Possibly my favourite month in Vienna. December is the Christmas season.
The aroma of Glühwein and hot Punch courses through the streets and the city glistens under thousands of seasonal lights (though perhaps not quite so brightly in 2022 given energy costs.)
Vienna in December 2022
We shall begin with December’s main and obvious attraction…
The Christmas season
(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 (December 3rd and 4th)
- The hughely-popular Medieval Advent market sells its
plague cures smock fashionssuitably historical crafts, wares, food and beverages outside the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (December 1st to 4th)
- The Vinyl & Music X-Mas Market (December 3rd and 4th) adds the flavour of its main festival to proceedings within the wider Weihnachtszauber event at Ottakringer brewery
Art & film in December 2022
(The Albertina art museum has Jean-Michel Basquiat)
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.
In 2022, you can expect, for example:
- Jean-Michel Basquiat in a major retrospective at the Albertina, along with, for example, a look at the art of Jakob, Franz and Rudolf von Alt and a solo exhibition (from December 8th) for Ruth Baumgarte
- The likes of Pollack, Lassnig, and Rothko appear at the Albertina Modern’s Ways of Freedom exhibition. The institution also has a solo exhibition for Karl Anton Fleck
- The gorgeous Idols & Rivals exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum features numerous masterpieces from European art history. Also look for their small special coin exhibition and in-depth look at efforts to photograph the collection back in the late 1880s
- A huge Helmut Newton exhibition fills the walls of the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien
- An intriguing exhibition of photos by Gregor Sailer at the Kunst Haus Wien covers architecture from the more inaccessible parts of the planet
- Maori artist George Nuku presents an intriguing exhibition at the Weltmuseum, which also hosts examples of Chaekgeori Korean art
- The Leopold Museum reveals the art and story of the early 20th-century Hagenbund artists association. Explore the life and artistic times of actress Tilla Durieux, too.
- The Technisches Museum exposes the marvels of biomimetics (technology inspired by the natural world) in the BioInspiration exhibition
- Staying with nature, Lower Belvedere looks at the role of the tree in art history. And staying with history, it also reviews 300 years of Belvedere as both palace and art institution (from December 2nd)
- The Jewish Museum features the story of Vienna’s pioneering espresso café, as well as the Apologies video installation. The museum also looks at 100 misunderstandings and misconceptions about Jews and Jewish life
- The MAK’s Fest exhibition throws a light on the creativity that has arisen from celebrations, parties, balls, and similar (from December 14th). Also look for the metal craft art of the Hagenauer workshop.
- The Natural History Museum has its special exhibition dedicated to Brazil
- The Furniture Museum’s Finer Dining exhibition showcases Amboss design and the development of post-WWII dining culture
- The multimedia standalone Harry Potter (from December 16th) and Monet exhibitions add a bit of colour and movement to Viennese life
- The Literature Museum pays homage to one of Austria’s finest writers: Ingeborg Bachmann
- The Theatermuseum explores the wonders of popular music (in the widest sense) across Austrian history in its Austropop exhibition
- …and the Wien Museum MUSA tells us about the work and influence of the Bauhaus design studio established by Friedl Dicker and Franz Singer
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 10th to 11th)
- The Best Austrian Animation Festival (November 28th to December 3rd)
- The this human world human rights film festival (December 1st to 11th)
Catch the football
(One of Vienna’s many pubs with a football focus)
The 2022 FIFA World Cup continues in Qatar until the final on December 18th. Austria did not qualify, but bars etc. will probably still show matches: here my pub suggestions for watching games.
Most big football tournaments see huge outdoor screens pop up for public viewing. The December date and other issues mean you probably wont find any this year.
New Year’s Eve
A huge number of folk normally spend December 31st on the Silvesterpfad (cancelled the last two years, but let’s hope circumstances allow a return for 2022/2023: an event is planned but we await news on the details).
Essentially, the Silvesterpfad traditionally 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. 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 normally 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 that larger Ice World event to come, though the latter event remains unconfirmed for 2023
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.