First, the good news: none of the big Christmas markets are going to let you down. The general standard is high, so you’ll be fine if you wander into one of the larger ones at random.
However, if you’ve specific needs or tastes, then these tips may help.
Bear in mind this is just my subjective analysis, based on my own experiences at each of the markets mentioned.
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Want impressive surrounds?
(The gateway to Schönbrunn Christmas market)
Vienna’s full of historical buildings, so you have to try quite hard to find a market without impressive views and surrounds.
The vista took my breath away when I first saw it and feels almost like a fairytale. You quite expect some Disney princess to suddenly appear on a sleigh pulled by animated frogs. (This has yet to happen.)
A close second is the Schönbrunn market, which sits just in front of the magnificent Habsburg summer palace. A rather handsome location, and the piped-in classical music adds a subtle historical touch to the atmosphere.
(The Christkindlmarkt occupies the square in front of the Rathaus)
The two markets bordering the central Ring boulevard both enjoy a more-than-decent imperial backdrop:
- The Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz has the neogothic Rathaus city hall, whose façade recently completed a 10+ year renovation so looks rather pristine. A small illuminated wooded park also surrounds the market
- The market on Maria-Theresien-Platz square has two gorgeous 19th-century museum buildings, the Burgtor gates and the Museumsquartier complex around it (with a large monument to Empress Maria Theresa as a centrepiece)
All the above appear really rather impressive at night, when the surrounding architecture lights up, too.
Shopping for unusual gifts?
(The Art Advent market on Karlsplatz remains unbeaten for product diversity and quality)
You can find unique gifts at pretty much any market. However, four locations fill this niche particularly well:
- The stalls on Karlsplatz only sell products they’ve made themselves and must pass a jury-based quality test. So the market has a justified reputation for fine, original (and often a little unusual) handmade items; many art and design studios have booths here as well
- The Spittelberg market has a strong reputation for an eclectic mix of stands, including unusual arts and crafts booths you don’t find elsewhere
- The Am Hof market also has a self-contained arts and crafts section with an artistic feel to it
- The Schönbrunn market impresses me each year, too: lots of tremendous quality arts and crafts
And a bonus tip of the hat to the Weihnachtszauber market out at the Ottakringer Brewery. Although small, the weekends see specialist markets move into the adjoining hall. These often feature local crafts or vintage goods, for example.
Shopping for decorations?
(Ceramic decorations at the Christmas market on Karlsplatz)
You’ll have to walk a long way to find a Christmas market that doesn’t sell decorations of one kind or another.
The Freyung makes a solid choice with its large central (indoor) stall dedicated to decorations. But any of the larger markets (like Schönbrunn, the Rathausplatz or Maria-Theresien-Platz) should have you covered.
Got young kids?
Keep them occupied at just about any market with visions of unfeasibly large pretzels covered in chocolate or other such sweet distractions. Chocolate-coated strawberries used to work for us.
Local families often gravitate to the Altes AKH, because of the rides and entertainments that appear, plus the adjoining playground.
The Karlsplatz market also has one or two rides and a large, open, straw-strewn area for kids to romp around in.
The main Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz has the surrounding park kitted out in advent splendour. This includes nativity scenes, lighted ice skating, rides and other delights. A giant merry-go-round also appeared the previous two years so might return in 2024.
(The carousel on the Rathausplatz)
The Hirschstetten market typically has a couple of small rides, a kiddies workshop and (most impressively) a huge winter wonderland landscape which should have the young ones pointing and squealing at regular intervals.
Then we have the Wintermarkt. This location is not a traditional market in the true sense of the word, being almost entirely populated by food and drink booths. However, it occupies a square at the entrance to the giant Prater funfair.
Incidentally, if you do have children with you, then you might like a few general tips for visiting Vienna with children.
Short on time?
(The central Christmas market on Stephansplatz)
Public transport in Vienna offers easy access to all of the markets, but the Altes AKH, Belvedere, Wintermarkt, Spittelberg, Hirschstetten, Weihnachtszauber, and Schönbrunn locations do mean travelling a little outside the city centre.
If you’re in the very centre of town, pop up to the Am Hof or Freyung markets. They’re not far from Stephansplatz (the central square in front of Stephansdom cathedral) and relatively small, so you can get around them quickly.
And, as mentioned earlier, Stephansplatz itself now provides a home for a Christmas market, too.
Don’t like crowds?
Good luck. (I feel your pain as an introvert myself.)
No market never gets busy. But, actually, you can avoid the crowds simply by going earlier in the day, as many markets open mid-morning. I’ve had goulash and Glühwein for brunch more or less on my own.
(Expect fewer crowds earlier in the day, like here at the Am Hof market)
If you want to enjoy the soft lights in the darkening twilight of imperial Vienna, then go midweek for the best chance of space.
The crowds arrive as the sun sets and the famous Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz, for example, gets packed very quickly. However, it had a more open layout in 2023, so you probably won’t need a Search and Rescue Service to get you out. Probably.
The Schönbrunn market also gets busy, but the market booths form a giant circle in the palace courtyard, which opens up quite a lot of space should you wish to avoid the bustle.
(Look for benches in the illuminated park adjoining the Christkindlmarkt)
First off, avoid the crowds (see above). But if you need to be able to sit down, it gets a little trickier: the markets are generally standing only.
Curiously, the busiest market may be your friend, here. The park surrounding the main Christkindlmarkt has benches to sit on and munch your toffee apples.
The streets of the Spittelberg market burst with bars and restaurants, so you can escape easily (the downside is the market alleyways are quite narrow).
A handful of restaurants also ring the large courtyard location of the Altes AKH, which is also rich in benches.
Hate Christmas markets?
If you develop a sudden allergy to pine needles or advent choirs, then pop into the Winter event at the MQ: not a traditional market stall in sight and very little mention of Christmas at all in fact. Though you may still find one or two suitably-decorated trees around the place.
Finally, let me again stress that the quality of the main markets ranges from good to excellent: you really can’t make a mistake. Whichever ones you do visit, be prepared to enjoy the experience.