THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS IN VIENNA

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SO, WHO AGREES WITH ME THAT CHRISTMAS IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR? ALL THOSE INFAVOUR, RAISE YOUR GLASS OF HOT, MULLED WINE IN A TOAST TO THE FESTIVE SEASON, AND IF YOU’RE LIKE ME AND CAN’T RESIST A MINCE PIE - WELL GO AHEAD AND GOBBLE ONE DOWN TOO, I WON’T TELL SANTA IF YOU DON’T!

 

Words by Fiona Mercieca / Air Malta | Extract taken from October’s 2019 il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here

 

With this being said, not only does Christmas happen to be my favourite time of year, but it’s also my favourite time to travel. In my eyes, cities and villages alike positively spring to life at Christmas time, and the joy from the locals is contagious. So much so, that I made it my own personal tradition to hop on a plane every December and marvel in the charm of Christmas celebrations abroad.

 

It’s a tough one trying to think of my most-liked festive winter destination, but after much deliberation and flipping through old travel photos, I have to say that Vienna has to be my first choice. This city is like something out of a fairytale all year round, let alone at Christmas time!

 

Here’s a little bit about the Austrian capital before I start mentioning some of the gorgeous places to visit. Firstly, Vienna is a city of many things. It boasts phenomenal imperial architecture, is rich in musical heritage, has a vast collection of artistic masterpieces, thrives in culture, and last but not least offers renowned drinking and dining. What’s not to love about this place right?! When it comes to striking a balance between old and new, nowhere does it better. Without further ado, my recommendations as to where you should go and what you should do if you do decide to visit - I suggest you keep your travel planner handy just in case. Oh, and being that it’s Christmas, expect some Viennese festive titbits on things.

 

 

EXUBERANT CULTURE

It’s always a challenge deciding what to mention and what not to with regards to culture, however the fact that Vienna is so broad in this aspect makes it doubly difficult. The good news is though that with a city as majestic and vibrant as Vienna, it’s hard to be disappointed.

 

Vienna is anything but short of palaces, and the reason for this is due to the city’s historical imperial ties with the powerful Habsburg monarchy. The most significant has to be the Hofburg, as it is to know to have been the seat of the Habsburgs for more than six centuries. This complex is distinct as it incorporates numerous buildings, reflecting different architectural styles from various periods, such as Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo.

 

Today, the palace gives visitors the chance to tour three of its impressive attractions, which are the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments and Silver Collection. In addition, the area surrounding the Hofburg palace also has a number of other notable sites, namely the Imperial Chapel (Burgkapelle), the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum), the Austrian National Library, and the Spanish Riding School. The latter is one I thoroughly enjoyed visiting, as you can see the famous Lipizzaner horses within its quarters and and also buy a ticket to watch a stupendous equestrian performance.

 

Another place you must find the time to go and explore is the glorious baroque-style Belvedere, which consists of two palaces; the Upper and Lower. Nowadays, it serves as a museum that houses one of Austria’s most valuable art collections, which dates all the way back to the Middle Ages up until the present day. Furthermore, during the festive season a Christmas village is also set up here, and it’s one you certainly don’t want to miss. When darkness begins to fall, it is an extremely beautiful place to take an iconic photo encapturing the palace, Christmas market and the lights which reflect in the water of the lake in front of the Upper Belvedere palace. It’s one holiday snap you’ll cherish and never tire of looking at - trust me!

 

Moving on from palaces, it is also well worth visiting St Stephen’s Cathedral which is a Medieval Roman Catholic place of worship with catacombs and a treasury museum. I suggest you climb all the way up to the top of its South Tower to the watch room for guaranteed breathtaking views. During the month of December you may also opt to watch the advent concert it hosts - a real treat for your ears as it provides stunning world class music. In terms of museums, you should definitely make your way to the Museums quartier, which is an innovative area encompassing many of the city’s best museums, including the Leopold Museum and contemporary MUMOK. Another museum which cannot go unmentioned is the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which also happens to be located next to the grand memorial of the Empress Maria Theresa.

 

To conclude this part, other worthy attractions are the Vienna City Hall, Vienna State Opera House and the National Theatre. I can’t possibly choose between them so I’ll let you decide which strikes you most. Don’t forget to also find the time to enjoy the many Christmas events and activities dotted around the city, such as musical performances, unique decorative light displays, and on a more sporty note ice skating or curling.

 

DELIGHTFUL OUTDOORS

An interesting fact is that more than half of the metropolitan area in Vienna is made up of green spaces. Hence, referring to this city as ‘Green Vienna’ is no understatement. Moreover, the great thing about the naturalistic sites in Vienna is that they are varied; they range from the smaller, imperial gardens to the larger parks and wildlife areas. Whatever your mood, you’ll definitely find something in the outdoors to satisfy you.

 

If you’d prefer a more relaxed day, involving a leisurely stroll to appreciate Mother Nature, the Schönbrunn Gardens are the perfect place to visit. It serves as a wonderful historic walking area and there’s plenty to explore within the grounds. You might be further tempted to visit by knowing that it is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site too.

 

On the other hand, if you’re more of an adventure seeker, Prater Park is better suited to you. It is one of the most popular recreational areas in Vienna, and it is found between the Danube and Danube Canal. It’s sure to be a fun-filled day here with all of the old-fashioned theme park rides vowing to keep you on your toes. One of the main highlights is undoubtedly the giant ferris wheel - the views it provides of the Viennese cityscape are out of this world!

 

A little tip for the Christmas period, take a walk through the Rathauspark - the illuminations will kick your Christmas spirit up a notch and make you feel like you’re in a Winter Wonderland.

 

JOLLY MARKETS

There’s nothing I love more at Christmas time than visiting Christmas markets. I simply can’t get enough of them! They embody what Christmas is all about - that is a joyous occasion capable of bringing people together in harmony. And of course, they are ideal for the spot of mandatory, seasonal shopping - a guilty pleasure of mine. So no wonder I adore Vienna at this time of year... Christmas markets are an age-old tradition in this city and there are actually over 20 official markets dispersed around the capital, nicely decorating the streets and spreading the festive cheer. They’re easy to find, but perhaps you might like to do a little research of your own beforehand in case there’s one that entices you more. Oh, and it probably goes without saying but the mouthwatering Christmas goodies are irresistible so don’t even think about passing on them.

 

 

SCRUMPTIOUS TREATS

Viennese cuisine is famous worldwide - and there’s no other plausible explanation as to why other than it is utterly divine. Some of the traditional savoury dishes are Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz (prime boiled beef) and goulash, which are served up in hearty portions in pub-like bistros as well as restaurants. Vienna is also well-known for its opulent coffee-houses serving delectable cakes such as the sachertorte, and its rustic wine taverns offering the finest Austrian wines.

 

When it comes to traditional Christmas food and drink you need only look at the stalls at a Christmas market and you’ll immediately know what they are! (Hint: If you want to fit in with the locals, Christmas punch accompanied by roasted chestnuts are a must.) 

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