How hard can it be? Visit market. Eat. Drink. Admire items for sale. Buy items for sale. Go home happy and at peace with the world.
But one or two tips can help make your visit to a Christmas market just a little bit more of a pleasure.
Start with deciding which Viennese market is best to visit, since there are quite a few. “All of them” is the unhelpful, but correct, answer. Seriously – the standard is very high across the board. But for more useful advice on matching the market to your needs, see this special guide.
Dress for the cold
Few markets have any indoor facilities and while hot punch and a steaming plate of Bratwurst can give you a warm glow inside, there’s a reason Austria is so good at winter sports. (Hint: there’s a lot of winter here).
Take cash with you
You’ll have trouble paying with cards at many (most) stalls, so stock up on Euros. You will also make new friends if you carry small notes and coins so you won’t require change.
The markets are at their best at (and after) dusk
The dark provides the right backdrop for lighted stalls and buildings and (obviously) reveals the tasteful splendour of Vienna’s Christmas lights.
But…a lot of people know this, so expect crowds. Early dusk on a weekday evening is your best chance of combining the perfect ambience with enough space to actually enjoy it.
Take public transport
The main markets are all located near subway or tram stations. Many markets are also within walking distance of city center hotels (see map above).
Punch need not pack a punch
Steaming mugs of Christmas punch are a must for any Christmas market visit. You’ll find a lot of different punches on offer, but Kinderpunsch (“children’s punch”) is the name typically used for the alkoholfrei (alcohol-free) version.
(P.S. Glühwein is the local name for mulled wine.)
Punch isn’t as expensive as it seems
The mugs carry a deposit so don’t be shocked when they ask for €6.50 for your punch priced at €3.50 on the board above the stall. You can return the mug for the deposit or simply keep it as a souvenir – most markets have their own unique annual design. (You can often buy the mugs separately for the same price as the deposit.)
Unless you fall head-over-heels in love with an item, don’t buy anything straightaway. The markets have lots of interesting stalls, and you might regret having spent your holiday money when you turn the next corner.
Be discerning about decorations
If you’re looking for special handcrafted decorations, the markets are the place to buy. For more standard packs of decorations, shop at a Viennese department store or large supermarket – they’re much cheaper.
Be prepared to stand
There are few opportunities to sit at any market. For notable exceptions, see the guide on which market to visit.
Vienna is relatively safe when compared to other big cities. Remarkably so, given its size. But Christmas markets can get packed, so are obvious targets for pickpockets. Follow the advice offered by the US Embassy in Paris.
And your bonus tip:
The Viennese Christmas markets are wonderful. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere and enjoy the sights, sounds, scents, and tastes of Vienna at perhaps its finest time of year.