Vienna Christmas Markets, Part Three: Belvedere

All right, I might be biased. After all it’s right around the corner from my place. Still, in my opinion the ambience of this market is the most romantic in all Vienna, especially after dark. So what? Sue me!

Situated in front of (well, actually behind) Schloss Belvedere, the magnificent baroque palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy – itself well worth a visit –, this is, of course, one of the tourist hot spots of the Viennese winter. You might expect a veritable kitschfest as a result. However, that is not the case at all.

What you get instead is a medium-sized Christmas village with both hot beverages and artisans well represented. There is a carousel and a little train for children. Some of the vendors try to take up the baroque theme and sell tree decorations in that style. Of course, Christmas trees weren’t widespread until much later, so if you are a stickler for historical accuracy, you will find that appalling. On the other hand, the merchandise is quite beautiful. There is one booth with pretty embroidery, doilies, tablecloths and the like, and another one with nice woodcarvings. Almost the only vendor that doesn’t quite fit in is one selling Murano glass and Venetian masks. Yet that is beautiful, too, and I am in a forgiving mood tonight.

The food is quite good, as well, and again they are trying to stay true to the location by offering regional specialities from Savoy, especially several baked dishes with lots of cheese. Savoyard cuisine seems to be a lot like its Swiss cousin. There’s also specialities from Styria and the Tyrol, and, of course, lots of gingerbread and other sweets.

A nice touch on the way out, although it’s easy to miss in the dark, is that it is lined with several Christmas trees, each of which has been decorated by a different primary school.

Size: some 40 booths
Prices: average, hot beverages start at €3.20
Kitsch: surprisingly low
Special offer: the baroque palace, Savoyard specialities

Vienna Christmas Markets, Part Two: Am Hof and Freyung

Am Hof

Located closest to the very centre of Vienna, the square Am Hof has a rich history. It has got its name because the Babenberg dukes had their court here during the high middle ages. The square is still surrounded by magnificent buildings, although in one of the most prominent ones, the former Bank Austria headquarters, there has recently been a fire which left the square somewhat scarred.

The market is presented by a society of artists and artisans who also organise several markets throughout the year. Some of the exhibitors change over time, so there is always something new, even if you visit several times a year.

They strive for high quality, and most of the time they are quite successful. You can find lots of beautiful pottery, jewellery, and also some traditional Austrian artwork here.

There is definitely less of the usual kitsch than elsewhere. Also, the focus is clearly on the art, as opposed to food and drink, although there is still plenty of that, too.

High quality and a prime location result in premium prices, of course. No way around that.

Size: some 30 booths
Prices: high, hot beverages start at €3.50
Kitsch: low
Special offer: art

Freyung

Right next to Am Hof, between beautiful Palais Ferstl and the benedictine monastery called Schottenstift, there is the triangular square called Freyung with its Alt-Wiener Christkindlmarkt or Old Vienna Christmas market.

This is one of the smaller, and also quieter, Christmas markets in town, which I, for one, like a lot. It’s also a favourite among my friends.

As the name suggests, they are trying to focus on a traditional Viennese Christmas: wooden toys, pottery, tree decorations, and sweets, sweets, sweets (mostly gingerbread). There’s also a vendor selling baskets, another one for bread, ham, and cheese, as well as one for Christmas cards. You get the idea. Traditional Austrian tree decorations are not so much glass balls as stars made of straw, apples, gingerbread, and nuts, by the way.

On the opposite side, in front of Palais Ferstl, there is also a charity Christmas market, for people who need to quench their conscience as well as their thirst.

Size: some 20 booths
Prices: high, hot beverages start at €3.50
Kitsch: low
Special offer: tradition

Vienna Christmas Markets, Part One: Trkenschanzpark

It’s the holiday season. Halloween is over; outside my window I can see the first snow flakes of the year dancing in the wind, and since we in Europe don’t celebrate the “conquest and genocide of Native Americans by European colonists”, it’s time to get into the Christmas spirit. In Vienna, as in many other towns and cities, this means it’s time for various Chrismas markets and villages to open.

There are some 200 of those in the city. Most of them, typically charity events, are only open for a weekend or two and very small. A few are larger and open daily at least until Christmas, some even until after New Year’s.

One of those is located in one of the cities larger parks, the Türkenschanzpark. Situated on one of the hills that form the western border of Vienna in the middle of a rather posh residential area, it is usually filled with young families, old women, and their dogs. The christmas village has a rather good reputation, which is why we went there, although it’s quite far away from anywhere I would usually go in Vienna.

At first, we had a hard time finding it. We came into the extensive park at the other end. Lovely as it might be in daylight, at night the area is positively creepy.

When we finally found the market, the first impression was that it was disappointingly small, only 20 booths or so. In the dark it’s also hard for the park itself to work its charm. To be fair, just like the park, the market caters primarily to young families. There is a carousel and a playground nearby.

On the upside, it was pleasantly devoid of kitsch, plastic toys and the like. Instead, you found delicious waffles, nice traditional wooden toys and Christmas decorations, regional goods, and of course, hot punch and spiced wine. All in all a nice, familiar affair, worth a visit if you’re in the area anyway.

Size: some 20 booths
Prices: low, hot beverages start at €3.–
Kitsch: low to medium
Special offer: very good for children