From imperial palaces to world famous cafes, Vienna has plenty to keep visitors entertained all year round. But it is during the festive season that the Austrian capital really comes into its own.

Christmas Markets

In December the Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt), a tradition that goes back to the early 17th century, become the focus of all activity in Vienna. The biggest of them all takes place in front of the magnificent Rathaus (City Hall) (website:, which forms a majestic backdrop to what has to be one of the prettiest Christmas markets in Europe.

Over 140 stalls, selling such perennial favourites as candyfloss, roasted chestnuts, wursts (sausages), pickles jars and the ubiquitous gingerbreads, as well as baubles, candles and all manner of wooden and soft toys, attract a whopping 3 million visitors every year. The smell of spices and glühwein (mulled wine) permeates the air, and the multicoloured lights hanging in the trees above the square really do turn the whole area into a magical Christmas wonderland.

Another good place for visitors and locals to mingle around upturned barrels and sip the festive brew is Spittelberg, a maze of narrow cobbled streets between Burggasse and Siebensterngasse, and one of Vienna's most funky and arty neighbourhoods.
Spittelberg market is smaller and less touristy but just as atmospheric as the one at the Rathaus, with a more ethnic flavour. Also worth checking out is the market outside the imposing Karlskirche, as well as the one in the courtyard of Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace).

Imperial Vienna

Vienna was of course famous for being the home of the Hapsburg dynasty, the ruling House of Austria, and more particularly that of Elisabeth Amalia Eugenia, better known as Empress Sisi (incidentally born on Christmas Eve 1837), and immortalised on the silver screen by a young Romy Schneider.  

The city has retained much of its imperial grandeur, from the imposing complex of the Hofburg (website:, the emperor's winter residence, to a number of smaller private palaces, most of which will be open to visitors over the festive season. So step back in time... Maybe even treat yourself to a ride in a wonderfully old-fashioned horse-drawn caleche?

Galleries Galore

Or indulge in a visual feast in one of Vienna's many fascinating museums and art galleries. There are some fabulous paintings by Klimt and Schiele (two of Austria's most famous artists) in the permanent collection of both the Belvedere (home of the famous Kiss) (website: and the Leopold Museum (in the new MuseumQuartier district) (website:, while the Albertina (website:, another of the city's top galleries, currently features an exhibition of Picasso's late works, with almost 200 pieces including paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures (on until 7 January 2007).

A Night at the Opera

As befits a city that was once home to both Mozart and Strauss, and still attracts the biggest talents in the music world, Vienna boasts a plethora of music venues, from big theatres to smaller concert halls. The Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) (website: is the grandest of them all, and a must see for all opera lovers. 

This season it is possible to catch a performance of Der Rosenkavalier or Arabella (both by Richard Strauss), or visitors with youngsters in tow can opt for Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne, a children's special. Round the corner the Vienna Boys Choir (website: will be celebrating mass in the intimate setting of the Hofburgkapelle (24 and 25 December at 0900, booking essential). Glam up for the occasion, as the Viennese love dressing up!

Having a Ball

The New Year's celebrations kick off in true regal style at the Hofburg Palace with the Imperial Ball (Kaiserball) (website:, the first of the season, which lasts until mid February. This is one of the main events on the social calendar, where the crème de la crème of Viennese society, after a sumptuous gala dinner, take to the dancefloor and whirl and waltz the night away. A very original, but effective, way to burn off excess calories.

Happy New Year!

On New Year's Eve every year Vienna's city centre is transformed into one big street party, with a dozen stages providing free entertainment from early in the afternoon until the small hours. There will be something for all tastes, from (yet more) waltzes and operetta to rock music and folk, culminating in the Pummerin (Austria's biggest bell) in St Stephen's Cathedral ringing in the new year, followed by the Blue Danube Waltz. 

Another Viennese tradition, the popular hangover breakfast on the Rathausplatz, is accompanied by live transmission of the New Year's Day Concert given by the Vienna Philharmonic on a giant screen outside City Hall.  So wrap up warm, and celebrate the arrival of 2007 in style.

Photo credits: 
City Hall market ©
Spittelberg © Marie Peyre
Hofburg © Marie Peyre
Staatsoper © Wien-Tourismus
Kaiserball © Wien-Tourismus Heinz Angermayr

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