From Austria’s capital to its smallest city, festive Advent markets have become so popular here that Christmas now counts as a fifth season. Count us captivated!
As the most wonderful time of year draws near, villages and cities throughout Austria dress to impress in full holiday splendor. Christmas markets begin to appear in late November, a week before the first of four Advent Sundays, and stay open until Christmas Eve.
With the arrival of Christmas markets, ice-skating rinks and a fairytale ball season, Vienna is transformed into a land of enchantment. The city’s largest market is the historic Vienna Magic of Advent in front of City Hall. For a flair of imperial romance look to Schönbrunn Palace, where concerts and handmade decorations deck the palace courtyard. The Belvedere Palace frames an elegant Baroque backdrop for the picturesque Christmas village that brings its winter gardens to life.
The old town of Graz, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, sparkles with 14 unique and lavishly decorated Christmas markets. Stroll down narrow, cobble-stone streets past medieval, pastel-hued houses to the heart of festive activity in front of City Hall. Concert and choral performances ring out from the angel pavilion and, when night falls, a City Hall-adorned advent calendar basks the square in a merry glow. One of the most magnificent Advent sights in Graz can be found tucked away in the courtyard of the historic Landhaus, the seat of state government: Ice sculptors carve 50 tons of clear ice into a larger-than-life nativity scene backlit with beautiful colors. For the best views over the city, take the funicular up to the “Aufsteirern” Christmas Market on the Schlossberg, where Advent huts sell local arts and crafts, as well as mulled wine and regional specialties.
For a more bucolic experience visit the Christmas Market in Rattenberg, a medieval city with only 439 inhabitants. Covering an idyllic 27 acres, Austria’s smallest city serves as the perfect backdrop for an old-fashioned, candlelit Advent celebration. Glass blowers and musicians perform for market-goers in search of distinctive handmade decorations and a taste of Christmas past. Be sure to check when planning your visit, as the lovely market is held only on certain weekends in December.