Vienna in December: 5 Epic Family Adventures on a Budget
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit Vienna in December? What is the run-up to Christmas like in another location and culture? How many Christmas markets are there in Vienna? Where would you stay? Can you do it on a small budget?
Just before the global pandemic erupted, WWB Writer, Suzanne, took a mid-December family trip to Vienna, the stunning capital city of Austria. She has created a guide for us to enjoy Vienna on a budget.
Our family of six went for a short break on a tiny budget. Three days of epic family fun and adventure in one of the world’s greatest cities! Read on to find out our top tips and must-sees when visiting Vienna in Decembe.
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(Image Nighttime Christmas market scene, photo credit James Buckley)
Vienna is the capital city of Austria, situated in the heart of mainland Europe. Vienna is located in the east of the country, close to the borders with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Austria has a population of around 8.8 million people, around two million of whom live within the metropolitan area of Vienna.
Vienna has a mix of strong architectural styles including Baroque, Modernist, Gothic and Art Nouveau among others and is built along Europe’s second-longest river, the River Danube.
Transport when visiting Vienna in December
We flew with Jet2 from Manchester Airport (UK) to Vienna International Airport (Flughafen Wien). On our arrival, we found the airport and its services were clean and well organised, and we found the train to our accommodation without difficulty. We left three days later from Vienna Central Station (Wien Hauptbahnhof) on an OBB train to the Czech Republic, again having had a really positive experience of the staff and facilities.
We bought 48-hour Vienna tickets that covered us for all public transport during our short break. Have a look at the variety and value of public transport on Wien.info site. The Vienna ticket is great value and allowed us to use the trains, subway and trams during our stay and they also cover the bus routes.
Where to stay as a family in Vienna in December
Booking.com has great accommodation on their website to suit all budgets, including:
- A family-friendly apartment in the city centre
- Or this slightly more expensive but fabulous centrally located apartment.
Airbnb also has plenty of budget-friendly properties available for December including:
Where we stayed
We booked a spacious family room in this hotel costing just under £100 per night during winter 2019. This nightly cost included the room and breakfast for six people.
Our family room was ample size for the six of us (two adults, one teen, two tweens and a seven-year-old) with four single beds and a bunk bed. It also included private bathroom facilities, a table and chairs and storage for six people. The staff were brilliant and helpful, and the hotel was clean and functional. Our girls made themselves at home in the hotel’s tv/bar area, enjoying hot chocolates and movies on demand.
We chose to stay somewhere we could have breakfast included, in order to have a good breakfast at the start of the day and reduce the amount we needed to spend on food while we were out and about exploring.
Because we only had three days, we stayed central, focussing on trips and locations that were within the city limits in order to keep our travel time and travel costs down.
What to pack for Vienna December events
(Image Daytime market scene, photo credit James Buckley)
- Winter coat
- Good footwear
Wrap up warm! As British people who are used to damp, chilly winter days, we completely underestimated the chill factor on our first day in Vienna. Layering up is a must! We made sure our girls had plenty of layers, as well as great winter jackets, hats and gloves. The Christmas markets do sell some warm outerwear if you get caught out by the weather, but beware the inflated prices you will pay!
Good footwear is essential for all the walking around the city and the markets. There are so many things to do in Vienna in December that you don’t want your trip ruined by blisters! Our girls wore a variety of winter boots between them, such as these or these Mountain Warehouse boots, both of which worked to keep their feet comfy, warm and dry for all the walking that we did in Vienna.
Our girls each had a small rucksack that they carried throughout our trip, meaning that they could carry their own hat, scarf, gloves, water bottle, spending money and waterproof top layer. We like these rucksacks and ours are lasting well, despite being very well-used!
What were our five most epic family things to do in Vienna, Austria in December?
See the lights
(Image Christmas lights Stephansplatz, photo credit James Buckley)
Stephansplatz, home of the gothic-inspired, intricately decorated St Stephen’s Cathedral, is the location of one of the smaller Christmas markets. It comes resplendent with the most beautiful Christmas LED lights that I have ever seen. Almost a million lights, to be exact!
No illuminated Santa in sight – think more of chandeliers and light chains, hanging from one side of the pedestrianised street to the other for as far as your eye can see. We were entranced by the beauty of the white lights and a variety of arrangements. Vienna in December is a sparkling beauty!
Go ice skating
We prepared and researched in advance the things to do in Vienna at Christmas so that we knew what we could do for free and prioritised the paid activities that our family was really interested in.
The biggest expense on our trip was ice skating at the ChristKindlMarkt at Rathausplatz – our girls’ one wish for the trip! It cost us around €35 for one adult and two child tickets, including skate hire. You can book here.
The ice arena is large (around 3,000m²) and meanders through the brightly-lit trees and market stalls around the large square in front of the town hall (Rathaus). There is plenty of room for novice and experienced skaters alike, with a small free rink for tots and those wanting to test out their skating skills before launching onto the main ticketed skating arenas.
Sample the food and drink
(Image Christmas markets food, photo credit James Buckley)
The girls loved the creamy garlic soup in a crusty bread bowl that we found at each of the markets we visited. They loved the novelty of being able to eat the soup and then devour the vessel that it came in.
Meanwhile, the hot and very alcoholic Weihnachtspunsch went down well with the adults in the party! The markets all sold a non-alcoholic, spiced juice version as well for those preferring a non-alcoholic beverage.
(Image Girl holding mulled wine, photo credit Alisa Anton on Unsplash)
Chimney cake was a big hit. Although more commonly associated with the markets in Prague, it is found in many of the markets across central Europe. Chimney cake is a cake dough wrapped around a spit and cooked over a warm grill.
Once cooked it is rolled in crushed nuts or cinnamon-spiced sugar. At some of the markets, it is also coated with chocolate spread on the inside of the spiral. We may have sampled chimney cake from more than one market during our trip!
(Image Chimney cake, photo credit Leonhard Niederwimmer on Pixabay)
Potato spirals were a favourite for our family. These potato spirals are peeled, spiralised and deep-fried potatoes that you buy by the cone. Like a freshly-fried version of crisps (or potato chips), we ate a few of those cones during our seventy-two-hour flying visit.
And last but definitely not least, the classic Austrian würst, or sausage, which our eleven-year-old lived off for three days! Sausage with mustard, sausage with bread, sausage in a bread roll, sausage with tomato ketchup, sausage filled with melted cheese bites, and two sausages doubled up in a roll together.
(Image Sausage, photo credit Matt Seymour on Unsplash)
This piece by The Vienna Blog is an excellent feature on the range of food and drink available at the various markets across the city.
Visit the palaces
(Image Schönbrunn Palace, photo credit James Buckley)
Vienna is packed full of grand palaces and incredible vistas. Our palace highlight was Schönbrunn Palace, a short tram ride from the city centre. Schönbrunn Palace was built in the 1600s in the Baroque style and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is definitely one to add to your list of ‘must-see places’ during your stay in Vienna. Book your tour tickets here.
At Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna in December, there is a large Christmas market with craft and food stalls on the palace forecourt. Of course, you can also take advantage of going inside any of the palaces – they’re definitely worth having on your list of places to visit in Vienna in December.
Experience the Vienna Christmas markets
(Image ChristKindlMarkt, photo credit James Buckley)
The Christmas markets are amazing! Full of Christmas cheer, sweet treats, ice skating and souvenirs galore. The markets we visited had a real sense of tradition and history about them, from the stalls to the food, the decorations to the huge Christmas trees.
The largest market (ChristKindlMarkt at the Rathaus) comprises a meandering ice rink, a funfair complete with Ferris wheel, hundreds of food and souvenir stalls, as well as decorations throughout. There is also the huge Christmas tree covered in 2,000 LED lights which is an annual gift to Vienna by the other Austrian provinces.
Make sure you have cash on you. We needed cash for most of the market food stalls and activities. Many of the cash machines close to the main stations and markets charged a hefty withdrawal fee.
Each market has its own uniquely designed mug that is different each year. When you buy your hot drink of choice (such as Glühwein, hot chocolate, or barista coffee), you are charged an extra couple of Euros for the mug. You can then choose either to take the mug with you as a keepsake or return the mug and retrieve your deposit. I love drinking my early morning cup of tea from my Schönbrunn Palace Christmas mug!
(Image Schönbrunn Palace coffee mug, photo credit James Buckley)
Other things to consider when planning places to visit in Vienna in December
- Musical programme
- Cash or card?
- You can’t do it all!!
Austria is renowned for producing world-famous creative talent, such as the music composers Wolfgang Mozart and Joseph Haydn, the Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt and the pianist Franz Liszt.
Throughout the year there is a programme of musical and artistic events and shows running at various beautiful locations around the city. These especially come alive during December when Vienna hosts a myriad of winter and Christmas-themed concerts.
Christmas market food stalls
It may be more expensive than eating at your accommodation, but try out the Christmas market food stalls! As we said earlier, our family loved the variety of food. Our girls tried new things (chimney cake, potato spirals, creamy garlic soup) and also ate familiar food (lots and lots of sausages, plus some delicious gingerbread).
Check this post about Your Ultimate Guide To Cologne Christmas Markets
Buy an artisan ornament
The markets are choc-full of stunning hand-made wooden, wax, glass and baked ornaments. Contrary to what you may assume, the souvenir goods are high quality and usually locally made. We limited ourselves to one souvenir each per day, to safeguard our budget as well as our limited suitcase space! The girls loved the beautiful, tiny snow globes and tree ornaments the best.
We used a bank card that didn’t charge us fees for overseas use. We also made sure to carry cash when we went to the markets, as the ATMs and money exchange venues close to the tourist centres tend to charge higher fees for both exchange and withdrawal.
Check out other budget travel ideas in this article from Out and Beyond: Budget Travel Tips To Save You Thousands!
You can’t do it all!
Accept that you can’t see everything in seventy-two hours! We aimed for the activities and locations that we had researched and prioritised before our trip. This meant that we maximised our time and budget and avoided any frustrations or disappointments.
There you have it: Vienna in December things to do!
That’s our summary guide to visiting Vienna with a large family on a small budget. Visiting Vienna in December during Christmas market season was a great adventure for our family. It wasn’t difficult to do on a small budget. And we would love to go back again soon, Covid-19 allowing…