Our top five things to see in Vienna at Christmas
Updated: Feb 28
We had never been to Austria. And despite being told that 'Vienna is not exactly the real Austria' by many people, the fact we hadn't been meant we were not detracted from visiting this undiscovered destination.
Since it was a weekend break being booked for December we wanted something Christmassy. You know, the usual, mulled wine and Christmas markets and lots of pretty fairy lights!
After doing my normal google search to help me decide where to book it was clear that Vienna leads the way on nearly all of the top 10 Christmas destinations scoreboards and so it was an easy choice!
It was a great choice because we LOVED it. The weekend was full of copious amounts of alcohol, roasted almonds, Christmas markets and lots and lots of food!
We hope you enjoy reading our top five things to see in Vienna at Christmas.
The Supreme Court of Justice
Yes, it is very much as grand as it sounds!
A building and tourist attraction that is 'off the grid' and not as well known as many of the other spots, it is worth visiting at any time of year, month or day! It is quite frankly one of the most stunning buildings we have both seen in all of our travels. Just wow!
It is exactly what it says on the tin and is a Court of Justice. An occupied building where people go to work each day.
One of our favourite things about this place is that as it's not a 'tourist destination', it's not full of tourists! So you'll most likely have the whole room to yourself provided you get there early enough.
The Neo-Renaissance building erected from 1875 to 1881 is not only the seat of the supreme court but also houses the higher regional houses of Vienna.
With its sweeping staircase and towering arches, the building puts almost all of Disney's fairy tale castles to shame. It's beautiful!
If you're looking to get a good shot for the 'gram' we recommend posing on the staircase while the photographer goes to the second-floor balcony on the opposite side to take the shot.
Getting into the Supreme Court of Justice in Vienna
It's free! Yippee!!
There is a security screening upon entering the building where you will have bags and pockets checked and will be asked to walk through a metal detector... like an airport one!
No tripods allowed! But they will take this from you and keep it safe until you leave.
It is an active place of work so whilst you may want to get that perfect shot, you will need to be patient as employees walk up and down the grand staircase to get to their offices.... Not ideal when you are doing your best... 'I am a natural but mysterious but inquisitive explorer next to a fancy staircase' face, but you have to work with what you've got!
The iconic and magical Christmas markets!
We highly recommend visiting Vienna from 21 November to 23 December. The city is famous for its Christmas markets and there's no better place to get yourself in the holiday spirit.
Visiting Vienna at this time of year can also be relatively inexpensive. Our Airbnb for three nights came in at a very reasonable £62 per night. Not bad considering Vienna is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. It also has a reputation for having one of the highest qualities of life.
If you're just looking to soak up the atmosphere you needn't spend a fortune. We went out some evenings and our only expense was food from a market stand and a gluhwein or two.
Click here to read our 2020 Guide to Vienna's Best Christmas Markets (Coming soon!)
Stephansdom Cathedral is almost 110 metres long and almost 35 metres wide. It is stunning inside and out and boasts a beautiful view across the city from the bell towers up top.
When Steffan got wind of it being a suitable sunset photography spot, we were off. Despite us, both having felt quite unwell that particular day....he soon had me frog-marching across Vienna in search of the South Tower of this majestic church.
A close encounter with two panic attacks, engulfed by claustrophobia and 343 steps later we were at the top of the South Tower. Anyone that has read our Lisbon blog will know I am not a fan of a winding staircase...... this was an actual nightmare. It was easily in the top ten of the most uncomfortable and unpleasant things I have done whilst travelling and it easily surpassed a hospital stay in Bali.
It was that bad. If you are claustrophobic, unfit, or do not like climbing uneven dark and dusty stairs for what feels like a lifetime - choose the North tower.
Had I know this was an option, it would have been one I would have opted for without hesitation.
Not only is there an outdoor viewing platform rather than the jail-like barred windows we found in the South Tower, but there is also a lift. Joy.
To enter the tower you need to pay six euro which is payable at the entrance before you endure the journey up.
The inside of the cathedral is also beautiful, but it was very crowded when we got there (around 5pm). Once you're inside you can admire its beautiful architecture.
There is a gate in front of the seated area so the photo we've posted is as close as you'll come to the rear of the Cathedral. Unless you want to risk lying to the bouncer. That's right. There was a huge man in a suit stopping people from walking through to the seated area.
Whilst we are on the subject of churches, a little off the beaten track in terms of locations but worth a trip and absolutely stunning are the below churches! Well worth a look.
St Francis Assisi church - from one side it looks pretty average, but cross the road and view it from the other and it looks just like the Beauty and the Beast castle. Stunning!
Dominican church - go inside, it is intricately designed and reminded us of the artwork you see at the Vatican in Rome
Jesuit church - Similar to the Dominican Church, easily one of the most beautiful churches we have seen
Hofburg Palace at night
The Hofburg palace is a pretty impressive building...it's got a lot going on.
Built-in the 13th century and not only has served as a royal playground throughout the ages it now serves as the official residence and workplace for the President of Austria.
The Hofburg has a lot to offer, from the Spanish riding school to the treasury to exploring the grandeur of many of the rooms... but what we would like to list as one of our top five is, well, the buildings night lights!
Now I know what you are thinking, but hear us out here.
If you think the building looks grand in the daytime, wait until you see it at night! The illuminated pillars and the shadows dancing on the towering walls really do exude grandeur like nothing else we saw on our short trip to Vienna.
Spending 20 minutes here trying to capture a photograph that did it justice ignited the passion in Steffan for night photography!
Pros are that there are far fewer people around in the evening and much fewer cars parked right outside the front of the buildings and cons? It was a little cold waiting to take photographs but nothing good comes without sacrifice right?
Vienna State Opera House..... at night!
Built from 1861 to 1869 this magnificent building seats over 1700 people and is one of the leading opera houses in the world!
With a history steeped in tradition and many shows and performances being held annually, the opera house is a must-see attraction for many Vienna visitors both music and theatre lovers alike.
However, what we were interested in was much more simplistic.... the lights.
Are you seeing a running theme here?
You see, Steffan had been inspired by the Hofburg and so off we went!
If you make your way to the Opera House, not only can you enjoy the marble Esque archways as you walk parallel to the building, you are also afforded an opportunity to see the building from a viewpoint across the busy roads and junctions. Immediately opposite you will see a platform and if you take the steps to the left as you look at it, you can walk up to the platform which is the entrance to a restaurant.
The building looks truly magical all lit up at night and even if you plan to go inside and be much more cultured than us, it's for sure still worth spending the time to pop up high and take it all in from here too.
To prepare for your Vienna trip you can check out the essential information on all things 'need to know before you go' here