I kept waiting to write this because I was hoping to make it to a few more markets before the end of the season . . . but they continued to elude me. I couldn’t find the right time to go, the weather didn’t cooperate, we got busy with other things. And then, Christmas was upon us and I took a break and a vacation from writing the blog to relax and spend more time with my family. And, the upshot is that we ended up visiting the same 9 Christmas markets this year that we saw last year, and I’m just now getting around to finishing up recording our experiences. (I’ve already shared my thoughts on the Am Hof, Rathaus, Spittelberg, Maria-Theresienplatz, Freyung and Karlsplatz markets.)
And yes, I realize it’s now after Christmas and all of the markets (even the few that stayed open through New Year’s Eve) have been closed up and packed away until next year. But, perhaps this will be useful in future years. So, in the spirit of “better late than never”, I present my thoughts on visiting three more of Vienna’s Christmas markets:
AKH — This market, on the grounds of part of the University of Vienna (I believe it’s the medical school, but I’m not sure) is just far enough off of the beaten track of tourist venues to have a diffrent feel from the other markets. Before about 6 in the evening, it’s a very quiet market, with a lot of handcrafted (but not very many Austrian) items. There are a lot of varieties and options in terms of drinks (including several specialty/gourmet Punsch options) but only a few places to pick up food (the selection does, however, include an entire stand devoted to cupcakes). In general, the crowd here is young and single (probably owing to the university location) and a lot of the market stalls reflect the age and tastes of the customers — lots of shops selling candles, woolen hats and wall decorations, and decidedly fewer selling fine food or artful home decor. They do have a section of nice (if odd — the carousel contains a Mickey Mouse with glowing red eyes) children’s rides at a reasonable price. (Wednesdays also offered children’s rides at a discount.) The center of the market is built around a kind of bocce ball court which is the focus of a lot of the activity and socialization. I’ve had several of my local, Austrian friends recommend this market, and that doesn’t surprise me — the Punsch is good and the atmosphere is less commercial. I imagine that after years of wading through the tourists at the Rathaus or the Freyung, something like AKH is a welcome change. (Although, along with the less touristy feel came a much lower percentage of English-speaking vendors.) Aside from taking the kids on the rides, we didn’t spend a lot of time here, but I imagine that teenagers and young adults would particularly enjoy this market.
Schonbrunn — It’s just not possible for the other markets to compete with the setting of Schonbrunn. The market is laid out right in front of the massive and beautiful summer palace, and, if you find yourself in Vienna around Christmas, you should absolutely go. It’s a bit of a trek by public transport from the center of Vienna (takes about 30-40 minutes) but it’s well worth it. Of course, because it’s lovely, the tour buses pull up out front and unload mobs of tourists, so it’s always busy and crowded. But, the market has a wide variety of wares for sale (with a lot of duplication from best of the retailers from the other markets), some of the best food we’ve had at a Christmas market (the krapfen, freshly made and filled to order are a special treat), and lots of warm drinks (including hot chocolate, which is surprisingly hard to find at a Christmas market). Because this is a big market, housed in front of the palace, it can be really cold, and even windy as you meander through the stalls (most other markets, held in squares or on narrow streets can be quite cozy and warmer than you’d expect). They don’t have any rides or entertainment for the kids, but the grounds are vast and just around the back of the palace. We’ve found the Schonbrunn market one of the best to visit with the kids, because when they get bored, we can wander the grounds for an hour and then come back to the market when everyone is cold and ready for a warm drink. The market at Schonbrunn is really not to be missed. (This market is also one of the few that is open between Christmas and New Year’s, but I’ve never been after Christmas.)
Belvedere — The Belvedere market also benefits from a lovely setting. It’s a small-to-medium sized market, with a lot of focus on food and drink and socializing. There are some nice items for sale in the market stalls, but I noticed a lot of vendors from countries around Austria — the Czech Republic and Hungary, in particular — and fewer local ones. Since Belvedere is also not in the main tourist area of the city, the prices seem to be a bit lower and the crowds are a bit thinner. Every time I’ve been to the Belvedere market, there has been some kind of live music, and since (unlike other markets) the stage is located in the center of the market, it’s a real focus. They do have a few small children’s rides off to one side, as well. It’s a very nice market to soak up some music, laughter, conversation and Christmas spirit.