Just to be clear, this isn’t intended to be a guide FOR clueless Americans, but rather, it’s a guide BY a clueless American. It’s a distinction I want to make because this is only my second year in Vienna, and I’m not, by any means, a Christmas market expert. (I would, rather, consider myself a Christmas market enthusiast.)
We’ve been to a lot of Christmas markets, and we’re planning to visit even more this year, so I’m going to go through a few at a time, as we visit them, and share my thoughts and observations on our visits to many of Vienna’s best known Christmas markets — what each is like, what you might find there, our favorite and least favorite parts, and (perhaps most relevantly to me) what there might be to entertain the kids at each location.
Am Hof — I was impressed by how early the Am Hof market opened — early November, as opposed to mid-to-late November for the rest of Vienna’s Christmas markets. It’s a relatively small market, and it can be VERY crowded (especially on the weekends and in the evenings) and most particularly in the central area where most of the Punsch and wine stalls are located and where Radio Wien has an area where they play music. There are some nice things to eat and drink, and although most of the tables are located in the center section, there are also a few scattered about near other food stands, so you can choose to be amongst the throngs of socializing people, or further towards the edges where the crowds are a little thinner. Am Hof seems to focus on artisan and handmade goods (although a fair number seem to be made beyond Vienna and Austria — including an odd focus on Peruvian items). It’s a nice, small market for a quick stop. There isn’t anything for the kids to do, but a lot for them to look at (which can be good or bad — on the one hand, there are lots of things to see, on the other hand, there are a lot of delicate items at children’s eye level, so there’s a lot to say “no” to . . . and there are a lot of candy/chocolate/gingerbread/sweet shops). This is Benjamin’s favorite Christmas market, principally because of the candy shop near the entrance and the fact that this is where we purchased his new, red earmuffs.
Rathaus — The Rathaus is the most famous of the Viennese Christmas markets. It is HUGE, crowded, crazy and touristy, with lots of drunk revelers, ESPECIALLY on the weekend evenings, where it becomes more of a party rather than a market. Most of the items for sale are pretty cheap and not really worth purchasing, unless you’re in the market for something cheesy. There is a little bit of good food (especially the stand with the chocolate fountain) but the lines at the food stands are generally very long. However, it’s a Viennese icon, and it’s worth visiting at least once. The lights decorating the Rathauspark are amazing, and the Christmas tree in the market in front of the Rathaus itself is beautiful and impressive. There are several fun kid-specific activities, but they’re a bit off the beaten path of the central market: an all-ages train that runs through the park under the lights, pony rides, a carousel and another children’s train.
Spittelberg — This is a nice, small market on a single, narrow street near Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier. Because the street is very narrow, it can be crowded and hard to navigate (especially with kids). The small size and shape of the market can be nice, though, because it feels kind of intimate, and it’s easy to make sure you catch all of the market stalls. Other than a few small toy/puzzle shops, there isn’t much there for the kids to do, or even to look at. It’s a quick visit, though, and very nicely decorated. There is also a phenomenal chocolate shop — featuring many chocolates made in Austria — at the bottom of the street. They have an actual shop, as well as a market stall. (They also have a stall at the Maria-Theresienplatz market.)