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5 Tips for Visiting Vienna's Famous Christmas Markets

Dec. 08, 2018
10 min read
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The bright lights, festive foods, over-the-top, decorations, joyful music, thoughtful gifts, fun traditions and a jolly spirit are just a few of the many things my extended family loves about the holidays. You might even say we are a tad obsessed with the whole Christmas season, perhaps a bit like Buddy the Elf mixed with a touch of Clark W. Griswold.

Given our holiday season obsession, we regularly take part in the NYC holiday festivities, have trekked to the ICE! Experience at the Gaylord Texan and watched Cinderella Castle be lit up with ice at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. But, until this year, a big holiday must-do was missing from our holiday resume. We had never visited one of Europe’s famed Christmas markets.

So, for Christmas 2017, I gave my mom a trip for the two of us to explore the holiday markets in Vienna together this season — and, boy, am I glad that we did because they are magical.

Giving my mom a trip to Vienna for Christmas

In case you have a similar travel wish list, here are five tips for visiting the Christmas markets of Vienna.

Stay at the Park Hyatt Vienna (on points)

I’m a sucker for a luxury hotel, especially one in a five-star location that's a good value on points. The Park Hyatt Vienna checks all of those marks and more.

Park Hyatt Vienna with a Christmas market directly in front of the property

This property opened in 2014 and is a Category 6 Hyatt that costs 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night. You can work on boosting your World of Hyatt account with The World Of Hyatt Credit Card (currently offering up to 60,000 points after $6,000 total spend in the first six months), or transfers at a 1:1 ratio from Chase Ultimate Rewards and cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The Park Hyatt Vienna is literally directly across the street from the Weihnachtsmarkt Am Hof Market, which features a great selection of arts and crafts, along with food, drinks and even a Champagne bar.

Market in front of the Park Hyatt Vienna

Just another block or so down the street is the Old Viennese Christmas Market Freyung, which dates back to 1772 and excels at glass, ceramics, traditional mangers and other high-quality goods.

While there are several other points-friendly properties in Vienna, such as the InterContinental Vienna (35,000 IHG points) or Ritz-Carlton Vienna (50,000 Marriott Rewards points), the Park Hyatt Vienna proved to be a premier lodging choice for exploring the holiday markets. There were at least a half-dozen markets within a few minutes' walking distance from the hotel.

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As a Hyatt Globalist, the included room service breakfast to start each morning (or really more like brunch thanks to jet lag) helped keep our costs down and bellies full. Stay tuned for a full review of the property.

Park Hyatt Vienna breakfast

Allow a Couple of Days to Explore Vienna

If you are hoping around Europe exploring various Christmas markets, I would allow at least a few days in Vienna because there are so many different markets in the city, many with their own unique personalities and specialties.

The Christmas market in front of Schönbrunn Palace

At a minimum, I would allow two nights in Vienna but we were there for three, which helped us to mix in a few other activities to our holiday market itinerary. Our visit to the Spanish Riding School to see the famed horses practice was a standout moment of the trip.

Grandma exploring the Spanish Riding School

Come Thirsty 

The Christmas markets in Vienna are not just about shopping, and they certainly aren't about the frenetic Black Friday style of shopping you see in the United States. Instead, they are about taking a moment or two to enjoy a warm beverage with friends while browsing holiday goods.

Each market we visited in Vienna had its own themed mug that was utilized when you ordered warm punch, hot chocolate, mulled wine or a variety of other festive drinks.

The mug costs a few euros worth of a deposit, and you can either keep it when you are finished and forfeit the deposit or return it to get a little cash back. Some of the mugs were pretty plain and not worth keeping, but some were a treat worth taking home.

My favorite mug, shown above, was actually from my least favorite market (Christmas Village Maria-Theresien Platz, as it was a bit light on the unique local goods), but the mug made it worth the trek for a fun souvenir to take home. While drinking a warm beverage or two, make sure you save some room in your belly for baked goods since those are plentiful in the markets.

Bring Cash

On your trip to Vienna, bring a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, or one of the many others that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, but know that not all of the vendors take credit cards at the Vienna Christmas markets. In fact, many stalls we visited were cash-only, so pack some euros or be ready to visit a local ATM before unleashing your inner holiday shopper.

German Not Required

If you have visited Vienna before, you probably already know this, but don’t worry about being able to communicate if English is all you have to offer the conversation. While German is the official language in Austria, you will do just fine shopping the Vienna holiday markets armed only with euros and English.

The majority of the vendors we encountered at the markets speak English, or at least enough English to easily complete a basic transaction. That said, learning and using at a few basic words in German is fun and encouraged. Having a translation app at the ready in case you venture off the beaten path into areas with fewer bilingual menus and signs is also a good idea.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Vienna’s Christmas markets operate beginning from mid- to late-November and run until between Christmas and New Year's, during which time the average temperatures are usually in the 30s. In other words, it’s cold outside — and you will be outside, a lot. Bring your truly warm weather gear and pick up a solid set of winter boots if you don’t already own a pair (ice skates are optional).

You don’t want your shopping cut short by frostbite, frozen noses or wet feet since both rain and snow are possible that time of year.

Bonus Vienna Christmas Market Tips

A few other tips when visiting the Christmas markets in Vienna are to pack for your trip with purchases in mind so that you leave space in your luggage to get items home safely. If you anticipate fragile purchases, maybe even pack some wrapping materials for ornaments, mugs and ceramics. In a pinch, just use your socks, scarves and shirts to bundle up your breakables.

Also, on the evening that you spend time at the Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz, the largest and arguably most popular market in Vienna, allow time for ice skating at their very large and unique ice skating rink. It is not just a big circular rink, but rather a complex of different frozen areas. You can rent skates and lockers for your time on the ice.

Grandma Points ice skating in Vienna

After some laps around the ice, seek out warmth across the street at the Cafe Landtmann, a Viennese coffee house that dates back to the 1800s.

We gave very high marks to this cafe for its hot chocolate and French press coffee, which were both perfect after a chilly night shopping and skating. One note — don't go there in a hurry as things operate at a very relaxed and leisurely pace.

If you brought the kids along for the trip (and think carefully before you do as they may get a bit bored browsing stall after stall of breakable items), there are carnival rides adjacent to the Rathausplatz Market that would appeal to the younger kiddos, especially those in the 2- to 8-year-old range.

Bottom Line

Whether you love Christmas, Hanukkah, shopping, Europe, outdoor markets or all of the above, visiting the famed European Christmas markets was well worth the effort. The holiday markets of Vienna were every bit as enjoyable as we had hoped, so naturally, we are now plotting our next Christmas market destination.

If you have visited Vienna's famed holiday markets, we'd love to hear your favorite spots and tips.

Read on to plan a memorable trip to the Christmas markets of Vienna and beyond:

Featured image by A Christmas market in Vienna, Austria. Photo by sborisov/Getty Images.