Christmas markets in Austria are a top draw for holiday travelers, and the Viennese Christmas Market at the Rathaus in Vienna is one of the best. With an unbeatable setting, plenty of gluhwein to drink, tons of booths to shop at, and a fun ice skating rink, it has everything you could ever ask for from an Austrian Christmas market, and it’s indeed one of the top things to do in Vienna in winter. Keep reading to find out why I loved it so much.
There are several markets in town, but the one in front of the city hall is by far the best Christmas Market in Vienna. With the beautifully decorated Rathaus as a backdrop it’s one of the best Christmas markets in Europe and you can’t ask for a prettier setting for a Christkindlmarkt. Seeing the town hall lit up at night would be worth a visit even without the market. Vienna Christmas lights are stunning all over the city, but the Rathausplatz Market take them to a whole new level. There are plenty of hotels within walking distance, and it can be easily reached by subway. Find out everything you need to know to plan an amazing visit to my favorite Christmas Market in Vienna below!
- 1 What’s the deal with gluhwein?
- 2 Ice skating at the Vienna Christmas market
- 3 Shopping at the Vienna Christmas Market
- 4 Eating at the Christmas market
- 5 Other things to do at the Vienna Christmas Market
- 6 Vienna Christmas Market tips
- 7 Getting to the Christmas market in the Rathausplatz
- 8 Where to stay for the Vienna Christmas Market
- 9 Vienna Christmas Market 2018 dates
- 10 Vienna Christmas Market 2018 opening times
- 11 What to bring to the Vienna Christmas market
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What’s the deal with gluhwein?
One of my favorite parts of any Christmas market is the gluhwein. It’s a spiced wine served hot to keep you warm while browsing the booths, and I absolutely love it. To purchase some of the mulled wine, just look for one of the many booths selling it and choose your flavor. It’s traditionally made from red wine, though there were other sweeter options to choose from at the Vienna Christmas market. You can’t go wrong with whichever one you choose as they’re sure to warm you right up. Non-alcoholic Kinderpunsch is also available for kids and those who don’t drink.
It’s served in a specially decorated mug, and you pay an extra deposit that’s refunded when you return your cup – or you can keep it if you think it’s cute like the boot I ended up with. Fair warning – the most popular mug designs get snatched up early, so by the time we visited on Christmas Day, they were down to almost 100% somewhat boring angel designs that apparently weren’t particularly beloved. I was determined to find one of what I deemed to be the cute ones and my brother spotted one at the gluhwein booth by the skating rink toward the end of the night. I enthusiastically bought another mug of mulled wine in a boot before putting on my skates so I could a different mug – coincidentally, it’s the best I’ve ever skated. Which leads me to…
Ice skating at the Vienna Christmas market
I’m not a great skater, but I can hold my own and I’ve been to plenty of open skates where you just sort of go around in circles for an hour. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to skating in Vienna because I often find that boring and the last thing I wanted to do was injure myself on day 3 of a two-week trip. However, as soon as I saw the skating area, I was excited to hit the ice. The skating area is made up of looping, intersecting paths that curve around each other meaning that you’re not stuck skating in circles the whole time. Some of the areas of the course even have a little bit of a downhill slope so you can pick up some effortless speed. Fortunately that extra gluhwein seemed to improve my mediocre skating skills and I found myself zooming around turns within minutes. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had ice skating, and I’m so glad that we did it.
You can bring your own skates if you have them, but there are also plenty available to rent. The skating area has huge banks of lockers for rental as well, so you can store your belongings (and Christmas shopping) safely while you’re on the ice. The ice skating area remains open an hour later than the market itself, so it’s a great way to cap off your night once the shops close. After the New Year, the ice rink expands and adds even more space to skate, so it’s worth checking out if you’re visiting Vienna in January as well.
Shopping at the Vienna Christmas Market
The vendors at the Viennese Christmas market offered a wide variety of goods from handmade crafts to mass produced items. I took my time looking for well-made goods and left with a couple of Austrian Christmas ornaments for my collection as well as a cheap one that reminded me of my little white husky mix at home. I’d recommend grabbing some gluhwein when you first arrive and then sipping it while you make a lap of the booths to scope out what everyone is offering. Then you can return to the best booths and make your purchases. It’ll keep you from blowing your budget at the first three stalls and then finding something you really want while walking down another aisle. It’s also important to factor in what I like to call “transportability” in your purchasing decisions if you’re not a local. We had to fly home with whatever we bought so I had to pass on a gorgeous blown glass tree full of tiny ornaments that I really wanted because I just couldn’t figure out a way to get it through two more weeks of road tripping and then a long flight home to the US.
Another popular souvenir was the heart-shaped gingerbread cookies. There were some with traditional messages like, “Frohe Weinachten” or more modern sassy ones. Many of them were in English, but I went for the German ones since we were in Austria and it seemed appropriate. Pro tip: The ones hanging in front of the booth are for display. Point out the one you want or tell the vendor which inscription you want and they’ll grab one from the back.
There was a large segment of the stands selling cheap manufactured goods, so keep an eye out for those. Several stands sold knit hats, but then we saw the exact same ones for less money at tourist stores the next day.
Eating at the Christmas market
I’m not going to lie, eating at the Viennese Christmas Market was one of my favorite parts of my visit. Food usually is. There were tons of great sweets available, from gingerbread to cakes. I had a delicious “ice cream cone” full of crème filling called schaumbecher that was actually better than real ice cream. There were a few places selling donuts and other sweet pastries filled with creme and marzipan.
I had an amazing baked potato with cheese and ham from one of the stands that was legitimately one of my favorite meals that I had on our two-week trip. It wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to eat while strolling with my other purchases, but omg was it ever worth the effort. It was mouth-meltingly hot and exactly what I needed after being out in the cold. Other stands were selling a variety of sausages or pretzels if that’s more your speed.
Other things to do at the Vienna Christmas Market
Just walking around the market admiring the Vienna Christmas lights was magical. They really go all out with the decorations and the twinkling lights are absolutely delightful. The Christmas Tree at the center is especially beautiful with the Rathaus in the background.
The Christmas Market includes some small carnival rides for both kids and adults. My brother and his girlfriend rode the Ferris wheel there and got a nice view of the lights from above, though it wasn’t quite tall enough to take them above the trees. The area is a great spot for kids to take a break.
When we visited, there was an “Instagram wall” type thing with light up angel wings. The line for a photo was really long, so we skipped it during the Christmas Market opening times, but we stopped by after it closed and took some pictures without having to wait. We missed out on the lights, but it was better than spending half an hour in line.
There is a special room in the Rathaus for children’s activities. Kids can warm up indoors and enjoy some stories and crafts.
Vienna Christmas Market tips
- The best time to visit is the evening when the Vienna Christmas lights can be viewed in all of their glory.
- The evenings – particularly on the weekends – are also when crowds are at their highest, so be prepared to not have a lot of space to maneuver.
- If you’re visiting with a large group, try splitting up. We had seven adults and in less than ten minutes of doing nothing but trying to locate other members of the family as we were pulled in various directions, we determined that splitting up was the best way to enjoy the market. By splitting off into pairs or solo, we each got to move at our own pace and do what was the most important to us. We set a meeting time and place and then regrouped for ice skating after we’d had our fill of the Christmas Market.
- Bring lots of cash. The vast majority of transactions at Christmas Markets in Vienna will be cash. Make sure you come stocked with Euros if you plan on doing a lot of shopping (or eating).
- Beware of pickpockets. Vienna is generally safe, but a large crowd of people reaching into purses and wallets for cash on a regular basis can definitely be a draw for thieves. Make sure your purses are zipped and wallets secured so the day doesn’t turn out to be any more expensive than it needs to.
Getting to the Christmas market in the Rathausplatz
The closest metro station is Rathaus on the U2 line (purple on the U-bahn maps). You can also use the Volkstheater stop on the U3 line. There are also bus stations at several different locations within a couple of blocks of the Rathausplatz. Once you’re nearby, just follow the smells and twinkling lights that seem to define Christmas in Austria and you’ll find your way in no time.
Where to stay for the Vienna Christmas Market
Because the Viennese Christmas Market at the Rathausplatz is easy to access via public transportation, you can really stay anywhere in the heart of Vienna. We opted to stay at the Hotel Regina just a couple of blocks away for a quick walk to the market and had one of the best breakfast buffets of our whole trip. Here are a few other options located close to the Rathaus:
- 25hours Hotel beim MuseumsQuartier
- Hotel Rathaus – Wein & Design
- The Levante Parliament
- Austria Trend Hotel Rathauspark Wein
- Boutique Hostel – Zum Goldenen Kegel – This much more budget-friendly option isn’t super close, but it has easy access to the U-Bahn.
Vienna Christmas Market 2018 dates
Christmas markets seem to take over Vienna in December. The Viennese Christmas Market 2018 runs from November 17th-December 26th. It was perfect for us because we spent Christmas in Vienna and were able to have something fun and Christmas-y to do in the evening when pretty much everything else was closed. There are several other Vienna Xmas markets with different opening dates, so be sure to check those out too if you have time.
Vienna Christmas Market 2018 opening times
The market runs from 10-9:30 Sunday-Thursday and 10-10 Friday-Saturday for most of its run. It’s open from 10-10 on December 7th, 10-6 on Christmas Eve (December 24th), and 11-9:30 on Christmas Day (December 25th) and December 26th. Make sure you check event schedules as times can change. The official website doesn’t have a ton of information, but it does at least have updated hours.
What to bring to the Vienna Christmas market
- A canvas tote will help carry your purchases if you plan on doing a lot of shopping. Bonus points if it has a Christmas design like this one.
- A warm coat. Gluhwein or not, you’re going to want one of these to stay warm. I prefer a packable down jacket because it’s the perfect winter travel accessory. (Men’s style here.)
- Hat and gloves. Same reason as above. Make sure your gloves have touchscreen capabilities so you can use your electronics.
- Warm walking shoes. There aren’t a lot of spots to sit down and take a break, so plan on being on your feet for a while. Even better if they’re waterproof in case there’s snow.
- Tall socks. If you’re planning on skating, make sure you have some tall enough socks to cover where the skates hit your leg.
Looking for some indoor Christmas activities in Vienna?
Try some of these special Christmas concerts.
Check out more great things to do in Austria here:
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