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Vienna takes Christmas seriously, with Advent markets popping up all over town and people merrily drinking glühwein in the shadow of some of the city’s most recognisable monuments. Whether you plan to experience the Austrian capital’s famous musical heritage or shop for artisanal Christmas gifts, these are the best things to do in Vienna during the holidays.
Vienna is said to have one of the longest-running Christmas markets in the world, the Altwiener Christkindlmarkt on Freyung square, and the tradition has grown and grown over time. Wander round Vienna in the run-up to Christmas and you’ll find that seemingly every square is filled with wooden stalls selling warming drinks, maroni (roasted chestnuts), Christmassy food, handmade Christmas tree decorations, handcrafted toys and more. But it’s not just the Advent markets that make Vienna well worth a visit at Christmas; the city sets up ice-skating rinks and hosts popular festive concerts that give an insight into the city’s impressive musical offering, while the streets themselves are decorated with festive light displays, making simply wandering the city a great way to get into the seasonal spirit.
The Museumsquartier is one of Vienna’s great marvels – the area is packed with world-leading art galleries and museums. And each Christmas, the sizeable courtyard between the sites transforms to host an extravaganza of events. The atmospheric square hosts live concerts and DJs, as well as light shows, under a winter canopy. There are also copious amounts of specialty punch served at the event to keep visitors merry and warm. Events take place each year from December 9-23.
The beautiful Wiener Konzerthaus (Vienna Concert House), with its gilded ceiling, hanging chandeliers, and red and gold details, is a fantastic setting for any concert, but at Christmas it’s particularly special. Each December, the concert house draws acclaimed opera singers for its Christmas in Vienna concert, which has been running since 1992. Previous performers have included Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti.
Ice skating is very popular in Vienna in wintertime, and there are ice rinks set up across the city during the winter months. One of the most spectacular is in the gardens of the Wilhelminenberg Palace and in front of the Rathaus. Around 3,000-metres-squared of skating trails are laid in the area, meaning this isn’t your average pop-up open-air rink. Pre-heated ice skates are available for hire and there’s a practice area that can be used for free until 4pm on weekdays, while later in the evening the area transforms into curling lanes. From mid-January, the rink is expanded, and it stays open until well into the new year, usually closing in late March.
Vienna’s City Hall towers over the Rathausplatz, where a troop of statues surround the square itself. And below lies the biggest Christmas market in Vienna, and boasts over 100 market stalls, selling all manner of goods, from artisan handicrafts to stuffed toys, handmade woollen santas, traditional tree decorations, homemade candles, ceramics and more, all topped by an impressive display of lights and a huge Christmas tree. There are also live performances from choirs and bands.