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.
Have I convinced you that it’s time you enjoyed Christmas in Austria? It certainly is one of the best places to spend Christmas in Europe. Next up is deciding exactly where to spend Christmas in Austria 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. 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 really is one of the best European cities 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 At St. Stephen’s Cathedral’s annual advent concert 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.
Of course there are lots of Christmas markets 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 crime in Austria.
If you’re looking for a magical way to end your Christmas Day in Vienna, 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.
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).
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.
As 2018 marks the carol’s 200th anniversary, anyone lucky enough to visit Oberndorf or Salzburg during December can take part in commemorative events including concerts, plays and a museum exhibit.
More info about the Silent Night festivities HERE
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).
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.
Christmas in St. Anton am Arlberg
If you’re looking to combine some time on the slopes with some Austrian Christmas traditions, one of the best Christmas holiday 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).
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, member os 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Further reading: 6 Gorgeous Towns on the Austrian Lakes
Austrian Christmas traditions
Although December 24 is not a public holiday in Austria (most shops and businesses close early afternoon), Austrians celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. As families and friends gather for the evening meal, gifts are exchanged before Christmas church services are attended.
Austrian Christmas food usually comprises of sausage soup, cod or duck and there are plenty of sweet treats such as lebkuchen and my favourite, Vanillekipferl, for afters.
And if you’re wondering how to say Merry Christmas in Austrian (German is the spoken language), it’s Frohe Weihnachten.
Planning on travelling elsewhere in Europe either before or after your Christmas in Austria? The following articles might be helpful:
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