The cold winter months are a major problem for us born wanderers. If you’re not a skier or snowboarder, it’s hard to enjoy traveling when your favorite destinations are buried under the snow.
Under snow, though, is where Vienna shines. From world-class museums to steaming cups of mulled wine, the Imperial City is packed with outstanding winter activities. Here are a few of my top picks for things to do in Vienna this winter.
By Eric Halsey
1. THE JOY AND TRADITION OF VIENNA’S CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Kicking off around mid-November and running through to Christmas, the Advent season fills Vienna with enchanting Christmas bazaars. From the famous Wiener Christkindlmarktin front of the iconic Rathaus to the lesser-known markets scattered throughout the city, there is a never-ending supply of ornaments, souvenirs, knick-knacks, and Christmas kitsch of all kinds.
Of course, the food and drink at these markets should also attract the interest of cold and hungry tourists, from my personal favorite, the mulled wine or glühwein, to a huge variety of traditional snacks and pastries. You may be able to find Christmas markets throughout Europe, but you won’t find them so packed with tradition.
2. THE SOARING EMOTIONS OF A CLASSIC VIENNESE OPERA
Of course, Opera in Vienna is a year-round activity (minus the usual summer break), but there’s something unique about the way you experience this art in the winter. There is an incomparable sensation to stepping into the warm embrace of a richly-decorated Viennese opera house to enjoy one of the spectacular performances set for this winter season.
If you’re new to Opera or think it’s all just drama, remember there are great comedies to enjoy in the coming months. The Csárdás Princess and Die Lustige Witwe, both at the Volkshoper, offer hilarious glimpses into the absurdities and wit of the Vienna of another era. For another type of performance, you could always try the world-famous Spanish Riding School as well.
3. THE ENCHANTING BEAUTY AND HISTORY ENCASED IN VIENNA’S MUSEUMS
You could hardly be more spoiled for choice when it comes to world-class museums than in Vienna. Even if you’re for some reason not interested in exploring the palaces of the Habsburgs and other noble families, you can learn about the early history of psychology at the Sigmund Freud Museum.
It goes without saying that you can enjoy some of the most stunning art you’ll find anywhere on Earth at such famous collections as the Albertina and the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Needless to say, there’s a top-quality museum in Vienna to suit anyone’s taste.
4. THE SUBTLE ELEGANCE AND SUPERB COFFEE OF VIENNA’S FAVORITE CAFES
Coffee in Vienna is about three things: the coffee itself, the atmosphere, and the history. So, besides enjoying a cup of Viennese coffee while watching the snow slowly fall outside (and honestly, who couldn’t love that?) you can connect with a centuries-old tradition by discussing the issues of the day.
Or, you can simply sit back and watch the rest of the world go about its business while you take in the flavors and aromas of a truly great cup. Personally, I think there’s no better way to spend a winter afternoon than in a richly-decorated Viennese coffee shop with a slice of Sachertorte à la Sacher and a well-made espresso.
So, Why Vienna?
It’s hard to find a better city in which to enjoy a few chilly winter days. While any individual part of this range of activities can be found in other European cities, no other place does all of them quite as well as Vienna. Of all the cities I’ve visited, the Imperial City may just be the only one I actually prefer in December. Book yourself a flight and I think you’ll agree.
About the Author: Eric Halsey is a writer, traveler, historian, and music lover who’s spent the past 4 years based in Budapest and Sofia. He has a strong passion for the history and culture of Central Europe and the Balkans, and never passes on a nice cup of Viennese coffee and a train ride through the old Empire.