From mid-November until Christmas Eve, thousands of colourful lights illuminate the winter darkness in the Alps. Then, it’s time for Christmas Markets.
In Austria, Christmas Markets are called either Weinachtsmarkt, Adventmarkt or Christkindlmarkt. They are a mixture of buying frenzy and traditional and religious traditions. In a catholic country such as Austria, Advent and Christmas are, of course, important religious festivals. You can find Christmas Markets, in one form or another, all over Austria. Check out the local tourist office websites for dates and opening hours. If you are on a weekend trip to Austria, they are open all day most weekends in December.
Christmas Markets are an excellent place to find handcraft and locally made products. The vendors range from housemothers to farms to small businesses offering their products to locals and tourists alike. We find Christmas Markets a great place to shop for Christmas gifts as you can find things that you rarely come across in shopping malls, or at least they are handmade with care instead of mass-produced in a factory in Asia somewhere. Usually, you will find nice eatable or drinkable gifts as well, which serve as a lovely gifts and represent traditional Austrian culture and traditions. Christmas Markets are also the perfect place to replace some of your old Christmas tree decorations, as the choice is usually enormous.
Christmas Markets in Austria not only serve as a place for shopping but very much as a meeting place. Locals enjoy meeting friends and relatives to catch up on things in a hectic pre-Christmas season. Often there are loads of activities going on as well, for adults but especially for kids. It’s great to hang out and sample local beverages and foods. Take a stroll through the Christmas market and breathe the scent of freshly roasted chestnuts and hot Glühwein – just fantastic!
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Silent night in Oberndorf
Oberndorf, not far from Salzburg, is famous worldwide as the birthplace of the carol Silent Night (German: Stille Nacht). The little town by the Salzach river on the border with Germany has become an obligatory stopover for Christmas travellers. During the Christmas mass in 1818, Silent Night! Holy Night! was performed for the first time by Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr in the St. Nikolaus Church. There is, of course, a “Silent Night” museum and Christmas market in town, a small but very nicely done at the Silent Night Chapel.
From folksy to fancy
Christmas Markets come in all shapes and forms. Some are down-to-earth but very cosy events, while others are elaborate and hectic circuses. Most larger cities and towns have several Christmas Markets going on simultaneously, allowing you to choose different settings, themes and sizes. Vienna, for example, has 14 Christmas Markets spread out around the city this year. If you are up for 2-3, we recommend visiting the Schönbrunn Palace, the Stephens Cathedral and Spittelberg Christmas Markets to sample different atmospheres and a selection of products. The first markets open on November 15 and close on December 23. A few have opened longer. They are all easily reachable by public transport.
All over Austria
Christmas Markets in cities like Graz, Innsbruck and Salzburg are, of course, well worth a visit. If you have time and transport, try to visit Christmas Markets in smaller towns or villages. Small doesn’t necessarily mean less gaudy or dull. Some of them are fantastic and offer an excellent chance to indulge with the locals with far less stress. We’ve also very much enjoyed visits to Christmas Markets in places like Fürstenfeld (Styria), Lienz (East Tirol) and Freistadt (Upper Austria), to mention a few.
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