NOTE to those following our European river cruise: I am jumping ahead to the time we spent at Christmas markets in Vienna after the cruise. It seems a timely thing to do—hope you enjoy hearing about them as much as we enjoyed being there.
Europe is very religious historically, with large Catholic populations in many countries. On Sundays and holydays, church bells ring often during the day and businesses and banks close. No one works who doesn’t have to—even truck drivers take that day off. Some tourist-related and eating establishments are open, but they are often few and far between. We found that to be true everywhere we went—France, Amsterdam, Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
Christmas is very traditional in Europe and not one big retail extravaganza like at home–Christmas music is not blaring from retail stores, decorations are simple—usually wreaths and bright lights—and we saw no Christmas sale signs.
A centuries old tradition, Christkinklmarkts often begin the first day of Advent and run through Christmas These markets are held all over Europe as a way to celebrate the coming birth of Christ. Often they last until Epiphany in early January (the day that the three kings gave Jesus their gifts). Some start earlier and become New Years Markets after Christmas. Fortunately for us, Vienna started theirs on November 13 this year, so we were able to visit and enjoy several.
The markets are happy places with bright lights and lots of wonderful smells in addition to wares for sale. Hot mulled wine and other such drinks, along with a variety of sausages and sweets, are available at many kiosks. Most of the vendors are selling Christmas items—from beautiful, intricate decorations to small gifts.
While in Vienna, we visited five markets—each with a different character. The most beautiful was the relatively newly redesigned Vienna Christmas World at City Hall Square. In addition to about 150 vendors, there are also two large ice skating rinks with various pathways so that people don’t just skate in a circle.
The next most beautiful was at Schonbrunn Palace. It was not nearly as large as The Vienna Christmas World but, with the Palace as the backdrop, was equally beautiful. It had fewer vendors, and the booths were arranged in a circle in front of the palace so there was lots of space to move around, shop, and enjoy some treats.
Another Christmas Village we enjoyed was on Maria-Theresien-Platz, nestled between the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (Museum of Art History) and the Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna (Museum of Natural History). Another inspirational setting, the 70 booths were set around a memorial to Maria-Theresa, the only woman to have led the Austria-Hungarian Empire and the most influential person of her time.
The City Hall and Maria-Theresa markets were not far apart, and on our tram line, so after some long days of sightseeing, we returned to each just to have some hot Christkindlmarkt Punsche to warm our hands and hearts before calling it a day. Hint: each gets very crowded as the evening progresses, so a nice time to visit is late afternoon (just after dusk).
We found two more markets on our last day: one circling St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the middle of Stephanplatz, a pedestrian retail area; and the other in a little suburb called Spittleburg where the displays ran along several of that town’s cobblestone streets. The latter was recommended to us by a local person and was very appealing because it was clearly regional, with many handmade goods and variety of food items.
It was a glorious way to get into the spirit of Christmas and plan for our holiday at home.We bought a couple of souvenir hot wine mugs and a porch decoration to commemorate this lovely part of our stay in Vienna.
We are currently in Munich and are looking forward to enjoying more Christmas markets here….