CHRISTMAS IN VIENNA – PART ONE

Elegance, history and a magical festive buzz. Winter in Vienna really has it all…

Vienna is often overlooked when it comes to charting the best Christmas markets that Europe has to offer. But while it’s more big-name contemporaries in France, Germany and Belgium battle it out at the top of the standings, Vienna has so much to offer in Yuletide season.

For us, the Austrian capital got the nod as our destination of choice due to its many attractions away from the markets. With history at every turn, the world’s oldest zoo and a host of traditional culinary delights, Vienna is packed with points of interest for the Christmas tourist.

But the main event certainly doesn’t leave one wanting, with ten markets spread across the city offering everything from unique handmade crafts to fresh local produce providing the perfect setting for a spot of magical Christmas indulgence.

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A stall packed full of soft toys and handmade Christmas decorations. Picture: Scott Hunt

Thursday

Taking it all in

The links between the airport are simple, effective and plentiful. Most notably, the City Airport Train provides a direct link to the centre in just 16 minutes (€12 for a single ticket). We choose to get a transfer from the airport given the luggage we are carrying, and book with Vienna Airport Cab (€27 for up to three passengers).

About 40 minutes later, after a safe and swift service, we arrive at our hotel and are set to explore.

A simple, and not too lengthy, walk straight down Burggasse from our hotel leads us into one the main market hubs in the city. We pass the magnificent Volkstheater on our left – the regal home to some of the biggest and best plays and concerts Vienna has to offer.

It is now mid afternoon, and seasonably chilly. We’ve arrived into the heart of the action in the buzzy and quite majestic Museumsquartier. Stretched out in front of us is our first taste of the Christmas Markets we are so desperate to immerse ourselves in.

But it is not the market that immediately grabs the eye. No, that honour goes to the simply magnificent architecture at every turn. Either side of the market that adorns Maria-Theresien-Platz are the stunningly imposing Natural History Museum and the Art Museum. Two pristine, near-identical domed structures that provide an incredible backdrop for the festivities and merriment in full swing at their feet.

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The Natural History Museum provides a spectacular backdrop for the market stalls. Picture: Scott Hunt

Ahead lies a statue devoted to Empress Maria Theresa, namesake of the square, while the charming wooden market stalls are lined up in the four pathways leading off the main statue.

The unmistakable waft of Gluhwein fills the air. It would be rude not to, right? Well half an hour later I was wishing I hadn’t. I’m assured I simply was unlucky to pick a variation I didn’t take to, but my orange Aperol Gluhwein was quite ghastly.

We had been informed, by guide books and locals, that the markets really need to be done at night to experience the full magic. So we decided to while away some hours by visiting the Natural History Museum.

It’s at this point I should mention a crucial part of our visit – The Vienna Pass. This is a scheme which allows you to pre-purchase a pass which then grants free access to numerous attractions across the city as well as allowing unlimited travel across Vienna’s public transport systems. To make it pay, you really have to visit five attractions and, simply by having it, we were encouraged to make the most of the delights that this city has to offer. It comes hugely recommended if you come to Vienna.

The Natural History Museum was one such attraction included in the Vienna Pass list and as soon as we stepped inside, we knew this was the perfect place to spend a few hours.

Our eyes were immediately drawn to the magnificently-ornate domed roof above our heads as we stroll into the main entrance to the museum. Off the main circular entrance leads several marble staircases, each taking you to a different exhibition at the museum.

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The entrance hall of the Natural History Museum, Vienna. Picture: Scott Hunt

It has everything you could ever wish to see in a museum of its kind and frankly knocks London’s equivalent into a cocked hat. From Martian meteorites to electronic dinosaur skeleton replicas, there’s something for everyone to marvel at. Even a trip to the toilet offers fascination – with a Woolly Mammoth skeleton sitting just outside the door!

A couple of hours wandering around passed in the blink of a eye and a glance outside the window confirmed that the skies were beginning to darken. We venture back to the hotel to add another layer to our already-bulging attire (Vienna is as cold as you might expect in November) and set off in pursuit of our next market experience.

Evening

The Christmas market at Spittelberg offers a different kind of vibe but delivers its own unique charm. Spread predominantly across three picture postcard alleys, the market has a buzzy, atmospheric vibe and, of all the markets Vienna has to offer, most delivers the feel of mixing with the locals.

Spittelberg also boasts more fresh and hot food options on its stalls than the other markets, with local cuisine mixed with a range of European options from Italian pasta specialities to Spanish paella dishes. These complement a plethora of clothing and gift stalls and a delightful punschkeller or two!

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A Punschkeller at Spiegelberg market. Picture: Scott Hunt

For its atmosphere and vibrant feel alone, Spittelberg is a must-visit market and it also offers the chance to explore some of Vienna’s most charming streets.

Our night isn’t finished there. Oh no, we plough on but our aching legs force a reversal of the planned walk back to the Museumsquartier and see us call upon the services of one of Vienna’s many taxi companies.

Upon arrival we find dinner at a small, cosy restaurant situated just a couple of streets up, before heading back into the heart of Maria-Thereisen Platz to sample the experience at night.

It truly does come alive under the night sky, as the lights beam out of the wooden stalls and the two magnificent museums become brightly lit, to make the whole scene feel more exciting and positively Christmassy!

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Maria-Theresien-Platz comes alive at night. Picture: Scott Hunt

I dust off the wallet for the first time, to pick up a couple of handmade Christmas decorations and proceed to take pictures of all the same sights I’d seen during the afternoon.

There are more markets, more sights, more spectacular backdrops to come, but as we stood and surveyed the scene and soaked up the atmosphere at Maria-Thereisen-Platz, it was hard to shake the feeling that this was one of the most special places I’d ever been.

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