If you’re looking to enjoy a white Christmas, with lots of snow, a Christmas-y atmosphere, and amazing vibe, Austria is one of your best options. Having spent most of my Christmases in warm places like Dubai, Mumbai and Delhi (ok, not so warm but still), for once, I really wanted to experience a true Christmas and I chose to visit Austria, a country I’ve been wanting to explore for a long time. I was not disappointed! Austria’s Best Christmas Markets range from the huge ones with ice rinks in big cities like Vienna to the smaller cozy ones in towns like St Wolfgang. Brightly lit streets, live music and caroling, snow-covered wooden huts selling mouth-watering Schnitzels and Apple Strudels, and lots of Glühwein (hot wine) to keep you warm, make sure you wrap up nicely and make the most of the festive season in one of the liveliest and prettiest countries in Europe.
With most of the markets open from the last week of November until 23rd of December, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself are public holidays and most restaurants, shops, monuments and tourist sites are closed. Days are short, with the sun rising at almost 8 am and setting as early as 4 pm. So, if you intend to make the most of your visit, keep the day for exploring the cities, the beautiful castles, churches and historical sites while the evenings can be spent at experiencing the Christmas spirit at the markets, which remain open until 9 or 10 pm.
Here’s my selection of Austria’s Best Christmas Markets to visit:
#1 Rathausplatz: Vienna has the most spectacular markets set in the backdrop of beautiful monuments with ancient architecture. The largest and the most popular one to visit is the one in Rathausplatz, in front of the city hall. It is incredibly huge, has an ice rink, a special dedicated area of children where they can learn to make candles and cookies, beautifully decorated streets, and the gorgeous neo-Gothic style City Hall, beautifully lit up at night, in its backdrop. Some of the most creative articles can be found in this market – from candles shaped like animals, to candles with small liquor bottles inside, liqueur chocolates and cookies, decorations and gifts.
#2: Belvedere Palace: This is personally one of the most picture-friendly Christmas Market, especially at night, because of the lovely little pond with floating stars and the green roof palace in the backdrop. The market itself is not very big and spans only the width of the palace itself, and is in the front of it rather than in the gardens at the back. However, you can club it with a visit to the palace itself and spend a good 1.5 hours exploring this area.
#3: Schönbrunn Palace: The Christmas Market right in front of the palace is another popular one to visit. I love the fountains right after the entrance and the little souvenir shop. The palace deserves a visit as do the large gardens at the back of it. The market itself, although nothing special or unique, offers a large variety of foods and different flavors of Gluhwein and punch.
#4: Maria-Theresien Platz: This market is right in front of the famous Museums Quartier is best located in one of the most popular areas of Vienna. It’s a fairly small one, with no more than 12-15 stalls, selling mostly candles, decoration, limited variety of food and of course, hot wine.
#5: St Stephen’s Cathedral: This is one of my favorite areas in Vienna because of the lively atmosphere here. The streets are beautifully decorated with large lamps, hanging lights and many Christmas trees. There are also several shops including large souvenirs stores. The small and cozy Christmas market is right in front of the cathedral, set against the lovely backdrop of its awe-inspiring Gothic architecture. The horse-drawn sleighs add a special charm to this place, taking you way back in time.
#6: Judenplatz: Yet another market set in the backdrop of a famous monument, this one a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, I loved the creative tree decorations being sold here. The lovely fairy lights that flow from a pole in the center of the market to the corners, making for a brilliant scene and a very charming place to try the festive treats such as apple strudel, bread dumplings, Maroni (roasted chestnuts) and potato wedges.
#7: Prater: Prater is not as famous for its Christmas market as it is for the rides and experiences it offers, most of which are closed during the winter. This amusement park is a family-friendly place where you’ll see a lot of children, unlike most other Advent markets. And even though some amazing rides are closed during winter, some are still operational, and you can take a ride on the giant wheel, and enjoy the view of the city from a vantage point. The place brightens up with atmospheric lighting at night and sounds of Christmas carols playing lightly in the background sets a very romantic mood.
#8: Hofburg Imperial Palace: This is not one of the most popular Christmas Markets in Vienna however, it is a cute little white-stalled market, right in front of Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna's city center. There are only a handful of stalls selling Austrian candies and ornaments but a quick stroll here before visiting the Palace could be a great idea.
Click here to read about What to do in Vienna in Winter.
Although I loved the Advent Markets in Vienna, Salzburg is a cute, romantic town, in the middle of the Austrian Alps with cobbled stone streets, narrow lanes and cozy cafes in the backdrop of snow-covered peaks which makes the markets here a lot more magical and romantic. Also, you’re most like to be able to enjoy a snowy white Christmas here, with snow-laden wooden roofs of the stalls selling hot wine and delicious festive foods. In my opinion, Austria's Best Christmas Markets are those of Salzburg!
#1 Salzburg Residenz Platz: This is one of the two main (and biggest) Christmas Market in Salzburg and is located right in the historical city center. It is also one of the oldest Christmas Markets in Austria. Here, you can find more traditional Christmas tree decorations and stalls selling lots of 'Mozart Chocolates' and 'Mozart Liqueurs'. I picked up a bunch from here and they were really good. This along with the market next door at Domplatz form the 'Salzburger Christkindlmarkt'.
#2: Salzburg Cathedral: Right next to the Residenz-Platz market is yet another Advent market which is almost an extension of it. Also known as 'Domplatz', the setting of this one is even more romantic and traditional, with the lovely cathedral in its backdrop on one side and the Hohensalzburg fortress perched on the hill on the other. You can hear musicians spin lovely tunes while sipping on hot wine and taking a bite of gingerbread in one of Austria's best Christmas markets.
#3: Mirabell Palace: Located right in front of Mirabell Palace, this Christmas Market is much smaller than the other two. A narrow lane, crowded with the tourists and locals, who find this market very special, a quick walk through stalls selling traditional Maroni, punch and little trinkets for the Christmas Tree is a must!
#4: Hellbrun Palace: Although Hellbrun Palace is not really in Salzburg, it is only 20 min away from the city center and forms a really romantic setting for one of the most charming Advent Markets in Austria. With the magnificent palace in its backdrop and ambient lighting creates a very fairy-tale like the atmosphere and the wintery trick fountains only add to the magic! The highlight? Watch the windows of the palace turned into a massive calendar!
#5: St Wolfgang: Another Christmas Market that is not exactly in Salzburg but only a day-trip away is that of St Wolfgang. An adorable little town located on the banks of Wolfgangsee, St Wolfgang's Advent Market extends all the way from the center of the town to the banks of the lake where every night, the massive Christmas Tree is lit up along with floating lanterns and brightly lit stars on the lake. Swedish fireplaces along the market provide relief from the biting cold, along with Gluhwein and traditional Austrian delicacies. St Wolfgang makes you feel like you've traveled back in time!
The best thing about the Advent Markets in Innsbruck is that they're all within walking distance from one another. Located in 3 key areas to visit in this cute Alpine town, Innsbruck's markets are definitely some of Austria's best Christmas Markets. Piping hot Kiachln (donuts), Gluhwein or hot punch and the aroma of Wienerschnitzel add to the experience of walking around in a town that is surrounded by the snow-laden Alps. Not only is Innsbruck breathtakingly beautiful, the blend of modern with traditional is bound to make you fall in love with the town.
#1: Marktplatz: Without a doubt, the Christmas Market here is not only the best in town but also one of Austria's best Christmas Markets. The showstopper is the massive Swarovski tree with thousands of crystals that light up brilliantly at night and can be seen from quite a distance. This Christkindl Market is right next to the river and has a selection of some really nice souvenirs and Christmas gifts.
#2: Old Town: There is a Christmas Market located right in front of the most famous historical icon of Innsbruck - the Golden Roof. This is the oldest and the largest Christmas Market in Innsbruck and a lot more traditional than the one in Marktplatz, yet equally enchanting and intriguing. The historical setting of the place adds to the charm of the market along with stalls selling handicrafts, winter clothes, and Austrian winter foods.
#3: Maria-Theresien-Platz: Located in the more modern part of Innsbruck, this Christmas Market offers more creative decorative items as compared to the one in Old Town. A street with brightly lit trees, walls decorated with massive stars and the Alps in the backdrop make this market one worth visiting.
Click here to read about What to do in Innsbruck in Winter.