Austria has plenty of Christmas markets. But the biggest is on Vienna’s Rathausplatz, the square in front of the town hall. This Christkindlmarkt is the centrepiece of the Vienna Christmas Dream experience…
- Vienna’s largest (and busiest) Christmas market
- Around 150 stalls
- Adjacent park is full of Advent surprises and lights, including the famous Tree of Hearts
- 2021 dates: TBA (provisional start on November 20th)
- See also: Christmas markets in Vienna
The Christmas Dream
There are those who argue in favour of the smaller and more cultured alternatives in Schönbrunn or Karlsplatz, for example. But the Christmas market that garners the most attention (and crowds) in Vienna is the Rathausplatz version.
This is the home of the Wiener Christkindlmarkt. The roots of this yuletide market go back to the late 18th century, though it only moved to its present location in 1975. Who knows how many visitors it normally attracts, but estimates put the number at over 4 million a year.
But that’s not all on offer at the Rathausplatz, because the surrounding park has numerous Christmas treats, too.
All lit up with the illuminated city hall behind it, the market makes quite a sight.
But it wasn’t always this good.
Many years ago, the Christkindlmarkt looked set to degenerate into a rather tasteless venue, where every second stand seemed to sell imported plastic toys. Not anymore – the quality of the stands is high and the market has blossomed in recent times.
On the culinary front, you’ll find the traditional roast chestnut stalls and a host of booths selling everything from cream-filled pastries and a dozen varieties of pretzel to giant doughnuts and Victorian-style lollipops.
And you’re never more than a short throw of a chocolate strawberry away from somewhere offering mugs of Christmas punch.
On the non-food front, stalls selling Christmas decorations and arts and crafts (or both) dominate.
We’re not talking “Ten for a dollar” plastic decorations, but more upmarket alternatives often made of glass or wood. And the arts and crafts stalls show off the handiwork of numerous artisans from Austria and surrounding countries.
Towering over the centre of all this market activity is the enormous Rathaus Christmas tree, which glitters with 2,000 LED lights. Each year, a different Austrian province gifts the giant tree to Vienna in a traditional gesture of friendship.
Throughout December, the area below that tree usually echoes to the sound of a live brass band and choir in the evenings (I’ll confirm exact dates and times later, since Christmas 2021 is still a while off).
The Rathaus park
Though the market itself delights with its mix of traditional Christmas sights and smells, make sure you also wander through the surrounds.
The park areas either side of the square feature a fair few seasonal highlights, such as a nativity scene trail, carousels, a Ferris wheel, and a reindeer train (for kids).
The decorations and lights turn parts of the park into a romantic wonderland (if you ignore the crowds and smartphones). And the romance goes all the way up to 11 with the Tree of Hearts: last time out, a raised platform let you take a picture in front of it with a loved one.
A bit kitschig and twee? Of course. But this is the time of the year when you suspend your cynicism, embrace the seasonal spirit, and replace your troubles with something made of pastry and lathered in enough chocolate to float a cow.
Another highlight is the illuminated ice skating (you can hire skates on site), which lets you glide through around 3,000m2 of the park, thus transporting you into some Utopian Disneyesque Christmas wonderland (albeit with considerably more sausages and a lot less fairy glitter).
The Christkindlmarkt’s organisers once declared the market an area of respite from commercial Christmas stress. But don’t imagine this implies you can take a gentle stroll around the stalls. At peak times, the place is wall-to-wall with visitors.
The best time to visit is at night, of course, when the lights and smells combine to give the true Christmas market experience you read about in books.
But there’s a fine line to tread.
Come too late and you hit that visitor rush hour, particularly when the Viennese pop along after work for a mug of something warm to help you out the daily grind behind you.
So, if you have the choice, go midweek in the early evening. You get enough people to engender the right atmosphere, but not so many that it becomes a hassle just getting from one stall to the next.
P.S. If you want a good twilight photo without actually entering the market, stand at the top of the steps leading up to the Burgtheater and look across for a great view of the entrance lights and illuminated Rathaus.
Opening times 2021
I’ll add full dates as soon as I find them, but the market is provisionally set to start on November 20th. Typical opening times are:
- 11am to 9.30pm (10pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
- Closed at 7pm on December 24th
- 11am to 9.30pm on December 25th and 26th
Note that the market may also be
How to get to the Christkindlmarkt
Public transport gets you to the market easily. The trams 1, 71 and D stop right outside (the stop called Rathausplatz / Burgtheater).
Alternatives requiring a short walk are…
Tram: Lines 2 (get out at the Rathaus or Stadiongasse / Parlament stop), 49 and 46 (both Ring/Volkstheater), 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43 and 44 (all Schottentor)
Subway: U3 (get out at Volkstheater) and U2 (get out at Rathaus or Volkstheater)
Bus: 1a (get out at Schottentor) and 48a (Ring/Volkstheater)
Address: Christkindlmarkt, Rathausplatz, 1010 Vienna | Website