Now that’s a tough question.
First, the good news: none of the main Christmas markets are going to let you down. The general standard is high, so if you wander into one at random, you’ll be fine.
However, if you’ve specific needs, then these tips may help. Bear in mind this is just my subjective analysis, based on my own experiences at each of the markets mentioned.
I’ve also put together some general tips for making the most of your Christmas market visit.
Want impressive views and surrounds?
You have to be quite unlucky not to have impressive views and surrounds. My favorite, though, is Belvedere, simply for the view across the lake (took my breath away when I first saw it). Schönbrunn is also stunning, sited just in front of the Habsburg summer palace.
Otherwise, the two markets bordering the Ring are not short of a decent imperial backdrop:
- The Rathausplatz has city hall and the illuminated Rathauspark
- The market on Maria-Theresien-Platz has the museums, Heldentor gates and Museumsquartier on all four sides, with a large monument as its centerpiece
- The one on Stephansplatz curls around the illuminated Stephansdom cathedral in the old town
Shopping for decorations?
You’ll have to walk a long way to find a Christmas market that doesn’t sell decorations of one kind or another. The Freyung is a good choice, though, as are the larger markets at the Rathausplatz and Maria-Theresien-Platz.
Shopping for unusual gifts?
Again, you can find unique gifts at pretty much any market. However, there are three locations that fill this niche very well:
- The stalls on Karlsplatz may only sell products they’ve made themselves and there’s a jury-based quality test, too. So it has a reputation for fine, original and often a little unusual handmade items
- Similar criteria apply to the small boulevard of artist booths at the Am Hof market
- Spittelberg has a reputation for the eclectic and unusual, too, and is located in one of Vienna’s more Bohemian quarters
Got young kids?
At any market you can keep them busy with an unfeasibly large pretzel covered in chocolate or other such sweet distractions.
Local families often gravitate to the Altes AKH, because there are some rides, live animals and an adjoining playground. The Karlsplatz market also has rides, plus a large, open straw-strewn area for kids to romp around in.
Short on time?
None of the markets are isolated from the public transport system, but the Altes AKH, Belvedere, Spittelberg and Schönbrunn do mean travelling a little outside the city center.
If you’re in the very center, pop up to the Am Hof or Freyung markets. They’re not far from Stephansplatz and relatively small, so you can get round them quickly. And, of course, Stephansplatz (the square in front of the great cathedral) now has its own little Christmas market, too.
Don’t like crowds?
There’s no market that never gets busy. But you can avoid the crowds simply by going a little earlier in the day, as many markets are open from mid-morning.
If you want to enjoy the soft lights in the darkening twilight of imperial Vienna, then go midweek for the best chance of space. The crowds come as the sun sets and the Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz, for example, gets packed very quickly. On weekend evenings, you may need a Search and Rescue Service to get you out.
First off, avoid the crowds (see above). But if you need to be able to sit down, it gets a little trickier – the markets are designed for standing only.
Curiously, the busiest market may be your friend, here. The park surrounding the main Christkindlmarkt has many benches to sit on and munch your toffee apples.
The Spittelberg market is embedded in streets full of restaurants, so you can escape easily (the downside is the market alleyways are quite narrow). The courtyard location of the Altes AKH is also ringed by a handful of restaurants.
Hate Christmas markets?
If you develop a sudden allergy to pine needles or advent choirs, then pop into Winter at the MQ: not a wooden stall in sight, nor any mention of Christmas at all in fact.
Finally, let me again stress that the quality of the main markets ranges from very good to excellent – you really can’t make a mistake. Whichever ones you do visit, be prepared to enjoy the experience.