Like the classical music Vienna is famed for, the streets flow like a symphony. The elegant trimmings of the buildings read like musical notes, while the white stone is the paper on which they are written. Inside, the ceilings of museums and cathedrals are raised high with buttresses and marbled columns, giving the grandiose frescos that adorn them a stage to harmonize their melodies.
While it can stand anytime on its own, this classical atmosphere makes for a fantastic pairing with Christmas’s nostalgic and graceful spirit. Vienna holds an outstanding vibrancy during the Christmas season with inviting markets spread throughout the city, warm mulled wine on every street corner, and twinkling lights arched over busy streets.
We arrived in Vienna on the evening of Christmas Eve. While some might think travel on Christmas Eve is insane, we found it to be mellow, pleasant, and, most importantly, inexpensive. Upon arrival to our hotel, Le Méridien, we were ready for a meal and some Christmas champagne. Luckily, the hotel restaurant was open and boasted green velvet seating, dim lights, and black marbled tables, which made for a cozy and elegant holiday meal.
We had many exciting plans for Christmas day. After having a delightful breakfast at the hotel, we set off for our first Christmas market. Vienna has many markets conveniently located outside of landmark locations. The closest one to our hotel was nestled between the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Museum of Natural History in the Maria-Theresien-Platz. Even though this is considered a “smaller” market, I was thoroughly enchanted by its charm. Vendor booths made of rustic wood and trimmed with holiday greenery lined the walkways. They were filled with trinkets and souvenirs such as hand-painted ornaments, woodwork crafts, winter accessories, jewelry, and more. Smoke from food trucks wafted through the air and delivered scents of sausages, langos, chestnuts, and mulled wine to our cold noses.
We explored this market for a bit, then decided to pop into the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I was amazed by the diverse and beautiful collections held here. They had a vast array of Roman and Greek antiques, including large displays of ancient Greek pottery which I’m particularly fond of. The picture gallery was stunning and curated with famous pieces that I recognized from my studies in art history. Finally, the Kunstkammer Wein collection, a collection of royal antiques made of rare materials dating between the Middle Ages to the Baroque period, stunned us with their details and vitality. We spent quite a bit of time here marveling and left feeling hungry. So, we exited the museum and feasted on langos and Vienna sausages in the market.
We went to a classical music concert at the Schönbrunn Palace on Christmas night. We had friends from home visiting Vienna for Christmas as well, so we met up with them at the Schönbrunn Christmas Market before the event. The ticket package we bought included dinner at Café Restaurant Residenz before the show. We enjoyed a 3-course meal of dumpling soup, slow-cooked beef, and apple strudel. After dinner, we headed to the concert hall, where the arched white walls were adorned with dazzling projections of stars and baroque-inspired shapes. While I am unfamiliar with classical music, I found it to be beautiful and moving. Listening to such a impressive art form on Christmas night while sipping champagne made me feel fancy and elegant.
After the show, we went with our friends for a post-concert drink at 1516 Brewing Company. This darkly lit bar had two floors, and I was surprised at how lively it was. However, I was even more astonished by how much I enjoyed their goulash soup. I still think about it often, especially during cold evenings. It was a relaxing and pleasant way to end our busy Christmas day.
The following day, we had reservations at Belvedere Palace. This historic building hosts enchanting rooms with gleaming chandeliers and many famous art pieces. I was most excited to see works from the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt and was mystified by how beautiful his most renowned work, “Kiss,” was in person. Pictures online and in textbooks simply don’t capture its dazzling shine. It felt like it was glowing with inner light and basking the viewers in that warmth. I also really enjoyed viewing Klimt’s paintings of flowers due to his subtle use of color and form.
Just like yesterday, we left the museum feeling famished. Thankfully, there was a Christmas market outside the palace where we snacked on sausages and potato pancakes. Like the market we visited the previous day, the Belvedere Christmas Market was filled with unique stalls where I found a beautiful amber ring and some hand-painted ornaments.
We had some time to kill between visiting the Belvedere Christmas market and our dinner reservation that night, so we took a quick rest at our hotel before exploring the inner ring of the city. Here, we visited St Stephen’s Cathedral with its geometric-tiled roof, and St Peter’s Catholic Church with its angelic baroque interior. When it was time, we headed to Meissl & Schadn for some traditional Wiener schnitzel. This restaurant is famed for its classic method of cooking Wiener schnitzel by only frying flattened veal. The outcome is a dish that can hardly fit on the plate! The tender and warm deep-fried meat recharged our weary feet.
On the last morning of our stay, we took the subway towards the river to Fenster Café for their famed coffee in an ice cream cone, which they call a “Fensterccino.” While a bit pricey for a coffee, this creation was unique and delectable. The cone was balanced with an inner layer of chocolate that melted into the coffee. They serve these at a small to-go window, so we took our coffees with us as we explored the many hidden alleyways lined with shops that twist throughout the city. My favorite part about shopping in Vienna is the number of antique shops. We found many windows adorned with antique jewelry, home décor, books, clothing items, and art. Between window browsing, we sipped mulled wine at the Christmas market outside Ausgrabungen Michaelerplatz, attempted to go to the Austrian National Library (it was temporarily closed), and walked through the Burggarten to see a historic statue of Mozart.
For dinner that night, we were craving ramen (great Asian food is a bit difficult to find where we live in southern Spain), so we headed to a restaurant called Chen’s for some soul-saving, authentic, handmade noodle soup. With our stomachs warm and full, we returned to our hotel to get some rest before our adventure to Prague the following morning.
Overall, Vienna is a stunning and clean city that I highly recommend for those interested in the classical arts or the baroque period. There were so many more museums that I would have loved to visit, but 3 days was not enough time to see them all. Despite that, I still feel like I soaked in a lot of culture during my stay, and I will remember Vienna as a place that feels as smooth as the rosin on a violin bow.