Vienna is one of the most romantic cities in Austria that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several times. It’s the capital of Austria and lies in the country’s east on the Danube River. It’s artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by some of its famous residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud.
The city is also known for its Imperial palaces, including Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer residence. We toured the Schönbrunn palace and grounds the last time we were in Austria, and we were mesmerized by its beauty. The palace is open year around and is a must see if you’re going to visit Vienna, especially during the holiday season.
Vienna is a place where Christmas celebrations and merrymaking are taken seriously. There are events held across the city that range from markets held in the shadow of wonderful Baroque architecture and concerts in some of the greatest venues in the world, to art installations and Christmas ballets. Here are a few events to check out in Vienna over the holiday season.
You can enjoy a beautiful concert in the magnificent setting of Stephansdom, or St Stephen’s Cathedral, evenings during the Advent period up until 21 December. The music is provided by the Wiener Kammer Orchester and includes pieces of chamber music and works by composers Mozart, Bach, Schubert and Haydn as well as traditional carols. The cathedral lies in Stephansplatz, right in the center of the city, with a U-Bahn right outside. This famous cathedral has previously been used by Sarah Brightman to record some of her classical concerts.
The Museumsquartier is one of the great marvels of Vienna – the area is packed with some of the leading art galleries and museums in the world. Served by its own U-Bahn station, each Christmas the Museumsquartier hosts an outdoor extravaganza of events. This year, the ‘Winter im MQ’ event will include the erection of ice pavilions in the Museumsquartier, spectacular light shows and video projections broadcast onto the building sides, DJs and live music, as well as an ice rink on which visitors can try their hand at curling. There are also copious amounts of specialty punch served up to keep visitors merry and warm.
The Belvedere Palace Christmas Market runs all the way up to Christmas Eve and is one of the newest and least commercial of the markets held across the city. This makes it a much more intimate affair than the bigger markets outside the Rathaus and the Schönbrunn Palace. The market is held in front of the magnificent Belvedere Palace, a wondrous Baroque pile built at the start of the 18th century for Prince Eugene of Savoy as a summer residence, now in southeast central Vienna. The facade of the Palace is lit up and there are stalls selling traditional handicraft items, food and drinks and Christmas decorations.
The ‘Christmas in Vienna’ Concert is a gala event held each year at the Vienna Konzerthaus that features leading singers performing traditional Christmas songs. Taking place in the Great Hall of the Konzerthaus, the evening will feature performers from the Wiener Singakademie, the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. They also feature solo performances by leading opera singers such as Natalia Ushakova, Ramon Vargas, Artur Rucinski and Vesselina Kasarova.
The Viennese love ice skating in the wintertime, so the ice rinks are very popular. You can rent ice-skates for a few euros, and even opt to take part in a lesson. Over the Christmas period, there is a 6,000 square meter ice rink set up between the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Inter-Continental Hotel. A few popular ice rinks include the gardens of the Wilhelminenberg Palace and in front of the Rathaus to host the ‘Ice Dream’ event made up of skating and curling.
The Christmas Market at Karlsplatz on the south side of the Ringstrasse is run by Divina Art, an association of arts and crafts professionals. All of the items sold at the market have to pass a committee and all must be made by the actual seller, so you can be assured of the quality of the goods. There are also traditional cakes, mulled wine and punch available, live music, and a live nativity scene for children. All of this takes place in front of the Karlskirche, one of the finest Baroque churches in Europe, built by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach in the 18th century.
The Vienna Christmas Market is located on the large town square between Rathaus (city hall) and Burgtheater. It is by far the largest and probably best known Christmas market in Vienna. Adorned by a large Christmas tree in front of the town hall and lots of festive lights, it sets the ambience for the perfect holiday setting. There’s food, drinks, handmade items, and lots of people to mingle with from all over the world.
Vienna is one of those cities that offers surprises around every corner. May the ‘City of Dreams’ make your holiday season one to remember.