Have a glass of Christmas punch, treat yourself to a spa, and explore the city´s museums – these are some great ways to make the best of a gorgeous Vienna in winter.
It’s hard to find a city that looks as pretty as Vienna in winter. The old-world charm of the streets, the imperial architecture basked in twinkling lights and the city’s coffee culture make for the perfect winter break. I head to the Austrian capital almost every year before Christmas and so far haven’t got bored; there are just so many things to do in Vienna in December.
Every winter, Vienna’s prettiest squares turn into magical Christmas markets, featuring endless stalls selling souvenirs and hot mulled wine. The atmosphere is very different than other times of the year – winter in Vienna is simply amazing.
Discovering Vienna in winter
When I still lived in the Czech Republic, I used to travel to Vienna often: it was my closest airport and the gateway to the world. Sometimes I just literally went there just to catch my flights, but I also frequently visited the city to visit my Austrian friend Sonja who lives there. She never seemed to run out of ideas for things to do in Vienna in winter.
Together, we always went to explore a new part of the city, a new museum, or new café. Visiting the city with the local person is always very special: you got to see places you would miss otherwise.
If you are considering visiting Vienna in winter, I would eagerly recommend it. No matter whether you catch the Advent season or you come later and experience Vienna in January, I am sure you will love it. This post is filled with practical tips, activity and accommodation recommendations, and other useful info to plan your trip!
Traveling to Vienna
Thanks to its international airport, it is easy to get to Vienna from any part of the world. Use my favorite flight search Kiwi.com to find the cheapest flights. Vienna airport is about 16 kilometers east of Vienna in Swechat: it takes about half an hour to reach the city center by public transport – the cheapest way is by S-Bahn train, on which the single fare is €4.00.
Swechat is, by the way, one of the smartest locations to get accommodation when visiting Vienna in winter: the hotels in the center always like to increase their price during the Advent. In Swechat, you can get good value on the money you have spent. Later in this article, I have put together recommendations on where to stay in Vienna, so that you can find the favorite place on your own.
Getting around Vienna in Winter
Vienna is said to have the finest public transportation systems in all of Europe. Based on my numerous experiences getting around Vienna, both the trams and metro are clean and reliable. Sometimes they even feature little tables, making them feel like little mobile coffee houses.
Getting around in Vienna is pretty convenient. No matter where you are heading, the single journey always costs 2,20 Euros. I highly recommend getting the Vienna Visitor Card for your trip – it has all types of transportation included plus you get discounts at all major museums and sights. Taking into account that Vienna is not exactly cheap, this is a great money saver.
And one more good news: some of the old trams have heaters located directly under the seats. So all you need to do is to find the right heated seat and unfreeze your….back part 🙂
Things to know about visiting Vienna in December and January
- Austrians celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. So if you arrive on December 24, you will find the Christmas market closed and the streets emphty. Most locals will be at home with their families.
- Expect many of restaurants and cafes to be are closed around Christmas. If you want to focus your visit on food and have a wish list that you want to visit, it is better to plan your trip for early December. No all places will be closed for Christmas, but is always the best to check before going.
- If you stay until the New Years, get ready for a big street party. There is A large firework held on City Hall Square and in the Prater at midnight. There are special boat tours on Danube for this occasion. And if you wish, there is the New Year’s Eve Ball at the Hofburg Vienna (Imperial Palace) and various galas held in the city’s leading hotels.
Where to stay in Vienna
Advent is a high season in Vienna, yet there are still lot of various accommodations to choose from. I’ve compiled the best of the best hotels and hostels in Vienna that are the perfect blend of luxury and comfort at the perfect price.
BUDGET: AS CHEAP AS POSSIBLE (UNDER 40 EUR)
MEININGER Vienna Central Station
Perfect for budget travelers. at this hostel, you can get a dorm bed from 10 euros. It is near the highly recommended Belvedere Christmas market. In the evening, you can chill in the hotel bar. Check availability and rates here.
Wombats City Hostel Vienna
One of the best-rated hostels in the city. Huge and social, this hostel features a great location near Naschmarkt, which is great for delicious and inexpensive food. If you stay in Viennamultiple for a couple days, this is the place to be. Check availability and rates here.
BUDGET: MID-RANGE (UNDER 90 EUR)
City Hotel Albrecht
This Family-run hotel with excellent reviews is located in Schwechat. I tis the perfect location if you are arriving by plane. The breakfast is included in price. You can reach Vienna city centre from the The Kaiserebersdorf Train Station. Check the availability and rates here.
Das Reinisch Guesthouse
One more place to recommend in Swechat. This comfortable guest house has everything you need to enjoy your stay in Vienna in winter: spacious rooms, a restaurant and a sauna. The staff is very friendly and you get a lot for your money here. Check the availability and rates here.
BUDGET: BALLIN’ (170 EUR+)
Novotel Wien Hauptbahnhof
The location is fantastic: This comfortable hotel is just behind the corner from the beautiful Belvedere palace and main train station. You can enjoy the sauna, restaurant and great cutting edge design. Some rooms include a seating area to relax in after a busy day. Check the availability and rates here.
BEST WESTERN PREMIER Harmonie Vienna
Lovely hotel where I stayed and really enjoyed its boutique rooms. It has a great central location and is perfect for couples. Especially great for having great sleep after coming to Vienna or before leaving. The hotel features airport transfers. Check availability and rates here.
If you still haven’t decided for the perfect hotel, then check fellow travel blogger’s guide to Where to Stay in Vienna.
What to do in Vienna in the winter
I usually visit Vienna in the month leading up to Christmas, so this article mainly focuses on things to do in Vienna in December. However, this is also a high season for tourism. If Christmas markets are not the main purpose of your visit, you should consider visiting the city after New Year’s, when the tourist crowds dissipate. Vienna in January can still be pretty amazing.
So, what are the best things to do in Vienna in the winter?
01| Hit up some Christmas markets
The first Christmas market was held in the 13th century when Albrecht I granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege to hold one. As time passed, Austrians became fonder and fonder of them. Nowadays, there are about 20 such markets, and they are no doubt at the top of the list of things to do in Vienna in December.
If you would like to explore Christmas markets with a local guide, this walking tour takes in four different ones. It is a nice way to get a local perspective and enjoy the festive atmosphere at the same time (added bonus: extra rum to enhance your hot punch may be included 🙂
The best time to visit a Christmas market is at night when the lights and smells emerge to produce the true Christmas market experience you have seen in movies. The punch costs between 4,5 and 5,5 Euros (and I would argue tastes better than Glühwein, the German equivalent). It is served in a special ceramic cup – you can return it and get back the deposit, or do as I did and keep it as a souvenir.
Best Christmas markets to visit in 2020
The classic and must-see is Wiener Christkindlmarkt, Vienna’s largest Christmas market, situated in front of City Hall. t is a good idea to follow up with a visit to a smaller market, which are more laid back but still exceptionally beautiful. My personal favourites are listed below. Additionally, Spittelberg and Karlsplatz are great, too
Set on the large square between Rathaus (City Hall) and Burgtheater, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt is by far the largest and probably best known Christmas market in Vienna. It is estimated that the market sees 3,5 million visitors each year (popular among the tourists and locals alike), so you’d better be prepared for the crowds.
Where? Rathausplatz, 1010 Vienna
Opening hours: Sun – Thu: 10 am – 9:30 pm; Fri & Sat: 10 am – 10 pm; (limited opening hours from Dec 24 to Dec 26)
Web: Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz
Christmas market at the Technical University
If you want to avoid tourists, this is the right place. The Christmas market at the Technical University is cozy and a bit cheaper than others.
Where? Karlsplatz 13, 1040 Wien, Austria
Opening hours: Sun – Thu: 10 am – 9:30 pm; Fri & Sat: 10 am – 10 pm
This Christmas market is set against the glorious baroque backdrop of Belvedere castle. The location is stunning and there is a lot of stalls offering traditional handicraft.
Where? Prinz Eugen-Straße/Schloss Belvedere, 1030 Vienna
Opening hours: Mon – Fri: 11 am – 9 pm; Sat, Sun & holidays: 10 am – 9 pm; (limited opening hours from Dec 24 to Dec 26)
Web: Weihnachtsdorf Schloss Belvedere
Opening and closing dates of the markets
|Name of the market||Starting Date||End Date|
|Art Advent – Arts and Crafts on Karlsplatz||November 22nd 2019||December 23rd 2019|
|Christmas Market on Spittelberg||November 14th 2019||December 23rd 2019|
|Winter at the MQ||November 7th 2019||November 16th 2019|
|Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz||November 20th 2019||December 26th 2019|
|Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz||November 15th 2019||December 26th 2019|
- Dress Warmly | Make sure to bring your gloves, hat, scarf and warm clothes. It gets freezing cold (I know what I’m talking about!)
- Walk your way | All Christmas markets (except Schönbrunn and the Vegan Advent Market) are within walking distance. Great, huh?
- Time it Right | Do you want to avoid the massive crowds at the popular markets? Then come in the morning, or as soon as the markets open. Would you like to enjoy the twinkling lights all around? Then plan to arrive at dusk, and experience the markets at night.
- Bring Cash | Some stands will take credit cards, but many are cash only. Make sure to have small bills.
- Watch your bags | Vienna is a very safe city, but if there were ever a place for pickpockets, the Christmas Markets would be it. They are super crowded, and it is easy to get distracted looking at the lights and the booths and your mug of punsch. Just be careful.
02 | Experience the coffee culture
One of my favorite ways to enjoy Vienna in winter is to sit down with a cup of coffee and a tasty dessert. Viennese coffee culture literally provides endless opportunities. Viennese cafes are quiet and relaxed, and they are the perfect place to warm up after hours of sightseeing.
Believe or not, people like Sigmund Freud, Egon Schiele, and Gustav Klimt, once patronized the same cafes. Many of the coffeehouses are over 300 years old and owners do their best to preserve the original style. If you want to visit the most traditional places, try Café Korb, Café Leopold Hawelka, or Café Central. Don’t be surprised to find a queue at peak times; however, once you are seated you can enjoy an uninterrupted experience. Cafes are places for hanging out, reading a book, and letting the hours pass.
There is a surprising number of different kinds of coffee on offer in Vienna, and ordering “just a coffee“ usually won’t suffice, so take your time to read the menu:) If you are lost, go for a Melange, which is a typical Viennese coffee, much like the Austrian cousin of the cappuccino.
04| Museums and palaces
Vienna has for long been one of the most important cultural centers of Europe. For 700 years it was the seat of Austria’s ruling Habsburg family. Today, a number of fascinating palaces and museums remain, where you can take in fine collections historical artifacts and masterpieces of art.
If it is your first time in Vienna, you should definitely visit the two most important museums: Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) and Albertina, both located in the Innere Stadt. If you want to see a lot of things in a short time, I would recommend this tour covering the major sights and museums in just 3,5 hours. It also includes an advanced ticket to the Schönbrunn Palace, so you will be able to skip the queue. If you are interested to visit purely the Schönbrunn Palace, get skip the line tickets here.
Finally, be sure to make your way to iconic Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), located at the main square. You can even ascend to its highest point, the 60-meter south tower. There are 343 stairs to climb, which is quite a challenge, but the reward is you get to see an amazing panorama of Vienna in winter. The entrance fee is 3,50 Euros.
04 | Enjoy a spa
Winter in Vienna is chilly – be prepared for temperatures well below zero. Doesn’t a spa sound like a great way to escape from the wind and cold? Why not spend an afternoon in basking in a steam room, sauna, or whirlpool?
There are several hotels featuring spas – my friend and I decided on So SPA at Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom because of its amazing design. The spa occupies the entire fifth floor (750 square meters!). It features a spectacular glass ceiling covered by a colorful mural painting by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist.
Entry to the spa is 32 Euros, and you can visit the gym as well (unless you are a guest at the hotel, then you have it all for free). Plus, they sell super delicious smoothies for 6 Euros. If you want to stay in this exclusive hotel, check the rates here.
05 | Go ice skating
Ice skating is great fun and one of the best things to do in Vienna in the winter. Both locals and visitors alike can enjoy this activity. You can choose between a modern indoor skating rink or go skating against some beautiful backdrops at Vienna’s outdoor ice rinks, such as the Vienna Ice Dream in front of Vienna City Hall.
Another great place to go is the ice skating rink of the Vienna Association of Ice Skaters, which spans 6,000 square meters between the Wiener Konzerthaus (Vienna Concert Hall) and the Vienna InterContinental Hotel near the Stadtpark.). You can rent ice skates on site for a few Euros.
If you can’t skate, be sure to learn it this year – the bruises are completely worth it1! Ice skating is one of my favorite winter sports actually. When it’s cold enough, it’s possible to ice skate on the Danube.
06| Join a walking tour
I really love cities that can be easily explored on foot and Vienna is one of them. The inner city is quite compact and there are lots of cobblestone lanes to explore – all you need are warm clothes, great shoes and a little bit of patience and endurance. Despite the cold temperatures, there is still much life on the streets of Vienna in winter.
There is nothing easier than doing a tour on your own paste. However, Vienna is a city of history so if you are interested to know little more than ordinary tourist, consider taking a tour with a guide. If its your first time to visit Vienna, then I recommend you to take this tour to get overview of the highlights in Vienna. For just 16 euro, the guide shows you around for 2 hours which is a great value.
07 | Visit the opera
Visiting the opera might sound boring to many, but don’t judge before you try: in Vienna, it is also about history and about the special atmosphere. And you don’t even have to be rich to go: shortly before every performance you can line up and purchase cheap standing tickets. Some people leave after the break so you can often even find a place to sit.
Make sure to pack for your trip one better outfit as you might not be allowed to enter in the backpacker’s style. You can check the program of Wiener Staatsoper here.
08 | Experience the Spanish riding school
Would you like to see famous Lipizzaner horses in action at Vienna’s Spanish Riding School?
The 18th-century winter riding school hosts the formal performances, where the stallions show off the full extent of their skills.These performances take place most months, usually on the weekend.
Tickets are in great demand so you usually need to book early, especially if you want a good view at an evening gala. Gooing to see one of their morning exercises is however much easier and you can book all online. It’s not every day – Tuesdays to Fridays are your best bet – and not all year round, so check in advance.
Choose between training and performance, based on your time and the budget:
- Morning Exercise Of The Lipizzans. On check the availability here, you will get to visit Spanish Riding School of Vienna and witness the training of the Lipizzaners and their riders during the morning exercise. You can observe the training of the gray colts and the fully-trained school stallions, the “white stars”. The prices start with 15 euro per person: it’s really inexpensive. check the availability here.
- Performance Of The Lipizzans. OK, check the availability here represents the more fancy way of seeing the Lipizzans: you will get to experience the performance in the breathtaking location, the baroque Winter Riding School. The unique atmosphere of this place and the accompanying classic Viennese music will make this experience unforgettable. The tour lasts 70 minutes. Prices start from 33 EUR, you can check the availability here.
09 | Let it snow
With planet warming up more and more each year, is not anymore that sure to find a snow in Vienna in winter. Unfortunately. It With snow, everything looks little more romantic. It especially the locals, that would like to have a white Christmas. If you are lucky to experience the fresh snow, make sure to capture pictures of this winter tale.
But what to do when it snows and doesn’t stop? Find the nearest park and make a snowman: Prater Park is perfect for this. You can also organize a snow fight with your friends.
Day trips from Vienna in winter
With a location in Central Europe, Vienna is a great place to visit the other places in Europe as well. Depending on how much time to you have left, you might want to choose to escape Vienna for a day or even for the whole weekend.
The neighboring Czech Republic offers several cities well reachable by bus and train. Come to experience Christmas atmosphere to Prague and judge whether it can compete with the charm of Vienna. Discover student town of Brno featuring one of the most amazing Christmas market in the country, or head to Olomouc listed by UNESCO.
Wanna experience skiing during your trip to Vienna? Then you should stay on the Austrian side. Vienna, unfortunately, doesn’t have a ski resort in the direct vicinity. However, there are a couple of locations you can reach during the one day trip and still enjoy some skiing while staying in Wienna in Winter.
The most popular location is Hohe-Wand-Wiese (more suitable for families and beginners) and in Semmering (it is about 100 kilometers from Vienna, but well accessible with public transportation). If you not a skier, tobogganing is always a great alternative.
What to wear in Vienna in December
Rain and snow are both common in during the winter in Vienna. . It is great to have some layers since it can get pretty cold: Warm and waterproof clothing is essential.
Be sure to pack:
- Comfortable, breathable shoes
- Scarf, hat and gloves
- Layers: leggings, long-sleeved shirt, coat
What to wear in Vienna in December? It’s the coldest month, so you have better to be ready. After a few hours outside you will be happy to enter a museum, café or anywhere heated to unfreeze your body parts. Keep in mind that once you enter these buildings you will probably want to take some layers off.
Have you been to Vienna in the winter?
What are your favorite things to do in Austrian capital? And do you prefer to visit it in winter or in the summer? You can share your tips in the comment section. I love reading your comments!