Vienna’s Christmas markets are the best in Europe.
After a quick high-speed train ride from Budapest, we arrived in Vienna, eager and excited to see what all the fuss is about. No matter who we spoke to all asked the same thing, have we been to Vienna? So, with our Eurorail pass ending on 12/26 we stopped over in Vienna for a quick two days. Booking only a week in advance, hostels and hotels were at their highest of high rates which allowed us only a couple of days to stay within budget. Nonetheless, we were eager to see what these crazy Vienna Christmas markets are all about.
Vienna sparkles like the glitter, it’s clean, opulent and has trendy stores for good window shopping and modern bars and cafes for people watching. The massive Christmas decorations light up every street and we felt like we were walking below a twinkling cloud the entire time. At the center of the city, like a bullseye, you almost break your neck looking straight to the sky viewing the beautiful St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the city’s tallest Christmas tree. The cathedral is the center of the city and Vienna sprawls out in circular motion from this point. Called “the ring”, most of Vienna’s sights are clustered within the ring.
Vienna during Christmas? What we’re we thinking! It was packed. Jammed, can’t move, packed. The pedestrian-only streets bustled with holiday shoppers and tourists gawking at the city’s decorations. Giant pine tree nurseries dotted the center square while crafty salesmen tried to up sell Christmas trees to interested buyers. However crowded it may be, I’ve never seen more nicely dressed, trendier or more beautiful people. After exchanging our Hungarian forint to euros at a currency exchange office, we zipped past the Hosburg palace, the lavish royal home to the Habsburgs (we’ll tour it next time). We passed behind the palace to the gardens, passing through hibernating rose plants and trees before arriving at Vienna’s largest Christmas market, the Town Hall market. You know, the one you see featured in holiday travel magazines.
Elf-like brown cottages heaved with Christmas ornaments, pastries, and hot wine. The market lit up like a Christmas ornament in front of the amazingly beautiful City Hall building. I couldn’t imagine this place on the weekends – the city allows 40 55-person buses to park within the city and let guests off straight into the markets. It would be a zoo. Fortunately, because Vienna has so many Christmas markets, this one in particular was not too busy. We enjoyed being back on the euro and having a simple currency, sipped on hot wine and dug into giant doughnuts and baked potatoes. They sounded good alright?
Walking back to the town center, we made the 20 minute walk to our hostel passing St. Stephens a second time and the world famous Opera House. We scored with a top floor double room looking over the Naschmarkt, a flee market turned hipster gathering place.
The following day, we walked along the ring, and into the crowded depths of Vienna’s old town, popping into stores and grabbing a drink at an Irish bar shortly thereafter. We visited four smaller Christmas markets within the ring. They each had relatively the same things, small ornaments, hot wine, roasted nuts and small hats and gloves. The quaint atmosphere appealed to locals rather than tourists which was neat to observe. We also discovered our tasty cinnamon chimneys and bought one each! The best dessert ever.
We walked from one end of the ring to the other exploring the markets, getting lost in the circular puzzle of Vienna’s old town and getting into the true Christmas spirit.
Although overly crowded and expensive at Christmas time, Vienna’s Christmas markets and old town are absolutely worth a visit. For us and our type of traveling, we felt overwhelmed and eager to arrive in the less expensive, less crowded, off the beaten path, fairy tale town of Cesky Krumlov, a four hour train away in the Czech Republic. Vienna is on our list to visit again when we can allow more time to explore, enjoy and indulge in its unreal, glittering sights.