Possibly my favourite month in Vienna. December is, of course, the Christmas season.
The aroma of Glühwein and hot Punch courses through the streets, and the city glistens under thousands of seasonal lights (unless we have another energy crisis in 2023)
- See also:
Vienna in December 2023
We shall begin with December’s main and obvious attraction…
(The lights on the pedestrianised Graben in the city centre)
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, many historical churches and popular venues host special advent concerts.
(The Altwiener Christkindlmarkt on the Freyung square)
The Christmas markets dominate the Viennese December. They start opening from mid-November and stay open until around December 23rd or later.
Popular with locals, too, many are long-established traditional markets: these are not gimmicks to keep tourists amused.
Colleagues, friends, and families collect at them to share a mug of Advent cheer and enjoy a bowl of goulash or a pair of frankfurters (and then take home a chocolate-coated strawberry or three).
(Art Advent with the Karlskirche behind)
I should mention at this point that the markets deserve their reputation. Atmospheric, packed with local food and beverages, and stuffed with stalls selling arts, crafts and enough Lebkuchen to delight a hungry whale.
If you only have limited time, these tips should help you choose which of the many markets to visit.
A couple of little bonus markets and similar events also pop up during December. For example:
- An alternative to the traditional open-air markets for finding gifts and handicrafts is the Edelstoff X-MAS edition: an indoor design fair in the MARX Halle (2023 dates TBA)
- The hughely-popular Medieval Advent market sells its
plague cures smock fashionssuitably historical crafts, wares, food and beverages outside the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (2023 dates TBA)
- The Weihnachtsquartier (December 1st to 3rd) opens its doors for three days of art and design from independent creatives
- The Vinyl & Music X-Mas Market (2023 dates TBA) added the flavour of its main festival to proceedings in 2022 within the wider Weihnachtszauber event at Ottakringer brewery. Hopefully it repeats this year
Art & film in December 2023
(The Albertina art museum looks to have a Michelangelo exhibition)
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.
It’s early for 2023 year-end schedules, but we already look likely to see, for example:
- The Albertina has plans for a major exhibition around Michelangelo and solo exhibitions for the extraordinary Gottfried Helnwein and photographer Joel Sternfeld
- Talking top solo exhibitions, prepare for Robert Motherwell at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien
- The Kunsthistorisches Museum shines a light on the magnificence of Renaissance tapestries, featuring the work of Raphael and others
- The Albertina Modern introduces works and artists that help address the historical lack of diversity in gender, race and sex in museal art
- Lower Belvedere reviews 300 years of Belvedere as both palace and art institution and has a solo exhibition for Louise Bourgeois
- The Weltmuseum explores the concept of Science Fiction(s) from a range of perspectives. They also have, for example, a solo exhibition planned for Maximilian Prüfer and a foray into contemporary Japanese calligraphy
- The Jewish Museum tackles (ba dum tish) Jewish fan culture at top European football clubs and examines issues around skin colour in terms of perceptions of (and among) Jews
- Pioneering expressionist Max Oppenheimer has a whole exhibition to himself at the Leopold Museum, while Gabriele Münter gets a retrospective at the same institution
- The Wien Museum MUSA travels back into the not-so-distant past with an exhibition of art from the noughties
See the main exhibition listings for more suggestions as schedules continue to expand. And, if you prefer screens to canvas, consider:
- The VIFA Vienna International Film Awards (December 6th to 10th)
- The Best Austrian Animation Festival (2023 dates TBA)
- The this human world human rights film festival (November 30th to December 10th)
New Year’s Eve
A huge number of folk normally spend December 31st on the Silvesterpfad, which returned last year after a two-year hiatus.
Essentially, the Silvesterpfad involves a trail of locations through the city centre with temporary stages and all sorts of entertainment: from public ballroom dancing lessons to DJs and funk bands.
You don’t need to pack sandwiches, either: numerous food and drink stalls line the route.
(A stop on the Silvesterpfad in a previous year)
The days leading up to the big night also feature the natural successor to the Christmas market as one or more New Year markets spring up (often in the same locations as their predecessors). You miss the Advent ambience a little, but the big ones still remain rather wonderful.
Catch the New Year’s concert(!)
Yes, you read that right.
Should you wish to catch the prestigious and globally-recognised January 1st New Year’s Concert from the Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra, you can do so in December. The orchestra plays the full programme on December 30th and December 31st, too.
The only problem is you need to have applied for tickets via a lottery system much earlier in the year.
Escape the cold
(One of our traditional 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. You can reach Therme Wien easily on the U1 subway and it 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
(The ice skating association has a long and prestigious history)
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 normally opens throughout December
- The Christmas on the Rathausplatz festivities traditionally include lighted ice trails through the park as a taster for that larger Ice World event to come in early 2024
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 usually popular, particularly the nearer you get to December 24th. So consider 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 typically the second most popular month for visitors in Vienna, when occupancy rates in hotels are only higher in August. So plan and book accommodation early, especially if you want to stay in the city over the Christmas and New Year public holidays.