Oh, Vienna!

By | Category: Travel destinations

At this time of year in the UK, you’d be forgiven for wanting to stay indoors next to a radiator but in Vienna there’s plenty of reasons to wrap up warm and stride out. Whether you cram in culture or while away hours in a traditional cafe, the Austrian capital will win you over writes Kaye Holland

For some people, it’s the putting up of the Christmas tree which signals that the countdown to Christmas has officially begun. For others it is the sound of carols being sung, the smell of mince pies and mulled wine wafting through the air, skating at an al fresco ice rink or simply the fact that it is December which says: Christmas is just around the corner.

But for me Christmas is just isn’t Christmas without traipsing around a festive market shopping for stollen, Christmas baubles, hand-blown glass, beeswax et al while glugging gluhwein (hot punch) and gorging on gingerbread hearts.

You’ll find festive markets all across the UK but let’s face facts: they’re nothing compared to those of Vienna.

The elegant Austrian capital – easily one of Europe’s most beautiful towns – is fabulous all year round but there’s something undeniably special about the city during the holiday season, owing to its array of Instagram-worthy Yuletide markets. Dating back to the late 13th century when winter gatherings of traders were held around a town’s main church, they are the perfect place to soak up some festive goodwill (and gluhwein, natch) plus pick up the odd Christmas present. Make no mistake: Vienna’s Christmas markets have enough to tempt even the most dyed in the wool Yuletide grump.

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The king of the Christmas markets is arguably the one on Rathausplatz – home to Vienna’s tallest Christmas tree – where you can also play at being Torvill and Dean by lacing up your skates and gliding across a 4,000m2 fairytale ice trail, for added festive sparkle.

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Other markets that reward a visit include the Old Viennese Christmas Market on Freyung – aka one of  Vienna’s most picturesque squares – the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz where you can shop till you drop for Christmas gifts while being serenaded by gospel choirs and Austrian brass bands, and the Belvedere Palace Advent Market. Situated in front of the splendid Baroque Belvedere Palace it sells everything from stollen to sauerkraut.

For further festive flavour, make a pilgrimage to the Perzy Snow Globe Museum – the purveyor of glass snow globes which, with their lovingly created winter landscapes, have enchanted people for over 100 years.  Around 200,000 pieces are produced here every year by Erwin Perzy 111 – the grandson of snow globe inventor, Erwin Perzy – who insists on keeping the recipe for artificial snow, a family secret…

snow-gobes

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But if you really want to feel festive, you need to go the gala evening of the Christmas in Vienna concert – one of the most renowned christmas concerts in all of Europe – over at the stunning Wiener Konzerhaus. Expect an assortment of festive music from around the world brought to you by international celebrities of the concert scene such as Angela Denoke, Vesselina Kasarova, Dmyrto Popov, Gunter Haumer and accompanied by the Vienna Boys Choir. Just don’t forget to dress up: casual clothing may cut it in other European cities, but not so in Vienna.

concert

Yet as magical as the Austrian capital is at Christmas, there’s plenty to do in Vienna at anytime of year – particularly in 2017 when the Austrian capital’s calendar will creak with festivals and events to commemorate anniversaries ranging from 150 years of the Blue Danube Waltz (get the backstory on Johann Strauss’ world famous waltz at the Museum of the Johann Strauss Dynasty’s special exhibition from 16 Feb-31 Dec, www.strauss-museum) to the 300th birthday of Archduchess Maria Theresa.

street

Although she was never actually crowned Empress, the Habsburg ruler was one of the most influential leaders in European history – numerous reforms date back to her rule. From 15 March to 29 November 2017, the large scale 300 Years of Maria Theresa: Strategist Mother-Reformer exhibition  will take up residence at four locations across the city, while the Belvedere will be looking at the monarch’s relationship with fine arts at the upcoming 300th Birthday Exhibition of Maria Theresa exhibition (30 June- 5 Nov). The Austrian National Library is also getting in on the act and is set to stage the Maria Theresa: Habsburg’s most powerful woman exhibition from 17 February to 5 June 2017.

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However if that sounds too much like a history lesson (well you are on your holidays after all) and you’re after something a tad more chilled, why not while away a few hours in a traditional  Viennese cafe?

To read the second part of Oh, Vienna!, don’t forget to log onto the Just About Travel website tomorrow!

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

For more Vienna ideas and inspiration, visit www.wien.info/en

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