Christmas in Vienna - A Full Itinerary
Are you planning to travel during the holidays and wondering where to spend Christmas? Do you want enchanting Christmas markets, great food, entertainment, beautiful palaces, and the chance of snow? Then Vienna is your answer. Read below for my full Vienna Christmas itinerary to get the most out of your trip!
Why Should you Celebrate Christmas in Vienna?
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are big holidays throughout Europe. Many tourist attractions and restaurants are usually closed to allow everyone to celebrate with their families. Therefore, when you are traveling it can be difficult to find a place with enough to do during the actual holidays. In Vienna, December 25 and 26 are both public holidays, but the real celebrations are held the evening of Dec 24. This means that most of Vienna's tourist attractions are open on Christmas Day, and there are a lot of them!
Another huge plus is the plethora of Christmas markets. Most European Christmas markets close just before Christmas, on December 23 or 24. However, many of Vienna's Christmas markets are open until December 27th, which means you get to enjoy the festive atmosphere on Christmas Day. I will be posting a separate blog post all about Vienna's Christmas Markets, just know that they are definitely worth the visit.
Wondering what to do in Vienna at Christmas? Below I will outline a full Vienna Christmas itinerary, but if you are looking for the main highlights, here they are: Christmas markets, beautiful churches, Vienna State Opera, Schonbruun Palace, Belvedere museum, a classical concert, coffee and cake at beautiful cafes, and more Christmas markets.
Which Days to Spend in Vienna
If you are travelling through Europe during the holidays, Vienna is the perfect place to spend Christmas. However, as many of their markets do close on December 23rd, I would recommend arriving no later than the evening of December 22nd or morning of December 23rd. This will allow you a whole day of market wandering before the smaller markets close-up for the year. I also recommend at least 3 full days in Vienna. This itinerary can be used at any time during the winter holiday leading up to Christmas, but as options are the most limited on the actual holidays, I will outline a full December 23-25 itinerary to highlight how much there is to do! (To allow three full days, your actual dates in Vienna would be from December 22-26).
Where to Stay
This is always the most difficult question because everyone's budget is different. I always focus on location rather than specific accommodations, but I will recommend staying in a hotel rather than an AirBnB for Christmas in Vienna; many hotels have restaurants attached which may be important on December 24th as it can be quite difficult to find reservations on this day. (However, you can always get dinner at the Christmas markets!)
As far as location, if you are only in Vienna for a few days I highly recommend staying as close to the Ringstrasse as possible (circled below), as this is the heart of Vienna. However, hotels will be more expensive in this area. If you are on a strict budget you can stay farther out, just make sure to pick a place next to one of the bus/tram/metro stops. Public transport in Vienna is fast, reliable, and affordable, so this is the perfect compromise.
Travel Tip: If you don't have transit already set to show on your Google Maps, go to the settings tab at the top right, and click the "Transit" icon. This will show you the transit line in any city you search!
We decided to splurge a little (it was Christmas after all) and stayed at the Grand Ferdinand. It is beautifully decorated, right on the Ringstrasse next to a tram stop, and has two restaurants on site. Meissl and Schadn is home to the Schnitzel Love showroom and cooking class, and Gulasch and Soehne is a low key bistro with the best gulasch we have ever had. Highly recommend.
Photos provided by Grand Ferdinand.
Vienna Christmas Itinerary
As stated above, I recommend arriving no later than the morning of December 23 to take full advantage of Vienna's Christmas markets. This itinerary will be particularly helpful if you are staying in Vienna from December 23-25, but will also work perfectly for any days in December leading up to Christmas!
In all my itineraries I try to keep as many activities within walking distance as possible. There are a few times you will need to use the bus/tram/metro; thankfully Vienna's public transport is clean and reliable, and the trams are super cute.
Day 1 (December 23)
- Vienna State Opera
- Light on Graben
- St Peter's Church
- Am Hog Christmas Market
- Altweiner Christmas Market
- Spittleberg Christmas Market
- Karlsplatz Christmas Market
- Cafe Schwarzenberg
9am - Justizpalast
Most Christmas markets don't open until at least 11am. So to start the day, head to the Justizpalast, the Vienna Palace of Justice. This government building is free to enter, and surprisingly free of tourists. This was our very first stop in Vienna and we were simply blown away
Photo Tip: Use a wide angle lens to capture as much of this grand entrance as possible!
10am - Palmenhaus
Next, head to the Palmenhaus cafe for a cake and a melange (traditional Viennese style espresso with steamed milk topped with lite foam). It is housed inside the former royal greenhouse and overlooks the royal gardens, a perfect way to start the day. Note: Palemenhaus is usually closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but hours may change around the holidays. I recommend checking their opening times on their website and making a reservation.
Photos provided by Palmenhaus press packet.
Kid Tip: If you are travelling with kids, I recommend skipping the next item (Vienna State Opera Tour) and heading to the Schmetterlinghaus which is located right next to the Palmenhaus. It's a beautiful art nouveau green house filled with butterflies.
12pm - Vienna State Opera Tour
There are two ways to see the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper): see a performance or take a tour. We did not have time in our itinerary for a performance, so we took the 40 min tour and loved it. Tickets are €12 each and can now be booked online on their website. Tour times change regularly, but are published about 2 months in advance; in December of 2021 no tours were offered Dec 24 or 25, so the 23rd was the only day available.
After the tour, take a quick stop at Bitzinger Wurstelstand. It is located right behind the opera, and serves some of the best sausages in the city. Our recommendation: "Kasekrainer mit Brot und Senf" - a sausage filled with chunks of cheese on a bun with mustard. Delicious.
Photo Tip: The best location to get a photo of the outside of the State Opera is from the balcony in front of the Albertina Museum, located across the street.
1pm - KartnerStrasse, Graben, St Peters Church
Next, walk northeast down Kartner Strasse towards Graben. Both streets are decorated with thousands of string lights and Graben has magnificent chandeliers strung between the buildings. Stop at St Peter's Church (Peterskirche) and take a peek inside. (Unrelated but I think the exterior has a very Gringotts-esque vibe.)
2pm - Christmas Markets!
The rest of the day will be filled with Christmas markets. I will have a separate post all about Vienna's Christmas markets, so I will provide just the overview here. For the most detailed information on all of Veinna's Christmas markets including dates and times, use VisitingVienna.com.
From St Peter's Church, head to Am Hof Christmas market, location shown below. Am Hof is a central market popular with locals for good food and unique arts and crafts. This was also the only place I found a raclette stand; if you see this stand, make sure to get some!! (Raclette is Swiss, not Austrian, but who cares it's delicious.)
Am Hof Christmas Market
Next, walk two blocks to the Altweiner Christkindlmarkt on Freyung Square. This small market is surrounded by beautiful historical buildings and very popular with locals thanks to its focus on organic local foods and specialties.
Altwiener Christmas Market on Freyung
Next up is Spittleberg. This market is unique in that instead taking place in a square or church entrance, it winds throughout several narrow streets, giving it a cozy neighborhood feel. This is where we had our first leberkase, a loaf meat made from corned beef, pork, bacon, and onions. Delicious.
Kid Tip: If you are traveling with kids, I would probably skip this one and head straight to the next, Karlsplatz.
The last stop for the day is Art Advent at Karlsplatz. This large market takes place in front of St Charles Church (Karlskirche) and features unique arts and crafts along with the usual market food. This one in particular looked great for kids; there was a merry-go-round and even a bumper car track set up. Finish off the night with gluhwien (mulled wine) and head back to the hotel.
If you need a final bit to eat, stop by Cafe Schwarzenberg, an old, traditional coffee house, for a schnitzel.
Day 2 (December 24)
- Cafe Sacher
- Kunsthistorisches Museum
- Maria Theresien Platz Christmas Market
- Rathausplatz Christmas Market
- Stephasndom Midnight Mass
Everything closes down a bit early on Christmas Eve, so it is important to get a early start. It is also important to make reservations for December 24-26 if you don't want to dine exclusively at the markets, as many places close down and choices may be limited.
8:30am - Cafe Sacher
Cafe Sacher is home to the original Sacher-Torte. The Sacher-Torte is a famous Viennese chocolate cake with a thin apricot jam filling, and I can attest that Cafe Sacher has the best one. We had one at another cafe first, and it was dry and bland - the one at Cafe Sacher was delicious. The cafe itself is exquisitely decorated, and the perfect place to start your morning.
10:00am - Kunsthistorisches Museum (or Natural History Museum)
Next up, head to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the largest art museum in the country. Originally built to house the vast art collections of the Hapsburgs, the museum now holds art and artifacts from around the world. In addition to the exhibits, the building itself is magnificent - don't miss the rotunda, which houses the museum cafe, and provides a view onto Maria Theresien Platz. Entrance to the main museum is €18.
1pm - Maria Theresien Platz Christmas Market
Add one more market to your list by stopping by the Maria Theresien Platz market, located right in between the entrances for the Kunsthistorisches Museum and Natural History Museum.
2pm - Demel
Demel is a famous pastry shop and coffee house located steps away from the entrance to Hofburg Palace. It holds the title of Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court and is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon meal or cup of coffee. This place is very popular, so be sure to make a reservation. If you didn't make a reservation and don't want to stand in line, you can walk straight in to the pastry shop in back and get a sandwich and piece of cake to go.
4pm - Stephansdom and Stephansplatz Market
Walk to St Stephen's Cathedral (Stephandom). Stephansdom is the grandest cathedral in Vienna, and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. There is a Christmas market located on the Stephansplatz, but to be honest it was not my favorite. It is very central and located in the middle of the shopping streets so it seemed to be mostly tourists. The real reason for your visit is a walk to the top of the church for a view over Vienna at sunset. Entrance to climb is €5, and and additional €6 if you want to take the elevator.
5pm - Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt
It's finally time for the biggest and grandest Viennese Chirstmas market, Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt. This market dwarfs all the others mentioned so far, and is a perfect way to celebrate Christmas Eve. There is something for everyone - rides for kids, unique arts and ornaments, and plenty of food and alcohol options. I actually recommend not making a Christmas Eve dinner reservation (they are difficult to find and quite expensive), and eating dinner at the market. We splurged on a fancy Christmas Eve meal, but we far preferred the market food.
As of 2021, all markets were requiring proof of vaccination, and I expect the same to continue in 2022, so keep that in mind.
11pm - Stephansdom Midnight Mass
IF you still have energy, the absolute best way to ring in Christmas is at Stephansdom's midnight mass. Yes, it will be in German, but it will be beautiful and unforgettable. Be sure to check the exact start time, and arrive early as it is always full.
Day 3 (December 25)
- Schonbruun Palace and Market
- Belvedere Palace and Market
- Cafe Central
- Christmas Day Concert
9:30 Schonbruun Palace and Market
Schonbruun Palace was the main summer residence of the Hapsburgs, and is the most magnificent palace I have ever seen. I will admit, it did not look like much from the outside (perhaps because I had already been desensitized to the grandeur of Vienna's buildings) but the interior is astonishing. The intricate rococo designs have been perfectly preserved, and it feels like you are stepping back in time.
The Grand Tour is €22. On our trip, we visited both Schonbruun Palace and the Hofburg, which included the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments, and Silver Collection, so we purchased the Sisi Ticket for €36 that includes entrance to both. For a short trip I definitely recommend Schonbruun over the Hofburg Imperial Apartments as it is bigger and more grand. Also, much of the information on the audio guide is the same, so you don't really need to go to both.
Photography is not allowed inside the building (the interior photos above were provided by the Schonbruun Palace press packet) but you are free to roam and photograph the vast grounds and the Gloriette at the top of the hill (which, of course, has a coffee house inside). When you finish the tour, enjoy the small Christmas market at the entrance. You'll probably need a mug of gluhwein to warm you up if you walked all the way to the Gloriette in the freezing cold.
2pm - Belvedere Museum
The Belevedere Museum is a smaller art museum in a beautiful baroque palace. Buy a ticket to the Upper Belvedere (€15.90) and enjoy the works of Austria's most famous painter, Gustav Klimt, including "The Kiss".
There is a small Christmas market behind the the Belvedere as well, and I have a soft spot for this one because just as the sun set, it started to snow. Wishes do come true.
Photo Tip: As the sun sets, head to the far end of the reflecting pool behind the Upper Belvedere for the shot above.
6PM - Cafe Central
End your Christmas Day with a meal at the famous Cafe Central. (Definitely make a reservation, this place gets busy!)
Bonus: Classical Concert
If you still have energy, there are multiple concert that take place across Vienna on Christmas day. We were absolutely exhausted, so we decided to skip it, but many people say the Christmas concerts are the highlight of their trip. You can find more info here.
Bonus: If you are visiting on days other than Dec 23-25, definitely check out Cafe Sperl. It is usually closed over Christmas, but should not missed!