’tis the season to drink outdoors at Vienna’s Christkindlmärkte
Traditions can be tricky; not everything our ancestors did is worth keeping alive. Austria’s holiday season is no exception, the Krampusläufe (Krampus runs) on December 5 often provoking controversy. With young men dressing up as Kramperl (an infernal sidekick of St. Nicolas) and terrorizing naughty children, this traditional chastisement sometimes gets out of hand. But one local tradition stands out as universally beloved: the Christkindlmärkte (Christ Child markets – in Austria, infant Jesus brings the gifts, not St. Nick).
These seasonal markets selling trinkets, hot sugary alcoholic beverages and a large selection of hearty foods to keep you going have been a part of Viennese culture since the 17th century, when the first one opened at the Graben. Others soon followed on the Freyung and Am Hof – markets can still be found each yuletide at all three. Nowadays, there are about 20 Christkindlmärkte all over town, each with their own charm and catering to different crowds. They are a favorite hangout for afterwork drinks, unofficial holiday parties, dates and Christmas shopping for locals and tourists alike.
The atmosphere ranges from rustic at Rathausplatz with wooden stalls, gingerbread aromas and Christmas carols to modernist at the MQ Wintermarkt, where minimalist decor, LED lighting and DJs spinning turntables reign. Some markets even have carousels, miniature trains, petting zoos or skating rinks – making them a popular destination for families.
However, choosing the right drink from the dazzling array of variations sold at the countless booths can be a real challenge. There are two main families: Glühwein (mulled wine) and Punsch. The major difference lies in strength. While Glühwein is essentially spiced and heated (usually red) wine, Punsch is generally rum based, sometimes with an additional shot of hard liquor added. Hence, beware the so-called Turbopunsch! With alcohol content ramped up to 10 percent or more, it packs a real wallop and less reputable stands frequently use it to dump the dregs, the dodgy flavor undetectable amid the booze. Best enjoy it with caution, if at all.
Also, don’t be alarmed if you’re charged more than it says on the sign. You’re not getting ripped off, most markets simply place a deposit on mugs (usually €2). Upon returning them, you’ll get your change back – or, keep it as a souvenir. And while you sip your steaming beverage, watching the rosycheeked merriment around you, rejoice. Some traditions should be cherished.
Nov 17-Dec 26
Right in front of the Rathaus, a visit to Vienna’s largest and most popular Christkindlmarkt will easily fill an afternoon. This year’s monumental Christmas tree is 70 years old and was donated by Vorarlberg, continuing the tradition of a different state providing a tree to the capital, ongoing since 1959.
4., Karlsplatz 13
Nov 17-Dec 23
Art installations, live bands and a special children’s program, alongside local arts and crafts make this Christmas wonderland a paradise for art lovers and sustainable shoppers. As a special treat, all the food is organic and sourced from bio-certified vendors.
3., Prinz-Eugen-Strasse 27
The breathtaking view from the Belvedere palace is not the only extraordinary thing about this Christkindlmarkt. Gospel choirs and live bands, an enchanting miniature train and a carousel for tots make this market truly magical.
7., Museumsplatz 1
Nov 9-Dec 23
Playfully dubbed Mqbis, minimalist, geometric huts host concerts and quirky events. Micro extreme bowling (a mix of bowling, billiards and golf) and the winter race with remote-controlled toy cars gives this avant-garde take on Christmas a special charm.
Nov 16-Dec 23
Surrounded by beautiful, historical architecture, this Christmas market is the perfect place to shop for knickknacks or grab a snack in a romantic, picturesque setting.