There are so many reasons to enjoy Christmas in Austria. Cities are dressed to impress with twinkling fairy lights and giant Christmas trees, Christmas markets entice visitors with their tempting aromas of roasting chestnuts and gingerbread, and snowy landscapes put everyone in the festive spirit. There really is nothing quite like a White Christmas in Austria.
Have I convinced you that it’s time you visited Austria at Christmas time? If you’d love to experience a European white Christmas, Austria is a great choice as it offers something for everyone.
Once you’ve agreed that Austria is your destination of choice, next up is deciding exactly where to go in Austria for Christmas and there are plenty of enticing options for you to choose from as you’ll read below.
- 1. Things to do in Vienna at Christmas time
- 2. Innsbruck Christmas Activities
- 3. Salzburg Christmas Celebrations
- 4. Christmas in Graz
- 5. Christmas in St. Anton am Arlberg
- 6. Christmas in Zell am See - Kaprun region
- 7. Christmas in Kitzbuhel
- 8. Christmas in Mayrhofen
- 9. Christmas at Wolfgangsee
- 10. Christmas in Bregenz
- 11. Austrian Christmas traditions
Things to do in Vienna at Christmas time
Let’s start with the capital, Vienna where there are a mix of activities to experience. This is widely regarded as the best place in Austria for Christmas festivities.
Music lovers will be in their element in Vienna during the lead up to Christmas with plenty of performances to watch.
Enjoy an advent concert in St. Stephen’s Cathedral’s annual advent concert where you’ll hear a mix of chamber music, carols, and works by Mozart, Bach, Schubert, and Haydn performed by the Wiener Kammer Orchester.
Head over to the Museums Quartier in Vienna to witness ice pavilions, light shows, video projections, DJs and live music. Remote-controlled cars race over the frozen pond, and you’ll get to enjoy some Christmas punch.
When you think of Christmas in Austria, Christmas markets come to mind and there are plenty of them in Vienna. The largest can be found in front of the Vienna Town Hall but the AltWiener (Old Vienna) Christmas market in Freyung is regarded as a homier version of the many Christmas markets around Vienna.
Expect puppet shows and music for children and adults, as well as booths selling crafts and food. This is the oldest market around, dating back to 1772, and it also features the longest crib in Austria.
If you’re looking for a magical way to end your visit to Austria in Christmas style, why not book yourself a ticket to a Christmas Concert and Dinner at Vienna’s Kursalon? Over four hours, you’ll be treated to an evening of waltzes and operates by Strauss and Mozart and a delicious 4-course meal in the ‘Das Johann’ restaurant. Click here to check prices.
Location: Vienna is situated in eastern Austria, 300 kilometres from Salzburg and 330 kilometres from Prague.
Where to stay in Vienna: Click here to search accommodation in Vienna
Innsbruck Christmas Activities
With its picturesque location so close to the Alps, Innsbruck must surely be one of the best places for a white Christmas in Europe. And with so many activities on offer in Innsbruck, Christmas is a time that everyone - both young and old - can enjoy.
The Innsbruck Christmas markets start appearing on the streets from mid-November and with six different markets - and over 200 stalls - to choose from, there is plenty of opportunity to get your Christmas shopping sorted.
A 14-metre high Christmas tree, decorated with Swarovski crystals, is installed near the Golden Roof and the entire Old Town is lit with sparkling fairy lights.
For a fun way to see the city, jump aboard the Christkindlbahn, Innsbruck’s vintage tram which is decorated for the season. The free tram operates on Fridays and Saturdays from 3.30pm to 7pm from 1 December to 23 December.
For a uniquely Austrian Christmas event, head to the nearby village of Igls for the St. Nicholas and Krampus Christmas procession. Here, a jolly St. Nicholas delivers presents of walnuts, peanuts, apples, sweets and tangerines to children, followed by the Krampus procession of some 50 ‘devils’ dressed in traditional costumes and homemade masks.
The St. Nicholas and Krampus procession takes place at Igls on the first Sunday in December. Learn more about the tradition of Krampus HERE.
Location: Innsbruck is the capital of Austria’s Tirol (Tyrol) region. It is 185 kilometres from Salzburg and 165 kilometres from Munich (Germany).
Where to stay in Innsbruck: Click here to search accommodation in Austria
Further reading: Things to do in Innsbruck, Austria
Salzburg Christmas Celebrations
There’s plenty to keep you entertained in Salzburg at Christmas time, too. Traditional Krampus runs, advent singing, and a Christmas market all mark the Advent season in Salzburg.
Christmas markets come no better than the Christkindlmarkt which dominates the Old Town. This is the spot for browsing the Christmas decorations, handmade wooden toys and trinkets, and sampling gingerbread and mulled wine.
For the best views of the city dressed in all her festive glory why not catch the funicular to Hohensalzburg Fortress - where you can enjoy a Christmas concert and dinner - or enjoy a horse and carriage ride around the Old Town?
If you’re keen to try ice skating, a rink is built in Mozart Square and at nearby Hellbrunn Palace, there’s a special Christmas Post Office where kids can post their own letter to St. Nicholas.
For a truly special experience, head to St. Nicholas’ Church in Oberndorf. It was here in 1818 that the Christmas hymn “Silent Night” was first performed. Every Christmas Eve at 5pm visitors can hear the original carol sung. The best way to experience a visit to St. Nicholas’ Church is on a 4-hour guided tour from Salzburg. Click here for prices and to book your place.
Location: Salzburg is located in central Austria, close to the German border. It is 300 kilometres from Vienna, 185 kilometres from Innsbruck and 144 kilometres from Munich (Germany).
Where to stay in Salzburg: Click here to search accommodation in Salzburg
Christmas in Graz
Have you ever seen a Nativity scene made entirely from ice? If you’re still wondering where to go for Christmas in Austria, perhaps the south eastern city of Graz is the answer.
The city’s annual Ice Nativity Scene is an eagerly awaited event with ice sculptors using about 50 tons of ice to recreate the Christmas story with life-size figures.
If that isn’t enough to make you want to go to Graz, go for the traditional Graz Christmas market, hop on the Advent train to take a tour of historical Graz in comfort, or walk the nativity trail from the ice sculpture through a row of shops and Christmas trees where you’ll find more nativity sets and Christmas shopping.
Be sure to take a look at the facade of the Graz City Hall which is illuminated with an Advent Calendar at dusk.
At ‘Wonderlend’ on Mariahilferplatz, you can enjoy a ride on the giant ferris wheel or try your hand at curling on a purpose-built rink.
Location: The south eastern city of Graz is situated 196 kilometres from Vienna, 284 kilometres from Salzburg and just 71 kilometres from the Slovenian city of Maribor.
Where to stay in Graz: Click here to search accommodation in Graz
Christmas in St. Anton am Arlberg
If you’re looking to experience Christmas in the Austrian Alps in a charming Austrian Christmas village, one of the best destinations is St. Anton am Arlberg.
Besides plenty of skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing activities - there are 305 kilometres of marked ski runs - Advent Magic in the Park brings Christmas cheer to the slopes at St. Anton.
Eat ‘kiachla’ doughnuts, listen to Christmas stories told by locals in a log cabin, walk along the Erlebnisweg Adventure Trail, make your own Christmas cards or just browse the stalls and sample at the local specialties at the St. Anton Christmas market.
If you’re travelling with children, they’ll love learning to make arts and crafts with elves and making Christmas cookies with the local baker.
Location: The western Austrian ski resort of St. Anton am Arlberg is situated just 100 kilometres from Innsbruck and 200 kilometres from Zurich (Switzerland).
Where to stay in St. Anton: I highly recommended Hotel Valluga - click here to check current prices.
Christmas in Zell am See - Kaprun region
Another popular Austrian Christmas holiday destination, the Zell am See - Kaprun Sport Region also offers lots of fun Christmas activities for all ages.
Pre-Christmas offerings include a free guided tour through the romantic streets of Zell am See to the lake, accompanied by music. There’s a Christmas market and the lake is decorated with floating stars.
Take the kids to meet Santa Claus on the steam train to the Krimml waterfalls. On your way you’ll stop for treats and live music at Hanke’s Restaurant and upon arrival you’ll take a guided torch-lit walk to the waterfalls.
The market at the castle of Kaprun features over 30 exhibitors, entertainment, traditional Krampus-processions, a kids programme and some of the best cuisine of the region.
One event you’re not likely to witness elsewhere is the annual Christmas Tree Dive. Every year on Christmas Day, members of the Water Rescue Service dive down 15 metres into the icy cold waters of Lake Zell and bring an illuminated Christmas tree to the surface.
Location: Zell am See is in the Salzburgerland region of Austria, and is about half way between Salzburg (97 kilometres) and Innsbruck (143 kilometres).
Where to stay in Zell am See: Click here to search accommodation in Zell am See
Further reading: Things to do in Zell am See, Austria
Christmas in Kitzbuhel
In Kitzbuhel, Austria’s oldest and most glamorous ski resort, Christmas is celebrated in style. The town centre is transformed into a festive winter wonderland, making it the perfect place to enjoy a white Christmas in Austria.
The Kitzbuhel Christmas Market includes pony rides, carol singing, historic glockenspiel performances, storytelling for children, and, of course, booths to peruse selling Christmas treats, crafts and drinks.
Location: Kitzbuhel is easy to reach, being just 93 kilometres from Innsbruck and 79 kilometres from Salzburg.
Where to stay in Kitzbuhel: Click here to search accommodation in Kitzbuhel
Further reading: Things to do in Kitzbuhel
Christmas in Mayrhofen
In Mayrhofen you’ll find all kinds of Advent events during the holiday season. Listen to Klöpflsänger (carol singers), buy and eat fresh pastries or Christmas punch, or just walk around the snow-laden winter wonderland.
Go sledging and stay in an alpine guest house or a real winter experience, book a horse-drawn sleigh or carriage ride across the snowy winter landscape around Mayrhofen.
Location: Mayhofen is located in the tranquil Zillertal Valley, just 69 kilometres from Innsbruck.
Where to stay in Mayrhofen: Click here to search accommodation in Mayrhofen
Christmas at Wolfgangsee
Each festive season, the three main towns on Lake Wolfgang near Salzburg, hold their annual Wolfgangsee Advent festival. Markets (which are held daily in St. Wolfgang, and Thursday to Sunday in St. Gilgen and Strobl) are a big feature of the festival but there are plenty of other activities, too, making it one of the best places to spend Christmas in Austria for kids.
St. Gilgen’s streets are decorated with hundreds of red and gold candles, a life size crib with real sheep and goats appears in Strobl, and an Advent crafts corner in St. Wolfgang’s town hall is great fun for children.
Each town has its own Advent symbol - a 19 metre-tall lantern floats on the lake at St. Wolfgang each evening, Strobl sports a magnificent Christmas star and St. Gilgen is distinguished by its 11 metre-high advent candle.
Along with concerts, carols and romantic lake cruises, there really isno better place to celebrate the Christmas season than at Wolfgangsee.
Day trips from Salzburg to the Wolfgangsee Advent festival are available. Click here to check prices.
Location: Lake Wolfgang is situated in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, about 30 minutes from Salzburg.
Where to stay at Wolfgangsee: Click here to search accommodation in Wolfgangsee
Further reading: 6 Gorgeous Towns on the Austrian Lakes
Christmas in Bregenz
At Bregenz on Lake Constance, the Christmas spirit is no less joyous even if the Christmas markets are less well known than those in some other cities.
Kornmarktplatz in the heart of Bregenz is home to a giant Christmas tree that is donated each year by a local community. Chalets selling local specialities and mulled wine tempt visitors to stay and chat whilst elsewhere in town a living nativity scene takes place on Leutbühel and there’s a traditional art and craft market on Martinsplatz.
Here, visitors can watch artists such as glassblowers, wood carvers, wax makers and jewellery manufacturers at work and buy their own handmade crafts.
A specially decorated Christmas ship also ferries passengers from Bregenz to the nearby Lindau Christmas market (in Germany) on three weekends in December.
Location: Bregenz is located in the far west of Austria, close to the borders of Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. It is around 190 kilometres from Innsbruck and 160 kilometres from Zurich.
Where to stay: Click here to search accommodation in Bregenz
Austrian Christmas traditions
Although December 24 is not a public holiday (most shops and businesses close early afternoon), the main Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve in Austria. As families and friends gather for the evening meal, gifts are exchanged before Christmas church services are attended.
Christmas celebrations in Austria usually centre around food. Sausage soup, cod or duck are popular Christmas dishes and there are plenty of sweet treats such as lebkuchen and my favourite, Vanillekipferl, for afters.
TIP: A handy phrase to know whilst you are in Austria during Christmas season is Frohe Weihnachten. It means Merry Christmas in German (the spoken language in Austria.)
Planning on travelling elsewhere in Europe either before or after your Christmas in Austria? The following articles might be helpful:
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