There’s just a few days to go before Christmas, and what better way to build up to the festivities than with a trip to some of Europe’s fine Christmas markets. Austria is renowned for its markets but Christmas in Vienna is not something most visitors would immediately consider.
It’s not the most famous city for Christmas markets, unlike the likes of Salzburg and Innsbruck. But we found it buzzing with winter festivities and the twinkle of Christmas in people’s eyes.
Christmas in Vienna equals winter magic
We’d only been in Vienna a couple of hours by the time we arrived at our first Christmas market. Spittelberg was small but a perfect amuse-bouche to get us in the festive flow. It wasn’t long before we were sampling our first gluhwein, warming hands and bodies with the taste of an Austrian Christmas.
Spittelberg is all cobbled streets and intimacy – a great alternative to the city’s larger markets. Heading on from there we made for the MuseumsQuartier, one of my favourite areas of Vienna no matter the season. I was amazed to find it as buzzing with people in the cold of an Austrian winter as it was in summer, when people enjoy lazy, hot evenings relaxing with friends. But then I hadn’t reckoned on the MusuemsQuartier’s WinterZauber (or Winter Magic) and Austria’s flair at making light of sub-zero temperatures – this is a great skiing nation after all.
Still it was pretty mild in snow-free Vienna, and with igloo style bars from the area’s favourite eateries filling the square, and a great light show dancing across the buildings, it added its warmth to Christmas in Vienna.
Crossing over to Maria Theresien square we arrived at one of Vienna’s more stylish Christmas markets. And with a backdrop of two of the most stately buildings in Austria’s capital, the Natural History Museum and the Art Museum, it was hardly surprising.
We grabbed another gluhwein and a selection of bratwurst (every Christmas market trip needs regular intakes of fuel) and wandered its many stalls – a glittering array of tree decorations, ornaments and fine handcrafts.
Back to the mad house
Calling it a night we headed back to the 25 Hours Hotel. This was our second stay at this trendy new star of Vienna. On our first visit the hotel was still under construction, so we were intrigued to see how it had developed.
What a change. Mostly for the better – the hotel now has accommodation over seven floors with a gym, spa and ground floor bar and restaurant to accompany its enduringly popular Dachboden, a rooftop bar with stellar views of Vienna’s seventh district.
Breakfast too was a big improvement – a hearty selection only bettered by Austria’s country hotels, renowned for homemade jams and freshly churned butter.
But we found our room disappointing. We’d likely been spoilt as on our previous stay we had a panorama suite on the seventh floor, so we had an expectation that all rooms would have plenty of space, floor to ceiling windows, and its circus-themed quirks. But the standard rooms were a bit small with simple views of an interior courtyard and rather lacking in fun features like the juggling balls and hoop found in the suites, which could so easily have added charm to a room only lifted by the mural on the wall.
Our tip? If you’re looking for more than a fairly standard room, upgrade to a panorama suite at Vienna’s 25 Hours Hotel.
A creative kitchen
The next morning at Vienna’s Nashmarkt, the city’s eclectic market, we met chef Thomas Hüttl who runs cooking classes for epicurious Viennese and visitors.
Taking an alternative route to planning the menu for our Austrian cooking class, Thomas asked us about our cooking background – our favourite foods and things we’d like to learn to cook. From our feedback he settled on fish bouillabaisse, cheese spätzle (a Tirolian specialty akin to gnocchi) and a festive apple and chestnut strudel.
We scoured the market for our ingredients – monkfish, sea bass and clams for the boulliaise, two types of Vorarlberg cheese for the spätzle and fresh Belle de Boskoop apples and chestnuts.
Back in his kitchen Thomas took us through the techniques of Austrian cooking, well, with a little French soup thrown in.
We didn’t just learn how to cook each dish however, Thomas gave us a lesson on many skills of the kitchen. He taught us how to cut vegetables (slice not chop) with a gentle action that caressed onions. Instead as I’m prone, to battering them into submission and ultimately losing the battle as they make me weep.
Soon we were on to rolling pastry for strudel, creating Thomas’ slightly unusual addition of caramel and pressing dough through a spätzle maker into boiling water, before sitting down together for a wonderful feast as accomplished Austrian chefs. Thomas’ class was a delicious education.
Festive warmth beyond Vienna
Driving out of Vienna towards Lower Austria, streams of people passed us on their way to the markets and other attractions of Christmas in Vienna. It seemed the busiest night in the city’s festive calendar. But we were on our way to Krems, just one hour from Austria’s capital.
Krems is a stately town, one I see as akin to a mini Vienna – in style and architecture – but with a countryside pace of life and a love of fine Austrian wine.
And it has more than its fair share of Christmas events – from markets to carol concerts, but we were here for a far more special event. Our friend Elena had a surprise for us and it turned out to be one of the most wonderful highlights of our Christmas in Vienna.
That evening she drove us to her parents’ home where the whole family was gathered for their early Christmas Day celebrations. We love travelling, love hotels, but there is nothing warmer or more festive than the genuine glow of friendship and family, and we thank the Paschingers for inviting us for a very special evening.
That night we stayed at Krems’ new Arte Hotel – another trendy number, rightly near the town’s university. With welcoming staff and a spacious clean room we had a great night’s rest.
Driving out of town and en route to Salzburgerland to experience Christmas in Salzburg, we made our final market stop at Schallaburg. It’s not enough for Austrians to have Christmas markets in city centres they also like to have them against a palace backdrop, and Schloss Schallaburg was very impressive.
We started our shopping with a delicious sparkling strawberry wine before moving on to bratwurst and kaiserwurst, and various punches. It would’ve been easy to be distracted by all these flavours of Christmas, or by the stalls with their country handicrafts and local produce, but the Italian Renaissance style palace was also astoundingly beautiful and stole our attention for a few moments of admiration.
As it came time to leave the area we were sad our Christmas in Vienna and Lower Austria had come to an end, but with Salzburg round the corner we couldn’t wait to see what else Austria had in store.
Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from LiveShareTravel