Vienna is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities and a place where merrymaking and Christmas celebrations are taken seriously. Events taking place across the city range from quaint markets held in the shadow of dramatic Baroque architecture and classical concerts in some of the greatest venues in the world to art installations and ice rinks. Here are 10 of the best things to check out in Vienna over the Christmas period.
Advent concert at Stephansdom
The advent concert, taking place on various dates in December, is a chance to see world-class music in the magnificent setting of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The music, provided by the Wiener Kammer Orchester, includes pieces of chamber music and works by Mozart, Bach, Schubert, and Haydn as well as many popular carols. The cathedral lies in Stephansplatz, right in the heart of the city, with a U-Bahn stop conveniently right outside. The famous cathedral has previously been used for classical concerts and recordings by leading artists, including Sarah Brightman.
Enjoy string quartet performances by Austria’s most famousclassical composer in the venue where the man himself once lived and worked. The Sala Terrena at the convent of Deutscher Ritterorden, located close to the St. Stephan’s Cathedral and Hofburg Imperial Palace, is decked out in fantastically jubilant splendor over the festive period. The annual Mozart concert, taking place on Christmas Eve (Christmas day for the German-speaking world) is sure to ignite some festive spirit. The program includes performances by the Salon Orchestra.
The Belvedere Palace Christmas Market runs all the way up to Christmas Eve and is one of the newest and least commercial markets held across the city. This makes it a much more intimate affair than the bigger markets outside the Rathaus and the Schönbrunn Palace. Held in front of the magnificent Belvedere Palace—a wondrous baroque pile built at the start of the 18th century for Prince Eugene of Savoy as a summer residence that is now in south-east central Vienna—the facade of the Palace is lit up and there are stalls selling traditional handicraft items, Austrian food and drinks, and Christmas decorations.
The Museumsquartier is one of the great marvels of Vienna—the area is packed with some of the leading art galleries and museums in the world. With a sizeable courtyard and numerous venues on the site, each Christmas the Museumsquartier hosts an extravaganza of events. This year, the “Winter im MQ” event will include the erection of ice pavilions in the Museumsquartier, spectacular light shows and video projections broadcast onto the building sides, DJs and live music, as well as the “winter race” held in the pond of the MuseumsQuartier—with remote-controlled cars. There are also copious amounts of specialty punch being served to keep visitors merry and warm. Events take place from December 9-23.
Schönbrunn Palace Orchestra Christmas and New Year Concert
The Schönbrunn Palace has been a venue for classical music since the days of the Habsburg rule and was where the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s had their very first performance. The annual Christmas and New Year concert features a wonderfully Viennese repertoire, with music from Austrian home-grown favorites Mozart and Strauss, performed in the gloriously imperial setting of the Schönbrunn Orangery. There is also the option of purchasing a “VIP” ticket, which includes a three-course dinner and glass of bubbly in the intermission.
The “Christmas in Vienna” Concert is a gala event held each year at the city’s Konzerthaus that features leading singers performing traditional Christmas songs. Taking place on the evening of Saturday, December 16, in the Great Hall of the Konzerthaus, the evening will feature performers from the Wiener Singakademie, the Vienna Boys’ Choir, and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Konzerthaus is easy to reach on the south side of the Ringstrasse near to the Stadtpark U-Bahn station and dates back to just before the First World War.
The Christmas market at Freyung is a little more genteel and traditional than the glitzier, larger markets, such as the one at Schönbrunn. It is the oldest of all the markets in Vienna, originating in 1772. There are Punch and Judy puppet shows for children and music performed each afternoon after 4:30 p.m. During the rest of the year, the area hosts an organic farmers market and during the Advent period, the food stalls at the Christmas marketare particularly good, serving up traditional cured and smoked meats and cheeses.
The Viennese adore ice skating in the wintertime. There are ice rinks set up across the city during the winter months, including in the gardens of the Wilhelminenberg Palace and in front of the Rathaus to host the “Ice Dream” event made up of skating and curling. Over the Christmas period, there is a 6,000 square meter ice rink set up between the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Inter-Continental Hotel. The ice rink is very popular; you can hire ice-skates for a few euros and opt to take part in a lesson. Furthermore, if the city is experiencing an exceedingly frosty year, the river Danube freezes over, inviting throngs of skaters to glide onto the temporary natural ice rink.
Karlsplatz Christmas market | Courtesy of Austrian Tourist Board
Karlsplatz Christmas market
The Christmas market at Karlsplatz on the south side of the Ringstrasse is run by Divina Art, an association of arts and crafts professionals. All of the items sold at the market have to pass a committee and all must be made by the actual seller, so you can be assured of the quality of the goods. There are also traditional cakes, mulled wine and punch, live music, and a live nativity scene for children. All of this takes place in front of the Karlskirche, one of the finest Baroque churches in Europe, built by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach in the 18th century.
Rounding off the Christmas period is the New Year’s Concert, performed by the Wiener Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert is now hugely famous and broadcast all around the world to 90 countries on television and radio. The music is lively and the atmosphere kept light-hearted with encores and virtuoso displays from the renowned musicians. Originally held in 1939, the music focuses on the works of the great Viennese dynasty—the Strausses. The concert is held in the third of the great music venues in the city, the Musikverein, and has seen great conductors take control of the performance, including Daniel Barenboim.