Vienna travel guide: Europe’s ‘best’ Christmas market destination | Europe | Travel

Vienna is home to over 20 official Christmas market, with an array of smaller markets (Image: Getty Images)

Express.co.uk was hosted in Vienna by IHG Hotels and Resorts.

“We’re heading into our busiest season, so there will be no rest for me until January,” joked our server while we enjoyed dinner at InterContinental Vienna, which overlooks the city’s Stadtpark.

Though the crowds of festive holidaymakers had already begun to make their way to the sparkling lights of Vienna’s many Christmas markets when we visited in mid-November, the Austrian capital is set to become even busier as December hits.

When planning a Christmas market holiday, though Krakow, Prague or Bruges might immediately spring to mind, recent research has named Vienna as the number one Christmas market destination for holidaymakers in winter 2023, surpassing the likes of Paris and London. Based on search data gathered by Mega Dice, there are over 45,000 hashtags about the Christmas markets in Vienna, which ranks the city above the likes of London, Paris, Berlin and Prague.

And even though the first winter snow had not yet fallen, our trip to the metropolis pushed us headfirst into the festive spirit.

Getting to Vienna

Vienna is just a short flight from the UK, taking an average of two hours and 15 minutes from most London airports, two hours and 25 minutes from Manchester and two hours and 40 minutes from Vienna. You can fly to the Austrian capital direct from the UK with a few airlines, including Ryanair, Wizz Air, Austrian Airlines, British Airways and Jet2, depending on which departure airport you choose.

If you are planning on visiting Vienna for a Christmas holiday, there are some great deals available on flights and even city break package holidays right now.

At the time of writing, you can jet off from Leeds Bradford Airport on a direct flight to Vienna with Jet2 for just £47 per person on December 18, 2023. Or, if you’re after a package holiday, Jet2CityBreaks has a selection of deals which include stays in hotels just a stone’s throw from some of Vienna’s markets, as well as flights and luggage.

On our visit, we flew direct from London Heathrow with Austrian Air, and despite a rocky year for the travel industry littered with cancellations and delays, our journey went off without a hitch. Some of the best prices on flights with Austrian Air are available when you book in advance, but even at the time of writing, the flag-bearing airline has seats available from £150 in December.

Take a trip to Vienna’s Christmas markets

Staying in Vienna

Home to over 400 hotels, there is plenty of choice when planning your trip to Vienna, whether you’re choosing your stay based on location, price, amenities or vibe.

We checked into the near enough brand new Hotel Indigo Naschmarkt, which first opened its doors in 2023. This chic, modern escape is discreetly tucked back from the urban hustle and bustle, and you might not even realise it is there at first glance.

However, set behind a contemporary, angular facade, is a stylish, greenery-filled retreat that provides a quiet, boutique stay. The hotel is part of the IHG Hotels and Resorts family and offers four levels of room type, some of which, including the one we stayed in, come with your own outdoor courtyard seating area. 

Bedroom at Hotel Indigo Vienna

Certain rooms at Hotel Indigo Naschmarkt come with their own private balcony or terrace (Image: Hotel Indigo / IHG Hotels and Resorts)

The design, like most Hotel Indigo locations around the world, is done so with unique nods to the local area that it calls home. The hotel layout, with rooms surrounding a courtyard, is reminiscent of traditional apartments in the Viennese city.

Inside, Hotel Indigo gives subtle nods to Vienna straw furniture, a type of weave with an octagonal pattern often found in bistros. There’s a lampshade in the bedroom, the woven hanging chairs on the terrace and you can even see the delicate pattern woven into the hallway carpets.

There’s a trendy, luxe lobby bar, providing the perfect solace to enjoy an aperitif or nightcap, and downstairs, Hotel Indigo’s restaurant is an explosion of greenery. Take a seat among the variety of plants and enjoy brunch or dinner.

A stay here is perfect for those seeking a hip, boutique experience, with average prices starting at approximately £130 per night. You can learn more about a stay at Hotel Indigo Naschmarkt in our full review here.

Alternatively, if you want to splurge on a stay that has a little of that classic hotel glamour, and is also even closer to some of Vienna’s main Christmas markets, a stay at IHG Hotels and Resorts InterContinental Wien could be more your speed.

The 1960s hotel is tucked in a vast, concrete building that really doesn’t match the old-world ritz inside. You can expect sparkling chandeliers at every turn, a grand carpeted staircase and staff dressed in traditional, white, luxury uniforms. 

InterContinental hotel entry way

You’ll be greeted at InterContinental Vienna by a vast, sparkling chandelier – with even more inside (Image: IHG Hotels and Resorts / InterContinental)

One of the most eye-catching features of the huge lobby is an American-style bar, set beneath a draping of quadrangle crystals.

When it was first built in 1964, the 39-metre-tall complex was an icon of the jet-set golden years of travel. Though it holds on to many of its traditional accents, InterContinental has also integrated modern amenities, including the Parlor restaurant serving up a “Taste of Lebanon” by chef Khaled Akoum.

The restaurant is just a taste of the rich and diverse selection of global cuisines on offer in the Austrian capital. The hotel has previously been a refuge for guests including David Beckham. A stay at InterContiental can be booked for an average of £200 per night.

However, if you are looking for a simple, purse-friendly stay, IHG Hotels and Resorts Holiday Inn Vienna City can be booked for an average of £107 a night.

The hotel won a TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award this year, and though it’s not slap bang in the heart of the city, main attractions can be reached in around 15 to 20 minutes on foot.

Vienna’s Christmas Markets

Vienna lights up as the festive season begins, with over 20 official Advent markets dotted across the ornate city.

While there are plenty to choose from, perhaps the most famous is the Viennese Christmas Market on City Hall Square, Christkindlmarkt am Rathausplatz, which welcomes guests through its tall, sparkling gateway to explore an array of quaint stalls filled with festive goodies and seasonal treats.

Pop on your ice skates and glide around the illuminated City Hall Park or wander past the illuminated tree of hearts. For little ones, there’s a 12-meter-high multi-level carousel that twinkles as it turns and looks particularly enchanting against the blanket of nightfall.

We stopped to pick up Spritzgebäck, a traditional Viennese finger biscuit where each end is dipped in creamy chocolate, with a tangy orange centre sandwiched between the shortbread fingers.

Ice rink at city hall square

City Hall Square’s Christmas market has an ice rink surrounded by sparkling lights (Image: IHG Hotels and Resorts)

Another favourite from the trip was the Christmas Village Belvedere Palace, where the Christmas lights twinkle in front of the stunning Baroque palace.

The market here is known for its food offering, with plenty of Austrian options including sausages and potato rounds. The market overlooks a large lake decorated with glistening star lights, where the palace can be seen reflected in the glassy waters below. Once you’ve finished up your mulled wine, why not walk off the treats in the stunning palace gardens?

As well as the larger markets, there are also a few smaller ones dotted across the city, including

You can see a full list of all of Vienna’s Christmas markets and their opening times on the official Austria website.

christmas lights at Belvedere Palace

The Christmas lights at Belvedere Palace are beautiful (Image: Getty Images)

What to do in Vienna

Of course, you can spend a weekend trip visiting all of Vienna’s Christmas markets, but there is so much to do beyond Vienna’s Christmas markets. Some of our favourite hours were spent simply ambling the streets of the city, taking in the stunning Baroque architecture and stumbling on hidden cobbled courtyards.

Art lovers and those with a keen eye for 20th-century design should pay a visit to Hundertwasser House on the corner of Kegelgasse and Löwengasse.

There are hardly any straight lines to be found in this colourful, modernist residential complex by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser which was built between 1983 and 1985. The building can only be viewed from the outside, but right opposite is the Hundertwasser Village, which is open to visitors. The artist created his own shopping centre with a “village square”, a bar and stores in his style.

Hundertwasser House

Hundertwasser House is an explosion of colour (Image: Getty Images)

And speaking of art, the MuseumsQuartier is not to be missed. The former imperial court stables for around 600 horses and 200 carriages is now home to over 60 cultural institutions. Among its main attractions are the Leopold Museum, which holds a vast Schiele collection, the MUMOK Museum of Modern Art, and Austria’s Museum of Architecture, Architekturzentrum Wien.

Head further into the heart of Vienna, where you will find the grand, gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral, which at 136 meters in height, is the tallest church in Austria. Located in the bustling Stephansplatz, the cathedral is free to enter and take in the stunning architecture, but for an added cost you can book a tour of its catacombs or climb both of the cathedral’s towers.

And with great composers a crucial part of Vienna’s heritage, it’s worth paying a visit to the grand Vienna State Opera, where guided tours last approximately 40 minutes.

Every evening, 10,000 music enthusiasts listen to live classical music in Vienna, and Christmas is a particularly busy time for live performances thanks to its annual advent concert schedule. You can find out more about the schedule for 2023 here.

Dining and drinking

Bursting with culture, there really is something for everyone to enjoy in Vienna, from local, Austrian cuisine to unique, globally-inspired dishes. Before we had even packed our bags, I’d heard a lot about the city’s coffeehouse culture, and Central Cafe located in the inner city seemed to be the main tourist hangout. 

This Art Deco haunt is not your typical cafe, with grand arched ceilings and marble columns throughout. It’s a must-do for those who want to enjoy some delicious Austrian sweet treats to the backdrop of a tinkling piano. But be warned, it’s a hit with tourists and you might struggle to get a table without booking ahead.

Parlor restaurant at Intercontinental

Experience a taste of Lebanon from chef Khaled at InterContinental’s Parlor (Image: IHG Hotels and Resorts / InterContinental )

For dinner, we ventured to Parlor at InterContinental Hotel, where we experienced a “Taste of Lebanon” by chef Khaled Akoum. Here, you can expect staff who greet you like an old friend and take a genuine interest in your day.

The menu has a wide range of dishes to choose from and caters well to those with vegan and vegetarian diets – which was a huge bonus for us. The mezze platters are a great option if you can’t decide on a dish, and are perfect for sharing.

Although we were almost too full for dessert, Chef Khaled specially crafted a dessert selection plate for us with a little taste of everything on the menu – which we gladly found some room for. Think pancakes, stuffed with walnut, and bitesize vanilla cream cake, all drizzled with a super sweet syrup.

City of Vienna, Austria

There is so much to see and do in Vienna at Christmas (Image: Getty Images)

During our stay, a cosy ramen restaurant just a short walk from our hotel caught our eye one evening.

Our interest was piqued by a review on TripAdvisor, describing it as the “best ramen house in Vienna”. Karma Ramen is a small, quirky restaurant serving up a decent selection of Ramen bowls and side dishes, with plenty of choice for vegetarians and vegans.

Given the size of the restaurant, it’s probably best to reserve. Noodles here are made fresh every day and many ingredients are sourced from regional suppliers. Though I certainly haven’t tried enough of Vienna’s ramen houses to decide whether Karma Ramen is the “best”, the Yasai Ramen was the perfect way to warm up after a chilly, festive day.

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