An Austrian Advent
Glühwein and Christmas Markets
Christkindle (Christ Child) Markets, Advent Markets, and Weinachtsen (Christmas) Markets, have a long history in Germanic countries. The tradition of a market around Advent originated in Germany in the late middle ages. The Austrian incarnation of the Christmas market didn’t take root until well into the 17th century. Examples of earlier precursors – (December markets and such) exist, but there is little evidence of a proper market organized around the advent season until the 17th century.
I traveled to the most famous of Austria’s Christmas Markets in Vienna, Salzburg, and Villach.
Stop 1: Vienna
The city of Vienna is filled with festive markets. Many of the city’s churches have a few stalls selling holiday theme knickknacks outside their doors.
The Rathaus Christkindlmarkt is perhaps the most famous of Vienna’s Christmas Markets. With the spires and towers of the 19th century neogothic city hall (Rathaus) as a picturesque back-stop, there is something of the magical about this market. The market was moved from its previous location at Messelpalast to the Rathausplatz in 1975. The Rathaus Christkindlmarkt boasts an Ice Skating trail, food stalls, Gluhwein and punsch and several booths selling snow globes, christmas tree ornaments, and other seasonal knick-knacks. It is usually crowded with tourists, which gives it a more of a vibrant (rather than frantic) atmosphere.
Why go? For the ice skating, the crowds (if you like that sort of thing), and the festive atmosphere.
Location: (map) There is a Rathaus stop on the U2 metro line.
Karlsplatz Christmas Market
My personal favorite is the Karlsplatz Market. This market specializes in hand crafted knick-knacks and environmentally friendly treats. Children, as well as grown-up lovers of the absurd will love the bicycle powered junk carousel. The kids will have a great time playing in the hay field and on the bicycle powered train cars. Most of the hot beverage stations serve “bio” gluhwine – an organic alternative to the regular stuff and most of the booths are operated by artisans.
Why go? This market has all of the fun offered by the larger Rathaus market, but with smaller crowds, a funkier vibe, and higher quality items for purchase.
Location: (map) The Karlsplatz metro station is served by the U1, U2, and U4 metro lines.
Spittelberger Advent Market
Just a stone’s throw from the Volkstheatre metro stop, the Spittelberger Christmas market runs up and down the narrow, cobbled streets of what was once a country suburb of Vienna. This “village in the city” is Vienna’s second largest pedestrian zone. In these narrow streets and alleyways small, narrow houses with pastel facades and funky shops in on the ground floor have a much smaller, and more quaint feel than other places in Historic Vienna. The market also has a different flavor from the larger Rathaus market.
Why go? The Christmas Market in Spittelberg boasts numerous craft vendors along with a fascinating variety of permanent shops. You will find, lots of Gluhweine shops, some crowds, and an atmosphere that can’t be beat.
Location: (map) The nearest metro stop is the Volkstheater stop on the U2 and U3 lines (take the Burgasse/museumsplatz exit).
Other Christmas Markets in Vienna:
You will find small christmas markets just about anywhere tourists gather. The back side of St. Stephen’s Church has a small market, the area in front of Shonbrunn palace boasts a good sized market which focuses more on food and drink than on crafts and ornaments. There is also a market at the gardens at the Belvedere. Each of these markets is largely a copy of the others, but it is nice to enjoy some Gluhwein while awaiting your entrance time at one of the palaces, or as a break to exploring Vienna’s old town.
Stop 2: Salzburg
Although the roots of the Salzburg Christmas market go back to 1491 when it was known as the Tandlmarkt, today’s market in its present form only began in 1974.
The Salzburg Christmas market is filled with a traditional atmosphere. Draped pine garlands and fairy lights swoop across the 95 exhibitors in their pine-green booths. The market weaves through the courtyard of the cathedral and out into Mozartplatz where an ice rink rings with the shouts and squeals of thrilled youth. High above the town, the white walls of the Hohen fortress watch over the festive scene.
The scent of cinnamon and pine incense tempers that of the ubiquitous hot wine. Vendors sell hot wine, Christmas crafts, ornaments, chimney cake, apple strudel, and wurst. The sound of church bells ringing at dusk rides above the chatter of tourists who cluster around small round tables at the booths selling Gluhwein and Punsch.
Why go? of all the markets I visited in Austria, Salzburg had the most traditional atmosphere bringing a unique kind of magic through the more traditional approach to the market.
Location: The Salzburg market is located right at the center of the old town beginning in the Mozartplatz
Stop 3: Villach
Villach, in Austria’s southern Carinthia region, lies on a crossroads. Travelers traveling between Slovenia, Italy, Germany, and norther Austria all pass through Villach. The town is larger than it seems. Nearly 60,000 people call this town home, but the town feels more like a village than a city.
Quaint and atmospheric this small-town market has plenty to offer. Shops on the shopping street add to the festive feel by advertising items for sale on racks outside their stores. Villach’s Christmas market is a large draw for Italian tourists. The market winds through the town’s historic district. Fairy lights overhang craft stalls and Gluhwine cafes. The light-draped clock tower of the church of Saint Jacob watches over the festive scene from beneath its glittering mental. The central square has ice skating and a train ferries people from the market to the parking lots on the edge of the historic district.
Why Go? The Villach market is a great place to stop if you are looking for something a bit quieter.
Location The Advent market is easy to find along the main street in historic Villach just a few short blocks from the main train station
Good to Know:
Gluhwein: Glühwein is hot wine with sugar and spices. In Austria it is served in both red and white varieties. It is significantly less potent than ordinary wine.
Punsch: Mostly juice with rum or schnapps and some spices added – this is also served warm.
Kaisespaitzle: A bit like Macaroni and cheese – except with a kind of dough dumpling instead of the macaroni.
Snow Globes: No, Snowglobes were not invented in Austria, but the story is an entertaining one (read it here).
Some Useful Links
The German Way and More offers a comprehensive guide to Europe’s Christmas markets along with some useful cultural commentary and historic context.
wien.at has the most historically accurate information about the history of Vienna’s Christmas Markets
wien.info has good information about Vienna’s most famous Christmas Markets
christmasmarkets.com is a great place to go if you are looking for a Christmas market in your country.