1. Take a photo at Belvedere
This is missed by most people, but an absolute must.
There’s a lake in front of Upper Belvedere palace. In the evening, when the sky becomes twilight blue, it’s a beautiful place to take an iconic photo of the palace, the Christmas market, the lights and the reflections in the water:
2. Visit a Christmas market
This is why most people visit in the first place. With good reason: Vienna’s Christmas markets can make you feel like the world is a better place than news broadcasts might suggest.
It’s like being wrapped in a cosy blanket before a roaring fireplace, with a steaming mug of something warm and the company of good friends. There are plenty of them, but you’ll find your way to the best if you follow this advice.
Warning: if you’re on a diet, you may want to stay away. The typical market has made “culinary temptation” an art form.
3. Drink Weihnachtspunsch
A fine idea for that steaming mug of something warm is Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch): it keeps the chill at bay on a cold winter’s evening.
The markets serve their punch in collectible mugs, and each market has a unique design. You pay a deposit when you order, so you can keep the mug and lose the deposit (which is perfectly fine).
4. View the lights on the Graben and Kärntner Straße
Vienna’s Christmas lights glitter without being glitzy, with thousands of crystals and giant chandeliers bringing an imperial ballroom atmosphere to the main pedestrianized areas in the center.
Take a walk in the evening, starting from the State Opera building, moving down Kärntner Straße to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, then along the Graben and up Kohlmarkt to the Hofburg palace.
5. Take an evening trip round the Ring
The lights don’t end there: the wide boulevard that encircles the old city is flanked by parks, five star hotels, luxury stores and at least two Christmas markets.
6. Walk through the Rathauspark
One of the Christmas markets along the Ring is the famous Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz (the square in front of town hall). It’s usually packed, but the small surrounding park is worth an evening walk, too.
It was “better” in previous years when the trees were full of fluorescent violins or cupcakes (see photo). In 2016, they ended that tradition in favor of new illuminations on the ground. Still worth a walk though, and when you’ve recharged your batteries, you can dive back into the market maelstrom.
7. Visit a roast chestnut stand
Every market has one. And just about every street corner in winter, too: a “Maronistand” selling roasted potato snacks and roast chestnuts.
It’s an experience shared with generations before you. You can imagine medieval children blowing on their fingers to keep them cool after picking open a hot chestnut. Now you can follow in their footsteps.
8. Visit the nativity scenes in St. Peter’s Church
Peterskirche (St. Peter’s church) is a tumult of decorative Baroque opulence, with barely a brick that hasn’t been touched by an artist’s or sculptor’s hand.
It’s quite beautiful inside and even more atmospheric during Advent when it hosts an exhibition of nativity scenes.
9. Listen to an advent concert
And for even more advent atmosphere, take in a choir recital or advent concert. Top venues include Stephansdom (St.Stephen’s cathedral), the Peterskirche, and the Minoritenkirche (an Italian church).
10. Enjoy a sausage
You can eat a sausage at one of Vienna’s many sausage stands any time of year. But they come into their own in winter.
When the night chill is threatening to bite and you’re tired from seeing the sights and gaping at the lights, then take yourself off to a sausage stand and fill up with a tasty
cholesterol stick Käsekrainer or Bratwurst.
So there you have it. For an in-depth look at Vienna at Christmas, check out my full guide here.