Possibly my favourite month in Vienna. December is the Christmas season: the aroma of Glühwein and hot Punch courses through the streets, the city glistens under thousands of seasonal lights, and everyone wears a smile on their face (well, almost everyone).
Top activities in December 2019
So, let’s start with December’s main and obvious attraction…
It’s Christmas, people
May I simply direct you to 10 things to do in Vienna at Christmas? Those are my top tips for enjoying a truly Viennese advent experience: from the best places to see the lights to roast chestnuts and sausages. For example, a lot of historical churches host special advent concerts.
These are not gimmicks to keep visitors amused, but long-established markets popular with the Viennese, too. Colleagues, friends, and families collect at them to share a drink and enjoy a chocolate-coated strawberry or three.
I should mention that they’re fantastic. Atmospheric, packed with traditional food and beverages, and stuffed with stalls selling arts, crafts and enough Lebkuchen to fill a whale.
If you only have limited time, these tips should help you choose which of the many markets to visit.
(The Albertina, home to the Dürer exhibition in December)
In recent times, some of the more prestigious art museums have saved up their best exhibitions for the later part of the year, presumably to catch the December crowds. Three particular highlights for 2019:
- The Dürer exhibition at the Albertina offers an extremely rare opportunity to see the wonderful Young Hare and other works from this 16th century genius
- The Caravaggio and Bernini exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum brings together dozens of masterpieces from early baroque Rome
- The Thonet exhibition (from December 18th) at the MAK museum showcases the impact of Thonet on furniture design. Their bentwood chairs, for example, are integral to the iconic image of a Vienna coffee house
Escape the cold
Talking of coffee houses, the bracing December weather means you may wish to take advantage of Vienna’s classic cafés, where coffee is an art form and time stands still long enough for you to warm your toes on strudel and your hearts on sachertorte.
And, if you want to make a day of staying warm, Vienna has its own thermal spa. Therme Wien is easily reached on the subway and also lives next door to one of the more famous Viennese patisseries (Kurkonditorei Oberlaa). So if you do choose to swim, rather than soak, you can earn yourself a slice or two of cake afterwards.
Dance on ice (or watch the ballroom experts)
The huge Vienna Ice World complex doesn’t open until January. But that’s not the only famous open-air ice rink in Vienna. For example:
- The Eislaufverein holds a special place in the history of the city (and of ice skating) and the rink opens throughout December.
- The Christmas on the Rathausplatz festivities include lighted ice trails through the park as a taster for the larger Ice World event to come
And if you want to see some genuinely top-level ballroom dancing, Vienna is hosting the 2019 WDC World Championship – Professional Ballroom Showdance. The Amazing Vienna event is planned for December 13th to 15th.
Catch the New Year’s concert(!)
(The Musikverein, host of the New Year concerts)
Yes, you read that right.
Should you wish to catch the prestigious and globally-recognised New Year’s Concert from the Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra, you can do so in December. The orchestra plays the full January 1st programme on December 30th and December 31st, too.
The only problem is you need to apply for tickets via a lottery system in February.
Bonus tips for December
December is winter time in Austria. And the Christmas markets are at their best at dusk and later, so you don’t even have the sun to keep you warm.
Time your market visit
The markets are incredibly popular, particularly the nearer you get to December 24th. So consider visiting earlier in the month or at least going midweek in the late afternoon, when you probably get the best tradeoff between atmosphere and crowds. Here are some more tips for visiting the markets.
December is the second most popular month for visitors in Vienna; occupancy rates in hotels are only higher in August. So plan and book early, especially if you want to stay in the city over the Christmas and New Year public holidays.