A European winter with snow-capped mountains, log fires, and hot chocolate is a setting that many aspire to be part of at this time of the year. Don’t just dream about a white Christmas! I always like the Christmas vibe in Austria, especially with all the Christmas or Advent markets set up in various towns across the country.
I had a few chances to visit Christmas Markets in Austria over the years, and they never did disappoint. Illuminated Christmas trees dominate city and town squares while temporary Advent markets have been set up in central marketplaces and plazas all across Austria.
Stallholders were mulling over a piping hot elixir made from wine or grape juice, citrus juices, spices, and herbs — in most places, they are called glühwein (mulled wine is another name). I happily sipped my mulled wine every day I was in Austria. If you are travelling with children, they can drink hot fruit juice instead. Besides mulled wine, we also munched loads of biscuits, stollen, and gingerbread cookies, occasionally eyeing on the roasted chestnuts and resisting the aroma of sizzling bratwürst fill the air. Well, in the end, we still gave in to all those Christmas snacks!
Vienna: Rathausplatz Wiener Christkindlmarkt for family travels
One of the best Christmas markets I went to! It is also one of the main Christmas markets in Vienna, with the Town Hall Rathaus towering over the square. We ended up nibbling on Christmas pastries and cookies from more than 100 vendors around the market. They were running different activities for kids and adults throughout the day, but the most crowded area was definitely the ice skating rink. From my experience, visiting the Rathausplatz after dark can be quite suffocating because of the crowd, but after all, that’s what Christmas spirit is all about right?
Vienna: Maria-Theresien Platz Weihnachtsdorf for couple travellers
Another favourite of mine is Maria-Theresien Platz Weihnachtsdorf located between the Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum). The market was less crowded as compared to the Rathausplatz, which I guessed because they had fewer activities for children. In fact, I found this market friendlier for adults (like me) who wish to drink mulled wine without having to hear children screaming or to squeeze between tourists. Souvenirs here tend to be cheaper too!
Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace Weihnachtsmarkt for traditional offerings
I just couldn’t leave Vienna without visiting the authentic Christmas market just outside the Schönbrunn Palace. The Christmas market here is slightly more traditional, offering traditional handmade toys and decorations as well as the usual suspect of mulled wine, sausages and sweet treats. Although the food and souvenir selection was rather limited, the majestic Schönbrunn Palace in the background made up for it.
Vienna: Belvedere Palace Weihnachtsmarkt for artsy-fartsy travellers
I happened to have a few extra days in Vienna and decided to drop by the Belvedere Palace Weihnachtsmarkt. As its name suggests, the Christmas market is located next to the famous baroque palace in Austria: Belvedere Palace. The market was pretty small — I was able to explore the stalls within an hour or so. Nevertheless, it has lots of arts and crafts, making it a great market for those who are into jewellery or homeware.
Salzburg: Salzburger Christkindlmarkt for a traditional market
In Salzburg, the Advent market is atmospheric and considered one of the most authentic in the country. The main Christmas market in Salzburg is set up on Residenz Square in front of the cathedral and beneath the impressive Hohensalzburg Fortress. A lot of locals seemed to love shopping for baked apples and gingerbread hearts, so I decided to give it a try too! The sweet cinnamon baked apples were really pleasant especially with the cold weather of Salzburg.
Salzburg has many other Christmas markets like the Austria by in a lakeside village. I didn’t have the time to explore all the magical markets in Salzburg, but that’s just an excuse for another visit soon!
Of course, I wished to spend Christmas in Austria beyond its Christmas markets. I stayed in a boutique family-operated hotel, Schwaigerlehen-Berngarten, in Stulfelden to fully experience how locals spend their Christmas. The owners arranged a sleigh ride through the snow-lined valley for us — that was a fun ride I’d had in the longest time! Austrian villages like Stulfelden in the Pinzgau Valley near Zell-am-See is where a very small but traditional Christmas market is staged with all the Christmas treats of bigger markets.
Besides shopping and eating, we occasionally attended some Christmas activities, such as the Christmas carolling session. Christmas carols are an important part of Christmas festivities with the Austrian-penned Still Nacht (Silent Night) being the most well-known. We sat in the memorial chapel of Nikolaus-Kirche to listen to the Christmas carolling after getting exhausted from all the walking and snacking.
Accommodation in Austria ranges from luxury five-star hotels to welcoming local accommodation such as Schwaigerlehen Berngarten in Stuhlfelden. Schwaigerlehen Berngarten is a family-operated bed and breakfast property with some of the heartiest Austrian food, guaranteed to add a few inches to everyone’s waistline. Stuhlfelden is a small and welcoming village on the branch train line from Zell am See to Mittersill between Salzburg and Innsbruck.
In Vienna, the main Advent Market is staged on Rathausplatz and there are many hotels nearby. A popular four-star property is Austria Trend Rathauspark with its grand stone façade so typical of many buildings in the capital.
My (and probably everyone else’s) recommendation for a stay in Salzburg will be Sacher Hotel. The sister property of the more prominent Vienna Sacher Hotel is also famous for serving the legendary Sacher torte, a rich chocolate cake with a dollop of cream on the side. Enjoy it with a fine cup of coffee with Weiner mélange the special coffee of Austria (similar to a cappuccino).
Few European countries can match Austria’s white Christmas, and that’s the reason why I am returning to Austria again this Christmas. This land-locked country is a wonderful destination at any time of the year but especially when it is dusted with snow around Austria. Malaysians can take a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Salzburg, Graz or Vienna.