How to Celebrate Christmas in Vienna: Unwrapping the Magic

Are you considering taking a Vienna Christmas break but wondering what is open and what there is to do?

Then you’ve come to the right place. I had a wonderful festive break in the Austrian capital and am excited to share my first-hand experiences. Read on to discover why you should spend Christmas in Vienna, what to do on Christmas Day, where to eat and where to stay.

rathaus-vienna-on-christmas-dau

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CHRISTMAS IN VIENNA AT A GLANCE
pathway lined with orange trees leading to stone gateway

REASONS TO VISIT VIENNA AT CHRISTMAS

  • It’s very festive
  • Vienna is open on Christmas Day & Boxing Day
  • To hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir
  • Vienna’s Christmas markets
  • The magical Christmas lights

TOP PLACES TO VISIT ON CHRISTMAS DAY IN VIENNA

  • Schloss Schönbrunn
  • Kunsthistoriches Museum
  • Belvedere Palace
  • Riesenrad Ferris Wheel,

Why You Should Spend Christmas in Vienna

With its imperial architecture, magnificent museums, classical music scene and cafes galore, this is a superb destination at any time of year. But visit Vienna at Christmas, and you will find that it is transformed into a sparkling, festive wonderland.

people in a horse drawn carriage in the streets of vienna austria

Many cities, especially those in Europe, all but shut down on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The last thing that you want is a city that has no public transport over the festive period and whose museum and restaurant doors are firmly shut.

Most of Venice’s main attractions are open on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, its transport system is operational and many of its restaurants welcome diners.

The world’s most celebrated choir has been around since 1498 when Maximillian I replaced castrati with young boys whose voices had not yet broken. Hearing the Vienna Boys’ Choir sing at Mass on Christmas morning had been on my bucket list for a long time and was one of my main reasons for spending Christmas in Vienna.

It was an extraordinary experience. The acoustics of the Wiener Hofburgkapelle (Hofburg Chapel) in Vienna’s Imperial Palace, made the celestial notes of Haydn’s Mass in G Major soar.

front of baroque palace building in vienna
Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Book tickets to hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir on Christmas morning well in advance. I had a cheap restricted-view ticket but regretted not splashing more cash on a better seat.

One of the very best reasons to spend Christmas in Vienna is to visit one or more of its Christmas markets. These open in mid-November with some continuing until early January.

child in red coat at stall in xmas market
Vienna at Christmas

It’s hard to beat strolling around one of these festive wonderlands, lights twinkling, the smoky aroma of roasted chestnuts perfuming the crisp night air. This is a tradition dating back to the late 13th Century, and the city has plenty of choices, each market having its own personality.

Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz is the biggest Christmas market in Vienna. Although it is not exactly a well-kept secret, the backdrop of the Rathaus is spectacular and its location in Old Town is central.

Not only can you pick up authentic Vienna souvenirs at the Christmas markets, including gingerbread houses or the iconic snow globes, but they are also the place to drink glühwein (mulled wine).

Once you’ve paid a deposit for a festive mug at one of the mug stalls, you can then fill it with glühwein. When you’ve had enough of the warm spicy stuff, then return the mug and get your deposit back.

Alternatively, you can hold on to the mug as a cheap reminder of the time you had one glühwein too many at the Christmas market in Vienna!

To soak up the alcohol, tuck into Viennese Christmas market food. Sausages galore, gingerbread, pancakes, doughnuts, and pastries; the choice is yours. My favourite was Bratkartoffeln, a tasty pan-fried potato dish.

plate of food-at-christmas-market-vienna with mug of mulled wine
Bratkartoffeln and gluhwein, Christmas market, Vienna

The Viennese do Christmas really well.

No tacky Tango lights here. Instead, the streets of Vienna are decked with classy Christmas decorations and illuminations.

christmas lights in vienna with church spire
Vienna Christmas lights

Christmas Eve in Vienna

Don’t expect much to be happening on Christmas Eve from 2 pm as this is when Austrians celebrate Christmas.

I arrived in Vienna on Christmas Eve night and, with the help of my hotel, was able to eat at Bistro/Restaurant Süd Länderan excellent local restaurant.

What to Do on Christmas Day in Vienna

Most places that are open in Vienna on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

To get your bearings, I suggest you start off by taking a walking tour of Vienna’s old town. Although organised tours may not be operating over the holiday period, armed with a guidebook, it is very easy to do a self-guided walking tour.

I followed the historic centre self-guided walking tour in Lonely Planet Vienna.

narrow street lined with old buildings in vienna
Vienna’s historic centre

After that, it’s time to hit Vienna’s highlights. Here’s my pick of the best things to do in Vienna on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. To avoid disappointment, please check opening times before your visit.

Housed in a sumptuous former Hapsburg Palace, the vast collection of the Kunsthistoriches Museum transports you from Ancient Rome to the Renaissance.

There’s no way that you will be able to see it all in a few hours, so my advice is to pick a section and stick with that. If your time is limited, spend your time in the Picture Gallery getting to know its collection of Old Masters paintings.

But don’t leave before checking out the museum’s café.

people sitting in cafe of kunsthistorisches-museum--vienna
Kunsthistorisches Museum cafe, Vienna

One of Europe’s finest palacesSchloss Schönbrunn also belonged to the Habsburg Empire. It would be a crime to exclude it from your Vienna Christmas itinerary as it is also home to one of the city’s best Christmas markets, albeit on a small scale.

people walking in courtyard in front of palace building in vienna
Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna at Christmas

If you are a Mozart fangirl or fanboy, this is a must-see as this is where Austria’s wunderkind gave his first public performance in front of Empress Elisabeth.

large statue of a woman in front of the skyline of vienna

I preferred The Belvedere to both the Kunsthistoriches Museum and Schönbrunn Palace.

This elaborate and romantic UNESCO World Heritage site is considered to be one of the world’s finest baroque palaces. The place that Prince Eugene of Savoy liked to call home now houses an art collection to rival that seen in the Kunsthistoriches Museum.

Its most famous exhibit is Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (1908). And get this: The Belvedere has thoughtfully provided a ‘selfie room’ where you can Instagram yourself next to a replica of Klimt’s masterpiece without running the risk of annoying other visitors.

Make sure that you make time to wander around the palace’s manicured gardens. It’s no accident that the palace and gardens were named Belvedere, literal translation ‘beautiful view.’ From here, Vienna’s skyline is laid out before you.

fountain in front of cream and green belvedere-palace in-vienna-at-christmas
Belvedere Palace, Vienna

>>> BUY YOUR TICKET FOR THE BELVEDERE PALACE HERE

Now for something completely different.

A short tram ride from the city centre, Hundertwasserhaus is a residential apartment block with a twist. In contrast to Vienna’s stately architecture, this is completely wacky with uneven surfaces, curved lines, bright primary colours and mosaic pillars.

blue and grey and ochre higgledy piggeldy building with lampost
Hundertwasserhaus, Vienna

Sadly, you can’t take a peek inside the houses – people live here – but there’s plenty to admire from the outside.

As a film buff, this was a must-do in Vienna for me.

Soaring above the Prater, the Riesenrad Ferris wheel was the setting for a pivotal scene in the 1949 film noir The Third ManThe film’s central character, Harry Lime, takes a slow, tense ride on this wheel, culminating in his ‘cuckoo clock speech’, now enshrined in the annals of film history:

In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

ferris-wheel-riesenrad-in-vienna-at-christmas
Riesenrad Ferris wheel, Vienna

>>> BUY YOUR SKIP-THE-LINE TICKET HERE

Austria’s capital is not lacking in musical heritage (both Mozart and Beethoven are buried here). There are lots of opportunities to attend a classical music concert in a magnificent setting that is decked out for Christmas.

On my final night in Vienna, I attended a concert of Mozart’s Requiem, with a few bonus numbers thrown in, at Karlskirche (St Charles’s Church). Spine-tingling stuff and enough to make you want to watch Amadeus all over again.

coffe-and-cake-at-cafe-goldegg-vienna
Coffee and cake, Viennese-style

It would be criminal to visit Vienna at Christmas and not spend time in at least one of the city’s cafes.

Vienna has Europe’s oldest café culture – its first coffee shop opened in 1683 – and one of its most thriving. The Viennese take their coffee and cake very seriously, and the city’s coffee houses have an atmosphere unlike others that you may have visited.

I sampled Sachertorte, layers of chocolate cake glued together with apricot preserve, in Café Goldegg. This was art nouveau heaven with green velvet booths and billiards tables. Other cafes are more formal and waiters will bring you your coffe and cake on a silver tray.

Are Restaurants Open on Christmas Day in Vienna?

Although not all restaurants will be open in Vienna on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I didn’t struggle to find somewhere to eat. You can always refuel at one of the city’s Christmas markets and that’s not a hardship!

Here are some recommended restaurants that are open on Christmas Day in Vienna.

Restaurant Plachutta, Wollzeile 38 – a Vienna institution, famous for its boiled beef (Tafelspitz)

ef16, Fleischmarkt 16 – a modern restaurant and wine bar

Greichenbeisl, Greichengasse 9, Fleischmarkt 11 – a cosy restaurant dating back to the 16th century

What is it Like to Visit Vienna at Christmas as a Solo Traveller?

If you are nervous about taking a Christmas break as a solo traveller, I completely understand.

Solo travel can be lonely at the best of times. But with its focus on family togetherness, Christmas can be a tough time to travel alone.

Therefore, it is important that your destination has plenty to occupy you to keep loneliness at bay.

Vienna is one of the best European solo travel destinations to visit over the festive season. Its museums and many of its restaurants are open for business and public transport is operational on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

There is more than enough to keep even the most restless soul entertained.

You can bone up on your art history, visit historic palaces, take advantage of Vienna’s vibrant classical music scene or simply explore the city on foot. Cosy restaurants and cafes are easy places to hang out whilst savouring Austrian cuisine.

exterior of large gothic church in vienna

Where to Stay

Although accommodation in Vienna tends to be on the pricey side, there are some gorgeous properties oozing old-world charm. This is a sprawling city, so try to pick somewhere fairly central or near a subway station.

Mid-range – Hotel Kaiserhof Wien 

I highly recommend staying at this wonderful hotel on Frankenberggasse 10. I would stay there again in a heartbeat.

It is in a great location, less than a ten-minute walk from Karlsplatz subway station, and has a cosy salon bar and friendly, helpful staff. The generous and varied breakfast also deserves special mention.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

Here are a few other hotels in Vienna that I have found to suit other tastes and budgets:

SplurgeSmall Luxury Hotel Altstadt Vienna

This boutique hotel in a renovated historic building close to the Museum Quarter offers prized single rooms. Reviews are glowing.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

Budget – Hotel-Pension Wild 

In Vienna, budget is a relative term, but this modest hotel within walking distance of the city centre will bring down your accommodation costs, particularly if you are prepared to share a bathroom or toilet.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

statue on a tall plinth reflected in a pond

Is a Vienna Sightseeing Pass Worth it?

For many visitors, a Vienna sightseeing pass will be good value.

If you want to hit the big-ticket attractions in a relaxed itinerary and maybe take a cruise on the Danube or use the hop-on-hop-off bus, take a look at the Vienna Explorer Pass. This is available for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 attractions and is valid for 60 days.

But if you are someone who wants to squeeze as much into your Vienna Christmas break as possible, the Vienna Pass could be a good fit for you. This gives you free access to a vast number of attractions and activities over 1, 2, 3 or 6 days.

If you are planning to visit the Belvedere, the Vienna Pass is the better of the two as the palace is one of the included attractions.

>>> GRAB YOUR GOLDEN TICKET TO VIENNA’S TOP ATTRACTIONS. CLICK HERE TO BUY THE VIENNA EXPLORER PASS OR HERE FOR THE VIENNA PASS.


Thank you for reading my guide to celebrating Christmas in Vienna

I had a magical time there and I hope that you do too. This is a beautiful and historic city and, most importantly, Vienna is open on Christmas Day.

If you are looking for another city for a festive break, take a look at my experience of celebrating Christmas in Kraków, Poland.

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.

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