How to Spend 3 Days in Vienna During the Holidays
Come the holiday season, Vienna transforms into a world of Christmas markets, snow-laden squares, and glittering grand cafés. From sipping hot mulled wine at wooden stalls to roaming regal palaces, here’s how to enjoy three days in one of Europe’s most traditional festive hotspots, whether you’re traveling with family, friends, or your partner.
Morning: See the highlights
Start with an overview of Vienna’s landmarks dressed in their gorgeous seasonal finery. For an easy introduction to the city, ride a hop-on hop-off bus around sights such as the Hofburg Imperial Palace and State Opera. Alternatively, hit the festive boulevards on a walking or bike tour to see the palace-studded Ringstrasse, neo-Gothic Rathaus, and more. Maybe finish with a taster tour of the major Christmas markets—most open by mid-morning—to enjoy the seasonal stalls of Rathausplatz and Heldenplatz before the afternoon crowds arrive.
Afternoon: Peruse the palaces
After lunch in a cozy pub or stately café, delve deeper into Vienna’s sights. Marvel at the splendid UNESCO-listed Schönbrunn Palace—once the summer retreat of Habsburg emperors—or book a guided walk around the opulent Hofburg, home to the Sisi Museum where you can trace the life of Austria’s much-loved 19th-century Empress Elisabeth. Later, take a private vintage car jaunt around Vienna’s historical heart, absorbing its elegant architecture and holiday atmosphere as you’re served with snacks and sparkling wine.
Evening: Make for the markets
Vienna boasts around a dozen major Christmas markets, all of them extra-magical at night, so—even if you stopped by earlier—explore a few of them this evening. Learn about their origins and avoid getting lost by joining a guided tour to some of the biggest and best, including the market at Rathausplatz where an ice rink, carousels, nativity trails, and twinkling log cabins crowd together in the shadow of the Rathaus. There, sip mulled wine, sample roast chestnuts, and shop for baubles before visiting the nearby fairs at Maria Theresa Square and St. Stephen’s Square.
Morning: Fun and food
If you’re in town with children, dial up the fun at Vienna’s kid-friendly attractions—many come into their own at Christmas. Choose a family-oriented tour that serves up the city’s ice rinks, fun museums, and Prater amusement park, where many rides—including the giant ferris wheel—remain open over winter. Foodies, meanwhile, might prefer exploring Vienna’s culinary repertoire. Sign up for a food tour to savor sticky strudel, pastries, and chocolates at snowy markets or sample Vienna’s home-grown liqueur, a sure way to get into the festive spirit.
Afternoon: Music and museums
Press pause on all things holidays by focusing on the City of Music’s historical heritage this afternoon. Check out the Mozarthaus, a museum set in Mozart’s former home, or take a music tour to see sites associated with greats such as Beethoven, Vivaldi, and Haydn. Music aside, Vienna’s museums are perfect for feeding the soul while escaping the winter cold. See masterpieces such as Klimt’s The Kiss with skip-the-line entry to the Belvedere Museum, or admire the Habsburg art and jewels at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien and Imperial Treasury.
Evening: Soak in the seasonal cheer
As darkness falls and Vienna’s holiday illuminations flicker on, make for one of the city’s baroque churches or palaces for a yuletide concert. Celebrate the season with a captivating Christmas and New Year recital at St. Peter’s Church or the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace Orangery. Or, if you’re here on Christmas Eve, enjoy a Strauss and Mozart concert at Kursalon Vienna followed by an optional celebratory dinner. Then, round out the evening with a ride on the Prater giant ferris wheel for stunning views over Vienna’s baroque skyline aglitter with lights.
Morning: Scenic trips and shopping sprees
Today, experience Austria’s Alpine beauty at its Christmas-card best. Take a scenic day trip to Salzburg’s Christmas market or do the rounds of the Austrian Lake District’s (Salzkammergut) snow-blanketed lakeside villages. Alternatively, opt for a guided winter hike in the picturesque Wachau region, where trails lead you past snow-frosted vineyards, quaint villages, and the Danube to traditional inns serving hearty Austrian fare. If you choose to stay in Vienna, roam the boutique-packed Golden Quarter and shop-lined Mariahilfer Street, while shopping for seasonal souvenirs.
Afternoon: Enjoy the Viennese classics
Devote the afternoon to some of Vienna’s most quintessential offerings. Watch white Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School or learn more about two local festive favorites—wine and chocolate. Discover the secrets of Viennese chocolatiers at a chocolate-making workshop, visit the Chocolate Museum, or do both on a combo tour. Wine-lovers will likely also want to try some local tipples in Vienna’s atmospheric wine cellars—join fellow enthusiasts for a guided tasting in a cellar bar, the perfect winter afternoon haven.
Evening: Cruises and concerts
End your Vienna stay by diving back into its holiday celebrations. Start with the quirky Museum Quarter (MuseumsQuartier) Christmas market, where techno music, punch bars, and LED displays rule the roost, or join a guided pub crawl around some of the city’s liveliest bars. For something more traditional, book a romantic Danube dinner cruise and admire Vienna’s illuminations from the river over a delicious buffet and live Austrian folk music or catch a New Year’s concert inside Vienna’s dazzling Musikverein.
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