Historic markets flourish in Vienna from Advent to Christmas and at Easter as this beautiful Austrian city transforms itself into a food shopper’s paradise
Magical Atmosphere Overtakes Vienna
As if Vienna weren’t magical enough, this Austrian city transforms itself into a paradise for shoppers starting with Advent. The magic continues through Christmas and into January when sale prices of up to 70% off, combined with the removal of the VAT tax (around 20%) that is taken off at the airport if you get your bills signed at listed shops, makes for wondrously low prices on your purchases.
Christmas Markets Date Back to 1296
Christmas markets in Vienna date back to 1296, when Emperor Albrecht 1 allowed the Viennese to organize a “Decembermarkt” to ensure enough supplies for the city. In the 16th century, the name was changed to “Thomasmarkt” and the fair took place around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. As well as goods such as textiles and groceries, treats from pastry chefs were offered for the first time.
Custom of Giving at Christmas
The custom of giving small Christmas gifts started around 1814 in Vienna at the time of the “Wiener Kongress”. One market was located at Am Hof and like any market of the time it sold bread, candles, vegetables and meats, as well as household goods and boots. But this market also offered Christmas goods such as silver-coated nuts, candles, tinsel, etc. – known from invoices dating back to this period.
Special Christmas Markets
Highlight of a December visit is the fairytale landscape created for the huge Christmas Market on the grounds of the Viennese Rathaus or Town Hall. Called the Christkindlmarket, its more than 140 stalls stay open from November 18 through December 23 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 5 o’clock on Christmas Eve. The Rathaus fills with the aroma of cotton candy, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, great for warming cold hands. There is always a beautifully decorated Christmas tree as well as a wonderful Christmas creche and row upon row of small stalls selling Austrian food specialties and gifts – from hand-made soaps and candles to hand-carved nativity scenes and hand-painted enamel ware, Christmas ornaments, straw dolls, incense, Christmas wreaths, ginger cookies and, of course, marzipan. Children love this market. The Rathausplatz is in the First District,,1010 Vienna. See www.christkindlmarkt.at.
The Am Hof Market
Smaller than the Christkindlmarkt, the Am Hof Kunsthandwerksmarkt functions as the “Old Vienna art and antique market” all year ’round. At Christmastime, it’s fun to be there on a Saturday morning when the bratwurst is sizzling and the chestnuts roasting. Located in Vienna’s First District, it’s just off the Graben, one of the most glitzy shopping streets in the city. You can take a fiaker (horse and buggy) from Stephansplatz (20 minutes for up to four people costs around 45 to 50 euros) after visiting nearby St. Stephans Cathedral.
Food Heaven Right Near Am Hof
To top off a visit to Vienna’s markets, almost every visitor to the city strolls into Julius Meinl, food emporium par excellence. This is to gourmets what Walt Disney is to children and besides fruits and vegetables, the ultimate in wines,cheeses and chocolates from the best chocolatiers, There is a cafe, a restaurant and coffees reflecting the glorious history of coffee shops in Vienna.