In Search of Christmas: The Austrian Christmas Markets
|The Neo-Gothic Viennese City Hall building provides a magnificent backdrop for the Vienna Christmas Market. Photo: © Austrian Tourist Office. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Updated for 2018
Continuing my pilgrimage in search of European Christmas traditions, I am drawn to the splendor of Austria—where the hills are alive with "The Sounds of Music" and concert halls echo with the melodic symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven—among many other historical and splendid places to visit in this Alpine country. But at this time of the year, it's the enchanting Austrian Christmas markets or Advent Markets I am after for a chance to see how the Austrians herald in the season of Advent. For nearly 800 years, the Austrian Christkindlmarkts have drawn residents and visitors to picturesque town squares and magnificent palace grounds with their vibrant Christmas lights, Alpine chalets and let's not forget the wafting tantalizing aromas that promise to send your taste buds 'a reelin' during this magical holiday season! Stroll along the lanes—a visual feast of savory bites, handcrafted gifts and ornaments, and those sweet confections of course. If you're in Austria during the holidays, set out in search of your Christmas—seek out one of the Austrian Christmas markets and I guarantee you'll be donning your Christmas spirit the moment you arrive.
Our tour takes us to four Austrian cities to explore the Christmas markets and while these cities offer more than one market, we will see one or two in each lest this article become a book. Come along for a stroll down many a Santa Claus lane rich in Austrian customs and holiday traditions.
Salzburg: Nov. 22—Dec. 26
|The Salzburg Christmas market at the Domplatz or Church Square twinkles beneath the imposing Hohensalzburg Castle. Photo: Courtesy of Christkindlmarkt.co.at. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Located in the Baroque town squares of the Domplatz and Residenzplatz (the 17th-century Baroque Salzburg cathedral and the 12-century Residenz art gallery) at the base of the towering Hohensalzburg castle, the Salzburg Christmas market is brilliantly decorated and brimming with all of the trimmings including gifts and souvenirs, Nativity sets and Advent wreaths not to mention those mouth-watering sausages, fresh-baked pastries, cinnamon toasted nuts and sweet gingerbread. Oh, of course there's mulled wine or glüwein in these parts! Plus, every Saturday between 3:30 and 6:30, you and your families can meet the Christkind and his angels greeting guests as they stroll through the Christmas market!
|Welcome to Salzburg Christmas Market. Photo: EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
|Some of the wonderfully vibrant Christmas gifts at the Salzburg market Photo: EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
|An enchanting Christmas glows lights up this alley at the Salzburg Christmas Market.|
|Alpine chalets are brimming with handcrafted holiday gifts.|
In addition to 100+ Alpine chalets, there's a variety of festive events taking place every day including Christmas story reading for children, Krampus parades, guided Christmas tours, choral concerts, visits by the "Christ Child," holiday melodies echoing from the surrounding towers, and more—sure to fill you with holiday spirit!
Salzburg Christmas market events include:
- "Sing-Along" in a choir open to singers of the general public – every Tuesday from 6 – 8 p.m.
- Traditional wind music – performed high above the square every Thursday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
- Visit of the Salzburg "Christ Child" with his angels – every Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
- Children’s reading with the "Christ Child" – every Wednesday at 4 p.m.
- Mon.—Thurs. from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
- Fri. from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Sat. from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Sun. from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Special hours on the following days:
- Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
- Christmas Eve from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Christmas Day and Boxing Day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hellbrunn: Nov. 22—Dec. 24
|Christmas Market in front of Hellbrunn Palace near Salzburg. Photo: © Hellbrunn Adventzauber. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Nearby Hellbrunn, approximately 5 miles south, beckons a visit to the Hellbrunn Palace and its Christmas market—a must see if you're visiting Salzburg. Filling the the courtyard outside the Hellbrun Palace, which transforms into a giant Advent calendar during the season, the Hellbrunner Adventzauber or Advent Magic in Hellbrunn is gaining in popularity with the locals and Christmas market missionaries like myself. Not only is the picturesque setting worth the detour from Salzburg, your kids will love the petting zoo, a Christmas storyteller and the fairy tale train!
- Mon.—Fri. from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- Sat.—Sun. from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Christmas Eve from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Innsbruck: Nov. 15—Dec. 23
|The Alpine mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the Innsbruck Christmas market in Alstadt or Old Town. Here, the Golden Roof shimmers in the warm Christmas light of the market. Photo: © Christof Lackner. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Located in the Innsbruck Old Town centre or Alstadt, against the dramatic backdrop of the majestic Alpine Mountains, the Innsbruck Christmas market transforms the medieval town square into a Christmas wonderland just outside its renowned Golden Roof landmark edifice built for Archduke Friedrich IV in the early 15th century to serve as the residence for the Tirolean royalty.
With more than 70 Alpine chalets lining its square, you're sure to find that special something for that special someone plus indulge in some of the delicious treats and glüwein along the way including Kiachln (piping hot doughnuts laced with sauerkaut). Don’t miss the "Fairy Tale Lane" for kids of all ages where storybook characters from tales of the Brothers Grimm come to life to meander among the Christmas visitors.
|Innsbruck's Christkindlmarkt with another shot of the Golden Roof to the right. Photo: © Christof-Lackner. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Operating hours vary by location but most are open every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit Innsbruck Christmas in the Mountains for more details about each location.
Vienna: Nov. 17—Dec. 26
|The Viennese City Hall is stunning in this image of the Vienna Christmas Market. Photo: © Austrian Tourist Office. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Home to many a favorite composer of mine including Johann Strauss and Beethoven, not to mention the Golden Hall of the Musikverein and Belvedere Palace, Vienna's Christmas markets have been a tradition since 1298 and fills the square in front of the magnificent and unmistakable Neo-Gothic Town Hall with a warm Christmas light on many a cold December night. Stroll along more than 140 chalets brimming with your traditional Christmas market wares and fares of savory bites. Highlights include the International Advent Sing every Fri.—Sun. from 3:30 to 7 p.m. (4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve.) where European and American choirs take center stage. Also, every Fri.—Sun. from 1:30—2 p.m. and 2:30—3 p.m., your children will love the Puppet Theatre performances while they wait to greet the Christ Child who makes her appearance at 4 p.m. followed by the Christmas Story reading at 5 at the Celestial Stage.
City Hall: Nov. 17 - Dec. 26
- Mon - Thurs: 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
- Fri - Sat: 10 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
- Christmas Eve from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Christmas Day and Boxing Day: 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Belvedere Palace: Nov. 23 - Dec. 26
- Mon. - Fri: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Sat. - Sun: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Christmas Eve from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Christmas Day and Boxing Day: Eve from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
|The Belvedere Palace in Vienna is home to Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss."|
|The Belvedere Palace and neighboring Christmas market in Vienna, Austria.|
|Sizzling scrumptious bites await at the Belvedere's Christmas Market!|
|After an amazing tour through the galleries and seeing Klimt, I needed nourishment of another kind. Indulging in a bratwurst outside the Belvedere Palace in Vienna.|
Schönbrunn Palace: Nov. 24 - Jan. 6
|Austria's exquisite Schönbrunn Palace aglow under the Christmas market light. Photo: Courtesy of Austria Tourism. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Located outside this exquisite Imperial Palace that is Schönbrunn, the Christmas market sparkles with more than 80 Alpine chalets. Take your family along on the weekends when the kids activities are open from the games at Parade Court, crafting at Poldis Christmas workshop and inside the Imperial bakery, kids bake their own Christmas cookies.
|Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas makes an appearance at the Schönbrunn Palace Christmas Market. Photo: Courtesy of Austria Tourism-©Gerhard Fally. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
- Daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Christmas Eve from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- New Year's Market: Dec. 27 - Jan. 6, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Graz: Nov. 23—Dec. 24
|It's Christmastime in the enchanting city of Graz. Photo: © Graz Tourismus. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Nestled in the medieval town square, the Graz Christkindmarkt glitters with all of the usual trimmings of Christkindlmarkts but this one features a few highlights not often seen at other markets such as the ice-sculpted Nativity scene that glows with the light of the world which opens at the Landhaushof November 28. The Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony also takes place on the 28th from 4:30-5:30 at the Hauptplatz. In addition, the Graz Town Hall transforms into a giant illuminated Advent calendar every night and there's an Advent Train that runs daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Christmas Eve from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) to transport visitors between the city's Christmas markets—an enchanting ride for all those tired shoppers with their kids.
- Daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Food chalets open to 10 p.m.)
- Christmas Eve from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Truly a festive feast for your eyes and palates, a visit to these or other European Christmas markets reawakens the Christmas spirit within all of us. Full of twinkling lights, Christmas trees, larger-than-life Advent calendars, Christmas gifts and delectables, it's hard to ignore all the festivity and cheer of the Christmas season in Europe.
I hope you enjoyed your tour of some of the best Austrian Christmas markets.