Christmas Market(ing) Off the Beaten Path

Avoid the tourist-laden Christmas markets in the the inner city and discover two local secrets

Wilhelminenberg christmas market

Panorama with a Punsch at the Wilhelminenberg Christmas market overlooking Vienna | Photo: Lauren Brassaw

With the holiday season upon us once again, many dread navigating the bustling mid-town shopping streets like Kärntner Straße or Mariahilfer Straße, looking for the right gift, or even wondering where to get a hot Glühwein (mulled wine) or Punsch without having to deal with the tourist-crowded Rathausplatz, Karlsplatz or Schloss Schönbrunn.

While Vienna’s many lovely Advent markets offer gifts and ornaments coupled with tasty, steaming alcoholic drinks in a spirit of festive jollity, they can also feel crowded and a tad commercial as bus-loads of tourists unload at their gates. To find alternatives, it took just a short trip from the city centre to a couple of smaller Weihnachtsmärkte at Schloss Wilhelminenberg and Türkenschanzpark, where a very different mood – more personal, more small-town and very gemütlich – awaits. It’s just a matter of making the journey.

 

Schloss Wilhelminenberg

Hopping on the 146B bus from Ottakring takes you right up into the winding streets of the Vienna hills and drops you at the doorstep of the stately early-20th-century castle, Schloss Wilhelminenberg. Around the back, Christmas-themed jazz adds a swing to your step as bursts of children’s laughter warm the mood, and the red- and white-striped canopies are strangely reminiscent of the grandeur of visiting the state fairground as a child.

But that’s only part of what makes this Weihnachtsmarkt special. The real deal is the 300-square-metre skating rink of groomed ice perched out over the valley, at least according to the vendors who will spend several weeks enduring the cold for the pleasure of their guests.

“You have an ice-skating rink with an amazing view overlooking Vienna,” remarked David Hanna, a young vendor at a Glühwein stand. But it gets better: “Sometimes Austrians have a reputation for being a bit grumpy, but we are not like that here… we’re friendly!” he explained.

According to another vendor, it’s not just the ice rink. “It’s the atmosphere: it’s really laid back! It’s a time for people to come together and flee from the stress of the city.” For the kids, though, the ice-skating ranks high, he added.

While the view is a highlight, the dozen or so stands also offer handmade arts and crafts – some more eclectic than others – along with a selection of candies, chocolate and other snacks.

And even though I hadn’t brought my skates, I did discover Zwetschgen-Zimt Punsch (which I had never tasted before) while absorbing the truly magnificent view over the city with the forest and vineyards running up to the castle.

 

Türkenschanzpark

Without leaving the city limits, the Weihnachtsmarkt at Türkenschanzpark offers a familiar setting in one of Vienna’s largest parks. At first the market doesn’t seem unusual – a dozen oddly spread-out, plain, burgundy-red-with-hunter-green-trim stands. But it doesn’t take long to see that this young market has something special to offer.

“Klein aber fein,” (small but special) is how Währinger district politician, Peter Wasser, described the seven-year-old Advent Market, shortly before joining an octet of brass players to play Volksmusik-style Christmas songs at the opening event on 17 November. “It’s one of the most family-oriented markets in Vienna and has nice handmade arts and crafts,” he promised.

Looking around, both claims seemed to be true. The carousel was surrounded by a sea of children waiting for the next available seat, and the stands were crammed with hand-blown glass, delicate tree ornaments, and handmade products for dogs. The selection is not nearly as large as other Viennese markets, but offers the neighbourhood a market of its own that isn’t as commercial.

“What’s also not to be missed is what the market has to offer culinarily,” Wasser added, gesturing toward the waffle stand. Perhaps the selection of steaming waffles, fire-warmed chestnuts and potatoes, Schwarzbrot baked with camembert and apples wasn’t particularly gourmet, but it was everything you could want from a Weihnachtsmarkt.

When it came time for a Punsch, the creative side of the Türkenschanz vendors came to the fore, making the choice between homemade white Glühwein with apple slices and more exotic Punsch with amaretto, pineapple-coconut, absinthe (and whatever the hair-curling Stratosphere Punsch happens to contain) all the more difficult. Asking a local was possibly the best way to decide, and it turned out to be a toss-up between absinthe-flavoured Punsch and homemade white Glühwein.

The market at Türkenschanzpark was indeed warm and convivial, focusing on the communities living in and around the 18th District. But for anybody looking for Christmas the way the locals celebrate, this is a thoroughly relaxed and pleasant atmosphere as you sip your hot mug of Glühwein and listen to an octet of horn players blow a mellow “O Tannenbaum and “Es wird scho glei” around the park’s shimmering Christmas tree.

Weihnachtsmarkt Schloss Wilhelminenberg
16., Savoyenstraße 2, Wilhelminenberg
19 Nov.23 Dec., Daily from 16:0021:00

Weihnachtsmarkt im Türkenschanzpark
17 Nov.-24 Dec., Mon.-Fri., 15:00-22:00
Sat./Sun., 12:00-22:00, 24 Dec., 11:00-15:00

For more on Vienna’s Christmas markets, see “Es Weihnachtet! Christmas Markets Fill the City”.

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