How to Plan a Festive Austria Christmas Market TripAustria
Taking an Austria Christmas market trip is a lot like stepping inside a storybook: there will be warm drinks, sweet treats, detailed decor, and an atmosphere that tends to make you feel like a soundtrack of Christmas music should be playing 24/7 in the background (or maybe that one is just me).
While just about every major European city boasts a Christmas market these days, Germany and Austria got there first, and–if I do say so myself–they still do it best.
There is hardly a more festive way to spend December than heading off on an Austria Christmas market trip, but there’s quite a bit you’ll want to know before you go–and we’ve got it all covered here.
Table of Contents
- Where to Visit the Best Christmas Markets in Austria
- Beyond Austria: More Festive Destinations to Consider for Your Trip
- What to Know Before Planning an Austria Christmas Market Trip
- Austria Christmas Market Tips & Tricks
- What to Eat & Drink at Austrian Christmas Markets
- What to Buy at Austrian Christmas Markets
- Getting Around Austria
- What to Pack for an Austria Christmas Market Trip
Where to Visit the Best Christmas Markets in Austria
If you’re wondering where to start on your Austria Christmas market trip, these destinations are perfect: they’re easy to reach and travel between, boast some of Austria’s prettiest and most popular Christmas markets (also called “Advent markets” in Austria), and if you’re a completionist at heart, you can even visit them all by making a kind-of circle around Austria!
Vienna is an iconic Austria Christmas market destination, and the forerunners to the modern markets date back to the 13th century!
Today, more than 20 Christmas markets light up Vienna during the holiday season.
Be sure not to miss the ice skating course at the Rathausplatz market (our biggest regret from our trip is skipping this and never finding one as cool again) or stepping into a cafe for an absolutely magnificent Viennese hot chocolate!
Salzburg is home to our personal favorite Christmas market in Austria: the combination of the beautiful setting, the delicious food, and the absolutely gorgeous stands (I’m partial to the ornament stands in particular) made Salzburg’s main Christmas market unforgettable–and its smaller markets were magical too.
Innsbruck is colorful, beautiful, walkable, and surrounded by the looming, snowy Alps–in other words, it’s a festive dream come true even before you arrive in the markets!
Innsbruck will be your best chance to see snow while in Austria for Christmas, so be sure to take a cable car ride up into the mountains for a winter wonderland experience even if you’re not a skier.
Located in southeastern Austria, Graz boasts a few points of interest that might entice you to add it to your Austria Christmas market itinerary: it’s the second-largest city in Austria, all of its most popular Christmas markets are within walking distance of each other, and it is home to a gigantic nativity scene carved entirely from ice!
If you visit Linz for one reason during your Austria Christmas market trip, make it the Linzertorte: this beautiful pastry is named after the city of Linz and is popular at Christmastime. Made of crumbly dough, nuts, and jam, it’s a delicious treat and one of the oldest cakes in the world.
Beyond Austria: More Festive Destinations to Consider for Your Trip
If you’re traveling through Austria by train, Central Europe’s dense rail system makes it incredibly easy to add another country or two to your list of Christmas market destinations!
We partnered with Eurail for our Christmas market trip, and once we had our Eurail passes in hand, we couldn’t stop staring greedily at maps of the region and fantasizing about all the places we could go at the drop of a hat.
We’ve visited each of these cities throughout our travels with the exception of Zagreb (unless you count the taxi ride from the Zagreb train station to the rental car company where we picked up a car to leave town) and can heartily recommend them all!
Want to add an iconic German Christmas market to your Austria Christmas market trip? Munich makes an easy side trip from Salzburg!
Just a couple hours south of Innsbruck sits Bolzano, home to the oldest Christmas market in Italy and a delightful mix of Austrian and Italian culture, as Bolzano was part of Austria until 1918.
Fairytale-like Prague is a city so beautiful that it seems designed for Christmas markets. If you’re heading north into Czechia, consider also stopping in stunning Český Krumlov as well!
Hungary’s capital boasts beautiful Christmas markets, gorgeous views of the Danube river, and an endless list of things to do. As our favorite city in Central Europe, we can’t recommend Budapest enough!
Croatia’s capital city may be less-known than some of these destinations, but it’s also been voted the city with the best Christmas markets in Europe more than once!
A curious choice, I know–so why not go see what all the fuss is about?
If you’re looking for a low-key, less crowded destination to add to your Christmas market trip, consider Bratislava: quiet, charming, and incredibly convenient to visit from Vienna via train, Bratislava makes a slightly offbeat but lovely addition to an Austria Christmas market trip.
What to Know Before Planning an Austria Christmas Market Trip
Check the opening dates of the Christmas markets ASAP.
The last thing you want to do is plan a Christmas market trip only to arrive and see that the markets aren’t open (we may or may not have missed the market by one day in Český Krumlov).
Ideally, plan a trip between late November and December 23.
Austria’s Christmas markets are generally open from late November until right before Christmas, but the dates vary a bit every year.
Unlike in other places throughout Europe, very few of Austria’s Christmas markets remain open after Christmas.
Austrians celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home, and virtually no businesses will be open on those days. For that reason, most visitors will want to end their Austria Christmas market trip before the official holidays!
Book your hotels as soon as you’re able to commit to dates.
Christmas market season is an incredibly popular time to visit Austria, and hotels book up quickly–we were shocked at how little selection there was a few weeks before our trip.
As soon as you’re able to commit to dates, go ahead and decide where to stay.
If your focus is solely on Christmas markets, plan 1-2 full days in each location.
One to two days in each city will give you a chance to visit a good percentage of the Christmas markets in the area, and also to see a bit of Austria outside the markets.
… Don’t focus solely on Christmas markets.
As magical as Austria’s Christmas markets are, be sure to see some of the rest of Austria’s charm, too!
Whether it’s a Mozart concert in Salzburg, a tour of the palaces and museums of Vienna, skiing in Tirol, or beyond, be sure to make room for a bit of traditional tourism on your Austria Christmas market trip as well!
Dress warmly: think layers and comfortable shoes.
An Austria Christmas market trip means spending a lot of time outside in cold weather, so come prepared! You’ll want a warm coat (I wore one similar to this one, Jeremy wore one like this), as well as comfortable boots, and a cozy hat, scarf, and gloves.
Austria Christmas Market Tips & Tricks
All of Austria’s Christmas markets are unique.
Some are focused primarily on food, some on shopping.
Some are home to mass-produced souvenirs, others (much more expensive, but more beautiful) handcrafted gifts.
Some have carnival rides and games for children, others don’t.
Some are decorated extensively, others have simpler themes.
Regardless of the style of the market, each of Austria’s Christmas markets are delightful in their own way–so be sure to visit a variety!
Come prepared to rent a mug.
Mug rental is a highly entertaining practice (or maybe that’s just the glühwein talking), but it can be a bit confusing if it’s your first Christmas market trip and you don’t know what you’re getting into.
Here’s the deal: each Austrian Christmas market will have its own mug–so yes, Vienna has more than 20 (some are similar, but many are incredibly different).
When you buy your first drink at a given market, you put down a deposit (normally 2-4 Euros) for the mug, and you can then refill it however many times you want at the different stalls.
When you’re finished, you can either turn your mug in and collect your deposit back, or you can keep the mug as a fun and inexpensive souvenir of your Austria Christmas market trip.
We’re still sad we turned in this Santa mug in Vienna! We 100% should have kept it.
Haggling is not the norm.
Word on the street is that if you buy an enormous number of items (think 100+ Euros or more), some stalls might cut a minor discount… but haggling is very much not typical behavior in Austrian Christmas markets.
The price you see is what you get!
Not all markets will have equal prices.
This is especially apparent when you’re looking at small goods that are sold everywhere, like Mozartkugeln candies in Salzburg.
The smaller, less-famous markets can often be the best places to pick up these items.
Even markets primarily focused on crafts and decor will have a food stall or two–and compared to the price of eating in restaurants, eating at the Christmas markets in Austria is both affordable and festive.
Bring cash, preferably small bills.
Not every stand will accept credit cards, especially for small purchases like food, so it’s definitely better to have Euros on you at all times.
If you expect to buy a lot, bring a reusable bag with you.
Some stalls will have bags, but even for those who do, there’s no reason to put extra plastic into the planet–bring a reusable bag with you on big shopping days (say, if you want to decorate a whole tree or buy gifts for family and friends back home) and you won’t need to worry about it.
We’ve carried this bag with us for years and love it.
Visit markets both during the day and after dark.
During the day, it will be much less crowded, making it easier to shop and take photos of the markets.
After dark, Austria’s Christmas markets truly come alive as locals come out for a bite to eat and to see any shows being put on (carolers are common).
You won’t need to stay up late, though–since the sun sets around 4:00 pm, give or take, during December, “night” at an Austria Christmas market is a bit of a relative term.
Don’t forget about lesser-known Christmas markets!
Whether it’s simply a smaller market in a major city (we loved the one in front of the Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, for example), or a market in a smaller town in Austria, markets that give you a chance to escape the crowds in the famous spots provide a magic all their own.
Most Christmas markets are free to enter.
You’ll find the occasional exception throughout Europe, but the general rule in Austria and beyond is that the Christmas markets are free and open for the community (and copious amounts of visitors) to enjoy.
What to Eat & Drink at Austrian Christmas Markets
Writing an entire guide to Christmas market food in Austria would require a literal book–but here are some of the most popular, delicious choices, both sweet and savory, to add to your must-eat list!
Hot, mulled wine is a staple of Christmas markets everywhere, and no winter trip to Austria would be complete without a mug or two!
Other Punches & Beers
While glühwein is popular, it’s hardly the only thing on tap: all kinds of original punches and beers will be available at the Christmas markets, so be sure to try several during your visit to Austria.
Savory or sweet? You choose.
Personally, we’re partial to the bacon/cheese/onion pretzels.
There’s no shortage of sausage for sale at the Austria Christmas markets, from bratwurst to kasekrainer (which is stuffed which cheese and you absolutely need to try it).
These Austrian donuts have a jam filling and are topped with powdered sugar–what could go wrong?
Delicious and easy to transport home, this is the definition of snack you buy extra of under the justification of eating some now and saving some for later (even if you don’t actually end up saving anything for later).
The Austria Christmas markets are home to the best fried apples I have ever had in my life, and your tastebuds will seriously be missing out if you skip these during your trip!
The first time I saw a kid eating Schaumbecher, I exclaimed out loud: “only a kid could eat ice cream in this weather!”
But no–Schaumbecher may look like a candy-covered ice cream cone, but it’s actually stuffed with (tasty) marshmallow filling.
Similar to meatloaf, leberkas is a bit hard to identify but not worth questioning. It is often served in semmel (basically a roll) and makes a fantastic snack.
A bit different than a Hungarian langos, Austrian langos is made of deep-fried potato dough that is coated in garlic paste, and then often topped with a heaping pile of sauerkraut for good measure.
Warm, roasted chestnuts right off the fire–perfect for warming your hands and your belly.
Imagine macaroni and cheese topped with fried onions, and that’s essentially käsespätzle. Basically, it’s a Christmas market necessity.
What to Buy at Austrian Christmas Markets
You’ll quickly notice a huge discrepancy in prices when touring Christmas markets in Austria: some things will be surprisingly inexpensive, and some items will come with what, at first glance, feels like an absurdly high price tag.
I’m sure you can guess which of those tends to correspond with mass-produced, imported products.
Whether you’re looking for bargains or high-quality unique items, though (or perhaps a bit of both), you’ll likely find both versions of several of these popular Christmas market souvenirs!
Like with food, I could keep writing forever, so I’ve challenged myself to stick to the most popular options.
Christmas ornaments are one of the most popular souvenirs from Austria’s Christmas markets–small, beautiful, and often easy to transport, be sure to pick up at least a few!
These can be anything from Santa figurines to toy trains to nutcrackers, but they’re almost always beautiful.
Personally, I’m in love with the carved, hand-painted buildings that correspond to actual landmarks in Austria–I’d love to buy up a whole model village one day!
Technically, these could go under the food section–but the universally adored and constantly photographed (including by us) gingerbread hearts popular at German and Austrian Christmas markets reportedly taste… terrible.
These are better used as a decoration, they say (though I haven’t felt inclined to buy and then open one myself to find out firsthand).
Advent wreaths, candles, doorstops, Christmas-themed quilts… you name it, it’s at the Austrian Christmas markets.
If you’d like a snow globe to commemorate your trip, the markets are the place to pick them up!
Sausage, Cheese & Culinary Delights
Separate from the food stalls selling snacks meant for immediate consumption are the stands selling snacks meant for at-home consumption–what better way to bring Christmas in Austria home with you than in the form of something delicious?
Be sure to bundle up before heading out to an Austria Christmas market–otherwise, you might find yourself justifying the purchase of a 40 Euro handknit hat at the market (though how bad of a thing would that be, really?).
Pistachio marzipan, covered in nougat, coated in dark chocolate: the Mozartkugeln candies have been produced in Salzburg since the late 19th century, and are a must-try at the Christmas markets (if you don’t want to commit to a whole box, several stands sell them by the piece).
Getting Around Austria
Undoubtedly, the best way to get around Austria during a Christmas market trip is via train.
You don’t need to worry about traffic or icy roads like in a bus or rental car, it’s far easier and less expensive than flying, and makes for a downright gorgeous way to experience the country. In fact, the most snow we saw during our Austria Christmas market trip was while gliding through the countryside on a train!
Austria’s train system is incredibly well-kept, with clean and comfortable cars that were easy to relax in.
We partnered with Eurail on our trip and used our Eurail passes to explore Austria (and Hungary and Czechia and Italy) at Christmas without having to worry about booking tickets.
None of our domestic train trips in Austria even required reservations (a couple of the international routes did), so we were able to make up our trip at our leisure: at the last minute, we added a stop in Linz to try Linzertorte and to Český Krumlov simply because we wanted to see the gorgeous town. When it started raining in Salzburg, we seriously debated taking a quick jaunt to Munich!
If you want to add a bit of spontaneity to your Austria Christmas market trip, or if you are hoping to visit several locations, consider bringing an Eurail pass along with you!
Regardless of whether you choose to purchase a pass or not, however–you’ll still definitely want to use Austria’s train system to see the country.
Check Eurail Pass prices for your Austria Christmas market trip today!
What to Pack for an Austria Christmas Market Trip
Travel Insurance — Never travel without insurance! You never know what’s going to happen, and travel insurance is an affordable way to take a lot of the stress out of your Austria Christmas market trip. We use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Austria.
Travel Adaptors for Austria — If you’re coming from outside the EU, you’ll need to purchase travel adaptors to make sure your electronics work in Austria.
Winter Boots — Make sure that your boots are comfortable enough that you can walk and stand in them for most of the day. I wore ones similar to these on our Austria Christmas market trip, and the lining kept my feet incredibly warm!
Nalgene — Having a reusable water bottle on hand is a great way to save a bit of money–and maybe slow down your gluhwein consumption just a tad–at the Christmas markets.
Umbrella — Sadly, an Austria Christmas market trip will likely include at least one rainstorm or two (ours did). Come prepared with a packable travel umbrella!
Purell Hand Sanitizer — Visiting Christmas markets in Austria often involves eating a lot of sticky finger foods without easy access to a sink to wash your hands, and a bottle of Purell makes that situation so much easier.
Lotion — The dry winter weather in Austria was rough on our skin: be sure to bring your favorite lotion along.
Lip Balm — Because nothing ruins indulging in salty Christmas market snacks quite like chapped lips.
Travel Journal — Especially if you’re moving cities every couple of days, it’s astonishing how quickly memories of your travels can fade! Even if it’s just a few lines, take a few minutes daily to collect your thoughts or jot down a favorite memory. I personally adore my One Line a Day Journal, which just takes a few minutes to complete each day.
Extra Room in Your Luggage — An Austria Christmas market trip can easily mean lots and lots of shopping–some of it for less-than-durable souvenirs. Be sure to come prepared with enough room in your luggage to cart your treats home!
Many thanks to Eurail for providing our rail passes for this trip! All opinions are, as always, our own.