In spite of, or perhaps due to, the fact that Vienna becomes pitch dark by 4:30pm in the month of December, there’s a lot to do all day long and the short days are hardly a deterrent to anyone looking to have a festive Christmas season in Vienna. Maximizing the limited daylight is important though and we made a real effort to get out with the sun in the morning so we could get some good pictures of all the landmarks before the sun went down.
It does mean that visiting Vienna over the advent season is a totally different experience than visiting in the summer when the days drag out well into the evening and everything is bursting with life. Fortunately, the Viennese are determined not to let the dark and sometimes gloomy weather keep them indoors. There are the famous Christmas markets all around the city, with the most famous being the one in front of the Rathaus. At these markets, you can fight the bundled up crowds to buy unique handicrafts and souvenirs or you can gorge yourself on delicious street food, best washed down with a steaming mug of Glühwein (delicious Austrian mulled wine) or if you’re of the teetotaling persuasion Kinderpunsch is also on offer.
If all the anticipatory shopping and the smell of spiced wine isn’t enough to beat back the midwinter blues, the Viennese have also decided to light up the night by stringing all the trees with giant lights in all manner of festive shapes, from gifts to animals. The Rathaus itself is all decked out for the season, the façade having been transformed into a massive advent calendar, counting out the days until Christmas. Giant lamps in the shape of candles also serve to light the whole scene. Getting a look at the Rathaus from across the street is an unforgettable sight.
If you don’t want to spend all of your time milling through markets (though you certainly could) no worries. The museums are all still open up until Christmas Eve as is the Hundertwasser Haus (a Vienna must-see) and most other main attractions. You also can’t forget the giant Vienna Ferris wheel, a fun way to get great views during the day or an eerily old-fashioned experience by night with the city lights below. There are also a number of attractions that are set up especially for winter. There are skating rinks and even ice set up for a curling tournament when we were there. The main shopping streets like Mariahilfer Strasse are also bustling with activity as last-minute sales draw in lots of holiday shoppers. Grabbing a cup of coffee and watching the crowds go by is a great way to spend an hour or so.
Advent in Vienna was an unforgettable experience, steeped in holiday tradition and also a fierce sense that the lack of daylight is not going to keep the city from enjoying itself. Definitely recommend you see for yourself.