It’s the historical home of Freud, Beethoven, Mozart, Klimt, and countless other household names. But what can you do when visiting Austria’s biggest city in winter? Spoiler alert: a lot.
The city is especially magical during the colder months, when its classic European charm shines through more than ever. The beautiful architecture, church spires, and famous Danube River look like they were made for this season.
From Christmas markets to classical music and famous artworks, you’re guaranteed to find something that pleases everyone in one of Europe’s most iconic cultural capitals. By the end of this post, you’ll be a certified expert on the top things to do and see in Vienna.
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Roam around Vienna’s Christmas markets
Christmas in Austria is a big deal. Winter can get pretty cold in Vienna, so it’s no surprise that the locals are very much into creating a warm festive atmosphere. And the glühwein helps too.
Vienna is renowned for its Christmas markets, and there’s no better way to explore the local culture than by eating, drinking, and browsing your way through the festive stalls here. Check out the Christmas festivities on Rathausplatz, featuring spectacular illuminations, 150 different stalls, and an authentic ice rink for you to channel your inner Yuzuru Hanyu on.
You can also visit the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz, which is right next to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. In other words, you can admire masterpieces by Caravaggio, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens and more, before rewarding yourself for being so cultured with some festive Austrian treats.
Experience the world’s best classical concerts
As the spiritual home of classical music icons like Mozart, there’s no better place in the world to go see a performance. Even if you’re not a devoted Liszt-lover or Beethoven-bae, seeing (well, hearing) a professional orchestra play famous pieces in person is a seriously impressive – sometimes life-changing – experience. You never know until you try it.
Luckily, winter happens to be the perfect time to try it, with the annual Mozart and Strauss New Year’s Eve Concert taking place on December 31st. Located in the opulent Renaissance-style Kursalon, this combination of music, romance, and fireworks is the closest any of us will ever get to a real-life fairy tale.
Treat yourself by listening to some of the most treasured musical creations by Austrian artists. In terms of legacy, there’s no composer greater than Mozart, who has cemented himself as the single-biggest musical genius in the history of humanity. And Strauss was pretty good too. Sorry, Johann.
Make getting around easier with the Vienna Pass
The only downside to exploring a new city during wintertime is that it can get rather cold, and if you don’t know where you’re going, you might spend a lot of time outside.
Make life a bit easier for yourself and get a Vienna Pass, which gives you unlimited free transport on the city’s hop-on, hop-off buses. Stuck? No problem. Just hop on the bus and let it take you to the nearest interesting sight to see.
You’ll also get free admission to over 60 top attractions around the city (in other words, shelter from the rain) and some pretty substantial discounts all around Vienna. Your pass includes access to the famous Mozarthaus, the apartment in which the great composer lived and composed his masterpieces, which is now a tribute to his life and work. The Johann Strauss Apartment is also included.
Take a day trip from Vienna to Graz
Vienna is a beautiful city, but often the best travel experiences come from visiting more than just one place. Combine your trip to Vienna and all its must-sees with a day or two away from the beaten path. Austria’s second-largest city, Graz, has a lot to offer.
Culturally, it’s very different. There’s a huge Slovenian and Croatian influence, giving the city a completely alternative identity to Vienna. That’s not to say that there weren’t equally big personalities who lived and worked here though – think Nikola Tesla, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Erwin Schrödinger. And if we’re taking ‘big’ literally, Arnold ‘The Governator’ Schwarzenegger grew up in Thal, a small town just a couple of kilometres away from here.
Graz’s old historic centre is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, and looks absolutely stunning in winter. Eggenberg Palace is another local UNESCO site, and while it’s closed during the winter months, the sight of this Baroque masterpiece covered in snow makes for an unmissable photo opportunity.
Graz is a 2.5-hour drive away from Vienna, but our recommendation is to use Austria’s excellent train system instead. You’ll be there in roughly the same time without needing to drive, convert petrol prices, or worry about denting your rental car.
Feast on delicious Austrian food
Winter is a challenging time. We all need a little bit of additional padding to make it through the harsh temperatures, and keep ourselves warm and cozy. Like bears. Little round bears. Luckily, Vienna is a pretty great place for some hearty winter meals.
It’d be a crime not to mention wiener schnitzel, one of Austria’s most popular national dishes, so closely linked to Vienna that it’s literally in the name. These fried cutlets are traditionally made from veal, but other options – including vegetarian ones – are available throughout the city.
How about some strudel? Arguably the most well-known Austrian dish, and also the most universally loved. Who could object to delicious buttery pastry wrapped around sweet and warm cinnamon apple filling? There’s no better place in the world to get your strudel on than in Vienna during winter.
Lastly, a slightly more obscure recommendation: Kaiserschmarrn. Think of a delicious stack of hot and fluffy pancakes, divided up into perfect bite-sized nuggets of doughy goodness, covered in powdered sugar, then hidden underneath a collection of warm seasonal berries. It’s enough to make you wish it was winter all the time.