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A Holly Jolly Guide To Vienna During the Holidays

Kamilla and Rita, two tour guides in the Austrian capital, show us the best things to do in Vienna at Christmas.

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David is a freelance travel writer based in Melbourne, Australia. He has also lived as a digital nomad in Europe for several years, happily visiting castles and getting lost on hiking trails. His work has appeared in Skylife Magazine, Fodors, and Matador Network.

Despite their different origins, tour organizers Kamilla Reti and Rita Zibar both spent enough time in Vienna to know that they one day wanted to live in the city, and as Rita says: “I am now living the dream, and I’m grateful for it.”

For Hungarian-born Kamilla, who grew up with an annual tradition of visiting Vienna’s Christmas markets from her hometown of Sopron, leading holiday-themed tours in Vienna of the “Christmas market experience for others is one of the coolest things I can do.”

Rita says that since its inception in 2017, the Christmas Market Vienna Tour has aimed to give visitors “a deeper insight into what the Christmas culture is in Vienna.”

And by putting aside Vienna’s fascinating historical attractions—such as the Hofburg Palace (Hofburg Wien), Vienna State Opera House, and Kunsthistorisches Museum—Kamila says the tour is able to focus on the best things to do in Vienna at Christmas by “doing only fun stuff—like tasting nice food and drinks, [and] telling stories.”

What makes Vienna great for the holidays

Vienna tour guides at night.
Some of the tour guides for the Christmas Market Vienna Tour.Foto: Prime Tours

Enjoy Vienna in seasonal style.

Vienna is a city that truly transforms with the arrival of the festive season.. The energy shifts with the coming of Christmas Day. According to Rita, “People are singing and playing jolly music in the streets at public concerts, and families and friends are just enjoying the season of love.”

That’s not to say that the city isn’t an interesting destination to visit at other times of year—but “[winter] is one of the most beautiful and remarkable seasons in Vienna,” per Rita.

Christmas markets play a major role in helping Vienna celebrate Christmas, with countless markets serving as festive hubs with Christmas trees, holiday light displays, and stalls selling high-quality handicrafts, food, and drinks. Displays such as the illuminated heart–dotted tree outside the Rathaus (Vienna City Hall) remain a favorite highlight of the Christmas markets in Vienna for Kamilla, adding to what she calls the city’s, “bright, cozy, loving feeling at this time of year.”

Where to try Vienna’s top holiday sips and snacks

Celebrate Christmas with holiday drinks or oven potatoes at a traditional Christmas market in Vienna.
Celebrate Christmas with holiday drinks or oven potatoes at a traditional Christmas market in Vienna.Foto: Alena Veasey / Shutterstock

Watch it snow from somewhere warm.

Festive food and drinks are a large part of the Christmas market experience. And while there are many foods to try, Kamilla favors the popular oven potatoes and mulled wine over other seasonal staples including Christmas cookies and punsch.

Rita suggests going to Zwolfv Apostelkeller in Vienna to try typical Viennese dishes and soak up a cozy winter ambiance below the busy city streets. “It's a must-visit place with traditional holiday decorations, and atmospheric Gothic and Romanesque architecture,” she says. To get a drink that’s not mulled wine or punch, Kamila and Rita point travelers to the retro student vibes of Cafe Europe for an Aperol spritz, or the Chapel Bar—“the holiest speakeasy in Vienna”—found by pulling the bottom right corner of the picture of a nun in the restroom of the Let's Be Frank eatery.

Where to go Christmas shopping in Vienna

Cookies in Vienna.
Christmas markets in Vienna are the perfect place for holiday shopping.Foto: Asvolas / Shutterstock

Don’t forget your stocking fillers.

Shopping at traditional Christmas markets tops the list of things to do in Vienna at Christmas, and you’ll find different things for sale depending on the market. Rita favors the Spittelberg Christkindlmarkt on the tour over some of the more central ones as she says they are more cozy and authentic,” while Kamilla says one of the most loved locations amongst locals in the outer districts is the Wild im West winter market, thanks to its vintage flea market and hipster vibe.

If you want to continue shopping beyond traditional Christmas market stalls, Kamilla vouches for the pop-up stores by Rahatlook. She adds, “Their handpicked vintage pieces are great quality, and the whole shopping experience is just amazing.”

Where to stay in Vienna this Christmas

The Ferris wheel in Vienna.
Prater Amusement Park hosts seasonal Christmas markets in Vienna.Foto: BABAROGA / Shutterstock

Wrap up warm in the capital’s top spots.

If being close to Vienna’s most popular traditional Christmas markets—and within easy reach of the top things to do in Vienna at Christmas—is a priority, stay at the elegant Hotel Sans Souci. Alternatively, ZOKU Vienna provides easy access to the seasonal markets at the Prater Amusement Park and the brand-new market at the Messe Wien Exhibition Congress Center.

Those who love staying in hostels (and want to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Vienna with other travelers) should book in at the Joe & Joe hostel by Vienna’s Westbahnhof train station, a cool establishment with a central location and lots of communal spaces.

Top holiday activities in Vienna

Ice skating in Vienna is a fun winter activity.Foto: creativemarc / Shutterstock

How to capture the capital's holiday charm.

Shopping and eating at traditional Christmas markets in Vienna aren’t the only festive season activities. Ice skating outside the Rathaus (Vienna City Hall) is ideal for “an enjoyable time with your loved ones under the Christmas lights,” according to Rita. She also highlights the free public Christmas concerts—in a wide range of genres—held at Praterstern and in the Museumsquartier.

For a wonderful (and free) view of the city skyline, Kamilla recommends taking a look at Vienna during the holiday season from the rooftop of the IKEA building at Westbahnhof, as they also have a special Christmas Market up there.

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