The lights and decorations of the Vienna Rathaus Christmas Market at night

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Top Tips For First-Time Vienna Christmas Market Visit

Are you planning your first time visit to the Vienna Christmas Markets? Then I’m jealous! Having just completed a four-day whirlwind tour of Vienna in late November, it’s one of the best things to do to get into the holiday spirit. Vienna’s Christmas Markets are filled with incredible food, lovely holiday gifts and decorations, amazing Christmas lights, and lots of Christmas cheer (of the alcoholic variety). 

With so many famous European Christmas Markets to choose from, you might ask yourself, why Vienna? Well, the answer is simple: they have a ton of markets, and each one has its own unique appeal. From the largest, Christkindlmarkt, at the Rathaus to the smaller, more intimate market at Spittelberg, you will find market stalls filled with all types of wares and food. Sure, the Christmas Markets in Germany and France are the most famous, but the markets in Vienna are some of the largest and most visited in Europe at Christmas time.

St. Stephan's Cathedral with market and lights
St. Stephan’s Christmas Market

In addition to the markets, Vienna has some fantastic sights to see in the winter. Be sure to visit the Vienna State Opera House (you can catch a standing-room-only performance), tour the incredible Hofburg Palace (home of the famed Spanish Riding School and Sisi Museum) and Schönbrunn Palace (I would recommend the Sisi Ticket, it gets you into three venues and is just perfect for a winter visit), and visit St Stephan’s Cathedral, one of Vienna’s top tourist attractions. Be sure to book a classical music experience. All of the famed churches in Vienna offer nightly performances of Austria’s most famous composers, and it’s a great way to experience one of the most musical European cities. 

In addition to these fantastic attractions, you will want to experience Vienna’s delicious food. Be sure to slip into one of the famed coffee houses, where coffee is an art form (if you are like me and don’t drink coffee, order a hot chocolate; it’s incredible). In addition to the must-try food at the Christmas Markets, check out some of the more famous Viennese foods, such as wiener schnitzel, goulash, apple strudel, and tafelspitz. Try a guided tour; you can sample all these in one day! 

If you are headed to Europe consider adding on a stay in Prague, check out my post The Best Things To Do In Prague During A Winter Visit.

If you can’t make it to Europe this holiday season, check out my list of the 21 Best Christmas Markets in The US for 2023.

A List Of Tips For The First-Time Visitor:

#1 Take Cash

I didn’t think this one was true before my trip. I thought Vienna seemed like a big, modern city, and they would take cards everywhere, but they didn’t. This is especially true at the Christmas Markets; cash is king there. I did not encounter a food vendor accepting credit cards at any markets. Also, most of the merchandise sellers didn’t take credit cards either. I suggest taking several hundred Euros if you plan on eating and shopping at the markets. 

I heard a lot about prices in Vienna; they can be expensive. When buying drinks, remember you are also paying a deposit on the mug (more on that later), so you will get that amount back. I didn’t think prices were overwhelming. Sure, most touristy markets had slightly higher prices, but it was less than I had expected.

I also visited the Prague Christmas Markets on the same trip; the opposite was true there. You could use a card for even the smallest purchase at market stalls and local businesses. 

Snowy day a the Belvedere Palace Christmas market
Schloss Belvedere Market
#2 Be Ready For Crowds

It was crazy busy at the Vienna markets. The main markets at Rathaus, Belvedere Palace, and St. Stephan’s were busy at all times of the day. But the crowds swell in the evening and on the weekends. The best time to visit and shop is during the daytime. My strategy was to shop early and then return at night for the lights and ambiance (and, of course, a Glühwein or two). Saturday nights were the most crowded, so keep that in mind. 

#3 Use The Public Transportation

Vienna is a large city and very spread out. Many of the most popular markets are within walking distance of each other, but some of the most famous are outside the city center. So take advantage of the amazing public transport system in Vienna. Tickets are cheap, and the subway and trams will take you almost anywhere you want to go. The system is not English-friendly, so I suggest downloading the WienMobil app. You can buy tickets there and research routes to your destination in English. 

Contrary to what others advise, I would only get the Vienna City Card if you plan on visiting several museums and attractions on your visit. The discounts don’t make up for the cost. If you are buying it primarily for the transport option, buying a 24, 48, or 72-hour transit pass is more economical and easy with the app.

#4 Plan Ahead 

There are so many markets you could spend all day touring and only see some of them, so having a plan is essential. Use this handy Google map to plan your days. It’s easy to walk between the main city center markets. But it would be best if you planned your visits to Schönbrunn, Schloss Belvedere, and Prater beforehand. Combining these with visits to the namesake attractions is a smart use of your time. 

It’s also a good idea to have reservations both for hotels and popular places to eat. You will be shocked by how many tourists visit the markets, and many of the most popular places book up quickly. Planning can save you a lot of money, as the closer you come to November and December, the more the hotel prices seem to skyrocket. 

Make a seat reservation if you plan on traveling to other markets by train during the holiday season. The trains between cities are crowded at this time of year, and for the additional cost of a reserved seat, it’s worth it. 

Snowman and lights on snowy night at Vienna Christmas Markets
Night Scene at Rathaus Market
#5 Dress Warm

Don’t take your best outfits to the markets unless you are a true fashionista. I am constantly frustrated when I read posts about how everyone in Europe always dresses up. It’s just not true. And guess what? You are a tourist, so you will look like a tourist no matter what you do. So be practical, take layers, and be prepared for any weather. Temps at this time of year are typically in the 30s, often cloudy and rainy. Or you might luck out like I did and get 5 inches of snow! 

The streets are cobblestone and sometimes sloppy. Take waterproof shoes or boots. Have a hat, hood, or both. And remember the gloves. You will be outside at all times during the markets. There are no places to warm up or even sit down. So be sure to plan accordingly.

Punsch & Glühwein stall at Vienna Christmas Market
Punsch & Glühwein at Vienna Markets
#6 Be Patient

With the crowds, the weather, and the sheer number of markets, it pays to be patient. Expect lines, plan for weather that changes throughout the day, and take your time exploring. Oh, and a hot mug of apfel punch helps calm the nerves! (That might explain the slightly dazed look on my face in this photo.)

Drinking a hot apple punch at Vienna markets
Apfel Punch At Karlsplatz Market
#7 Visit BOTH Day & Night

Each market is different during the daytime. So I suggest visiting as many during the day and at night if possible. But make sure to take in the Christkindlmarkt am Rathausplatz, Spittelberg, and Maria-Theresien Platz at night; they are spectacular. 

#8 Go Hungry (ditch the diet)

Food and drink are really the focus of most markets. It’s a gathering place during the winter cold and darkness. The Christmas market foods are not healthy either; think sausage, deep-fried, sugary, and cheese. But it is oh so good. 

Two holiday mugs with drinks at Vienna Christmas Markets
Collectible Mugs At Vienna Market

One of the big traditions at the Vienna Christmas Markets is the mugs. When you buy a punch, you will also pay a deposit on a fun and unique mug at each market. The deposit is between €4 and €5 euros, and when you return it, you will get that amount back. FYI, you can return the mug to any drink vendor; they all use the same mugs, and you don’t have to return it to the stall where you originally purchased the drink. But you can also keep them as a great souvenir. 

The two most popular drinks are glühwein, a warm mulled wine, and punsch, which is also warm and comes in several flavors. Of course, you can get almost any of the drinks in a non-alcoholic version, often called Kinderpuncsh. 

Narrow cobblestone streets of Spittelberg Christmas Market
Spittelberg Market During The Day

Top 5 Best Christmas Markets To Visit In Vienna

My top markets to visit include the following:

Rathausplatz Christmas Market: The largest of all Vienna markets, held in front of the city hall, the location and backdrop are incredible. It has everything, including an ice rink, stunning lights, and a fabulous Christmas tree. I suggest visiting both day and night. 

Maria-Theresien Platz Christmas Market: A smaller but no less impressive market. Sandwiched between the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum, the location is fantastic. (Secret Tip: Not far from the Art Museum, up a staircase and over a small bridge, is a great little restaurant and bar called Glacis Beisl with an outdoor area with a fire and a small Glühwien stall. It’s a great place to escape the crowds and enjoy a drink, especially on a snowy evening.)

Spittelberg Christmas Market: This is a smaller, more intimate market housed on three cobblestone streets lined with market stalls. This is one of the more easily accessed smaller markets. 

Karlsplatz Christmas Market: If you want higher quality and unique gifts, check out this market. It has a solid arts and crafts focus.

Schonbrunn Palace Christmas Market: Forming a circle in the palace’s forecourt, you can’t beat this location. It’s also a great market to combine with a tour of the amazing palace rooms and grounds. 

Have fun at the markets and have a glühwein for me!

Below are links and resources to help you plan The perfect trip

Travel Resources

  • HOTELS
    Booking.com and Expedia.com are great resources for accommodations around the world. Book almost any hotel directly from these links.
  • TOURS
    The best places to book tours and activities are Viator or Get Your Guide . From great food tours to guided hiking adventures to local walking tours, you will find great experiences to add to your travels here.
  • FOOD EXPERIENCES
    EatWith is a great resource for authentic culinary experiences with passionate locals worldwide. Connecting travelers with hosts in over 130 countries, providing unique, intimate, and immersive experiences in private homes and exclusive venues.
  • TRAINS
    Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. They work with over 210 rail and coach companies to help their customers travel to thousands of destinations across 45 countries. 

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