Since the city has a certain image to maintain, Vienna’s Christmas lights tend not to feature too many dancing Santas or reindeer with biologically-inaccurate red noses.
Expect crystalline chains and central European understatement…with thousands of LEDs thrown in for effect. The result fits the historical ambience rather nicely.
- Stylish light displays with a classic, timeless feel to them
- The main lights traditionally start sometime in mid- to late-November and come down in early January
- Three areas to look for: the pedestrianised centre, around the Ring boulevard, and the Rathauspark
- See also:
Here are my top three recommendations for experiencing the usual annual displays (assuming things don’t change significantly in 2023); see also the map at the bottom of the page.
1. The city centre lights
(My phone struggles with night shots, but this is Kohlmarkt in the early evening)
The pedestrianised zones in the very centre of town typically sparkle with the glitter of a gazillion LED lamps.
Stroll beneath giant chandeliers or shimmering cascades of light, pausing only for a roast chestnut or three (or a mug of Glühwein).
Start at Michaelerplatz, where you often have a small Christmas market set against the gorgeous façade of the Hofburg palace area. Then stroll down Kohlmarkt beneath sheets of white lights to reach the Graben.
(Lights on the Graben)
Take a right turn and walk along the Graben beneath its giant chandeliers containing around 200,000 LEDs.
These lights create a suitably ballroom-like atmosphere for New Year’s Eve, when open-air waltz lessons often take place on the street.
(The Stephansplatz market)
The Graben emerges onto Stephansplatz square, where you look across to Stephansdom cathedral and the surrounding Christmas market.
You can slip up past Stephansdom to Rotenturmstrasse where a change of colour (to red) and style (more modern) awaits.
(The Kärntner Straße displays)
Alternatively (or afterwards), turn right at the junction of the Graben and Stephansplatz onto Kärntner Straße, which leads to the opera house. Around 550,000 LEDs and 48km of crystals create the hanging chains of light.
Wherever you are in the pedestrianised area, be sure to check the shopfronts and side streets for more lights.
2. The Ring lights
A walk after sundown around the southern and western side of the giant Ring boulevard takes you past a couple of market displays, plus many big luxury hotels. The road itself normally has a few lighted areas, too.
They downscaled this stretch of lights in 2022, though, with fewer displays than usual. For example, the Ring itself had no Christmas lights last year.
My own walk revealed that various roadside buildings had also reduced their efforts significantly. (Another victim of the energy crisis.) We’ll see what happens in 2023.
It’s a bit away from the main lighted areas, but the southeast corner of the Ring has its own special offering: the Ringturm office block (opposite Schottenring subway station).
This tower features a giant Christmas tree all up one side and snowflakes cascading down its face. Unlike most of the rest of the Ring, these lights stayed on in 2022.
An alternative to walking the Ring, of course, is is to take a tram after dusk (especially the number 2 or number 1 services, which cover big chunks of the Ring route).
Two special tram services that travel around the Ring have operated in the past (though not in recent years, sadly). Check locally to see if they might be running again during advent 2023, as I’ve found no confirmation either way at the time of writing.
- The Ströck Weihnachtsbim (seasonal tram supported by a bakery chain and raising money for charity)
- The Manner tram (a pink-flavoured seasonal tram supported by a Vienna-based snack & chocolate company)
(The Rathauspark with the tree of hearts in the background)
If you’re going to the Christkindlmarkt at the Rathaus, explore the surrounding park on either side of the market itself.
Discover illuminated trails, light displays in the trees, and much more. You might bump into a carousel or a nativity scene. Look for the giant glowing balls on the ground, too.
(I can never get a photo that does the tree justice)
Some of the displays veer away from genteel historicism into something bordering kitsch. But, heh, it’s Christmas.
The tree full of glowing red hearts is probably the local favourite. They typically have a selfie stand for couples wishing to get a photo with the tree as a romantic backdrop.
For a more low key, but truly awe-inspiring display, stand on the south side of the lake at Belvedere Palace at dusk and look across to the Christmas market.
When I say awe-inspiring, I mean it. More info (and a photo) here.