Do you want to brave the cold to visit Vienna in winter? You are totally right, it’s my favorite season here! In this article, I present to you my 100% winter favorites in the Austrian capital that you will find on the map at the end of the article to help you find your way around. On the program: Christmas markets, mulled wine, activities… Get your hats, and let’s go!
- Vienna in winter
- Things to do in Vienna in winter
- Christmas markets in Vienna
- New Year in Vienna
- Winter activity map of Vienna
- Our review of Vienna in winter
We lived in the city of Vienna from 2011 to 2013 and have been back several times since. This article has been completely revised and updated in October 2023. If you notice any price changes or have additional information that might be relevant, please leave us a comment!
Vienna in winter
Visiting Vienna in November, December, or January?
You are probably wondering whether it is better to come to Vienna in November or December in order not to miss any of the winter and festive activities. Well, it depends, because there are many things to see and do during the whole winter! Only, not all of them can be done at all times. Here is a quick overview:
- Vienna from the end of November to the end of December: December is without a doubt the best month to visit Vienna and enjoy the festive atmosphere of the city and the beautiful Christmas markets.
- Vienna in January: The decorations are still present in the streets, but all the Christmas markets have closed their doors. If your goal is to see the city under a beautiful white coat and to walk (or skate) on the frozen Danube, then this period is ideal, as there are many activities! Vienna is also a little less touristy in January, which tends to be reflected in the price of accommodation and flights.
The weather in Vienna in winter
Let’s say it right away, the Viennese winter is chilly! The thermometer will rarely show above 0°C between December and the end of February! In itself, this is nothing exceptional.
For me, the biggest difference between Austria and Switzerland is the wind. In the Lake Geneva region, we have a cold wind called “the bise”, which sometimes blows in winter. In Vienna, the “sometimes” becomes “constantly“. As a result, the temperatures felt are often lower than the actual temperatures.
Snow does not fall in abundance in the city of Mozart: there are usually between 3 and 5 days of snow per month during the winter. On the other hand, frost and ice are present almost all winter long.
But as many Viennese will tell you:
There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes!
So I decided to equip myself with something better than my poor coat and boots. I can tell you: with a really warm coat and furry boots, winter becomes (almost) a pleasure!
That’s all well and good, but what would make someone go outside at -20°C? As for me, I already had my dog who forced me to brave the cold 4 times a day 😉.
Things to do in Vienna in winter
Take a tour of the city with free tours
In Vienna, there are free guided walking tours, which are a great way to start your stay. Both day and night tours are 100% free but based on tips. Did you like it? Tip the guide! The amount will depend on the quality of the guide and also the size of the group. We usually leave between 5 and 10 euros per person. The guides are often very motivated and we have always found these tours to be very good. In winter, you will discover Vienna in a magical atmosphere!
Take a tour on the frozen Danube
Once the cold weather settles in the Austrian capital, it is not uncommon for the Danube to be frozen in places. Nice, you may say, but not enough to whip up a cat, I grant you.
But what is very nice is that the Danube separates into three main arms in town:
- the Danube Canal, which runs close to the city center;
- the New Danube;
- the Old Danube.
In winter, the frost settles everywhere, but the Old Danube often freezes completely, because it is the one that has the least current. As a result, this part of the river becomes a giant ice rink! The Viennese don’t hesitate to put on their ice skates for a walk or to play an improvised field hockey game.
Ice skating not being by far Fabienne’s favorite sport (6 attempts for 4 wrist fractures, ouch!), we opted for a simple walk on the ice and it’s nice to access the “beach” bars via the frozen pontoon!
Ice skating in Vienna
If skating is your hobby, then the appointment not to be missed is in front of the Rathaus in Vienna for the Wiener Eistraum (the Ice Dream)! Between January and March, the Christmas market of the city hall is replaced by a huge ice rink of 9500 m2.
What is also nice is that the ice rink is not just rectangular! It’s more like a course that crisscrosses the entire Rathausplatz with slightly wider surfaces where your talents can be expressed to their full potential and a second level, the Sky Rink, to skate while having a view of the square and the Rathauspark!
You can even have a drink in one of the bars along the track. The whole place is nicely lit by spotlights and the DJ is in charge of setting the mood in a disco style. Below, you will find the map designed by Peter Schönhardt, available on the website of the event.
On the other hand, prices are a bit expensive… Count 7,65 euros for the whole day if you buy your tickets online, almost the same amount to rent skates, and add about 3 euros for a locker. But if you are in Vienna between mid-January and March, it would be a shame not to enjoy an evening of skating in front of the most beautiful building in Vienna. We advise you to go there rather in the evening: everything is illuminated, which adds to the charm of the place.
As far as we are concerned, we didn’t light up the ice with our natural grace, but at least Fabienne didn’t break her wrist (bringing down her stats to 4/7, which is still honorable!).
After the ice skating session, you can attend a dinner show at the Rathauskeller, the restaurant located in the cellars of the city hall for an Austrian experience!
If you come to Vienna in November or December, other ice rinks open in the center:
- Eislaufverein, next to the Stadtpark, one of the largest and oldest ice rinks in the world;
- Engelmann, in the 17th district of Vienna, is the first artificial open-air ice rink in the world and has the particularity of being on the roofs of Vienna.
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But what is eisstock? Well, it’s a clever mix of bocce and curling! This sport (yes, it is!) dates back to the 16th century and originated in the Alpine countries before spreading to the rest of Europe and America. It was even presented twice at the Olympic Games!
If you are interested, you can find tracks in the inner courtyard of the Museumsquartier (in addition to nice decorations and light projections), in front of the Rathaus in the Wiener Eistraum, from the beginning of January, and at the Eisstock-Bahn Alte Donau, on the banks of the Old Danube.
A winter without sledding is not really a winter! At the end of the year, the Jesuit Lawn in the Prater is transformed into a giant toboggan run for young and old. Don’t hesitate to go to Kahlenberg, whether you want to go sledding or just walk around the snowy park and have a nice view of Vienna! You can get there on foot from the charming little village of Grinzing. Next door, there is also Cobenzl hill which offers the same possibilities near some wine cellars 😉.
Skiing in the Semmering
We often have a false image of Austria. When we decided to come to Vienna, we didn’t think too much about it and said to ourselves: “Great! In the country of the ski, we take our gear!”. Well, especially Benoit: this ski fanatic spent his weekends to ski in Switzerland… Well, once again, Vienna is not quite Austria in that respect! The surroundings of the capital are quite flat, and there are no big summits on the horizon…
For skiing, it’s rather in Tyrol, at the other end of Austria! Unfortunately, it is quite far for a simple day on the slopes. But don’t worry, there are still possibilities! Less than two hours from Vienna, you can ski in the Semmering, an area with less than a dozen lifts. It’s not the Eldorado of skiing, but you can still enjoy the good weather outside the city.
Enjoy the magic of the holidays
As Christmas approaches, Vienna is no stranger to the decorations that fill many cities around the world. I don’t know about you, but I have often found these decorations to have a kitschy feel to them. Even if we are completely aware of it, we still love it!
I particularly like Graben, THE pedestrian street of Vienna. Here, the huge suspended chandeliers are next to the decorations, all more impressive than the others, of the windows of the luxury stores, as well as the small more sober ornaments of the traditional Viennese cafés.
The Kärtner Strasse is also decorated with a thousand lights! It is the street for shopping (rather luxury shopping, we won’t hide it from you) and it stretches between the famous Vienna Opera House and the Stephansdom, often referred to as the epicenter of the city.
The Rotenturm Strasse is known for its huge red luminous balls that are hanging over the heads of passers-by. The Christmas spirit is there!
Don’t miss the decorations in front of the Rathaus either! Whether it’s during the Christmas market or in January, the illuminations are a sight to behold!
- If you need to warm up a bit (and also want to see something beautiful), don’t miss the interior of the Stephansdom, St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. The atmosphere is just magical!
- For a different atmosphere, opt for a concert in an exceptional setting! After all, what would the Austrian capital be without music? Find all the concerts in Vienna for a magical atmosphere!
- If you prefer to eat in a warm place, go to a Heuriger to taste the dishes of this typical Austrian restaurant! We tell you more here.
- The last option to warm up your body numb to the cold is to do a little tasting of local wines or beers. That’s right! Austria has a lot of wineries, especially in the east of the country.
Christmas markets in Vienna
From mid-November, you can visit more than ten Christmas markets in Vienna. You will find the locations of the different markets on the map below. We were great fans of these little breaks with friends around a mulled wine in the evening, after work. By the way, each Christmas market has its cups. They are offered a small deposit. But most people tend to keep them as souvenirs! We might as well tell you that we have a small collection at home 😉.
Here are the Christmas markets we think you shouldn’t miss if you visit Vienna between mid-November and the end of December:
The Karlsplatz Christmas market
This beautiful Christmas market dedicated to local arts and crafts is held every year in front of the Karlskirche, the church of St. Charles Borromeo. The fountain at Karlsplatz is emptied and filled with straw. Ponies, donkeys, goats and even woolly pigs (yes, you read that right!) will delight young and old. In the evening, small Christmas concerts are often held in front of the church, which gives this place a very special atmosphere! On the gastronomic side, we discovered the fladenbrot, a kind of pizza dough sprinkled with fresh cream with herbs, the whole generously decorated with garlic oil! Nothing too fancy for the figure, or even really sexy for the breath, but what a treat 😋.
The best thing about this Christmas market is an old carousel made only of recycled material! Here, no electrical system to make it move! Two bicycles are fixed on the edges of the carousel and it’s up to the parents, volunteers, or managers of the attraction, to pedal to make the children turn! I LOVE this ride!
The Christmas market in front of the Rathaus
This is probably the most popular Christmas market for tourists in Vienna. Indeed, it is located not far from the center and the setting is magnificent! The market is set up right in front of the Rathaus, which is then illuminated with a thousand lights. As mentioned before, the market gives way in January to the Wiener Eistraum, to ice skate in a magical environment!
At the stalls, you can find absolutely everything: Viennese handicrafts, Christmas ornaments, Austrian culinary specialties (käsekrainer, stuffed potato, Knödel)… To warm up the spirits, there are of course also a lot of mulled wine stands.
From the end of November to Christmas Eve (23.12), there are free concerts around the Rathaus.
- On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays: from 3:30 pm to 5 pm, choirs sing Christmas classics and traditional Austrian songs in the ballroom of the Rathaus. Admission is free and is at the Lichtenfeldgasse.
- Every day from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., choirs and brass bands perform under the large Christmas tree in the square.
- Every day, a brass band plays Christmas carols from the tower of the town hall between 8:30 and 9:00 pm.
Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace
Who doesn’t know Princess Sissi’s palace? Every year a Christmas market is held in the palace courtyard with traditional handicrafts and entertainment in an imperial setting. It is often very crowded on weekends, but on weekday evenings it is very pleasant to walk around and enjoy a cheese-stuffed potato with a good punch!
The Altes AKH Christmas market
This is our favorite! This Christmas market in the courtyard of the university campus is less touristy than the others because it is smaller and less blinged out: no ice rink, no ponies, and no big stage. It’s simply a market where it’s nice to walk around and enjoy the evening with friends around a good mulled wine!
The Spittelberg Christmas market
The Spittelberg Christmas market is a little different from the others. Instead of being held on a large square, it is held in a succession of small pedestrian streets (Spittelberggasse, Schrankgasse, Siebensterngasse, Burggasse, Gutenberggasse, and Stiftgasse). This market is more food and beverage oriented, even if you can find souvenirs and handicrafts too.
Personally, I really like these alleys! The architecture of the district is very particular and it’s nice to walk between these houses which date for the most part from the beginning of the 1800s with typical Biedermeier architecture.
The Prater Christmas market
Another nice Christmas market is the one at the foot of the Ferris wheel in Prater park. Smaller (just a few sheds on the main square), less “typical”, it allows you to warm up with a little punch at the foot of the magnificent Ferris wheel illuminated with Christmas colors. If the weather is clear, it’s also an opportunity to take a ride in the attraction to have a nice view of the surroundings!
Find all these markets on the map at the end of the article! For more ideas on how to get around in this festive atmosphere, see the list of Christmas markets in Vienna.
Don’t hesitate to brave the cold to go to the Christmas markets after dark: the atmosphere will be even more magical!
New Year in Vienna
Once you have digested the Christmas carp (yes, in Vienna you don’t eat turkey but carp!), you have to get back on track for the New Year’s Eve party. Vienna is a great city with many possibilities to go out!
For our last New Year’s Eve, we decided to do as we did the year before, i.e. not to go to a big nightclub or the philharmonic concert (a great tradition in Vienna), but rather to celebrate it with friends.
Taste the festive atmosphere of Vienna’s city center
Every year, the Silvesterpfad or New Year’s Eve path is specially laid out on December 31 in the early afternoon until the early morning of the first day of the year. Hundreds of thousands of people walk along the path and enjoy the huge open-air area! With entertainment, shows, concerts of all kinds, and food stalls, it has everything to celebrate the passage of the new year. In short, the atmosphere is guaranteed in the Prater and the city center!
At midnight, go to the Rathaus to see the fireworks display and the famous Stephansdom bell, the Pummerin, ringing. You will surely hear in the streets the tune of The Blue Danube, the famous waltz by Johann Strauss!
Attend a New Year’s concert in Vienna
If you are in Vienna for New Year’s Eve, take the opportunity to go to a concert! It’s a bit of a tradition here in Austria, one of the countries of classical music!
The most famous one is probably the New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the sublime golden hall of the Musikverein, broadcasted in more than 80 countries. To attend this concert, you have to book almost 1 year in advance (!) to try to get access to the ticket office thanks to a draw… If you don’t have tickets, don’t panic! You have the opportunity to watch the New Year’s Concert broadcast on a giant screen in front of the Rathaus on January 1 at 11:15 am for free 😉.
Another option is to go to the Vienna Opera House for Johann Strauss’ operetta The Bat. Here, tickets are more affordable than the Philharmonic concert: you can find pre-bookings on the Vienna Opera’s website.
Find other magical places to attend a New Year’s Eve concert in Vienna on Getyourguide.
Watching fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Vienna
The best thing, according to us, for the 31st is to take a little bit of height… Indeed, the passage of the new year in Vienna is celebrated with fireworks throughout the city. At the time, I was lucky enough to work on the top floor of a rather high building and that year, our boss let us have the keys so we could go and enjoy the view at midnight. I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the show… We’re sorry about the quality of the video… We were never Spielbergs, but back then, we weren’t the best equipped!
Because we don’t all have such a nice boss or a terrace at our disposal, I advise you to go to the Kahlenberg to see the lights. The hill overlooks the city and you will have a breathtaking view of Vienna illuminated by the colored jets!
As said before, a firework display is also fired from the city hall. Of course, the view will not be as breathtaking, but expect a crazy atmosphere!
To stay in Vienna at a lower cost, we recommend:
- youth hostels: there are really many in Vienna but our favorites are: Hostel Ruthensteiner Vienna, Wombat’s City Hostel Vienna Naschmarkt , and Boutique Hostel Vienna;
- hotels and apartments: this is often the most expensive option but you get the service or convenience that goes with it. An apartment can sometimes be more interesting financially if you travel with several people or then save on the restaurants during your stay (avoid the overdose of Schnitzel 😉). Regarding the area, prefer the city center or then near the street dedicated to shopping, Mariahilfer Strasse. To find a hotel or apartment in Vienna at the best price, go to Booking.
Winter activity map of Vienna
We have summarized on this map all the places not to be missed for an enchanting trip in Vienna in winter!
Our review of Vienna in winter
Visiting Vienna in winter is a charm of its own! Frankly, if you are not cold and/or if you have warm clothes, it would be a shame to miss it! Vienna is a great city to live in, and the magic of Christmas becomes clear when you let yourself get lost in the alleys.
Do you want to visit Vienna in December? Then put on your best Moonboots, take your biggest coat, and come to Vienna this winter for a good glass of mulled wine!
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