The second stop on our Christmas market tour of Central Europe (#SandTGoChristmasMarketing: Round 2) is Vienna. Vienna in December is magical and COLD. I knew that from our first Christmas market adventure, but I couldn’t resist the allure of continuing to crack Vienna. With two prior trips to Vienna under our belt, we still felt like we were missing something about the city. We like Vienna, but we wanted to know why people love Vienna. Personally, I love the Christmas lights and think they might be the best in all of Europe. The Christmas lights are what took us back to Vienna. And, as with any adventure, we found a few more things to love about the city.
Vienna is a great stopover between Salzburg and Prague or Budapest. We’ve used it as both via car and by train. I’m not typically an advocate for day trips, but if you wanted to take a day trip to Bratislava, it’s about an hour away from Vienna and has a completely different vibe. Though we didn’t visit them on this trip, I love the Bratislava Christmas markets.
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2023 Vienna Christmas Markets Dates
- 11/11/2023 – 12/26/2023 – Vienna Rathaus Christmas Market
- 11/10/2023 – 12/23/2023 – Am Hof Christmas Market
- 11/10/2023 – 12/23/2023 – Stephansplatz Christmas Market
- 11/16/2023 – 12/23/2023 – Spittelberg Christmas Market
- 11/15/2023 – 12/23/2023 – Vienna Christmas Market at Maria Theresien Square
- 11/17/2023 – 12/23/2023 – Belvedere Palace Christmas Market
- 11/24/2023 – 12/23/2023 – Karlzplatz Adventmarkt in Vienna
- 11/18/2023 – 12/26/2023 – Schönbrunn Palace Christmas Market (New Year’s Market until January 4, 2024)
Where to Stay in Vienna at Christmas
As I mentioned above, Vienna is cold. For that reason, I believe the closer you can stay to the Vienna city center, the better. There are many hotels along the Ringstrasse, including many U.S. chain hotels. It isn’t that far, but it’s also not that close in freezing cold temperatures. Vienna has a good tram system, as well as a good metro system, but the beauty of Vienna in December is being out and about. If it’s in the budget, I recommend finding a hotel inside the Ringstrasse.
Hotel am Stephansplatz
As I was navigating Tom through the Vienna city center, he kept asking me if I was sure I was right. We turned on to a narrow street, with St. Stephan’s Cathedral staring us down, and he asked me again if I was sure we were going the right way. At the end of the block, directly in front of the cathedral, sits Hotel am Stephansplatz. Tom thinks it’s the best hotel find ever. Location, location, oh, and location. Did I mention how cold Vienna is? This hotel is a dream on those cold nights.
I think this is one of the best hotels in Vienna for Christmas because it’s right in the middle of all the Christmas cheer. It’s a short walk to the biggest Christmas markets. (There’s even a Christmas market in front of the hotel!) And, there’s a metro stop right in front of the hotel, so you can easily visit Schonbrunn Palace, too. The staff is extremely helpful and took care of valeting our car, delivering our (heavy) luggage to our room, and getting us restaurant recommendations.
Our classic double room had an interior courtyard view, so it was incredibly quiet. The rooms are on the smaller size, but they are well laid out for optimal efficiency. The wardrobe is large enough to store two large suitcases. Beds are comfortable and have dual duvets, as seems to be typical in Austrian hotels. We also had a nice sitting area, including a table. There are tea kettles, coffee makers, and a mini-fridge in the room. Bathrooms are large and offer both a stand up shower and a soaking tub. Breakfast is included with the room rate. I particularly enjoyed the pretzel rolls and the view. Try to grab a table overlooking Stephansplatz, but know that it does get busy.
The only negative thing about the hotel is that the curtains weren’t black out curtains, so the light from the building kept the room from being completely dark. They did close the hotel for renovations after the new year, so perhaps that will be one of the things they change. All in all, it’s a small price to pay for such an amazing location.
Vienna Marriott Hotel
I lost all the photos from our stay at the Vienna Marriott during our first Christmas market trip, but I wanted to share a little bit about this hotel. The Marriott is on the Ringstrasse, so it’s a short walk to the city center. We booked this hotel using points and received a standard deluxe room. We were not upgraded as Marriott Titanium (then Premier Platinum) members, but we did get club lounge access. The club lounge is very small for the size of the hotel. Every time we visited, it was impossible to find a seat. That being said, our platinum arrival gift (mixed nuts and water) was promptly delivered to the room.
It feels like a large conference hotel. It appears that they have added some touches to the rooms to make them feel less nondescript. It’s a perfect fine hotel and the beds are comfortable. The bathrooms have dual sinks and a combination shower and bathtub. Bath amenities were Green Mandarin Acca Kappa, a brand I wasn’t familiar with but I enjoyed. This Marriott does offer turn down service, and I particularly enjoyed the pez peppermint candies.
We did try to use the indoor pool, but it was too cold. I gave up after trying get acclimated for 10 minutes. It might be a cultural preference, so I don’t necessarily blame the hotel for that. I think it’s just something to be aware of, especially if you have kids and are hoping to use the hotel pool. (Kids are probably tougher than I am.)
Ritz Carlton Vienna
The Ritz Carlton Vienna is also on the Ringstrasse, but it’s a little closer to the opera house and the city center. This is the best hotel in Vienna for Christmas markets if you’re looking for luxury. Vienna hotels are expensive, so we used points to book this hotel. We were upgraded to a junior suite as a result of being Marriott Platinum. This hotel has the most character of all the Vienna hotels that we have stayed in. The plush rooms are decorated with rich fabrics, dark woods, and deep colors.
With a private bedroom, separate living area, and huge bathroom, the junior suite is one of the largest rooms I’ve ever stayed in while in Europe. The living area has a couch, a nice-sized desk, a coffee and tea service area, and even a small patio that overlooks the city. An oasis of calm, the bedroom houses one of the comfortable beds that I have every experienced. The green and white marble bath has a separate shower and soaking tub, dual sinks, and heated floors. Bath amenities are Aspery purple water, which actually works really well with my hair. The rooms come with plush robes, slippers, and turn down service.
The vitality pool in the spa is one of the best amenities though. After a long day of walking in Vienna, it is absolutely the best way to unwind. If you’re looking for an absolutely luxurious stay in Vienna, there is no better choice than this hotel. (Personally, I think it’s better for spring, summer and fall visits because of the cold weather.)
Visiting the Vienna Christmas Markets in December
Vienna has some of the best Christmas markets and I haven’t even seen them them all yet. The Vienna Christmas markets open slightly earlier than the Salzburg Christmas markets but you’ll want to check with the Austrian Tourism Board before you plan your trip. In addition to the large Christmas markets, Vienna has several smaller markets throughout the city, including markets at Stephansplatz and the Hofburg. On our first Christmas market trip, we took a Vienna Christmas Market walking tour of the city. It was a great introduction the city and allows you to see the sights, but it was cold. It was so cold that we missed the Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace, which is still one of my greatest regrets. You will want to dress appropriately for the tour. Vienna gets very cold when the sun goes down.
Vienna Christmas Market at the Rathaus
The Vienna Christmas market tour walked by the Vienna Christmas Dream market, but it did not include a stop. Between the ice skating, the backdrop of the Rathaus, and the beautiful lights wishing us Frohe Weihnachte, I knew this market would be our first stop. We did our shopping at the market during the day, when it was less crowded, but the Christmas magic happens at night. Be aware that it will be very, very crowded. I found this market to have the largest selection of mulled wine and tasty beverages and the most unique Christmas ornaments. I’m still kicking myself for not buying a hand-painted ornament of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Am Hof Christmas Market
One night, Tom and I just wandered through the streets of Vienna to see where we ended up. The Am Hof Christmas market turned out to be a lovely surprise. It felt very local and we followed our noses from stall to stall. The jovial spirit was palpable despite the freezing temperatures. It felt like it had more tables to stand at, so it was easier to enjoy the treats. Right around the corner is the Freyung market, which also offers tasty punch and snacks.
Art Advent Market at Karlsplatz
The Art Advent market is most convenient to the hotels on the Ringstrasse. It’s also the most kid-friendly market as it offers a large play area. It felt like the most artisan market that we visited and had the most unique gift options. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the pictures from our visit because of the great hard drive debacle, but it’s definitely family-friendly and worth checking out.
Schönbrunn Palace Christmas and New Year’s Market
The Schobrunn Palace market is a great option because you can couple it with a guided tour of Schönbrunn Palace. When you consider the fact that you can take the metro to get there and warm up with a tour when you get too cold, this might be the best Christmas market in Vienna in December. We ended up having lunch at this Christmas market before our tour. It’s where I met the most amazing thing: the party pretzel. A party pretzel is a pretzel that is bigger than your head. I didn’t name it, either. This market is good for tasty treats, gifts (especially journals and toys for kids), and beautiful Christmas ornaments. There are numerous concerts at the Schonbrunn market, which only adds to the holiday cheer.
Bonus: If you aren’t able to take an apple strudel cooking class in Salzburg, Schonbrunn offers a strudel show! It’s one of the few Christmas markets that runs through January, too!
Things to Do in Vienna in December
One of the best things about Vienna is that there is no shortage of things to do indoors. There are plenty of ways to warm up in the city. One of the things I appreciate most about Vienna is the coffee house culture. It’s like stepping back in time. Tom and I love to head to Cafe Central for amaretto hot chocolate and pastries. (Okay, Tom gets a beer.) Whether it’s a lazy Sunday morning or after an evening of wandering around the city, it’s our favorite place to relax and slow down.
Learn to Waltz in Vienna
On our last trip to Vienna in December, we took a Viennese waltz class! Even with my dance background, this was much harder than I expected! The dance studio is located very close to the hotels on the Ringstrasse, so this would be a great option if you wanted something fun to do that is very close to your hotel! The instructor is incredibly patient and does a tremendous job of breaking down the steps into manageable bits. While I always thought it would be fun to dress up and attend a Vienna New Year’s Ball (okay, I still do), my waltz skills need a lot of practice before prime time. I wish we had photos. (Dress in layers – the studio is very warm and you’ll get hot very quickly!)
Visit Schonbrunn Palace
It takes less than 20 minutes to get to Schonbrunn. I know time is precious on vacation, but I really enjoyed this tour. We used the Vienna Day by Day book to plan our trip on the u-bahn. It’s easy to purchase tickets using the automated ticket kiosk, but make sure you hold on them until you exit the station. There were guards inspecting tickets as we were leaving the station.
If you don’t want to book a tour in advance, you can purchase a ticket and a tour when you arrive, but the tour time will depend on how busy they are. You may not get the next available time. The guided tour runs approximately an hour and includes headsets, so you can always hear the guide. One reason that I think it’s great to do this tour is because there are not photos allowed within the palace. You will never see what the palace rooms look like if you don’t! I think the Empress had great taste, but more importantly, I learned a lot about the Austro Hungarian Empire. The Christmas market and strudel show is merely a bonus!
Enjoy the Museums and the Music
One of the things that you have to know about visiting Vienna is that culture is a huge part of Viennese life. There are not a lot of English language tours for the museums. (Trust me, Tom an I have tried to find every Vienna tour in the city.) Whether it’s visiting the Albertina, the Hofburg, or the Opera House, there is no shortage of masterpieces to experience in the winter. If that’s not your thing, Mozart lives on in Vienna, not only through his residence, but also through concerts. If you’re going to be in Vienna for Christmas Eve, Schonbrunn offers a concert. While these may not be things that you ever do at home, there is no better city to experience classical music than Vienna… and truly, it might be the most traditional to stay warm during December in Vienna.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
While a gothic cathedral isn’t the best place to warm up, it shouldn’t be missed on your trip to Vienna. (It’s near impossible to miss given its prime location.) Rick Steves has an audio tour of the Cathedral that you can download and listen to as a guide. None of the tours I have done in Vienna have ever included a visit inside the cathedral, so it’s a great way to learn more about what you are looking at. One thing that I find particularly remarkable is how quickly this cathedral was restored after World War II. I find the roof, in particular, to be especially beautiful The pattern created by the 230,000 individual tiles is awe-inspiring.
Try All the Viennese Pastries
It goes without saying that I have a sweet tooth. Fortunately, the Viennese seem to have one as well. Obviously, you have to try the Sacher Torte. The Sacher Torte is a delicious flourless chocolate cake with apricot jam to keep it moist. Allegedly, the exact recipe is on lockdown at the Sacher Cafe, but I’ve seen it on other Viennese menus. My favorite Sacher Torte is the original.
The DK travel guide on Austria offers information on different regional specialties. I read about the Mohr im Hemd and I was determined to find it. I found it at both Demel and Cafe Central. It’s almost like a chocolate soufflé (and takes almost as long to make) with melted chocolate and fresh whipped cream. Demel has the most incredible (and rich) Mohr im Hemd. If you’re allergic to nuts, they offer a large selection of cakes in the most beautiful setting.
As far as apple strudel goes, I think Demel has one of the best. They make a damn good pastry.
Where to Eat in Vienna
You need a reservation for dinner when you’re in Vienna in December, particularly on weekends. I can’t say this enough. While our concierge didn’t laugh at us when we asked for help getting into some of the more popular restaurants, he was definitely amused. We ended up with a few mediocre meals because we didn’t plan well. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Trattoria da Angelo – We stumbled upon this after our waltz class when tempers were running high and patience was running short. It’s a tiny restaurant, but thankfully they let us in. I still dream of the ravioli mamma rosa.
- Figlmuller – It’s a bit touristy with the schnitzel that is bigger than your head, but it is delicious. The Viennese are some of the kindest that we’ve ever met. They were extraordinarily committed to ensure that we had a great meal.
- Bitzinger and Wiener Wurstl – While these wurstl stands are the most conducive to a December visit, they are a quick and tasty meal. Order what the locals in front of you do. We’ve ended up with some delicious wurstls that way.
Travel Tips for Visiting Vienna in December
Be prepared for it to be cold. You need at least two sets of cuddleduds for Vienna. Cashmere sweaters will keep you the warmest. (I found some inexpensive ones at Nordstrom. The quality is not the best, but they kept me warm.) You will absolutely need a warm scarf that fits snug around your neck, as well as a hat and warm gloves. While we didn’t encounter as much snow in Vienna as we did in Salzburg, it was wet. You want waterproof boots. Take the U-Bahn when you can, but don’t miss the beauty of Vienna.
Beyond that, you have to be comfortable letting Vienna reveal itself to you. We’ve made three trips to the city, and each time we visit, I think we peel back another layer of the onion. I still don’t think we’ve reached the heart of the melon though.
The grand architecture is beautiful. Cafes are to be savored; they aren’t Starbucks. Meals are expected to be slower. One of the funniest things we encountered was when our concierge made us a reservation for dinner. He said that the restaurant could accommodate us between 4:00 and 6:30, but they would need the table at 7:00. Desperate for a dinner reservation, my husband said, “No problem, we’re American. We can eat in that time.” He gave my husband a bemused smile said, “But the restaurant is Austrian.”