’ll taste.
Winter at the MQ
This is Vienna’s most contemporary Christmas market, full of art installations, live DJs and ice pavilions. There are even video projections on the surrounding historic facades, a fun-filled change of pace from the traditional markets.
Christmas Market Schönbrunn
What better backdrop to a Christmas market than the famous Schönbrunn Palace? The stalls here surround a large Christmas tree that can almost compete with the one at the Town Hall. Check the schedule before heading here, as there is often live Advent music.
Salzburg's Christmas Markets
The Salzburg markets are magical and romantic. Though not as big and busy as in Vienna, wandering around the cobbled streets covered in lights with the Austrian Alps as a backdrop is almost overwhelmingly beautiful.
Residenz Platz and Salzburg Cathedral
The Christmas Market outside Salzburg Cathedral looks like a scene from the North Pole and is especially amazing at dusk as the mountains fade into the night and the carollers begin singing. The number of Mozart-themed goods here is also out of this world: it's a very musical market! It's right next to the Residenzplatz market making it is easy to walk between the two.
Mirabell Palace Market
Centrally located right in front of the Mirabell Palace, this is much smaller than the other markets in Salzburg but it's full of amazing handcrafted goods.
The Hellbrun Market is a quick bus ride away. Outside Hellbrun Palace, it's located on a plateau surrounded by mountains, and you feel as if you’re in a small Christmas village. The neatest thing about this market is the windows of the palace; watch as they turn into a massive Advent Calendar.
Near Salzburg is the fairy-tale town of Hallstatt. Though there is really only one main market, it's a vision surrounded by towering wooden chalets tucked into the mountainside. It's an Unesco World Heritage region, and the surrounding lakes are filled with swans and fishing boats, even in the winter.
Graz's Christmas Markets
City Hall Market
The main market in Graz comes with a large Christmas tree to admire and lots of food options to keep you going. As well as the stalls in the market itself, the surrounding area is full of shops to get all your gifts checked off your list.
Schlossberg Hill Christmas Market
This market is not as popular as the City Hall Market because it is a hike to get to, but it’s worth it. Part of the market is in a covered area belonging to the Schlossberg Fort, and you get panoramic views of Graz while enjoying hot punch and a roaring fire. The sunset is spectacular from here and, to avoid walking in the dark, you can take the funicular back down to the main city.
Innsbruck's Christmas Markets
Old Town Christmas Market
This market is tucked away in the Austrian Alps and surrounded by medieval buildings including the famous Golden Roof. Where the buildings of Vienna are large and impressive, in Innsbruck the architecture is a well-preserved step back in time, making the market here seem otherworldly.
Hungerburg Christmas Market
This is a very popular ski region and the view from the Hungerburg Market is magical, looking over the snow-covered city of Innsbruck. The trip to get there on the Nordkette cable car is an experience in itself.
The Christmas Market at Marktplatz is a family-friendly spot with activities everyone can enjoy. There is a petting zoo, carousel, and puppet theaters for children, as well as over 60 stalls of shopping and food to distract the parents.
Fear not if you land in a small town on the way to a bigger city, there will likely be a Christmas market wherever you go; a magical festive escape shared by locals and tourists alike.
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