When we decided to visit Vienna, Austria for Christmas last year, we had one thing in mind: Christmas Markets! We wanted to eat and drink everything. And we did – but we also discovered so much more. We spent 3 full days exploring Vienna at Christmas, falling in love with the winding alleys in Old Town, the glamorous Coffee Cafes, the glittering palaces, and of course, the food! So much food. Here’s your guide to everything you need to know about visiting Vienna at Christmas. Oh, and let us be the first to say: Frohe Weihnachten! That means “Merry Christmas.”
Psst: Looking for more tips for visiting Europe in the winter? We’ve sort of developed a habit of spending Christmas in Europe – check out a few of these posts:
- Two Super Detailed Winter Europe Itineraries
- 12 Delightful Things to Do in Prague in December & January
- 18 Snowy Pictures of Hallstatt, Austria in Winter to Fuel your Wanderlust
- Europe in Winter Packing List: 32 Backpacking Essentials for Him & Her
Psst: We’ve got a FREE printable Europe in Winter guide that you can download for your trip! Inside, you’ll find packing lists, travel tips, and two full itineraries for Europe in winter (including Vienna). Enter your email below and we’ll send it to your inbox.
Things to Know about Visiting Vienna at Christmas
- How to Get Around Town: Vienna is a big city and fairly spread out, so prepare to do a lot of walking. Much of the city center is car free, so at some point you’ll probably need to use the tram, train or bus. The metro costs a flat rate of 2.40 Euros each way no matter where you go – and fare dodging incurs a hefty fee. If you’ll be doing a lot of transiting or visiting Vienna for multiple days, we recommend picking up a Vienna Card: it gets you free, unlimited use of the metro, tram, and bus in downtown Vienna (including to and from the airport, yass) plus discounts on several of the attractions we recommend below.
- How Much to Tip: If you feel that you’ve received fantastic service, you may tip the wait staff 5%. Give this directly to your server. Otherwise, don’t feel bad about not leaving anything extra.
- How to Cut Dumplings: This is very important because dumplings are amazing and you’re going to want to eat them for every meal. Here’s how to eat them to not get angry looks from locals: use your fork to cut your dumplings – NOT your knife. Look, we don’t understand why, either. We’re just here to inform.
- Austrians celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. So if you arrive on Christmas Eve, don’t expect much to be happening in Vienna – the city will be home with their families, celebrating privately.
- Lots of restaurants are closed around Christmas. This includes quite a few of the places we were most excited to try. If you’re visiting Vienna early in December, you should be fine, but we found ourselves eating most of our meals at Christmas Markets (poor us, boo hoo) because the restaurants we wanted to visit were closed from Christmas Eve until after New Years. Your best bet is to check before you go!
- Shops are closed on Sundays: This is all Sundays, every Sunday, plus the holidays. Some bigger shops are open in the mornings but all close from the 24th
What to Pack for Vienna in the Winter
You’ll want to layer up every day. Luckily, winter layering is the perfect vehicle for adorable accessories like scarves and hats! Here are our recommendations for clothing that’s both functional AND super cute to wear in Vienna in the winter! If you’re looking for more details, we’ve got a full Europe in winter packing list guide.
- Warm Walking Boots: Do not skimp on your shoes for your trip to Vienna in the winter! This is a walking city and it will be COLD, so you need to have shoes that are up to the task. We recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are totally waterproof, and are comfortable enough to walk in for HOURS, especially on uneven cobblestone. Sounds darn near impossible, right? Well, it’s not. We’re OBSESSED with our winter boots (and yes, we both have the same ones. Because we’re kinda gross like that). They’re cute, they’re insanely comfortable, they’re waterproof leather and lined with shearling to keep your toes toasty warm, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. Oh, and they have thin and flexible soles that let your feet function as if you were walking around in freezing cold Vienna completely barefoot! Note: you might find yourself in need of some calf strengthening if you’re not used to barefoot-style soles. We can’t recommend these boots enough. They’re made to last and they’re worth every cent – we wore them for 2 months straight in frigid wintry Europe and never suffered a cold or sore foot! Plus, they’re cute AF. Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our round-up of our favorite travel shoes for women or for men.
- Wool Socks: Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks. They won’t keep your feet warm while you’re exploring Vienna! Make sure you get socks with wool blended in, like these or these.
- Travel Jeans: Unlike regular jeans, travel jeans are designed specifically to solve travel-related woes. One of my personal woes is the lack of pockets on women’s jeans. My favorite travel jeans have 7 POCKETS. 7!! And 2 of them are zipped and hidden inside other pockets, for extra pickpocket protection – crucial in any European country. Jeremy and I each have multiple pairs of Aviator USA jeans. They’re super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly in the rain or when wet, and keep our legs warm when it’s cold out. They’re cozy enough to wear on a plane, stretchy enough to accommodate that 5 extra pounds of holiday weight I always seem to bring back home with me, and they’re super cute! We’re both obsessed. You can get a pair of men’s or women’s black or indigo jeans on the Aviator USA website.
- Wool Leggings: These super comfy 100% wool leggings function just like long underwear. Except they’re made of soft, super-luxurious wool instead of cheap polyester, and make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. I wore a pair of these under my pants every single day and they kept me toasty warm (without being too hot)! Jeremy has this pair, too.
- Warm Leggings (with pockets!): Although we bring our wool leggings to layer under our pants, I also bring a pair of regular leggings – you know, for when it’s a balmy 40 degrees in the sun. I love these pants because they actually look like pants, not leggings – and they have ZIPPERED POCKETS!!!! Not those stupid pockets that can fit like, a chapstick and 3 dimes – you can actually zip a phone in there. BLESS.
- Warm Flannel Shirt: I’m in LOVE with the MerinoLux flannel button-down from Royal Robbins. It’s stretchy, it’s cozy, it’s blended with merino wool (yassss) and most importantly, it’s warm AF. But not so warm that you’ll get all sweaty running around Vienna and exploring, because it’s also super breathable. It’s also wrinkle resistant, odor resistant, and moisture wicking, and has a hidden zip pocket – so basically everything you could ever ask for in a flannel shirt. I’ve been searching for the perfect flannel for YEARS (you know, like one that didn’t give me button-down boob gap and allowed me to actually cross my arms) and this is The One. I love it! Here’s mine and Jeremy’s.
- Wool Undershirt: Laying is crucial when it’s this cold. My favorite way to make sure I stay warm all day is to put a warm layer of wool on before everything else. This is the wool cami I wear, and this is the wool tshirt Jeremy wears.
- Day Bag: I carried this day bag with me every single day packed with my packable down jacket, an extra pair of gloves, and anything else I needed for the day – a notebook, a water bottle, an endless supply of snacks, whatever. Jeremy carried our camera gear in this bag along with his packable down jacket and scarf.
- Warm Hat: A warm hat is an absolute necessity in chilly Vienna. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! You want a hat that will stay on your head even in blustery gusts of wind, so stay away from those wool felt ~travel girl types of hats and stick with reliable beanies. Personally I’m a fan of the ones with poofs on top, like this or this. Jeremy is more of a purist, and likes to wear beanies like this one, which is made from earth-friendly recycled wool and nylon.
- Warm Jacket: I brought 2 jackets with me to Europe: a beautiful camel-colored A-line wool coat like this one that kept me incredibly warm and looked amazing in all of my pictures, and a travel-friendly packable down jacket that I kept stuffed in my daypack in case I needed an extra layer! Jeremy wore a wool-blend coat similar to this one and this one.
- Scarves: I LOVE a chunky scarf. They’re my favorite accessory! And you will absolutely need a good scarf in Europe. I love this super soft scarf from Royal Robbins, which is blended with wool and turns into a cute shawl or infinity scarf with a few well-placed buttons. I’m also a big fan of scarves that are big enough to double as blankets, like this one or this one.
- Gloves: Don’t go outside in Vienna without gloves on! You will regret it. I love these wool gloves that work with touchscreens, because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves.
For more packing tips, head over to our Europe in winter packing list.
Things to Do in Vienna in the Winter
Vienna is magical, sparkly, ultra-European slices of fairytale heaven. In the winter they really double down on the magic with the festive lights. Prepare to get mulled wine-drunk next to a Pinterest perfect looking display of Christmas lights near a tree that’s the reason children have unrealistic expectations of the holiday season.
Take a Walking Tour of Vienna
The best way to get to know Vienna is on foot! Bundle up and hit the streets. If you’re visiting on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the good news is that you just might be the only one out exploring – great for pictures, but definitely a little eerie (we felt a bit like we were in a Twilight Zone episode).
If you prefer to get to know the city a little deeper, we recommend taking a guided walking tour. You’ll dive deep into the history, culture, and learn about what makes Vienna such an incredible destination to visit! Here are a few options that we think sound fascinating:
- Vienna History Walking Tour: Queens, Kings, Hapsburgs, monarchs, rich people drama, Ottomans, and Nazis – this tour explores the many stories of Vienna’s past.
- Vienna by Night: History, Myths, & Legends: Explore Vienna’s most haunted spots, learn about it’s creepiest history, and get on our level of true crime obsession (we are so obsessed) in this evening walking tour of Vienna.
- Hitler’s Vienna Walking Tour: Learn about Vienna’s imperial history with this Empress Sisi and Imperial apartments walking tour. Empress Sisi is one of Austria’s most famous women in history. Explore her former apartment, her favourite shops and other notable historical buildings.
Learn about Vienna’s History & Culture
The history of Vienna is actually super interesting – allow me to put on my nerd spectacles and powerpoint slides for a second and become the blogging Bill Nye of History. I hope you’re all signing ‘Lia Garcia the History Nerd’ to the tune of the Science Guy theme song right now.
*Adjusts glasses* Here are the footnotes:
If you’re like me and you’d like to get your nerd on, you have to visit Schönbrunn Palace and Hofburg Palace for the inside track on all the Habsburg imperial family drama. Does anyone else LOVE learning about rich people doing dramatic, rich people stuff that also totally changed the course of history?! It’s like reality TV, except a lot more important.
Y’all, if you’re not familiar with the Habsburg family, you’re in for a real treat. Spoiler: there’s lots of incest, deformities and insanity. The former may have had something to do with the latter. One of my favorite Habsburg stories is of Joanna the Mad who tried to continue living with her husband’s corpse long after his death. She’s of those rare occasions in history in which a woman said to be “crazy” did, actually, do some crazy sh*t and not just like … wanted to have rights, or whatever.
Travel Tip: To get the most out of your visit, book a guided tour (this one lets you skip the line, too!).Without a guided tour, you’re just looking at some old stuff in a cool castle. The tour is worth it! Every time we think I don’t need a guided tour, I end up trailing behind all the other people who shelled out for the guided tour trying to eavesdrop on all the really interesting stuff.
Bonus Travel Tip: Schönbrunn is a little ways outside of the city center, but there’s a great Christmas Market there (because of course there is). Plan to eat lunch at the Christmas Market.
- Schönbrunn Palace | Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna | Entrance Fee: € 14.20
- Hofburg Palace | Address: Hofburg, Michaelerkuppel 1010 Vienna | Entrance Fee: € 13.90
For something a bit lighter than royal corpses, head to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, to see all collections of art the Habsburgs hoarded throughout the centuries. What kind of art was collected by a family full of notoriously insane inbred royals? Let’s just say seeing these works together gives a curious insight into the lives of some of the politically questionable but highly devout catholic royals.
- Kunsthistorisches Museum | Address: Maria-Theresien-Platz, 1010 Vienna | Entrance Fee: € 15
If you want a brag-worthy art experience, pay a visit to the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, home to the world’s largest collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt. Klimt is one of those artists that even someone who’s never taken an art history class (read: me) has actually heard of, and The Kiss is arguably the most famous Austrian painting. The romantic painting is dripping in real gold, but like – in a cool, artistic way rather than a “flaunting how rich I am” way. It also makes this work of art one of the few paintings that I can actually understand being valuable enough to sell for a cool mil or two – and I’m shocked that Carmen Sandiego hasn’t stolen it yet! Other than being a straight baller, the painting is a statement of love at the heart of human existence. Awww, that’s nice!
- Upper Belvedere Gallery | Address: Prinz-Eugen-Strasse 27, 1030 Vienna | Entrance Fee: €15
Hear the Sound of Music … at a Show or Concert
Vienna is the musical capital of the world! More famous composers have lived in Vienna than any other city. You may have heard of a few – do the names Mozart and Beethoven ring a bell? Both composers are buried right here in the city of music (not to be confused with Music City aka Nashville, TN). Beethoven’s funeral attracted more than 20,000 people, and he was laid to rest in a beautiful tomb just northwest of Vienna.
Mozart wasn’t as lucky – he was buried in an unmarked common’s grave in St Marx Cemetery due to his financial struggles and debts. Today there’s a marker at his gravesite which serves as a reminder that no matter how many Instagram followers you may have, you could still end up penniless in a hole in the ground. But on the bright side, you might also be world famous and have a really excellent movie made about your life. Psst: you need to watch Amadeus before your trip to Vienna!
I’m a big classical music nerd – I started playing cello at age 2 and just about everyone in my family is a musician! So I get REAL nerdy about this stuff. If you want to get yourself hyped, I’ve got a Spotify playlist of my fave classical music pieces called Angry Classical Music, because … well, I just don’t like the boring, cheerful stuff. The best composers were generally tortured, miserable geniuses and they wrote their feelings into their best pieces. Ok, I’ll get off my classical music soapbox.
We found it a little confusing to buy tickets once we arrived – there were tons of folks selling “discount” concert tickets around Old Town, but without being able to do some research or vet the venues or orchestras, it felt weird to buy them off the street. So we dug deep and found a few concerts that are, yes, targeted primarily at a tourist audience BUT are also budget friendly, easy to find and attend, and most importantly, allow you to enjoy a high quality classic concert in a beautiful concert hall – very important both for acoustics AND for ambiance.
Travel Tip: if you’ve never been to a classical music performance before, there is some etiquette to follow. Dressing somewhat formally is appropriate. Please, turn your phone OFF and keep it off during the entire show. Please be quiet and respectful during the performance. When the conductor wants you to applaud, they will turn and let you know. And don’t feel bad if you fall asleep – that’s totally common. Just try not to snore 😉
Here are our picks:
- Mozart and Strauss at the Golden Hall: This concert features select works by Mozart and Johann Strauss performed by the 30-member Mozart Orchestra of Vienna, plus two opera singers. The performers dress in Baroque costumes – yep, wigs and all – so you can relive Vienna’s musical past up close and personally!
- Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in Karlskirche: Vivaldi is one of my favorite composers, mainly because he wrote the most BADASS double cello concerto (go listen to it!), and as a cellist I am incredibly biased. But most people know him for The Four Seasons, arguably his most famous piece. This concert features a selection from each of the seasons, with a little Mozart and Bach and some other folks sprinkled in for good measure. As a bonus, you’ll also be in a prime location for post-concert Christmas Market noshing!
- Vienna Hofburg Orchestra in the Hofburg Palace: Performed in the magnificent halls of the Hofburg Palace by the Vienna Hofburg Orchestra, this concert features 36 orchestra musicians and 6 vocal soloists. Dayum. The concert consists of the most popular Waltz and opera music by Johann Strauss and opera arias and duets by Mozart.
- Classic Ensemble Vienna in St. Peter’s Church: Go for the stunning 400-year old Baroque church, stay for the inexpensive concert. This concert is a bit different than the others in that it’s not a full orchestra – it’s an “ensemble.” That means they’ve had to re-work traditional pieces to fit fewer instruments. But if you’re not a classical music expert, chances are you’ll barely notice the difference anyway. This is the most inexpensive concert of good quality that we found, so if your budget is your priority, this is your best bet!
- See an Opera: While in Vienna, why not see an opera with Viennese roots? The Magic Flute first debuted in Vienna and is one of Mozart’s silliest operas, but it also has one of the most incredible, beautiful, and challenging arias ever written. Seriously, watch this and tell me it doesn’t give you chills and make you want to warble along. Fun fact: there is a video of me at 3 years old attempting my own rendition – this was my favorite opera as a kid! Today, you can find affordable standing room only cheap tickets to some of your favorite shows.
- The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the best orchestras in the world according to nerdy classical music fans who know about that kinda thing. Anyhow, the Philharmonic has been performing since 1842 and they’re still killin’ it to this day. You can see them perform live in Vienna – but check out their schedule to make sure they’re in town for your visit!
Take in the View from On High
If you didn’t get a birdseye pic for your Instagram, did you even visit Vienna?! Luckily, there are a few spots to capture those perfect panoramic views of Vienna. If you’re extra lucky, there just might be a dusting of snows glistening off the rooves below you. Ooooh, so pretty!
One of the best spots to get an incredible photo of Vienna is to climb to the top of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It’s easy to spot – just look for a massive cathedral in the center or town with a beautiful, colorful mosaic roof! For the best view, get your FitBit ready and huff your way up 343 stairs in the South tower. Look, nobody said photography was an easy hobby. Side note: this is totally why we rarely get photos of those stunning rooftop views.
If you’re not up for the stairs challenge you can take the elevator (THANK GOD) to the top of the North Tower, which is slightly lower but still serves up a spectacular view. Or, hey, why not just check out both?
Travel Tip: If your legs still work after your climb, stroll along the scenic Ringstrasse all the way towards the beautifully illuminated Rathaus and reward yourself with some Christmas Market treats.
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral | Address: Stephansplatz 3, 1010 Wien | Entrance Fee: € 3.50
A far less active way to take in the glorious view of Vienna’s skyline is from the Riesenrad Ferris Wheel. Fun fact, the Risenrad was one of the first ferris wheels ever built, way back in 1897. The concept was generally considered to be a commercial failure and left the founder bankrupt when he died. Er… oops?
Anyway, if you’re looking for great photos we recommend taking a ride during the golden hour, when lighting will be jussssst right. If you’re more interested in taking in the views than the actual pictures (what is this, 2008?!) take a ride after dark. The city lights of Vienna will be all lit up below you – magical!
Travel Tip: You can purchase tickets online or when you arrive. Or, if you’re a baller or proposing, book this candelit dinner for 2. You’ll enjoy a gourmet Viennese multi-course meal in comfort from your enclosed Ferris Wheel car. Um, RAD. Hey, if someone actually does propose and it’s because they found the suggestion here, can you do me a favor and tag us in your story/photo/anything on Instagram so we can flip the f**k out about it?!! That would MAKE OUR WHOLE LIFE. @practicalwanderlust please make it happen, thank you internet.
- Riesenrad Ferris Wheel | Address: Riesenradplatz 1, 1022 Vienna | Entrance Fee: € 10
Celebrate Vienna’s Christmas & Winter Traditions
The streets of Vienna in the winter are awash in Christmas decor – and not that tacky commercial stuff you see in the States. Think less giant blow up cartoon Santas and more classy: white lights and pine boughs, that kind of thing. Perfect for that oh-so-photogenic, casually-laughing-while-drinking-hot-cocoa photo moment. Because who doesn’t laugh while drinking cocoa strategically in front of aesthetic Christmas magic? Ugh, I’ve gone full Instagram, haven’t I?!
If you’re wondering what the Viennese do around Christmas time, this guide has the scoop. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Christmas Eve, aka Heilingenabend, is when Austrians celebrate Christmas. not Christmas Day. For many families, the Christmas tree doesn’t even get put up or decorated until December 24th (I wonder when they take it down?). Christmas Eve is also when the Christkind – that’s the Christ Child, an angelic looking baby – arrives bearing gifts. Sort of like a very young, much more angelic version of Santa.
- Go Ice Skating: During the winter months, the Eistraum transforms the Rathausplatz in the center of Vienna into a huge ice skating rink. The 8000 m² of ice is divided into sections to allow beginners some space to practice. I don’t know about you, but I need all the space I can get if I’m strapping knives to my feet and trying to slide/dance/flail around in winter weather gear…
- See a Concert: I know, we’ve covered this already. But the most famous concert of the year is right after Christmas, on New Year’s Day! The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra plays a selection of waltz music from the Strauss family: Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss. The Blue Danube, Austria’s most famous piece, is the vinal piece played, and the audience is invited to clap along and ring in the New Year together. Vienna, you are fab!
Vienna has a TON of Christmas Markets, each with its own personality and vibe! This is the Rauthausplatz, the largest Christmas Market in Vienna.
Soak up Holiday Cheer at the Vienna Christmas Markets
Christmas Markets are an old tradition in Vienna: the first ever Christmas Market was held in 1294. These days, Vienna has TONS of Christmas Markets, each with its own personality and vibe.
Travel Tip: Make sure you bring cash to the markets – few stands will accept cards. Also, as with any crowded spot in a major city, keep your money tucked away to prevent yourself from getting pickpocketed. We always wear a money belt and a bra pocket to keep our money safe. Psst: read the rest of our travel safety tips!
Here are a few of the best Christmas Markets in Vienna:
- Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz: The biggest Christmas Market in Vienna. You won’t be avoiding any crowds here, but the backdrop is absolutely stunning and it’s centrally located in the middle of Old Town.
- Weihnachtsmarkt am Spittelberg: Picture local merchants selling handmade items in picturesque winding cobblestone streets – Spittelberg is everything you want from a Christmas Market!
- Karlsplatz Art Advent: The quality of wares here is excellent: the merchants are selected by a panel of judges. Dayum, that sounds competitive. The market is set against the backdrop of the gorgeous Baroque Cathedral Karlskirche and is jaw-droppingly beautiful at dusk. Also, there is an amazing Raclette stand. ‘Nough said.
- Altwiener Christkindlmarkt on the Freyung: Dating back to 1772, Freyung is the oldest Christmas Market in Vienna, and one of the most authentic and traditional Christmas Markets. Look for the massive nativity scene painted on the back side of the huts.
- Weihnachts Mark Am Hof: Just steps away from the Freyung market (2 for 1 yass) the Am Hof Christmas Market has some of the best food and most unique handmade goods of all the Christmas Markets in Vienna. Like the market at Karlsplatz, sellers have to pass a jury-led selection process to be able to sell their handicrafts. While you’re here, be sure to try an Am Hof beer with a bratwurst, and a Heisse Bauernkrapfen, aka Hot Farmer’s Donut. We didn’t see any particularly hot farmers, but it was really tasty.
- Weihnachtsdorf in Maria Theresian Platz: Between the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Naturhistorisches Museum, this is another Christmas Market with a beautiful backdrop but few crowds. It is open longer than most, turning into a New Year’s Market just after Christmas. Also home to our favorite Vienna Christmas Market drink, Mozart Punsch (we didn’t actually find it anywhere else, but it was SO GOOD).
- Weihnachtsmarkt Stephansplatz: Located at the base of the St. Stephens Cathedral, this market is tiny but conveniently placed, because at some point you’ll definitely end up at St. Stephens Cathedral.
- Winter Market on Riesenradplatz: Located in the Prater Amusement Park, home of the Reisenrad Ferris Wheel, this market is rad because you can ride stuff in between Christmas Market courses. Plus, the market is open into January, so you can still get your Christmas Market fix well after New Year’s.
For more information, The Vienna Blog has an excellent guide to the Vienna Christmas Markets. We also recommend bookmarking this handy dandy Christmas Market map:
Looking for Christmas markets beyond Vienna? Check out these other magical Christmas markets in Europe!
Stuff your Face with Viennese Christmas Market Food
Look: we didn’t come all the way to Vienna for Christmas to NOT gorge ourselves on Christmas Market foods and drink 18 cups of Glühwein out of a tiny boot-shaped mug, OK!? Aside from the obvious, Christmas Market food is the cheapest meal in town – and during Christmas and New Years, one of the ONLY meals in town. So here’s the low-down on the yummiest Vienna Christmas Market snacks.
Travel Tip: If you aren’t familiar with Christmas Market etiquette, here’s how it works. You “rent” a mug from a mug stall – there will be a deposit. You’ll take that mug around the market and fill it up with drink after drink after drink. When you’re done, you can return the mug and get your deposit back. Or, you can keep it as a cheap and adorable souvenir of the time you got super drunk in Vienna at a Christmas Market!
- Maroni: Roasted chestnuts! Crisp air and the smokey scent of roasting chestnuts mark the start of the holiday season in Vienna.
- Kasekrainer is a large sausage stuffed with small chunks of cheese.
- Bratwurst is fried sausage and probably the most classic dish you could try. Grab one or 10, you won’t be disappointed.
- Kaiserschmarrn, a fluffy chopped pancake topped with powdered sugar! You can always smell these sweet little babies from a good distance away. Follow your nose, you’ll be happy.
- Lebkuchen: A hard biscuit that is what we would refer to as gingerbread. It smells heavenly – like cloves and ginger and spices and Christmas cheer – but it’s not the tastiest snack, but definitely the prettiest. Tip: these are hardy AF and they make great gifts for loved ones back home.
- Bratkartoffel: Roasted potatoes, slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Tasty on their own but best served in combination with a hearty brat.
- Krapfen: Stuffed donuts with fillings like apricot jam (SO GOOD) or chocolate. They’re enormous, so we recommend splitting one. For the record, we didn’t take our own advice.
- Glühwein: Mulled wine, traditionally served to keep people warm while they browse the market stalls. Wrap your chilly hands around a mug and breathe deep: that’s the smell of true Christmas cheer.
- Schaumrollen: A cone-shaped pastry filled with whipped cream or meringue. Because you needed MORE sugary treats.
- Lombomba: This is a Christmas Market exclusive. It’s hot chocolate, done Austrian style: super creamy, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon… oh, and a shot of rum. Yes, please.
Weihnachtspunsch: A Vienna Christmas staple that comes in a zillion different flavors. We like to play a fun game called “how many different kinds of punsch can we drink?” Everyone wins! Or. if you’re trying to avoid alcohol (no judgment I GUESS), try a KinderPunsch.
Stuff Your Face with Viennese Food
It wouldn’t be the holidays without a boatload of delicious treats and zero regrets. While gluttony might be one of the seven deadly sins, it’s definitely a Christmas tradition! Viennese holiday food is tasty and not nearly as bad for you as some of the American traditional dishes. I assume. Because I have never cooked any of them myself.
Anyway, here’s the thing: you’re gonna want to dive in and eat as much schnitzel as humanly possible. To maximize the amount of food you’re able to consume during your trip to Vienna, we recommend taking a food tour. We’ve developed a habit of taking food tours everywhere we go, because it’s efficient (less time spent eating more food: peak efficiency), it involves walking which helps with digestion and not feeling terrible about your life choices, and you’ll actually learn about the food as you’re gobbling it up. This food tour includes a visit to a Viennese coffee shop, the Naschmarkt, cheese, wine, chocolate, Wurstel, and more. Omg, I’m drooling.
One of the definite must-try foods in Vienna is the traditional Wiener Schnitzel, a thin cut of meat – originally veal – coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Austrian law dictates that all Wiener Schnitzels must be made of veal, and that if pork is used instead, it should be named as ‘Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein’. Yes: Austrians take their Schnitzel very seriously. Schnitzel is traditionally served with a slice of lemon and cranberries, to help cut through all that tasty, buttery fried deliciousness.
- Where to Try It: Blauensteiner Wien | Address: Josefstädter Str. 4 1080 Vienna | Price Range: €11-20
Austrians have a special place in their hearts for their traditional boiled beef called Tafelspitz. While the beef ends up quite tender, the boiling process makes it lose much of its flavor. This is where Semmelkren comes in: it’s a topping made with lard roasted bread crumbs cooked in beef broth and mixed with freshly grated horseradish. It’s the perfect zing to a very traditional Austrian meal.
- Where to Try It: Plachutta | Address: Auhofstrasse 1, Vienna 1130, Austria | Price Range: €21-40
Leberkäse is basically Viennese spam or bologna. I know – it’s not exactly the strongest sales pitch, but stay with me here. They’re like meatloaf and come in a variety of flavors. Most people eat it as a sandwich served on a roll with some pickles. A few of our favorites were the Leberkase with cheese and the Leberkase with roasted onions and bacon.
- Where to Try It: Leberkas- Pepi | Address: Operngasse 12 1010 Vienna | Price Range: under €10
Sausages are a way of life in Austria. They’re a delicious simple meal that won’t break the bank. A bosna is basically a grilled sausage stuffed in a hot dog bun with onions and a curry powder sauce. There are lots of sausage stands and shops in Vienna but I recommend holding out and finding the ones that are loaded with onions.
- Where to Try It: Zum Kleinen Sacher | Address: Operngasse 12 1010 Vienna| Price Range: under €10
Geröstete Knödel are roasted dumplings and one of my favorite Austrian dishes. These giant potato and bread dumplings are a staple of the Austrian diet. Who doesn’t love carbs on carbs? It’s basically mashed potato or breadcrumbs combined with toppings to form a big ball culinary delightfulness. There are a ton of different varieties of this dish, but try the ones that are roasted and then fried off with eggs and onions. You won’t be disappointed.
Gansl is a holiday goose that is typically served with bread dumplings, red cabbage, and cranberries. You’ll only find it served during the holidays!
Cordon Bleu is a massive schnitzel stuffed with cheese and ham. It’s delicious and also filling AF, so eat it on a day that you need to stay full for a long time!
- Where to Try Them: Gasthaus Josefstadt | Address: Florianigasse 43, 1080 Vienna| Price Range: €11-20
Grießnockerlsuppe is a soup made with light and fluffy dumplings in a rich beef broth seasoned to perfection with chives, nutmeg, and butter. It’s the perfect appetizer to fight off the cold Austrian chill and usually starts the meal.
Erdäpfelnockerl mit Fenchel-Oberssauce und Räucherlachs is gnocchi with fennel, cream, and salmon. It’s an iconic Austrian dish that you can find prepared in dozens of different ways.
Austrian Goulash is basically a cross between a hearty tomato based stew and a soup and is often made using beef. A good goulash is a bit spicy because it is seasoned with Hungarian paprika!
- Where to Try Them: Nordpol 3 | Address: Nordwestbahnstr 17 Leopoldstadt Vienna| Price Range: €11-20
Sachertorte is a famous Austrian cake made with layers of chocolate cake sandwiched between apricot preserves.
- Where to Try It: Cafe Sacher | Address: Philharmonikerstrasse 4, A-1010 Vienna | Price Range: under €10
Strudel is probably the most famous foods from this region of the world. I’m a huge fan of both Apple Strudel and Curd Strudel, aka Cheese Strudel. They’re both delicious, so split one of each with a friend – or, you know, don’t. Sorry Jeremy.
- Where to Try It: Cafe Korb | Address: Brandstätte 9, 1010 Vienna | Price Range: under €10
Experience Viennese Coffee
There are many cities around the world that boast about their coffee culture, but few are as deserving of bragging rights as Vienna. Vienna has a long history of inventing unique coffee drinks and pioneering coffee shop culture – they can even pinpoint the exact year that coffee was introduced in Austria: 1683. The first coffee house in Europe opened in Vienna in 1684. So I guess you could say Vienna is the original hipster coffee snob – they truly did it WAY before it was cool!
That said, don’t expect to find the kind of coffee shop you’re used to in Vienna – it’s not like Starbucks, it’s not like Central Perk from Friends, and it’s not like the specialty coffee shop down the street that looks like a tech start-up mixed with a science lab.
Coffee houses in Vienna have a unique atmosphere that’s different than many other places. Some Viennese coffee houses come equipped with card games and pool tables, but all of them are beautifully designed and fancy AF. You will sit and place an order, and a waiter in formalwear will bring you your cup of coffee on a silver tray. It’s a uniquely Viennese experience!
There’s also a wide variety of coffee drinks that are unique to Vienna. You can’t just walk in and order a drip coffee like you can at your local Starbucks. Start with a Melange, which is a typical Viennese coffee. It’s basically the Austrian cousin of the cappuccino.
One of the most popular beverages, supposedly, is Vienna Coffee. I say supposedly because I tried to order this about 8 different times and kept getting a regular cappuccino for some reason? Let me know if any of you end up ordering this mystery coffee because it sounds phenomenal. It’s a cream-based coffee made by infusing two shots of espresso with whipped cream, topped with whipped cream and chocolate.
- Travel Tip: Still not sure what to order? Check out this Viennese Coffee Infographic for a few classic orders. And don’t forget to order cake! No, I’m not just being gluttonous (sort of): coffee & cake is a daily tradition in Vienna.
There are plenty of places to experience Viennese coffee in Vienna. Here are a few of the best coffee shops:
Café Central is one of the most famous coffee shops in the city. It’s done in the traditional style with stunning architecture and even more impressive Viennese cuisine, homemade cakes, and pastries. This place has historical roots as a legendary literati café, which counted Arthur Schnitzler, Peter Altenberg and Adolf Loos among its frequent patrons. Everything about the place ooze sophistication and class. So naturally, we stuck out awkwardly but I dropped a few NPR quotes and Foucault references to really wow the cashiers. They were impressed – mostly.
- Café Central | Address: Herrengasse/Strauchgasse, 1010 Wien | Price Range: under €10
Demel is a well known pastry shop and chocolaterie that bears the title of a Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court. The shop is on the first floor and has a cafe on the second floor. It’s a beautiful shop and the perfect place to buy yummy and fancy treats for friends back home. It’s the perfect gift to say, “you should travel more, you uncultured swine.” Or ya know, “I thought of you while abroad” whichever tickles your fancy.
- Demel | Address: Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien | Price Range: under €10
You’ll find the best cake at Cafe Sacher. While the cake is truly divine – full confession: I may have gorged myself slightly on the sacher torte mit cream – it’s the service that really stands out here. The service at Cafe Sacher is boujie old school luxury. Think like 20 perfectly dressed Viennese butlers waiting on you hand and foot. It wasn’t exactly like being served by a palace guard, but it wasn’t too far off, either.
- Cafe Sacher | Address: Philharmoniker Str. 4, 1010 Wien| Price Range: under €10
For more information, Sprudge has a helpful guide to Viennese Coffee shops – and a map.
Take a Day Trip from Vienna
Vienna is a great jumping-off point and there are several fantastic day trips near Vienna! Here are a few of our top picks:
- Salzburg, Austria: Salzburg is the other largest city in Austria, most famous for being Mozart’s hometown and the star of The Sound of Music (so sure, my joke earlier in the post was SLIGHTLY inaccurate. Whatever. Still a quality dad joke). Take a guided Salzburg day trip and you’ll wind through scenic back roads past lakes and through the “Mozart village” of St Gilgen. You’ll take a walking tour of Salzburg Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. And you’ll visit filming locations from The Sound of Music. Boy, that’s music to my ears. Ba dum ssh. We’ll be here all night, folks!
- Hallstatt, Austria: Honestly, we recommend making this an overnight rather than a day trip – Hallstatt is so stunning we could spend a whole week just LOOKING at it! But if you aren’t able to stay the night, at least take a day trip to this real-life fairytale village! Nestled at the edge of a lake and surrounded by snowy alps, it’s the most beautiful winter village we’ve ever seen, and we have the photos to prove it! This guided tour will pick you up at your hotel and whisk you off to the mountains for a magical, snowy adventure.
- Prague, Czech Republic: You could spend days exploring Prague, a fascinating historic city that’s totally different than Austria. But if you’re short on time, a day trip will do! This tour will take you on a scenic 3.5 hour drive through the mountains of Bohemia and deliver you to Prague’s most famous spots: the Charles Bridge, the Astronomical Clock, and the Old Town Square, home of our favorite Christmas Market in Prague. As a bonus, you’ll also get to try some Czech Christmas Market foods (hellloooo, trdelnik!) which is all we really care about. Psst: We’ve got a whole guide to Prague in the winter!
Where to Stay in Vienna
We had the opportunity to stay at two different spots during our trip to Vienna, so we’ve got two spots to recommend depending on your budget!
- Mid-Range Hotel: 25 Hours Hotel. We wanted to splurge on a nicer hotel for our Christmas in Vienna, and 25 Hours was perfect! It’s a quirky, weird, off-beat hotel with a bomb breakfast buffet – our favorite kind of hotel, in a nutshell. We’ve got a full review of 25 Hours that you can read right here, or go ahead and check room prices.
- Budget Hostel: Hostel Ruthensteiner. For the rest of our trip, we stayed at Hostel Ruthensteiner, one of the oldest hostels in Vienna and still one of the best! I was delighted to find out just before our trip that my dad stayed here during a visit to Vienna over 50 years ago. Crazy! You can read our full hostel review right here, or check room prices.
- VRBO: There are some great VRBOs in Vienna, if you want to be right in the action near the opera and the cathedral this beautiful apartment is just minutes away from both! Or try this beautifully chic apartment close to shopping and the subway. We recommend booking directly through VRBO because it has fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
If your check out is early and you need a place to store your bags? Check out LuggageHero, a service that helps you find a safe place to keep your luggage while you’re running around! Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
Wow, I’ve been listening to classical music for the past 3 hours and now I’m hella craving cake, coffee and schnitzel. I am DYING to go back to Vienna, y’all! Which of these Christmassy things to do in Vienna in winter has you running to the airport? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Looking for more tips for visiting Europe in the winter? We’ve sort of developed a habit of spending Christmas in Europe – check out a few of these posts:
- Two Super Detailed Winter Europe Itineraries
- 12 Delightful Things to Do in Prague in December & January
- 14 Enchanting Reasons to Visit Český Krumlov in the Winter
- 18 Snowy Pictures of Hallstatt, Austria in Winter to Fuel your Wanderlust
- 35 Photos of Norway in the Winter to Inspire your Wanderlust
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