Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Holiday Tradition - Vienna's Christmas Markets

I'd had my heart set on visiting Vienna's Christmas Markets since the moment I learned of their existence - six months earlier in early May, not usually when sane people start planning for the holidays. After months of excited Christmas market chatter, and hours spent online researching the best markets in Vienna, we finally had the opportunity to visit one during our first day in Vienna. As it turns out, we loved it so much we returned nightly during our five days in the city and made time to stop at three additional markets in the area.

The lovely Rathausplatz market

Vienna's Christmas Markets, called Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt in Austria, are not only beautiful but also a holiday tradition that dates back over seven centuries. The first official Viennese Christmas Market was held in 1296, as an opportunity for traders and shopkeepers to sell their goods to residents, and although the goods being sold have changed with time, the attraction remains.

The largest and most popular market we visited during our time in Vienna is situated in front of City Hall, and therefore rightly named the Wiener Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz (Rathaus being the Austrian word for City Hall). In addition to hundreds of stalls selling everything from sausages and pretzels to hot mulled wine, dried fruit, and candied nuts, trees in the surrounding park are decorated with lights and there is a tall central Christmas Tree in front of the beautiful city hall. Overall, the atmosphere is quite incredible and we couldn't resist stopping in nightly to nibble on something new. 

One of hundreds of festive stalls

Ordering in Austrian is actually quite tricky

In addition to the large market at City Hall, we explored three other markets while in Vienna. The Weihnachtsdorf Maria Theresien-Platz Market, located on Museum Quartier next to the Natural History Museum, is still quite small, and only in it's fourth year of operation, therefore the walkways and stalls are less crowded than some of the larger markets (which we enjoyed). Besides a great selection of culinary treats, we found some unique gifts at the market to take home as well.

Hand painted ornaments

Although a bit difficult to find, as it's located in the central courtyard of the former General Hospital (now part of the University Campus), we found the Weihnachtsdorf im Alten AKH, (or "AKH" Christmas Market) on our second attempt and were really pleased with the younger atmosphere, clearly influenced by it's proximity to the University. We also discovered a delicious treat at this market called Schneeballen (or snowball) which is a type of pancake dough, cut into strips and formed into a ball before being fried and covered with powdered sugar. If you've ever had Italian Crostoli it tastes similar, however the consistency is more that of a cookie and less crunchy. 

Row of colourful stalls

Adorable little ornaments with fragrant cinnamon

Finally, we found our way into the historic neighbourhoods of the 7th District and the Weihnachtmarkt am Spittelberg. Although small, only a few blocks in length, this market (and surrounding stores) focuses on craft work and features some lovely jewellery, ceramics, and traditional holiday decor. I really enjoyed the handmade feel of this market and was able to find an adorable ornament to bring home as well. 

The amazingly tall tree in Rathausplatz

Strolling through these markets became one of our main activities in Vienna, taking some time away from museums and landmarks. However we really enjoyed trying new foods and immersing ourselves in the holiday spirit. After taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of these markets, it's easy to understand why so many tourists visit Vienna in December. Unfortunately, some larger and older markets we not yet open during our visit, (we were about a week too early but luckily didn't miss out all together) which seems to me like the perfect excuse to come back!

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Calli and Travis returned from a four month trip through Europe more excited than ever to hit the open road. Who knows where they'll end up next...

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