Having fantasised about experiencing a cold Christmas in the northern hemisphere, when the opportunity arose for us to fly back to Australia from Vienna, Austria, we jumped at the opportunity. We had read about the famous Christmas markets – from the gluwein, gingerbread and roasted chestnuts to the lights, skating rinks and decorations. We had dreamed about snowflakes falling, although it appeared that early December was a little too early for that.
A taste of the Christmas Markets
A couple of weeks before we left Florence, the German-themed Christmas Market arrived in town, set up in Santa Croce, one of our favourite piazzas. Said piazza is also home to Finisterrae, a pasticceria / café that we have been frequenting since our first visit to Florence in 2016. The market had the obligatory gluwein, hot chocolate, and pretzels as well as a few stalls of standard Tuscan fare. We took the opportunity to visit a couple of times, giving us a taste of things to come.
Arrival in Vienna
The short flight from Florence to Vienna was uneventful, landing just after sunset at 4:30pm. Knowing it would be dark and cold and that we had plenty of luggage, we had booked a transfer from the airport to our Airbnb accommodation in the embassy district, just outside the Innere Stadt, the inner-most district of Vienna. Unfortunately, the company let us down and our introduction to the cold in Vienna came as we wandered up and down outside the terminal looking for a car. Finally, we were settled into a nice comfortable vehicle on the 30-minute trip into the city.
Unique 19th century masterpiece
The entrance to the building was less than salubrious and there was building material against the wall in the entry foyer, leading us to be a little dubious about our accommodation. But once Ying opened the door to the apartment, we fell in love with the large space with incredibly high ceilings and elegantly furnished in some period and some modern pieces. It turned out that choosing a large space was a good choice as with the cold weather added to the fact that Glenda went down with bronchitis, it was good to have plenty of room and creature comforts.
Despite being late and cold, we couldn’t resist taking a walk to the nearby Belvedere Palace to visit our first market. Unfortunately, we didn’t find the best way to go so it turned into a long walk. The market itself was pretty small, with limited options for food. The palace backdrop was lovely and we did manage to try our first market fare. Glenda had a giant bretzel (pretzel) and Walter feasted on a packet of freshly fried thin-cut potatoes.
Wiener Weihnachtstraum at Rathausplatz
Even though it was the furthest market from our accommodation, being the biggest of the markets, we figured we had to go to Christmas World at the Town Hall. So on our first full day in Vienna, we braved the cold and set off with our layers of clothes, thermals and gloves, beanies and scarves. Having visited Vienna in 2018, we knew our way around a little, so after hot chocolate and breakfast at one of the famous old Viennese cafés, we strolled past the familiar Opera House, giggled at the hessian-covered trees in the Volksgarten and made our way out to the large town hall precinct.
With about 150 stalls, there was plenty to look at. We enjoyed the life-size nativity scene and checked out the people skating on the long outdoor ice rink.
Weihnachstdorf am Maria Theresien Platz
During our previous visit, the large parliament building has been hidden due to renovation. With the restoration almost complete, we were able to enjoy the spectacular architecture behind the wire fencing.
The market at Maria Theresion Platz was on our way home, so we stopped by for a look. By the time we’d reached this our third market, we were aware that a lot of the stalls were the same. The same food & drink, the same decorations, the same woodwork and the same gingerbread houses. That said, they were still beautiful in the little wooden cabins set amongst the gorgeous old buildings. Lots of festive fun! There was an influx of groups from river cruises, so we didn’t hang around long. By this stage, we were also freezing and Glenda was starting to feel unwell, so we resorted to lunch at home. Given the yummy bread from the local bakerei, this wasn’t a bad option.
Weihnachtsmarkt am Stephansplatz
Despite having had a big morning, we chose to brave the cold to go and see the city lights, a decision that turned out to be a good one – at the time we didn’t know we wouldn’t have another opportunity. It was difficult to believe that it was only just past 4pm as we strolled down the main city streets with hundreds of others enjoying the festivities. The sun had set as we left home to walk to the city centre. The streets in the main centre of the city were adorned with magnificent, huge coloured lights. Stphansdom (St Stephans Catherdral) provided another spectacular market backdrop. We had been gobsmacked at the roof in the daytime, but the lights shining on the mosaics made for a magical setting.
Weihnachtsmarkt Am Hof (Am Hof Avent Market)
The small Advent Market at Am Hof was a worthwhile side trip. It had a number of different stalls to the other big markets, with locally made arts and unique foods. We even managed to find a place to grab a corner of a table to have some food. Bread filled with piping hot soup – goulash for Walter, pumpkin for Glenda.
Things that fairytales are made of
Our third day in Vienna, we woke to rain. This gave us a good excuse to stay inside in the heated apartment and relax. Late morning, the rain turned into light fluffy stuff and the cars in the street outside were covered in a thin layer of snow. So exciting! We were really keen to go out and experience our first “White Christmas”, so soon after lunch, we took the required 10 minutes to layer on the clothing and headed outside. We were a little disappointed as the snow had started melting, but decided to take a walk through the nearby Belvedere Gardens anway. What a good decision!! We were like two overgrown children as the snow started falling again, creating a light dusting on the trees and the lawns. By the time we reached the markets at Belvedere Palace, it had all but stopped, but as it had kept a lot of people away as we had the market almost to ourselves. A perfect opportunity for a hot chocolate for Glenda and a (very strong) warm rum punch for Walter. The markets compete with each other as to who has the best mugs – and here the hot drinks were presented in little red boots. This time we chose to keep one of the mugs for a gift. An afternoon that we shall never forget!!
The day ended well with a pig out (no pun intended) on pork ribs at a restaurant close to our accommodation. Austrians certainly know how to do ribs! And Walter is always in his element with Austrian / German beer.
We had read about the small, old authentic market not too far from the Town Hall, so once again we took the long walk to the other side of town. Given it was Saturday morning, we figured we should go early before the families descended, so arrived just before 10am when it opened and enjoyed some Austrian delights for breakfast. We moved on and by the time we arrived at the big market at the Rathaus (Town Hall), it was starting to get busy, and Glenda was feeling a little fragile (by this stage she had bronchitis), so we had a hot chocolate and a brief look around before heading home.
By Sunday morning Glenda was feeling miserable and the bronchitis had taken hold. We soon discovered that most shops, including pharmacies, close at lunchtime on Saturday and don’t open again until Monday morning. We managed to decipher the system and work out that they allocate one pharmacy in an area to be the after-hours outlet. After more investigation, we worked out the one closest to home. So with Glenda taking a day of rest, Walter braved the cold and went to buy some cold & flu tablets. At the same time, he paid a visit to one of the artisanal Christmas Markets, Christkindlmarkt am Karlsplatz.
Making the most of our last day
Determined to make the most of our last full day in Vienna, we wrapped ourselves in our woollies and hit the streets. Surprisingly the weather was milder than it had been to date – so much so that Glenda had to ditch the extra jacket she’d added for the day. The highlight of the day for Glenda was the white hot chocolate at the Weihnachstdorf am Maria Theresien Platz. We were determined to go there as we wanted to keep one of the red and white boot mugs. Lunch was at the Christkindlmarkt am Karlsplatz that Walter had visited on his own the previous day. He was happy to eventually have the käsekrainer, a cheese-filled sausage that he’d been hanging out for all week. Being a Monday and the smallest of the markets, it was quiet. We enjoyed seeing all the handmade items that the specific market is famous for – a change from the more mass-produced things we’d seen everywhere else.
Eventful departure from Vienna
After spending our final morning packing our (numerous) bags, we thought we’d be able to relax when the transfer vehicle arrived to take us to the airport. But not so! The company had done a dodgy and sent a smaller vehicle than we’d ordered and paid for. The Serbian born, multilingual driver was very helpful and managed to fit us in with all our bags. Whew!
Our drama had not finished! On arrival at the check-in counter, they would not check us in. We had a booking and allocated seats but no ticket. The airline had messed up when we changed our flights. Suffice to say that this was a little stressful! Long story short, after getting our travel agent out of bed at midnight (thanks Gerd!) and lots of calls by Glenda we got the issue resolved and got checked in less than an hour before departure.
The end of a once-in-a-lifetime journey to experience the magic of a white Christmas. Would we do it again? Probably not. Was it worth it? A resounding yes! (in spite of taking more than three weeks to be almost over bronchitis).