If you have ever been tempted to visit Christmas markets in Europe, I hope this post will convince you to finally book the trip. We spent time in Vienna last December and the experience left me speechless. After a year to gather my thoughts, I’m sharing the highlights with what to drink and eat when visiting Vienna Christmas Markets.
I haven’t fully decided how I feel about the term bucket list. I’m not a huge fan, but that might just be because it is so popular and overused. At the same time, I lack an appropriate name for my list of places to see in this world.
Must-go, must-see, travel list? They all feel rather boring. Especially with the places that I have on my list. I feel like the name needs to match the magnitude of the experiences.
So while I’m searching for a name, I’m slowly progressing through my list (whatever it is called).
A big, and I mean huge, destination for me, became a reality last December. We’ve been to Vienna a few times now and it remains one of my favorite places in the world, but I’ve always wanted to go in December to see the Christmas markets.
The planning all happened rather quickly. We mentioned the idea, found affordable flights and the trip was booked – several days in my favorite city, bundled up against the cold, exploring a holiday tradition that is unlike any other I had yet to experience.
As usual, I researched the food. I had my list of items that needed to be checked off. The second we stepped into our first market, I was immediately distracted by the many other things I had read nothing about.
Delicately decorated gingerbread that ranged from mini hearts to works of art worthy of being framed. There were pretzels, and not just the savory variety. Some with sweet jams, nuts and even hazelnut chocolate spread.
There were large skillets of spätzle and nockerln that were loaded with leeks, bacon and cheese.
The first half hour was a blur, but I’m pretty sure it involved me frolicking from booth to booth, shouting to my husband, “LOOK!”
I couldn’t believe that I had researched so much and had barely scratched the surface of what I could expect to find.
Let’s take the beverages for example. I had read about glühwein (a mulled wine) and punsch (a warm, spiked punch), and that there would be a few different variations. Excited to try them all, once we arrived at our first market I set a goal to record all the types available to share in a blog post.
So with that goal in mind, let me show you a sampling of the menus from the markets. It should be pretty clear why I failed miserably at accomplishing it.
Some of the varieties were the same from market to market, but most of them were not. There were warm mulled wines and punches with shots of various liqueurs and floating fresh fruit, some with chocolate, others with whipped cream. If I had tried them all, I probably wouldn’t be here to write this post for you. There were that many!
My advice is to grab your German dictionary and be ready to decode the flavors. Many of my nights back at the hotel were filled with going through some of the photos I had taken of menus and looking up the unfamiliar words to determine what fruit, spice or liqueur was used in each variety.
While I’m on the topic of drinks, one thing we learned shortly after our visit is that each market (or group of markets run by the same organization) has a unique mug. You pay a deposit for your mug at each market. You can return it when you leave to get the deposit back, or you can keep the mug. So if mug collecting is your thing, you will have a blast. It is my thing, but due to luggage space, we limited ourselves to our two favorites.
With that, let me take you on a journey through the markets we visited and why we loved them, including their special mugs and delicious foods.
The markets run from mid-November through the end of December, but each market has its own schedule. Some open earlier, some stay open later, some run for just a short period and some run the whole season. A resource like the Wien Tourism website offers a list of the full schedule.
General Tips for Visiting Vienna’s Christmas Markets
Know at least a few German words before you go (always hello, please, thank you and excuse me or sorry). Knowing general food words will help, too. Many vendors do speak English, but some do not. About 50 percent of the signs at the markets have the foods and drinks translated to English.
Visit as many markets as possible, even small ones that you may at first think are not worth a visit. They are all so different with their own unique characteristics. You will likely find a few gifts, foods and drinks at one market that you will not see again at the others.
The markets are gorgeous at night when lit up, but many we visited during the day were bustling and equally as fun.
Use the UBahn to get around and warm up a bit between market stops. (It’s one of the most efficient public transportation systems I have ever used.) But also do some walking outdoors. We discovered a few markets we didn’t have on the list just by walking around the city without a plan.
Vienna Magic of Advent and Christmas Market (Wiener Christkindlmarkt)
We explored the whole city, but this is where we spent most of our time because we were staying at a hotel just a few blocks away. Rathauspark is one of our favorite spots in the summer, and the winter market here exceeded our expectations.
Central location and all of the trees in the area were covered in glowing decorations from guitars to hearts and teddy bears.
Food and Drink:
The homemade nougat.
Too many pastries to list. Like these donut-like filled pastries that were roughly the size of my head. See the edge of the sign at the bottom? XXL!
Käsespätzle (cheese spätzle). This food is in my top five favorite foods. It exceeds mac n cheese for me because, well, it’s mini dumplings and cheese. Yum!
There was so much to try. I’ve never felt so limited by my appetite. We had to pace ourselves knowing we had so much more to explore.
This was the market where my husband picked his mug.
Christmas Village at Maria-Theresien-Platz
We visited this market right at dusk when the crowds were quickly building. It appeared to be a popular stop for tour buses and a few large crowds emerged about the time we got there. We managed to maneuver our way through and try out some of the drinks.
These beautiful dried citrus decorations.
Food and Drink:
I limited the drinks topped with whipped cream, mainly because they were so, so sweet, but it felt wrong to celebrate the holidays without a couple of these in such a festive atmosphere!
We were full at this point in the late afternoon and wanted to save room for dinner, so we didn’t indulge in much food here, but we loved the central location and energy of this market.
Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace
We made it out to this market after a day spent visiting the Ottakringer brewery and walking through the more residential areas of Vienna. We arrived just as the sun was setting for some gorgeous photos of the palace.
The market was spread out and not nearly as crowded as the options in the center of town, yet there were numerous booths to explore.
Food and Drink:
We had one of our favorite meals at this market. Speck-Lauch- Kräuternockerl: Bacon – Leek – Herb dumplings with onion.
Cultural and Christmas Market & New Year’s Market at Schönbrunn Palace
This was my favorite market, but I should probably disclose that this palace is one of my favorite places to visit any time of year. The whole property is breathtaking.
While many of the markets we enjoyed at night, this market was outstanding during the day. There was just enough buzz with visiting school children, locals and travelers to make it bustling, but not overwhelming.
Food and Drink:
I tried my favorite hot drink here – a ginger (ingwer) punsch. Most recipes include some ginger, but this one was loaded with it as a major ingredient. I only found the ginger version at one or two markets so I’m so glad I tried it here.
I also found some of the most beautiful gingerbread here. We had a short discussion with the vendor about how all of this is decorated by hand.
Hot Potatoes – We didn’t have one, but there was a baked potato booth that had more options for stuffings than I have ever seen. I want to travel back when I am hungry, just to try one.
Christmas Market on Stephansplatz
This is a small market with a handful of vendors right around St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Although quiet, you can’t beat the location and seeing the decorated store fronts in the area.
Go at night. We visited both during the afternoon and at night and this area really came alive at night. The cascading lights throughout the center of the city were so beautiful.
Food and Drink:
There weren’t many food options at the market itself, but plenty of glühwein and punsch. The vendors here felt upscale, almost gourmet. One booth had specialty drinks with detailed descriptions in English.
This is the market where I chose my mug. The little boot was too cute to pass up!
Christmas Market on Spittelberg
We had no idea this market existed until we stumbled upon it during our walk to dinner one night, just as it was closing. We were almost disappointed we had dinner plans because the area was so intriguing. We wanted to stay longer.
A smaller market, it was tucked down a side street. The black booths and the layout made it unlike the others we visited and gave it a local, hidden feel. With the cobblestone streets, I felt like I was standing in a scene from the A Christmas Carol.
Food and Drink:
We were headed to 7 Stern Bräu (a post for another time) for dinner so we managed to resist the temptation to try something here, but there were plenty of options for both food and drink.
While we had lofty goals, it was impossible to visit all of the markets during our 4 day visit. There were 13 total last year and 12 on the list for this year. The ones we did visit completely exceeded my expectations. It was better than I could have imagined – the decorations, the food, the drink, the culture. I returned with a feeling that Christmas may never again feel like Christmas without at least a short visit to European Christmas markets.
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