Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Want to Experience the Magic of Austria's Christmas Markets with Your Kids?

Thanksgiving is a time for family, feasting, and, in our case, a trip to the beautiful cities of Vienna and Salzburg in Austria. With my husband and two daughters, ages 7 and 9, in tow, we set out to explore the Christmas markets and enjoy all that these two cities have to offer. This was our second visit to European Christmas markets, and we were so happy to be back in action after they were closed for the last few years. 

Woman and man drinking at Vienna Christmas market
Gluhwein at Am Hof market

Vienna, the city of art and music, is also home to some of the best Christmas markets in the world. We started at the Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz, one of the largest markets in the city. In addition to the usual stalls selling crafts and food, there was also an ice-skating rink to enjoy. This was where I first tasted some of the classic Austrian Christmas treats, like kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) and kaiserschmarrn (torn pancakes) with plum compote. Sweet treats abound in these markets, and my kids were in heaven sampling the wide variety available.

Pretzels at Austrian Christmas Market

While Rathausplatz was a popular market, it wasn't my favorite. I preferred the smaller markets, such as Freyung and Am Hof, where I found some truly unique crafts and ornaments. Another highlight in Vienna was the Stephansplatz market, located in the shadow of the Gothic Stephansdom church. It was lively and energetic, and we also enjoyed the younger, hipper vibe at the Spittelberg market, where we grabbed a drink at one of the many stalls. 

Purple lit gothic church at Vienna Christmas Market
Stephansplatz market in Vienna

One thing we loved about all of the markets was the option to enjoy holiday boozy treats like gluhwein (hot mulled wine) or flavored punsch, and the ability to add to our festive mug collection by buying the market-specific mugs for a small fee. We now have quite a collection of mugs from our travels!

Woman and child drinking gluhwein in Vienna
Gluhwein at Schonbrunn Palace's Christmas Market

One market that we couldn't miss was the one at Schonbrunn Palace. Located in the courtyard outside the palace, this market had perhaps the most elegant crafts of any in Vienna including several pig-themed ones for my porcine-obsessed 9-year-old. Don't miss the booth with activities for kids. My daughters loved the scavenger hunt, and I loved having a moment to sip my punsch in peace.

We also combined our visit with a tour of both the kids' museum and the main palace, which was a hit with my daughters. They loved dressing up in costumes at the kids' museum, while I enjoyed learning more about Austria's most famous emperor, Franz Ferdinand, and his fascinating wife, Sisi. We even watched Netflix's The Empress before the trip to get a better sense of their lives. 

Girl dressed up at Schonbrunn's Children's Museum
Dress up at Schonbrunn Palace Christmas Market

In addition to these cultural stops, we also made sure to indulge in some of Vienna's famous coffee salons. We had breakfast at Cafe Central and enjoyed the famous sacchertorte at Cafe Demel. Dinner was a highlight, with exceptional meals at Glacis Beisl (where we feasted on wiener schnitzel and grammel dumplings) and Lugeck, where we enjoyed rye sourdough bread with caramelized creamy butter and delicious Viennese fried chicken. Vienna is a city of immigrants, so we also had a hearty Israeli lunch at Neni am Wasser (cash only).

Christmas market crafts in Vienna
Christmas market crafts at Schonbrunn

After a few days in Vienna, we took a train to Salzburg, the city of Mozart and The Sound of Music. Naturally, we had to take the Sound of Music bus tour, a must-do for fans of the movie. We saw places like Mirabelle Palace Gardens, where the Von Trapp kids sang Do Re Mi, and Leopoldskron Palace, which served as the lakeside view of the Von Trapp home. 

Two girls standing in front of gazebo from Sound of Music
I am 16 going on 17

Despite the dreary weather, the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt was perhaps even more atmospheric than anything we saw in Vienna. Located next to the city's main cathedral, the market was filled with twinkling lights and carolers, making it the perfect setting for some holiday cheer. I also had the chance to enjoy one of my favorite holiday drinks, a lumumba (basically a boozy hot chocolate). Salzburg was a delight, but 1 night/2 days was plenty for my family. 

Salzburg Christmas market at night
Salzburg Christmas Market - so pretty, right?

My only misstep was paying to go up to Fortress Hohensalzburg after hours on a rainy day. The funicular was enjoyable and the view was pretty but not enough to justify the cost.

View of Salzburg from Hohensalzburg fortress on a rainy day
View from Hohensalzburg - nice but not worth beaucoup bucks!

Overall, our trip to Vienna and Salzburg over Thanksgiving was a memorable one, and was a perfect add-on to several days in Paris. We combined cultural experiences with indulging in the local cuisine and enjoying the festive atmosphere of the Christmas markets. 

3 nights Vienna
1 night in Salzburg

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Adventurous Tastes' Guide to Christmas in Austria with Kids

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