Should the thought of another soft-lit wooden hut selling Christmas baubles have you reaching for the vodka, there’s an alternative to the traditional Christmas market. Try the Wintergarten event at the MQ while clutching an organic cocktail and wearing an Egon Schiele t-shirt.
- Open-air bars, restaurants, and art installations in the courtyards of Vienna’s museum quarter
- Alternative light displays worth a look in their own right
- Curling, luminous marble runs, remote-controlled car races, and more
- Entry is free
- Normally no reindeer, Santas or similar
- 2021 dates: TBA
- See also: Christmas in Vienna
What’s the Wintergarten?
The Museumsquartier (MQ) is the heartland of contemporary culture in Vienna, with its modern art, innovative architecture and never-ending catalogue of performances, exhibitions, workshops, and the like.
And the MQ has its own “Christmas” event, primarily on the main courtyard sandwiched between the Leopold and MUMOK museums. The quotation marks are important, and not just because the event’s proper title is Wintergarten im MQ (winter garden in the MQ). Consider it a paganistic alternative to tinsel and santa hats.
(The event title often changes from year to year: the MQ is nothing if not dynamic.)
Yes, you can buy punch and sausages. And yes, there are lights. But that’s where the similarities to, for example, a Christmas market end.
Normal years feature outdoor pavilion bars in the main courtyard; you can go inside to better appreciate the modern ambience (and escape the cold, if necessary). They sell food and drink: the only arts, crafts, and souvenirs here are in the MQ shop with all its interesting items.
As you might expect, this food and drink have their own MQ-flavoured twist. A brief tour around the bars one year revealed such delights as Yeti glühwein, Low-Carb Apple punch, organic beer, Cranberry & Elderflower punch, and much more.
The lights! The art! The sports(?)
This being the Museumsquartier, art plays a central role in the event.
The Lumine and Lichttapete artists typically project huge visual images onto various surfaces, including a large, temporary “winter sky” roof in the main courtyard.
The projected images change regularly, so pop around again for a new experience. The courtyard trees also receive special artistic treatment.
And there are sports to try each year, which might sound incongruous until you learn more.
Curling, for example, fits the winter theme nicely. And boules often makes an appearance. And a luminous giant marble run, which sits at the interface of life and art. Oh, and car racing (usually during the afternoons on weekends and holidays): try your hand on a “winter” course with remote-controlled cars.
All-in-all, the mix of the artistic ambience and refreshingly innovative light displays offers a spirited alternative to the gentler yuletide charms of the rest of Vienna. This is where the younger elves would come to wind down once Santa’s left the toy factory.
I don’t have 2021 dates yet, but they usually match the advent market season. Theoretical opening hours are all day, but most of the fun obviously starts from the (late) afternoon when it gets dark.
How to get to the Wintergarten
The MQ is at the bottom of Vienna’s main shopping street, so well located for some relief from credit card stress.
Subway: take the U2 or U3 lines to Volkstheater or the U2 to Museumsquartier (the two stations are at either end of the MQ complex)
Tram: line 49 stops at Volkstheater. You can also catch lines 1, 2, D, 71, 46 and 49 to Ring/Volkstheater and walk up to the MQ
Bus: take the 48A to Volkstheater or the 57A to Museumsquartier
if you want a more traditional Christmas market, then simply walk out of the main MQ entrance and cross the road to the large (and excellent) market on Maria-Theresien-Platz.
Address: MuseumsQuartier Wien, Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna | Website
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(The MQ winter event in the days before social distancing)