With glittering pine trees, clip-clopping Fiaker carriages and glowing street markets, Austria’s capital city is a winter wonderland that begs discovery
The imperial beauty of this enchanting city dazzles at any time of the year, but during the festive season it becomes almost cinematic with echoes of carols wafting from open windows and market stalls brimming with traditional fare.
Built high and mighty on the riches of the powerful Habsburg monarchy, no city waltzes so effortlessly between regal splendour and contemporary flair as Vienna. The Austrian capital lures you with its clutch of baroque palaces, burgeoning arts scene and hallowed concert halls that uphold centuries of musical tradition. Add a drool-worthy coffeehouse culture, beautifully-landscaped parks sprawling along the banks of the Danube, and a first-class public transport system, and it’s easy to understand why the city is an enduringly popular spot, filled with travellers from all corners of the Earth keen to discover its cultural charm.
A city on the move, you can’t help but fall for its fairytale-like charm. And there’s no better time than this merry season to treat yourself to a ho ho holiday…
Catch some blissful zzz’s at these charming abodes:
Stay grand at Hotel Imperial: The fairest of them all, this neoclassical hotel drips with traditional Austrian splendour. Boasting Michelin-starred dining venues, lavishly decorated suites and immaculate white-glove service, it comes as no surprise that the exclusive hotel counts royalty among its regular guests. Take a trip back to the golden age and enjoy a majestic stay just a few minutes’ walk from crowd-pulling sights like the Albertina, the State Opera and Hofburg palace.
Stay quirky at 25hours Hotel Vienna at MuseumsQuartier: A splash of colour bombards you the moment you set foot inside this circus-themed boutique hotel. Here, rooms are adorned with vivid murals, giant bench swings hang from the ceiling and signs shouting “We’re all mad here” are lined up along bustling hallways that would make Salvador Dali squeal with delight.
Stay sweet at Hotel Sacher Wien: The heavenly Sachertorte at this family-run luxury hotel is worth the stay alone. Chocolate lovers will find sweet bliss with bathtubs full of Sacher chocolate-scented toiletries, complimentary mini Sachertorte cubes and the one-of-its-kind Time to Chocolate collection of spa treatments. Throw historic ambience, elegantly-styled rooms and prime central location into the mix and you’ve got yourself a treat.
Stay glamorous at Hotel Lamée: With its 1930s swagger, silver-screen flair and sweeping city views, this romantic hideaway adds a dash of Hollywood glamour to the heart of Vienna. An ode to Austrian-American starlet Hedy Lamarr, the luxury hotel’s rooms are diva delicious with gauzy fabrics, golden-kissed mirrors and marble-clad bathrooms.
Off the rack
No amount of glitter or sequins is deemed too much here. And with a name that reflects its address, this quirky gem isn’t hard to find. Pick through stacks of fabulous pieces that can only be described as a wild mash-up of vintage chic and mid-century mod accents.
Sometimes less is more, and this artsy boutique proves just that with its avant-garde meets sleek minimalism aesthetic. Boasting bold and clean cut designs, the intriguing store draws those with an affinity for striking design.
Tucked away in the buzzing 7th district, this edgy store blends South Korean styles with Scandinavian designs to create pieces that won’t break the bank. You’re spoilt for choice with 59 different brands to pick from.
With bustling festive markets lining its squares, Vienna sets the stage for a merry shopping extravaganza
Rathausplatz The unique backdrop of the ornate and perfectly illuminated City Hall gives this market a charm of its own, but what makes it extra jolly are the delicious aromas that will to lull you into a festive bliss. Wander past 150 wooden stalls and pick from a myriad of festive gifts, decorations, handicrafts, tree lights and culinary delights.
Schönbrunn Palace Set against the glorious backdrop of one of Vienna’s iconic landmarks, this market is quite possibly the most stylish in all the city. With live music performances taking place in front of the huge Christmas tree, bask in the festive spirit and tuck into delicious Austrian delicacies. We rate the sugared pancake with raisins and chestnuts.
Spittelberg Go beyond the glitz and glamour and make a beeline for this local gem. Spread over the charming cobbled streets of the hip Spittelberg quarter, this cosy market brings a boutique flavour to the festive scene with its cheery ambience and quirky stalls that sell unique keepsakes such as ceramics, rugs and jewellery made of silver, enamel and brass.
Rise to a crescendo
The City of Music serenades you with its classical heritage
With Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert among its historical repertoire, Vienna lures with its soul-stirring history. If you can’t lock down tickets for the Vienna State Opera (tickets sell out like wildfire), Volksoper is a great alternative with a more intimate setting and intriguing line-up of local performances. Alternatively, the acoustically renowned Wiener Musikverein offers visitors the coveted chance to see the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Those who feel like going beyond the glamorous shows and diving more into the life of the geniuses behind it all should check out Mozarthaus Vienna, Mozart’s only apartment that has survived to this day.
Baroque and beyond
As you stroll through sumptuously frescoed halls replete with the iconic artworks of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka, it’s easy to understand why Belvedere Palace is considered the epitome of Viennese extravagance. Rising splendidly above perfectly-manicured gardens, the baroque masterpiece houses the famous painting by Gustav Klimt, The Kiss.
More of a hidden gem, the Palace of Justice serves as the seat of the Austrian Supreme Court and is an impressive showcase of intricate Viennese architecture with its majestic ensemble of spiralling staircase, glass roof and oversized statue of Justitia.
Right around the corner, Liechtenstein Garden Palace awes with its imperial elegance and splendour. Once considered the architectural muse of Italian landscape painter Canaletto, the grand palace boasts marvellous paintings and sculptures dating from 1500 to 1700.
You Shall Go to The Ball
The Vienna Opera Ball. The ball of all balls, the Vienna State Opera transforms into a Cinderella wonderland as ladies in fabulous gowns and gentlemen in elegant tailcoats waltz the night away in what’s considered the most beautiful ballroom in the world.
The Hofburg Silvesterball. The fireworks above the historic old town, the sounds of the Pummerin bell at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the traditional Blue Danube Waltz as the clock strikes midnight makes this an unforgettable New Year affair.
Rudolfina Redoute. For a dash of mystery, ladies are invited to don their most enticing masquerade masks, only to take them off as they lure their charming escorts to the dance floor for the ritual demasking quadrille dance at midnight.
Schmetterlinghaus: The Imperial Butterfly Park Step into a whole new world of swirling colour and admire the way hundreds of exotic butterflies flutter away amid stunning tropical foliage at this natural oasis. Part of the Hofburg palace, the Jugendstil greenhouse is home to more than 400 butterflies from different corners of the world, including vibrant Costa Rica and the lush Philippines.
Vienna Zoo Founded in 1752, the Vienna Zoo boasts an impressive history that proudly deems it the world’s oldest zoo. Watch as Siberian tigers doze off on their platforms and elephants wallow in their mud baths. Better yet, head off to watch Fu Long, Fu Hu, and Fu Bao, the zoo’s popular panda residents, as they captivate visitors with their charm. (Let’s face it, they’re pretty adorable).
Lainzer Tiergarten Grab your binoculars and take a walk on the wild side at this nature reserve in the southwest of Vienna, which is mostly covered in woodland. Adventurers can enjoy a scenic hike as they take in the city’s fascinating wildlife.
Ask a local
Fashion designer Jelena Fiala (jelenafiala.com) unveils her pick of artistic treasures to take back home
Viennese handicrafts exude a vintage allure and boast luxurious craftsmanship. Steeped in years of tradition and rich history, Augarten Porzellan is one of the oldest Austrian porcelain brands, offering a diverse collection of beautifully hand-made pieces. The stunning crafts are a great souvenir to take home. If you feel like glamming up with vintage jewels, the Girls Dreams boutique near Stephansplatz at Bräunerstraße 2 is a treasure trove of everything shiny. From gorgeously long pearl necklaces to the finest golden chains, you’ll leave in a cloud of sparkle. Alternatively, the Naschmarkt flea market has around 120 market stands selling practically everything. There are also plenty of food stalls dotted around so you can munch on a falafel wrap or hot dog as you browse. It also boasts amazing views over the canal.
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