For centuries, the tradition and magic of Christmas markets have been renewed in the squares of Austrian cities.
Elegant and majestic markets, such as those in Vienna, or markets as atmospheric as the music of the great Mozart set up in Salzburg, welcome millions of visitors every year. The musical entertainment on offer and the excellent mulled wine warm the spirits and the atmosphere.
The Wiener Christkindlmark (Vienna Christmas Market) has been held for seven hundred years. It was first authorised by Emperor Albrecht I in 1296. Over the years, it was transformed from a commodities market into one of the most classic Christmas markets in the world and has been held on Rathausplatz since 1975, attracting 3 million visitors every year. There are about 140 merchants’ huts offering handicrafts, toys, honey, clothing and glassware. The roasted chestnuts, spiced sweets, roasted apples, candied fruit, gingerbread, roasted sausages, jacket potatoes, mulled wine and hot coffee to warm you up.
There is plenty of musical entertainment and there are also various attractions for children: fairy houses, talking trees, twinkling stars, giant candies, glowing hearts and the original ‘Post Office in the Clouds’ shop for souvenirs.
On Maria-Theresien-Platz, around the statue of Empress Maria Theresia is the Weihnachtsdorf, the most modern of Vienna’s markets. Around 60 little houses offer gifts, arts and crafts, punch, mulled wine, vanilla croissants and Viennese specialities. Performances of traditional Austrian wind instruments, gospel choirs and Christmas carol groups gently accompany the shopping.
The Schonbrunn Palace in its courtyard, amid majestic decorations and a large illuminated Christmas tree, hosts a market with around 60 exhibitors from all over Austria. Among the stalls are handicrafts made of natural materials, ceramics, Christmas decorations, woollen goods, tin and wooden toys, hand-carved cribs, typical gastronomic specialities, a wide variety of punch and flavoured teas.
On the stage near the big Christmas tree, gospel groups, spirituals and Austrian and international Christmas music are performed daily.
In the Spittelberg district is Vienna’s most authentic market. Amongst the cobbled streets, shops and artists’ galleries, stalls offer fine handicrafts, ceramics, silver, brass or enamel jewellery, blown glass objects, carpets, batik work and silk painting.
Another traditional market is at the Universitatscampus with 50 decorated sales huts and an old fashion carousel for the little ones.
On the Freyung in atmospheric old Vienna, around the Austria Fountain amidst Vienna’s opulent palaces lit up with candlelight, some 50 vendors offer baskets, stationery, puppets, small bijoux, Christmas decorations, flavoured teas, delicacies from various monasteries, roasted apples, spiced biscuits and punch.
In the market on Karlsplatz, in front of the Karlskirche, you can only find products selected by a quality committee of design and production technology. One can buy wooden bowls, lamps, costume jewellery made of metal and plant materials, perfume burners, ceramics, glass, candles, bamboo musical instruments and natural cosmetics.
The 40 beautifully decorated stands in the Christmas village of Schloss Belvedere offer Austrian and international handicrafts, gingerbread, cinnamon stars, mulled wine and alcoholic and non-alcoholic punch. Gospel music and typical wind instruments accompany the stroll through the stalls, while children can play and have fun on an old-fashioned merry-go-round.
Right in the centre is the Wiener Eislaufverein, a 6,000-square-metre ice rink on which people have been skating since 1867.
As a document of the time testifies, the market on Dom und Residenzplatz was founded in 1491 as a flea market. In the 17th century, it was transformed into a pre-Christmas market, which was already competing in its day with those in Paris, Vienna, Nuremberg and Amsterdam, according to a chronicler Lorenz Hub.
The square is completely lit up with stars and on the stalls of the 70 atmospheric wooden houses one can find candles, bread figurines, wooden toys, tinware, frosted and painted glassware, caps, gloves and shawls. Gastronomic products include roasted sausages, chocolate, candied fruit, doughnuts, speck, steaming soup, gingerbread, sweets and Jagatee (rum tea).
On Saturdays, musicians perform Christmas melodies from the Carillon Tower. Every afternoon along the market, Christmas music and choirs can be heard.
Some 20 stalls make up the small but wonderful market at Mirabellplatz. One can buy dolls and clothes, leather goods, small antiques, terracotta objects, Christmas decorations, Advent wreaths, silver jewellery, teddy bears and sweets. The food stands sell mulled wine, orange punch, children’s punch, schnapps, caramelised apples, roast sausages and jacket potatoes with various fillings.
Three times a week, during the afternoon, Christmas music and choirs entertain the public.
In the courtyards of the imposing Festung Hohensalzgurg fortress, it is particularly enchanting to visit the market, which offers mainly local handicrafts, drinks and typical Christmas delicacies.
Concerts are held in the fortress’s large medieval halls as part of the rich programme of events. Christmas Eve is celebrated with traditional gunfire and a sung mass is celebrated in the Chapel of St George.
In the courtyard of Hellbrunn Castle, market stalls sell traditional sweets of the period, tasty home-made specialities, local handicrafts, nativity scenes and Christmas decorations.
Performances by Alpine choir players, carol singers and Christmas carol singers, and exhibitions of old toys make the place enchanting and atmospheric.
In the small market in the Sterngarten, you can find blown glass, pashminas, bijoux, candelabra, wooden toys, picture frames and ceramics, Christmas biscuits, punch, mulled wine and hot must.
A small market can also be found in front of the main station, Bahnhofsvorplatz.
In front of the Church of St. Leonhard there is a market selling local handicrafts and offers sleigh rides for children and animals for petting.
Salzburg’s long-established tradition of nativity scenes is reflected in the nativity scene depicting the life of Christ in the Cathedral.
On Residenzplatz, the Heimatwerk craft centre organises a market exhibition of nativity scenes.
In Hellbrunn Palace during the opening of the market, you can watch a living nativity scene.
In Mozart’s hometown, music obviously plays a major role, given the number of concerts in the Christmas cultural programme.
Mirabell Palace, Hohensalzburg Fortress, the Residenz and many churches are the venues for most of the concerts.
Some of Mozart’s most famous works are performed in the Marionette Theatre.
The most important musical event during Advent is the Salzburger Adventsingen (Salzburg Advent Carols). Performances are offered to the public at the weekend in the Grosses Festspielhaus (where the summer festival is also held). A cast of over 200 people stage stories of the holy family, seen from special and non-trivial points of view. Advance sales at the Salzburger Heimatwerk (Residenzplatz 9).
In the Gotischer Saal, there are Salzburg Advent Serenades, classical and popular music by candlelight in a beautiful Gothic hall.
On Christmas Eve, in the Petersfriedhof, the old cemetery at the foot of the fortress, to wish Merry Christmas to those who are no longer with us, the umbrellas are decorated with candles and small Christmas trees.
In the Stiftkeller courtyard is Austria’s oldest restaurant, where you can enjoy a cup of spiced wine.
In Judengasse is the Christmas in Salzburg shop, three floors of Christmas decorations of all kinds, including the famous blown-glass balls decorated with the city panorama or a portrait of Mozart and edelweiss.
Next door is Easter in Salzburg, the Easter decoration shop that during the Christmas season offers small Christmas eggs painted with Christmas motifs to hang on the tree.
The main Christmas market is the Innsbrucker Christkindlmarkt, located in the Altstadt (old town), in the arcades of the famous Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), a 16th-century decorated arched window covered with more than 2600 fire-gilded copper foils.
In the 35 little wooden houses you can find Tyrolean handicrafts, Christmas decorations, decorated candles, embroidered tablecloths, wooden toys, painted glass, scarves, gloves, wool hats, loden and spiced breads. At the food stands, visitors can enjoy mulled wine, Christmas zelten (spiced fruit breads), roasted almonds, roasted chestnuts, Krapfen and Tirol Kiachln (pancakes with sugar, blueberry jam or sauerkraut).
In the town centre, on Landhausplatz, with a panoramic view of the whitewashed mountains, there is a market with 25 stalls selling handicrafts and typical Tyrolean dishes. The market is easily accessible thanks to a nearby underground car park and is popular with Tyrolean children because of the many attractions for them. There is the 100-year-old merry-go-round, there is the opportunity to take rides in pony-drawn carriages and to pet and play with many farmyard animals.
In December, an exclusively Christmas flea market is opened on Franziskanerplatz.
An absolute must-see, in front of the cathedral, is the entirely hand-carved nativity scene with life-size figures. At the Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum (Tyrolean Folk Art Museum) at Universitatsstrasse 2 you can visit a permanent exhibition of old and modern Tyrolean cribs.
At the main market, in Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, there is a performance every afternoon inspired by Tyrolean Christmas traditions in a theatre-carriage with an animated Advent calendar.
From the balcony of the Golden Roof above the main market, every day at 5.30 p.m., a wind orchestra performs a repertoire of Christmas music.
On the afternoon of the last Sunday of Advent, a procession accompanied by music and fanfares, starting at the Triumphpforte (Triumphal Arch) and arriving in the old town, re-enacts the coming of the Infant Jesus among angels, shepherds and sheep.
On Hauptplatz, the square surrounded by Baroque houses, is the main market in Graz.
The 45 stalls offer Christmas decorations, glass vases, ceramics, carved wooden objects, candles, handmade textiles and homemade Weihnachtskekse (Christmas biscuits).
Typical local products include the highly prized Kurbiskernol (pumpkin seed oil used to dress green salads); to make one litre, you need the seeds of more than 30 pumpkins.
On Franziskanerplatz, the square in a typically picturesque neighbourhood, about 25 small houses make up a second, sympathetically old-fashioned market, selling local handicrafts and delicacies.
Finally, near the Miur river, 25 stalls are set up at the pretty Mariahilferplatz offering Christmas decorations, candles, ceramics and other handicrafts. A corner of the market dedicated exclusively to children makes this place particularly family-friendly.
On the Farberplatz, you will find high-quality handicrafts. Only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Eisernes Tor market, popular with Graz residents after work and the many university students for roasted chestnuts and mulled wine. Only open in the afternoon.
At the Hauptplatz market, every evening, the imposing façade of the town hall becomes a giant Advent calendar thanks to an advanced projection system.
Every evening, all the facades of the buildings in the old town are illuminated with dancing stars and other Christmas motifs thanks to a sophisticated electronic projection system.
The Landhaus, an Austrian Renaissance masterpiece, is the backdrop for the ice nativity scene created each year by the sculptor Gert J. Hodl. The re-enacted nativity scene is made of 50 tonnes of ice and is incredibly impressive.