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).
NB: Events, markets, etc. will continue to be subject to public health restrictions in late 2020 (and possibly beyond) so be prepared for changes. Check with official sites.
Top activities in December 2020
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 locals, 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 delight a hungry whale.
If you only have limited time, these tips should help you choose which of the many markets to visit.
It’s New Year’s Eve, people
A huge number of folk spend December 31st on the Silvesterpfad, a trail of locations throughout 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.
The days leading up to the big night also feature the natural successor to the Christmas market. Several New Year markets spring up (often in the same locations as their predecessors). You miss the Advent ambience a little, but the big ones are still rather wonderful.
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 needed to apply for tickets via a lottery system in February 2020.
(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.
2020 has played havoc with such plans, of course. But you might still consider, for example:
- The three concurrent Warhol exhibitions at the MUMOK. And if modern or contemporary art is your particular pleasure, then you won’t want to miss out on the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Kunstforum Wien.
- The MAK museum’s Loos and Hoffmann exhibitions (the MAK’s always a guarantee for fabulous events of this nature, and the two names feature prominently in that volcano of art and design creativity around 1900 in Vienna)
- The Aztecs exhibition at the Weltmuseum Wien, with the world-famous feathered headdress and other artefacts
- I was very taken by the Hundertwasser – Schiele exhibition at the Leopold Museum, which they extended into early 2021
Escape the cold
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 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 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 include lighted ice trails through the park as a taster for the larger Ice World event to come
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. 2020 may prove an exception thanks to changing tourism patterns in the wake of the Coronavirus. Assuming the markets go ahead, they may not be quite so busy this year
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. Again, 2020 may be an exception, given the likelihood that fewer people will travel this year.