The host of Vienna’s main Christmas market is travel author Brian Johnston’s favourite square – if not actual street – for its evocation of a medieval marketplace and all the warmth of the festive season in a cold country.
The month-long Christmas market on the Rathausplatz in front of Vienna’s elaborate town hall is the oldest and largest in Vienna. It’s the loveliest winter attraction in the city, brightening up long, dark afternoons and creating a magical atmosphere, says the globetrotting travel writer.
Christkindlmarktare a feature of many German-speaking cities and they have a long pedigree; Vienna’s was established by royal decree in the 13th century. The Viennese come to the market to socialise, shop for Christmas goodies, and enjoy carol singers and ice-skating under Christmas trees draped with gilded pinecones and fairy lights.
“If you’re tired of shopping malls and looking for a traditional Christmas shopping experience, you’ll find it here,” says Brian. Cheerful wooden booths decorated with fir branches and red ribbons sell music boxes, pewter beer mugs, and hand-blown glass ornaments for Christmas trees. Lacework, felt slippers, and objects made from deer antlers are other typically Austrian goods.
There’s no denying it’s cold, so Brian advises plenty of layers and a hot chocolate or mulled wine when Jack Frost nips at your toes. Warm your hands on a bag of roasted chestnuts, or sample other traditional Christmas foods such as nutmeg macaroons, apple strudel, and thick slabs of gingerbread stuffed with marzipan. “Look out for Stollen, a bread-like cake studded with candied fruit and nuts, which leaves your fingers covered in white from its dusting of icing sugar,” Brian adds.
Finally, don’t forget to wander into the adjacent Rathauspark, where trees are festooned with lights, and kids can ride on the merry-go-round, ponies, or the Christkindl Express. “It doesn’t get better if you have children: it’s like inhabiting a Christmas carol, right down to sleigh bells in the snow and chestnuts roasting on open fires.
Vienna, Austria > Book Now
Distance: 3,983 km
Flight Time: 6 hours, 10 minutes