From cosy Christmas markets and the promise of snow to the elegance of ball season and the popular New Year Concert, here arise our top pick of things to do in Vienna during the winter months.
Browse the Christmas markets
The Austrian capital is famous for putting on a show during the festive period and is considered to have some of the best Christmas markets in all of Europe. One of the most popular and traditional takes place in front of the Belvedere Palace, which contains a circle of stalls selling traditional handicraft items, plenty of warming Austrian food and drinks, including gloriously warming mugs of gluhwein (mulled wine),as well as daily choral performances. The Karlsplatz, Schönbrunn, and Freyung markets are also great for summoning Christmas cheer.
Embrace ‘ball season’
One of the more acceptable hangovers from the bygone era of Vienna’s decadence and high society, ‘ball season’ takes place between November and January and there’s something for everyone. Seasoned waltzers can head to the conservative Philharmonic ball to twirl around the dancefloor, while those wanting something a little more in the 21st century can check out the less formal Bonbon Ball. Read our guide to learn more.
Unlike skiing, ice-skating is a winter sport that practically everyone can enjoy. There are numerous ice rinks set up across the city between November and January, including in the gardens of the Wilhelminenberg Palace and in front of the Rathaus to host the annual Ice Dream event. Over the Christmas period, a 6,000 square metre ice rink is set up between the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Inter-Continental Hotel and is extremely popular with both tourists and locals alike; you can hire ice-skates for a few euros or opt to take part in a lesson. And if the city is experiencing an exceedingly frosty year, the river Danube may well freeze over, inviting throngs of skaters to glide onto the temporary natural ice rink.
Warm up in the coffee houses
Thankfully, there are plenty of cosy corners to shelter from the frosty weather in Vienna, and there is no place better than a traditional Viennese coffee house. The cafés adapt their menus to include some winter specialities, and there is always a comprehensive selection of pastries and cakes, such as the gloriously rich chocolate Sachertorte (as seen below).
Take part in winter sports
Curling may not be one of the most popular winter sports, but it is not to be missed if you are visiting Vienna during the winter months. On the ice rink in front of the city hall square, there are eight curling lanes in which fans of the sport can show off their skills, and there is also a smaller curling rink in front of the canal, aboard the Badeschiff “pool boat”.
Enjoy the (almost) guaranteed snow
Although no one can say for sure, Austria is generally a safe bet for a holiday destination if you want a white Christmas. Temperatures average around O°C in December, so you are very likely to experience snowfall when visiting around this time, making the Christmas markets especially atmospheric. From snowball fights to tobogganing, snow in Vienna always equals fun.
Soak up culture at concerts and shows
Famous for being a cultural powerhouse of Europe, Austria’s capital has an impressive choice of shows and concerts year-round. However, wintertime is one of the more special times of the year to visit if you want the best pick of shows. From the performances at the world-famous Vienna State Opera House to more casual church concerts, the choices are endless when it comes to concerts.
Vienna State Opera House, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien, Austria, +43 1 514442250
Fuel up on the delicious food
Austrian cuisine comes into its own during the winter. The rich ingredients of a Viennese kitchen are put to good use to create sweet and savoury dishes with a calorific value you will be thankful for in the cold weather! From the roasted chestnut and potato wedge stalls on the street to the markets selling steaming mugs of glühwein (mulled wine), foodies will be spoilt for choice when visiting in the wintertime. Try some traditional recipes at home and read our guide to the city’s best restaurants.
Spend the weekend skiing
There are a number of ski resorts easily reachable by train or car from the city, meaning you can take a weekend trip from Vienna to spend on the slopes. Popular choices are Hohe-Wand-Wiese (great for families) and Semmering (located about 100km from the city).
Relax in a spa
Those seeking respite from the chilly weather should head to one of Vienna’s many day spas, often located inside boutique hotels or local swimming pools. Sweat out the winter blues in a sauna – see here for our pick of the best.
Celebrate the new year
Vienna’s annual New Year Concert is a truly mammoth event, watched by around 50 million people around the world. With iconic performances by the city’s philharmonic orchestra and other visiting international musicians, it is always guaranteed to be a memorable way to bring in the new year.
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