One of my big takeaways from visiting in Vienna in Winter was the following thought: “Is Vienna more typically European than even Paris?!” I hesitate to say that, because Paris was definitely my first love in Europe, and the single city I’ve visited the most times since setting down roots in the Old World three years ago. And to be totally honest, I’ve spent a mere weekend in Vienna, so I have a lot of catching up to do if I’m to make a real comparison.
Let me tell you why Vienna’s is the epitome of Europe for me.
The car-free city center, the dining and drinking traditions, the emphasis on arts and fashion, beautiful churches in the middle of the city, the sheer concentration of stunning architecture within walking distance, all carefully arranged to form an impressive 360 view of Vienna’s impressive history.
“Vienna wasn't just a city, it was a tone that either one carries forever in one's soul or one does not.”
— Sándor Márai
Reasons to fall in love with Vienna in Winter
If I had to pick just one word to describe Vienna, I’d have no choice but to pick: beautiful.
And around Christmas time, the beauty of Vienna takes on a different tone. Strings of Christmas lights adorn every conceivable street, residents and tourists alike meander through Christmas market stalls hunting for the prettiest mugs to take home. Everything is slightly tinted in purple and blue, with warm lights reminding you every moment that CHRISTMAS IS COMING!!!
For all these reasons and so many more, winter in Vienna is something special. If you’re thinking about visiting Vienna in the next few months, here are a few reasons you’re sure to love it!
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Christmas markets feel like a small village in a big city
If you’ve never been to a Christmas Market in Europe, you’re in for a real treat, especially if your very first time is the world famous Wiener Christkindlmarkt am Rathausplatz . Many would say it’s the most beautiful Christmas market in the world, but I’ll leave that for you to decide! Here you’ll find carefully constructed wooden stalls lined with Christmas lights, arranged in rows, hawking christmas ornaments, handicrafts, roasted chestnuts, and of course, mulled wine. All under the watch of the enormous Gothic-style city council building, which becomes illuminated as soon as the sun starts to set.
Foods you must try at the Christmas market:
- Glühwein: Hot wine mixed with Christmas herbs, comes in white and red
- Maroni: Roasted chestnuts
- Schaumrollen: Tube-shaped pastry filled with whipped cream or meringue
- Langos: Hungarian deep-fried flatbread
Other noteworthy Christmas markets in Vienna:
- Spittelberg: An easy walk from the Christkindlmarkt am Rathausplatz, this market spans several streets in the extraordinarily quaint neighborhood of Spittelberg.
- Christkindl Markt am Karlsplatz: Very accessible in the city center, the church here is one of Vienna’s most recognizable landmarks and a beautiful one at that.
Tip: You can go inside the Rathaus, which is quite impressive, but don’t order at the cafe: it’s overpriced and the hot chocolate is actually just instant 😉
Viennese cuisine is practically made for winter
Stepping into a Schnitzel shop off the street is one of the best feelings! Inside it’s warm and smells like breading and lemons, and you know you’re about to get an incredible meal. If you’ve never had it, Schnitzel is a thinly pounded meat (usually veal or pork), covered in breading, and fried in searing hot oil. Typically you cover it in lemon juice and eat it with cranberries.
When it comes time for dessert (presuming you still have room, which I NEVER do), few things are more typically Austrian than Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel). You can find this at any Austrian restaurant, or at the numerous glamorous cafes around the city. Kaiserschmarm is also popular, a fluffy pancake topped with powdered sugar!
Tip: Figlmüller is one of the best-known spots to grab a Schnitzel. Be sure to get it with Preiselbeeren (cranberries)! You can make a reservation at this restaurant online on their website, but don’t wait too long, it was almost completely reserved when we booked a month in advance!) Dinner for two (Schnitzel, cranberry, two drinks and two sides) will run you about 50 EUR.
Postcard perfect alleys in the middle of the city
Wandering through Vienna, it really feels like you could be 200 years in the past. Especially when you’re out of sight of any major roads or department stores, Vienna’s Gassen (alleys) are a time capsule of beauty. Especially during winter, the streets are further illuminated with lanterns and string lights, lending a warm glow to the otherwise cold winter light.
Tip: Vienna has a couple of well known alleys that are especially charming. Perhaps the most photographed is Griechengasse , which is extremely close to Stephansdom. On your way to the Kleines Cafe (see below) at Franziskanerplatz, you may walk through Ballgasse which is also oh so quaint.
Cold weather is the perfect excuse to warm up in a Viennese coffeehouse
You may think back on former times, when intellectuals would spend their whole day philosophizing from within the coffee houses in Vienna. Well it’s no surprise, you step into one of these places and they treat you like royalty! Coat check, fancy menu, extremely fancy prices. Everything you need to feel smart and wealthy, plus cake.
For the authentic Viennese experience, try Cafe Sacher , a coffee house in the middle of Vienna specializing in its own variety of chocolate cake. I was also shocked to discover that the coffee was actually kind of good (yes, the 6 EUR coffee was actually kind of good). Usually at these fancy coffee houses, the coffee is dreadful and you’re really just paying to sit under a chandelier. Not so at Cafe Sacher!
You can also try Cafe Central , however when we stopped by there was a queue out the door in the rain, so we decided to forego it. Right around the corner is also a famous pastry shop, Demel , which has a cafe on the second floor (entered through the back of the shop). Demel would be a great place to pick up edible souveniers for friends and family back home who want a taste of Austria!
Tip: Coffee and dessert for three people ran us about 36 EUR, so about 12 EUR per person. Definitely not cheap, but an experience and a great way to get out of the rain if you get unlucky!
The entire city is decked in Christmas lights
If there is anything that really distinguished the aesthetic of Vienna during winter from the other parts of the year (besides, of course, a layer of white powdery snow), it’s the Christmas lights iluminating the sky above every city street.
No matter which way you look, each row is uniquely decorate with shimmering lights in yellow, red, or white. Landmarks are also covered in Christmas lights, or have lights projected on them. This is truly a sight you can see no other time of the year than winter!
Practical tips for visiting Vienna in Winter
Now that you’re sold on visiting Vienna this Winter, let’s consider some of the essentials for making the trip its very best! 👌
Vienna’s weather in December, January, and February
Here are the averages temperatures for these months:
- December – The average high is 3ºC, lows at 0ºC (37ºF / 32ºF).
- January – The coldest month of the year, highs around 2ºC, lows at -4ºC (36ºF / 25ºF).
- February – Highs around 4ºC, lows at -1ºC (39ºF / 30ºF)
In short, the weather in Vienna in Winter is really not that cold. I say this as someone living in Berlin, where we can get down to -20ºC (-4ºF). That would be cold. In my opinion, you don’t have much to fear from Vienna’s winter, so take heart!
What to pack for Winter in Vienna
Vienna is more prone to clear weather than many other cities, because it’s relatively southern within the scope of Europe. That said, rain and snow are both very common, so you should be prepared for both. Be sure to pack:
- Shoes that can handle getting wet + appropriate thick socks
- Scarf, knit hat, and gloves
- Layers: thermal leggings, long sleeved shirt, sweater, and a medium-sized winter coat will suffice
No need to bust out the parka, unless that’s just going to keep you extra cozy. Anywhere you go inside is going to be heated well enough, you want to make sure you’re able to take off layers as needed.
Getting around Vienna
In the warmer months, Vienna is very traversable by bicycle, and there are a ton of generous bike paths you can use you get around the city. In Winter, Vienna is more enjoyably traversed by public transit, although a lot of the city center can be done comfortably by foot. You can buy tickets at the various metro stops, and sometimes on the bus if you have coins, but oftentimes the bus driver will just take you to the metro and you buy the ticket there. Be warned, there is a HEFTY fine of more than 100 EUR for “riding black” (riding the metro without a validated ticket), so make sure you do always stay on the right side of the law!
Where is your dream winter destination? Would you come to Vienna in Winter?
I’d love to hear where you’re spending the holiday season this year, and especially if you have any exciting Winter travel plans! Till next time ❤️
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