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A Local's Take on 15 Christmas Markets in Vienna

For the 2019 Advent season, I visited 15 markets in Vienna. I drank the Punsch and Glühwein. I ate the cheese. I shopped. I took in the lights, sounds and atmosphere. My notes are below, which I hope helps future visitors. The markets rarely change, so these comments should hold true in 2020 and beyond, but I’ll update as necessary. It’s a rough life, I know. Happy New Year!

First, some Advent Market basics:

When are the Markets? – The markets started this year in mid- to late November. Many closed up on Christmas Eve, but several find a new life after Christmas as New Year’s Markets, which can go until Jan. 6. I suggest the following link for exact dates and times - https://www.wien.info/en/shopping-wining-dining/markets/christmas-markets

Day or Night? – Definitely go to the markets after sunset, which at this time of year is about 4 pm. The darkness brings out the festive lights!

What should I wear? – Warm clothing is a must as you’ll be standing outside in the freezing cold, with little relief. A hat, gloves, warms socks and shoes are all imperative.

Will it snow? – Probably not.

What should I drink? – A warm punsch or Glühwein, of course. Punsch is a warm alcoholic drink, usually fruit flavored but there are hundreds of variations (my favorite is the Mozart which is with marzipan and pistachio). Kinderpunsch (children’s punsch) is the non-alcoholic version. Glühwein is warm spiced red wine. Hot chocolate is also available a most markets. Be sure to get Schlag (whipped cream) on your punsch or hot chocolate.

How do I get my drinks? – Every market has multiple punsch stands which are like an outside bar. You push your way to the front and order your drink. You will pay for your drink, plus a 3-4 Euro deposit for the mug. Every time I bought a punsch, I would witness a confused customer shouting at the worker that they were overcharged. Do not be this person. You will get your deposit back when you return the mug (or don’t return the mug and keep it as a souvenir). You can return your mug to any punsch stand in the same market – it doesn’t have to be the stand where you bought your drink.

What do I eat at the market? – Markets typically serve fatty, cheesy and rich foods. Raclette, sausages, doughnuts, chestnuts, fried potatoes and big pans of spaetzle are common. You can definitely get a meal at a market, but bring the pepto.

Tell me about the shopping – Christmas crafts, ornaments and decorations galore of various quality and price are available at all markets. These days, many items are imported, but if you are diligent you can find nice locally made products. You can also easily find jewelry, clothing, toys, ceramics, snow globes and everything in between. Many vendors will have stalls are multiple markets, so there is some repetition. Haggling is really not done and do not expect bargains.

Should I bring the kids? – Yes!

Suggested grouping of markets – Many of the markets are close to each other, making it possible to visit several in one afternoon/evening. Grouping #1 - Belvedere, Karlsplatz and the Oper Genuss Market. Grouping #2 – Rathausplatz and Altes AKH. Grouping #3 – Maria-Theresien-Platz, MuseumsQuartier and Spittelberg. Grouping #4 – Freyung, Am Hof and Stephansplatz.

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Total Market Breakdown with my own thoughts and comments (ratings given out of a possible 10):

Vienna Christmas World at Rathausplatz – (4 out of 10) This is the granddaddy of the Viennese markets, the one you see on all the top 10 lists. It is the biggest and the most obnoxious, so no Viennese person actually goes to this one. The crafts tend to be imported, the crowds are massive. The food and punsch are not very good. I suggest taking “the photo” in front of the tram stop looking towards the Rathaus (City Hall) and moving on…unless you feel like a little ice skating. To the left of the market, looking at the Rathaus you will find a very magical place to ice skate. There is no rink, but rather an ice path that weaves through the trees of the park. Skate rentals and lockers are available. I highly recommend giving the skating a try, but skipping this market entirely except to look from a distance.

Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz – (6 out of 10) This market is located in the square between the Kunsthistoriches Museum and the Natural History Museum. This market is fairly standard, with no memorable crafts or food. The stalls are organized in an “x” and circle the large statue. The lights are nice and the crowds are fairly heavy. I did eat some cheese spaetzle, which was ok. This would not be a fun market for kids.

Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace – (8 out of 10) I find the setting of this market to be spectacular. Normally, you cannot get close to the palace after dark, so it is quite special to see it during the market season. The market is located in front of the Upper Belvedere, on the side facing Schweizergarten. The crafts are above average, with some unique stalls at this market (fancy cupcakes, hand-blown glass jewelry). It is not a huge or overwhelming market and is organized in a way that makes it seem less crowded than it is. My favorite punsch stand of all punsch stands is located at this market – if you are looking at the palace, the stand is at the far left. I recommend the Schwartzwalder punsch. An interesting feature this year was a huge Christmas tree made out of sleds – really cool and you could go inside the tree. As for food, I got myself a bag of candied nuts, but passed on the other food as nothing was particularly interesting. For small kids, there is a small train.

Christmas Village on the University Campus – (8 out of 10) This is a market for foodies and a local secret. I honestly think that few tourists find their way to the Altes AKH for this very special market. Located in the inner courtyard of the old state hospital, the setting is full of tree, lights and wooden paths, giving it a real village feel. The food is the real star here as each region of Austria has its own food pavilion to showcase its food. It all looked good and of a higher quality than is usually found at the markets. Because the market is spread out, the crowds are not overwhelming. I will say, however, that the craft stalls were a bit lacking but the nice gourmet food building compensated somewhat (Tchida, my favorite chili provider was there selling their goods). There is also a merry-go-round and curling available for those who want some activity.

Altwiener (Old Viennese) Christmas Market Freyung – (7 out of 10) Located in one of the oldest squares in Vienna, the Freyung Market is a local favorite – and for good reason. It is small and manageable, but crowded and has excellent atmosphere – almost village-like. Crafts are good quality and locally produced (I liked the rolling pins with carved designs). There is a small stage for music (didn’t see any), but not much for kids. You’ll find a few punsch stands here, but the operative word here is quaint and small.

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Am Hof Christmas Market – (6 out of 10) This market takes up much of one of the larger squares in the first district. A very well-known sausage stand is here – they let their kaesekrainers get crispy – as you enter the market on the far right. The market is larger than it appears and stretches way back, where it is quieter. I’d suggest having a punsch at the far end of this market if you’re cold. Can’t say that there is much, if anything, here for kids. The crafts are your usual Christmas market items, but nothing stood out.

Christmas Market & New Year's Market, Schönbrunn Palace – (8 out of 10) A stunningly located market in the forecourt of the Schönbrunn Palace. The food here is quite noteworthy, especially the spaetzle stand behind the large Christmas tree. You will find unique food items here. The punsch was creative – I had a white chocolate version. Crafts here are the real standout as this market has probably the best selection of Christmas items – ornaments, gingerbread and decorations or all sorts, most of which seemed locally made. The downside is that the markets stalls were crammed with visitors, making it hard to even see the wares. Not much for the kids, but, alas, the zoo is just behind the palace.

Art Advent - Art & Crafts on Karlsplatz – (10 out of 10) My absolute favorite, for many years now. Where do I start? I’ll start with the overall atmosphere. Framed by the fabulous Karlskirche, the stalls rim the fountain and extend into the park under fairy lights. The fountain is transformed into a kid’s paradise, with bales and bales of hay for imaginative play. There are animals and the absolute coolest recycled merry-go-round you’ll ever see. This market is tops for kids. The crafts are equally fabulous, with only local crafts allowed to show. A particularly nice selection of jewelry can be found at this market. As for punsch, you’ll find the standards here, as well as some special variations. I personally like the Schilcher Glühwein (Schilcher is a special type of Austrian wine), which can be found at the back of the market. I also like that the punsch stands at Karlsplatz tend to have little sitting nooks, which can be a relief. For food, you cannot miss the Bauernkrapfen – a giant, flat doughnut filled with either jam or sauerkraut (yes!). Also, there is a very nice raclette stand here, which is cheesy, special goodness.

Christmas Market on Spittelberg – (9.5 out of 10) My strong #2, for many years. There is just something really special about this one. The market runs up and down several streets in the Spittelberg area, which is a quaint neighborhood of Biedermeier buildings likened to Montmartre. The market has excellent crafts and if you look closely, you should explore the permanent galleries peeking behind the stalls. I got some excellent jewelry here this year. The food here is also notable, as the fried potato pancake line speaks to the popularity of that item. My absolute favorite punsch this year was from Spittelberg – a bone broth punsch served with homemade bread. Not your typical punsch, but just about as right as right can be. It was actually voted best punsch by one of the major newspapers. Find this stall and you will be happy. Not too much for kids and the cobblestones can be tricky, but there are a couple of small playgrounds in the area to blow off some steam.

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MuseumsQuartier Market – (8 out of 10) A real pleasant surprise for me this year. Located in the main courtyard of the MQ, this is definitely a market for the adults, as the focus is on quality food and really creative drinks. That said, there are several fun activities for the kiddos, including an Austrian version of curling (Eisstockbahn) and a cool ball roller coaster. The crafts are interesting, but the highlight is the food and punsch. For those that are unaware, the MQ houses not only a cluster of museums, but also a great selection of restaurants and cafes. Each of these dining establishments hosts an igloo for this market – a covered, indoor structure which offers relief from the cold. Each igloo offers high end food reflective of the restaurant host. You’ll find ginger and Yeti punsch and lentil soup, for example. This market has a young, hipster vibe.

Imperial and Royal Christmas Market – (2 out of 10) A newer market situated in front of the main Hofburg entrance. Really just a handful of stalls selling nothing notable at all, most of which looks imported. I saw one punsch stand, but kept on walking as this really wasn’t worth my time.

Christmas Market on Stephansplatz – (3 out of 10) I want to like this market, really I do, but I am not feeling it. The setting is lovely in front of Stephansdom (the cathedral). There are lights, there is punsch. The crafts are meh and the food is meh. Plus it is terribly crowded. I’d highly recommend that you duck into the Haas & Haas tea shop located just behind the market (the door is very unassuming) and have a mug of their punsch instead (it is very good and homemade) sipping it in their lovely courtyard. Or, you can walk down the Graben and grab a punsch from one of the Lion’s Club stalls, which is a real local thing to do.

Advent Genuss (Gourmet) Market at the Opera House – (4 out of 10) Worth a walk through, this market is located along the covered alley just opposite the Opera House and next to Starbucks. Billed as a gourmet market, you will find some interesting food products here, most of which are imported from other countries.

Advent in the Stallburg of the Spanish Riding School – (8 out of 10) This is a brand new market this year, located in the stalls of the Spanish Riding School. The horses watch as you gasp in awe at the lights and the glittering Pegasus suspended from the ceiling. It is really a fantastic sight. The craft stalls are interesting (chocolate, handmade copper pots) and most focus on the Lippanzaners (Lippanzaner torte, Lippanzaner stuffed animals, etc.). The apple punsch was also very good. This would be a nice location to knock back a punsch or two.

Winter Market on Riesenradplatz – (1 out of 10) The worst of the bunch, in my opinion, and not worth the effort. Just food and drinks, which are basically in jazzed up wurselstands. Don’t bother.

Recap:
Best Punsch – Spittelberg (bone broth); runner-up Belvedere (Schwartzwalder punsch)
Best Glühwein – Karlsplatz (Schilcher Glühwein)
Best Christmas Crafts - Schönbrunn
Best Overall Crafts – tie, Karlsplatz and Spittelberg
Best Food Item – Karlsplatz (Bauernkrapfen with Sauerkraut)
Best Overall Food – Altes AKH
Best for Kids - Karlsplatz

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1303 posts

I really appreciate this! I went to a few in 2017 and agree as far as those I saw. Loved the ones at Karlsplatz and Belvedere, and had (mohn) spaetzle at Schönbrunn.

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7596 posts

Oh Emily what a treasure trove of information and atmosphere you have provided!!

I guess the Vienne Christmas market in front of the Rathaus is the first real Christmas market I ever went to, and I never would have thought of needing to go back to Vienna for Christmas markets — but you have made several of these really alluring with your fantastic detailed descriptions.

Wow! Thank you!

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2464 posts

Yes, thank you Emily for the tough task of going to all those markets to help your fellow forum posters to plan their own trips the Vienna for the markets. We went to a market in Frankfurt in 1981 and some of those ornaments survive to today. Will have to plan another trip soon.

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2328 posts

What a great review of these markets, Emily! I have not yet visited Vienna, and I generally travel to Europe in spring or fall, but you have certainly gotten me interested in a future visit to this winter wonderland!. You have provided a real service to all RS forum participants interested in Vienna, and you demonstrate a great example of how an inspired “local” anywhere can help us all. Wunderbar, and thanks!

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3110 posts

Wow Emily, you took one for the team by doing all of this research! Thanks for doing this for your appreciative fans! I’d love to apply your research to a future trip.

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1800 posts

Goodness - what a great job with the comparisons and practical information! Thank you! I can see that Vienna at Christmas needs a place on my travel list! (ready to pack my bag now after reading all this)

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1172 posts

I did some of the Viennese Christmas markets this year and loved every minute of it. I loved ice skating at Rathausplatz!

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977 posts

Bookmarked! Now I will have to return. I like the Spittelberg market best so far, but many more to see. Thanks!

Also good info as many have asked about dates.

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1488 posts

Thumbs up for this elaborate description! I adore your stamina for having visited 15 Christmas markets.

It is worth noting that there are 20+ markets, some of them not well known to the general public, visited mostly by locals from the respective city borough, e.g. the market in Türkenschanzpark. This is the only market - to my knowledge - where you can get an Absinth Punsch.

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136 posts

Emily, what a wonderful post! I love your descriptions ... They make me want to go back and see the Christmas markets and, when I do, I now know where to go and what to do! I'm printing your post and keeping it with my Vienna information. My visit this last October was not long enough and I'd love to go back! Happy New Year!

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13 posts

Emily, thank you for this great report. I was planning a trip to Vienna (Salzburg and Innsbruck, too) in September, but a couple friends mentioned they are going to Europe this year for the Christmas markets. It got me thinking I could go later and knock another item off my bucket list (along with the aforementioned cities). After reading this, I'm sold!

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27718 posts

Emily,

I just re-read this thread with my wife after just finishing a British show with Greg Wallace visiting several of the markets. Recorded before Christmas, watched over the last 24 hours.

We want to get back to Vienna this summer (will we - who knows?) but we are now really tempted to travel down in December for this thrill. It looks so much better than British Christmas markets, and possibly better than German ones - though I want to get to the medieval one in Esslingen.

Thanks so much for this pocket guide. With your guide and a map we can have a ball.

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613 posts

I was at Am Hof, Rathhaus, Schoenbrunn (best).

Less crowded during the day.

There were a bunch of activities for kids inside the Rathhaus (& free toilets)

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124 posts

Well timed, Emily. Thanks for the post.
Wife and I just booked a trip last night to Vienna for a week in early Dec.!