Austria has plenty of Christmas markets. But the most famous is probably on Vienna’s Rathausplatz, the square in front of the town hall. This Christkindlmarkt is the centrepiece of the Viennese Christmas experience…
- Vienna’s most renowned Christmas market
- Around 100 booths last time out
- Adjacent park has its own Advent surprises and lights
- Includes the Tree of Hearts
- Emphasis on sustainability and kids
- 2023 dates: TBA (was Nov 19 – Dec 26 in 2022)
- Ice skating part typically remains open longer
- See also:
A Christmas Tradition
(The giant entrance arch)
There are those who argue in favour of the more cultured alternatives at Schönbrunn or Karlsplatz, for example. But the Christmas market that garners the most attention 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 have put the number at over 4 million in previous years.
But that’s not all on offer at the Rathausplatz, because the surrounding park has its own Christmas treats, too.
(The market, Rathaus, and giant tree)
All lit up with the partly-illuminated city hall behind it, the market makes quite a sight; the Christkindlmarkt has blossomed in recent years, thanks to higher-quality stands and an improved decorative ambience. In 2022, the booths were even required to meet new sustainability criteria.
On the culinary front, you’ll find the traditional roast chestnut stalls and various places selling everything from cream-filled pastries to Fladenbrot (flatbread with toppings).
And you’re never more than a short throw of a chocolate-coated strawberry away from somewhere offering mugs of Christmas punch.
Gastronomy at the market last time out was either certified organic or carried the Natürlich gut essen mark, which indicates a focus on regional, seasonal and organic food.
A few covered areas formed a new feature, so you could enjoy those snacks and refreshments in shelter. We even got an indoor coffee house last year (this is Vienna, after all).
The non-food front makes for quite an eclectic mix.
Art and craft stalls show off the handiwork of artisans from Austria and surrounding countries. And while you might find upcycled hats and gourmet honeys, you’re also likely to get novelty jumpers and cuddly toys.
(A giant merry-go-round, which appeared for the first time in the main market area in 2022)
The Rathaus Christmas tree dominates the market vista and glitters with LED lights.
Each year, a different Austrian province gifts the giant tree to Vienna in a traditional gesture of friendship (possibly through gritted teeth, depending on the current state of domestic politics).
A giant carousel appeared in 2022 and was not the only new nod to the kids. Dedicated locations offered advent activities for young children from 2pm to 6pm, with earlier opening on weekends and public holidays.
The Rathaus park
(Decorative lights in front of the tree of hearts)
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 likely feature a fair few seasonal highlights, such as a nativity scene trail and a Ferris wheel.
The decorations and lights turn parts of the park into a romantic wonderland (if you ignore the people and smartphones). And the romance goes all the way up to 11 with the now traditional Tree of Hearts, which I can never seem to photograph adequately.
(The tree of hearts in 2022 with new LED lights; in the foreground Mayor Ludwig and the 2022 Christkind, Angelina; press photo © C.Jobst/PID)
A bit kitschig and twee? Of course. But twigs and boughs full of lighted hearts makes a fine place to share a snack with a loved one.
And 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 traditional highlight in the park is the illuminated ice skating (where you hire skates on site), which lets you glide through some 3,000m2 of the park and transports you into a Disneyesque Christmas wonderland (albeit with considerably more sausages and less fairy glitter).
Assuming it repeats in 2023, the ice skating tends to remain open a little longer than the market (until January 8th last time).
(The Ferris wheel)
The Christkindlmarkt’s organisers once declared the location 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 can get remarkably busy.
Having said that, the market followed a new, more open layout in 2022, which made for a slightly more relaxed visit.
The best time to go is (inevitably) after dark, when the lights and sights combine to give the true Christmas market experience you read about in leatherbound tomes of travel. Just be prepared to share that experience with quite a lot of other folk, especially as you near December 24th.
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 lighted entrance arch and illuminated booths.
Opening times 2023
I don’t have dates yet for 2023. Watch this space or the official website. Dates last time were November 19th through to December 26th. Opening times for the market and rides etc. were:
- 10am to 9.30pm
- The market closed at 6.30pm on December 24th, 25th and 26th
(Don’t forget the ice skating usually continues until early January.)
How to get to the Christkindlmarkt
Public transport gets you to the market easily, though it’s within walking distance of most of the centre. Even closer if you stay in one of the nearby hotels.
The trams 1, 71 and D stop right outside (the stop called Rathausplatz / Burgtheater).
Alternatives requiring a short stroll 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