Outings | Stories

Christmas markets – viennese answer to the darkest days

November 24, 2018

Welcome to the time of the year when the whole city smells of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts. Even if it gets dark at 4 in the afternoon the glowing lights make you fell like in a fairy tale. And then there are places where you can stuff yourself with food, wash it down with a glass of punch and buy some crafts. Hello Christmas markets time.


Is the tradition really over 6 centuries old?

There is a romantic story going around that the tradition of Christmas markets in Vienna is more than 600 years old. This is not true. Medieval Vienna did not have Christmas markets – city’s accounts from that time do not show any revenue and costs in this context. But, fast forward to the 17th century and there they are. As they are sparse, we do not know when exactly the first Christmas market happened. However, books from the year 1600 (or 1601 – opinions are divided) are showing there were huts am Graben and Brandstätte (St. Stephen’s cathedral area). They would be set up on the 16/17 December and then closed on the 9th of January. They were known as “Thomasmarkt”. Cakes, gingerbreads and sweets were sold there.

Time for a name

This market was closed in 1761 and then moved to Freyung in 1772. The name also changed to St. Nicholas and Christmas market. As there was also a regular market happening there, it is not a surprise that conflicts arose between the owners of the stalls. So in the 1842 the Christmas market was relocated to Am Hof. It became a fixed relocation a year later, and was also given a name “Christkindlmarkt”. So if we want to be really precise, the market we now visit on Rathausplatz is exactly 175 years old.

In 1872 by the decision of a local council fairs (today we would rather call them markets) were closed. As funny as it sounds, the city decided they do not fit the image of a modern city. There was an exception made: Christmas market could stay. In the beginning of the 20th century (1903) 128 stands were renewed and equipped with electric lighting.

Parking construction helps to find the magic

1st and 2nd world war brought tough times for the regularity of a Christmas market. Between 1923 and 1946 market was held in 5 different locations, including Freyung, St. Stephan’s cathedral area, Neubaugürtel above the Hesserdenkmal, and Am Hof. The war stopped the market from happening, but it came back in 1946, this time in front of the exhibition palace, known today as Museums Quartier. It stayed there till 1975, with a break between 1949 and 1957, when it moved to Neubaugürtel. In 1975 there was a scheduled construction of an underground parking by MQ, so the market had to be moved yet again. It was set temporarily on Rathausplatz, but the central location, together with Adventszauber (magical advent atmosphere) made it a fixed place till today. In the 80’s new Christmas markets will start: Florisdorfer, Freyung, or the one in Alten – AKH. Today it would be quite a challenge to try and visit all the Christmas markets (and per visit I would understand having a drink there).

It is about fun

There is this joke that whenever three Austrians meet, they form a Verein (club). So of course, there has to be a Verein zur Förderung des Marktgewerbe [The Association for the Promotion of the Market Trade]. And the chairman of the association is Turkish by birth, which for me proves quite elegantly that it is not about Christmas per se, it is more about the spirit of fun and warmth on these grey days. Viennese markets provide an instant teleportation to a place that is jollier, warmer and friendlier, even when the wind gusts are hurting your cheeks and make your hands all red. There is no usual grumpiness either; the people working on the stands are always eager to engage into a little chat with you, even if your German is not fluent.

Look for the gems

Going from market to market you will notice how some of them are more filled with locals enjoying their time after work with friends, and some of them are buzzing with English, Chinese, and other languages. 3 Million people visit Christmas markets every season, so imagine the craze. Nigel Slater visits Viennese Christmas markets every year for three nights. As he writes, there are more Christmas markets than I have fingers. I go at night, when they have a punch-induced jollity. Much of the offerings can be ignored, but there are gems. Sometimes the connection between offered crafts and Christmas is very arbitrary.

Fat, Flour and some ‰

But no matter where you go you will be met with the buzz and commotion of people buying big slices of bread covered with Raclette, drinking wine and choosing a candle, or maybe mustard. About that, food is about carbs and fat. I don’t remember the movie anymore where I heard it, but apparently it is “fat and f***g flour” that we need to survive and be happy. So you will find exactly that: potato pancakes you can smear with garlic butter, Langos dripping in fat, Leberkas, sausages or already mentioned bread with Raclette. You can finish with a portion of roasted chestnuts, strudel or a waffle. After such feast you can just roll home and continue digesting on the sofa. But the cold will not matter anymore.

Visit to the Christmas market – remember

  1. Christmas markets are packed and it is a paradise for pickpockets – no matter how much punch or mulled wine you had try to keep an eye on your purse, camera and anything valuable.
  2. When getting your first drink you will pay more than it says on the blackboard – that is because you are paying a deposit (Pfand) for a mug. You will get the money back when you return the mug.
  3. You can return the mug to any of the booths serving alcohol, it does not have to be the one where you got your drink.
  4. Mugs differ between markets – if you want to keep one, find the one you like the most.
  5.  Be aware that a lot of booths will have more or less the same stuff. And a lot of it will be from China. Look closely, compare, try to find local producers – it is possible.
  6. Yes, food is very fatty, yes, you should eat it. Especially baked potatoes, potato pancakes and cheese with Raclette (I am getting hungry as I am writing it).
  7. At the same time – food quality will differ vastly between markets. It is still important to have some food to help you deal with the alcohol better.
  8. As mostly everywhere in Vienna, dogs are welcome. Try to be a sensible owner though and think if a crowded market is really the best place for your furry friend.

Which one shall you choose?

Biggest and most popular markets are listed below, but look out for local markets: each Bezirk will have at least one, there are also markets organised in the are of churches etc. – they will usually have a completely different vibe, also interesting to check. I personally really like the Spittelberg market, but I am a fan of Spittelberg at any time of the year, mostly because of Amerlingbeisl. It is however really packed and very narrow, so what I do, is just grab a mug of punch from the first available stall, before even entering the market. If you are there make sure to not miss the stand with Potato Pancakes. They are quite expensive (everything is) – 3,90 per one, but they are big and delicious. They also offer garlic butter for self-applying so you can be munching on a glorious hot potato pancake that is fat in the best possible way and smells and tastes of garlic. Heaven. So far I claim that the punch offered in Amerlinghaus is the best. I need to do more research but they make a delicious apricot-ginger one. At least it was delicious last year.

I also like the market by the Riesenrad (Prater) – I like how convenient it is to grab a mug of punch, go for a walk with Badi and bring back the mug a bit later. I avoid Rathausplatz. We went there once, mostly for ice-skating, but the crowd scares me a bit, and I have the same experience with the one at Schönbrunn. There is also Museums Quartier, which is technically a winter market, not a Christmas market. They still offer a good punch, so all is good 😉 Also, it is one of the few markets that stays open after Christmas.

I am fairly sure that with the abundance of Christmas markets we have in Vienna everyone can find something up their alley. My only wish is for the markets to be open longer than only till 24th of December. We still need the lights and punch to help us through the grey January and February, don’t we?

Christmas markets in Vienna – opening times



Vienna Christmas World on Rathausplatz

November 16 – December 26, 2018
Sun-Thu 10:00 am – 9:30 pm,
Fri-Sat 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Dec 24, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Dec 25+26, 11:00 am -9:30 pm
Ice skating until Jan 6, 2019: daily 10:00 am – 10:00 pm,
Dec 24 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Rathausplatz, 1010 Vienna

Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz

November 21 – December 26, 2018
Sun-Thu 11:00 am – 9:00 pm,
Fri & Sat 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Dec 24 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Dec 25+26 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
New Year’s Village
December 27 – 31, 2018
11:00 am – 7:00 pm,
Dec 31
11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Maria-Theresien-Platz, 1010 Vienna

Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace

November 23 – December 26, 2018
Mon-Fri 11:00 am – 9:00 pm,
Sat, Sun & holidays 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Dec 24 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Dec 25+26 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
Prinz-Eugen-Strasse 27, 1030 Vienna

Christmas Village on the University Campus

November 17 – December 23, 2018
Mon-Tue 2:00 am – 10:00 pm,
Wed 11:00 am – 10:00 pm,
Thu-Fri 2:00 am -11:00 pm
Sat 11:00 am – 11:00 pm,
Sun 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Alserstrasse/Spitalgasse, Hof 1, 1090 Vienna

Old Viennese Christmas Market

November 17 – December 23, 2018
Daily from 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Freyung, 1010 Vienna

Am Hof Advent Market

November 16 – December 23, 2018
Mon-Thu 11:00 am – 9:00 pm,
Fri-Sun & holidays 10:00 am – 9:00 pm, food until 10.00 pm
Am Hof, 1010 Vienna

Christmas Market & New Year’s Market Schloss Schönbrunn

November 24 – December 26, 2018
Daily from 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Dec 24 10:00 am – 4:00 pm,
Dec 25+26 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
New Year’s Market
December 27, 2018 – January 6, 2019
Daily from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Schönbrunn Palace, 1130 Vienna

Art Advent – Art & Crafts on Karlsplatz

November 23 – December 23, 2018
Daily from 12:00 noon – 8:00 pm, food until 9:00 pm
Karlsplatz, 1040 Vienna


Christmas Market on Spittelberg

November 15 – December 23, 2018
Mon-Thu 2:00 pm – 9:00 pm,
Fr 2:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Sat 10:00 am – 9:30 pm,
Sun & hols. 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Spittelberggasse, Stiftgasse, Schrankgasse, Gutenberggasse, 1070 Vienna


Winter Market on Riesenradplatz

November 17, 2018 – January 6, 2019
Mon-Fri 12:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sat, Sun & hols. 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Dec 24 10:00 am – 5:00 pm,
Dec 31 11:00 am – 2:00 am
Riesenradplatz, 1020 Vienna

Imperial and Royal Christmas Market

November 16, 2018 – January 1, 2019
Daily from 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
December 24, 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
December 12, 10.00 am – 2.00 am,
January 1, 1.00 pm – 8.00 pm
Michaelerplatz, 1010 Vienna

Christmas Market on Stephansplatz

November 16 – December 26, 2018
Daily from 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Dec 24 11:00 am – 4:00 pm,
Dec 25+26 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
Stephansplatz/towards Churhausgasse, 1010 Vienna

Advent pleasure market at the Opera House

November 16 – December 31, 2018
Daily from 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Dec 24 closed,
Dec 31 11:00 am – 1:00 am
Mahlerstrasse 6, 1010 Vienna