“Vienna is a handsome, lively city, and pleases me exceedingly” Frederic Chopin
It’s an early flight from Brum – which means an airport breakfast and the obligatory glass of bubbles. Our Eurowings flight is on time, and just 2 hours and 20 minutes later we are landing in Austria for the second time.
It doesn’t take long for our one suitcase to arrive on the luggage belt and we’re soon emerging out of the airport and on the hunt for the airport bus that will whisk us into the city. As luck would have it the VAL2 to Morinplatz stops rights outside the terminal however we’ve just missed the half hourly bus so it’s an impatient and fidgety wait until the next one arrives. Finally on our bus, it takes just 22 minutes to get into Vienna’s first district. We do our usual juggling with online maps to work out which way to walk once we’ve disembarked, but it turns out that our apartment is only a couple of minutes walk from the transport hub on Morinplatz and Schwedenplatz.
As is commonplace with apartment buildings, the entrance is discreet and we walk past it a couple of times before deciding that we must be in the right place. I send another Whatsapp message to Dominik, who is meeting us on behalf of our AirBnB host and it’s just a minute before he appears from inside the building. We’re up on the third floor; there is a lift but it’s barely big enough to hold three fully-sized adults, a large suitcase, a small wheelie case and Mr Fletche’s camera bag which leads to a slightly awkward but thankfully short ascent. Dominik, it turns out, knows all about Birmingham and Brummies, although his knowledge appears to have been gleaned from Peaky Blinders. I assure him that we do not carry razor blades stitched into our bobble hats.
Our one-bedroomed apartment is perfect for our needs, especially as it is so handy for public transport and to all of the First District’s attractions. There is also a Spar a couple of minute’s walk away, however Dominik has advised us that the law prevents many shops in Vienna from trading on a Sunday so we’re left with the minimal supplies in our kitchen until the following morning. We’re reassured that bars and restaurants will still be open though so we’re unlikely to starve. We bid Dominik Auf Wiedersehen before heading out to check out the city.
We amble around the city with no particular place in mind. It’s mid-afternoon and a little grey weather-wise which means that the festive lights strung across the streets are beginning to twinkle. We come across our first Christmas market, surrounding the foot of St Stephen’s Cathedral. We don’t linger as we’re aware that in a city famous for it’s Christmas markets, this is not the last we’ll see. We wander along Graben, a pedestrianised street in the heart of Vienna’s first district, past the Pestsäule monument (a commemoration of the plague leaving Vienna) and admiring the giant teardrop shaped illuminations. The architecture in Vienna is absolutely stunning representing a whole mixture of periods and styles, and the festive lights are the perfect excuse to remember to look up and take in the elegant and elaborate buildings.
We turn onto Kohlmarkt, lined with high-end stores such as Dior, Chanel and Tiffany. Once again, our eyes are pulled upwards by the intricate strands of twinkling lights, and straight ahead is the impressive domed facade of Michaelertor, the gateway to the Hofburg Palace, the Habsburgs’ principal Winter Residence. There is another small christmas market here on Michaelerplatz, tastefully adorned in white and ivory and blending beautifully with the palace complex behind. No tackiness or clashing colours here. Even the horses pulling the tourist carriages seem to be white or cream – or at a push, pale grey – here.
We pass through the Michaelertor, stopping momentarily to admire the beautiful interior of the dome. For a gateway, this is pretty impressive. We emerge at the courtyard and pass the Kaiser Franz statue at Innehof Square before heading into through to Neue Berg and Heldenplatz (Heroes Square). This is where Adolf Hitler famously spoke to the Austrian masses in 1938 and declared the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany. We cross the Ringstraße and decide that the Christmas Village at Maria-Theresien-Platz will be the perfect place to devour a (very) late lunch and a warming punsch. Lunch is goulash served in a bread bowl which takes some creative problem-solving in how to eat without puncturing the outer bread layer and thus causing goulash leakage.
My weihnachtspunsch is a pretty potent amaretto concoction. All surrounded by some impressive imperial buildings in Vienna’s Museumquartier and under the watchful gaze of Maria Theresia herself. We learn a lot about this lady over the next 24 hours, not least that she was the only female ruler of the House of Habsburg, gave birth to 16 children (one of her daughters being a certain Marie-Antoinette), paved the way for compulsory education for all and reformed the military and judicial systems. She clearly liked to keep herself busy.
We declare this our favourite market so far.
Fuelled by punsch, we wind our way along Ringstraße before coming across an impressive looking building which I declare looks a bit like “an opera house”. Yes, we have stumbled upon Vienna State Opera House. It’s a truly beautiful building and I can’t wait to see inside the following evening. There are a plethora of men dressed like Mozart trying to sell us performance tickets. We politely decline. We follow Kärtner Strasse all the way from the Opera House; another beautiful pedestrianised street with fashion chains and department stores nestling shoulder to shoulder with huge souvenir shops, elegant cafes and the flagship Swarovski store. Once again, the buildings are beautifully wrapped for Christmas.
We head back across the centre towards our apartment to pop on some more layers before heading out in search of more Christmas markets. This time we’re off to the big one, the Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz. Held in front of the neo-Gothic City Hall, this is Vienna’s largest festive market, with over 150 stalls, a small fairground, an ice rink – actually more ice pathways rather than the traditional rink – and what seems like hundreds upon hundreds of fairy lights festooning both the park’s trees and the ginormous Christmas tree centrepiece. Unsurprisingly for a weekend evening, it’s very busy (did we learn nothing from last week’s trip to London’s Winter Wonderland?) so we leave Rathausplatz behind in search of a slightly less manic market.
We head for Freyung – but slightly deviate from our path for a beer in Zattl. The Old Viennese Christmas Market on Freyung is definitely a little more traditional but we fear we’ve left it a little late for food and drink as some of the stalls are starting to close. The Advent Market at Am Hof however is still doing a roaring trade so we split up to see what wares we can bring back to share. Mr Fletche goes for the fried potatoes, sauerkraut and bacon combo, whilst – remaining on a fried potato theme – I opt for the garlic-oil covered langos. Perfect festive market food. The drinks stalls are a notch up from the other markets too with more luxurious mulled alcohol on offer. As regular readers of A Brummie Home and Abroad will know, I’m a huge fan of the Aperol Spritz so I gave the winter warmer version a big thumbs-up. This is now my favourite market so far.
Sated in the food and drink department, we’re now starting to flag so we wind our way back to our apartment. We have a date with Spar in the morning to pick up necessary supplies.
For the next (lengthy) part of our Vienna adventures, click here!