In 2018, a friend and I went on a Christmas Market River Cruise. The cruise began in Vienna. Christmas time in Vienna is the perfect time to visit, and so, we added 3 days to our schedule to make the most of it!
Entering the arrivals hall and seeing your name on a sign is the most welcome sight. It means you have the luxury of having assistance from that point on.
We arrived at Le Meridien Hotel in Vienna safely, and with a recommendation from our driver for our Thanksgiving dinner. Our room was ready, and with a brief stop to drop off our luggage we were off and running. I mean, we were burning daylight, and there were places to go and things to do.
There are so many things to do in Vienna at Christmas. One of the ways to make it easier for you to to see and do and get around is to purchase a Vienna Red Card.
We made a bee line for the Tourist Board to pick up our Vienna Red Cards. These cards give you unlimited use of the transportation system – trams, trains, buses. Not only that but discounts on admissions and free admissions in some cases. Vienna Red cards included all public transportation as a benefit.
With Red Cards in hand, we began walking and stopping here and there to take in the sights. Ultimately we went to St. Stephansplatz, which was lighted outside for Christmas time and then went inside the beautiful, enormous cathedral.
The cold and hunger took us to the Hotel Am Stephansplatz to their Café Bar ARAGALL. Café Bar ARAGALL is across from the entrance to St. Stephens. The first of many hot chocolates and steaming bowls of soups on this trip.
We stopped at the newly restored Capuchin Church where we bought tickets for their Advent Concert that evening. An Advent concert at Christmas time in Vienna, sounded like the perfect way to cap off a day. I recommend you visit this church because it is beautiful inside. The Capuchin Church Imperial Crypt is below the church and it holds the remains of members of the House of Hapsburg. Be sure to purchase the extra ticket to go down into the crypt.
Arriving a few days before a cruise starts gives you some extra time to adjust to the new time zone. After sleeping in to help overcome jet lag, we took a late morning tram ride to the Upper Belvedere Palace to see the Klimt exhibit.
Insider tip: With the Vienna Red Card, admission to the museum was free.
First, we stopped at the Art Corner Cafe, across from the entrance gates for brunch of soup and pita bread. (It’s a cute, colorful Greek restaurant.)
The Upper Belvedere holds the Gustav Klimt exhibit that is world famous. It gained even more fame when the movie, The Woman in Gold, was released. The story is of the recovery of the Klimt painting ‘Adele’ stolen by the Germans, along with 4 other paints and many other treasures. We both watched this movie on the flight overseas and wanted to see the Klimt paintings that were still there. We were not disappointed either. The most famous of the paintings is ‘The Kiss.’
Thanksgiving was a dress up affair for us. We had dinner at Meissl and Schadn, where Wiener Schnitzel is the specialty. It was highly recommended, and it was perfect for the evening. (Please note that Weissl und Schadn is currently closed due to Covid. I hope it opens soon, their wiener schnitzel was worth writing home about.)
Then we had a short walk to the Vienna State Opera house for the opera ‘Rusalka.’ I had never heard of it either if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a Czech opera with a cautionary tale and quite gruesome.
What is there to do Christmas in Vienna? Watch the world famous Lippinzaners go through their paces during the morning training session.
Purchase your tickets for the morning practice – you can do it right at the school or in advance. There are no reserved seats. Arrive early for best location. Remember, this is another venue included in the Vienna Red Card.
The Spanish Riding School is located in the Hofburg Palace, seat of the Austrian government and 600 year Hapsburg reign. Outside, of course, there was a Christmas Market!
There was a large crowd, and we were lucky enough to find seats along the rail looking down into the practice area. I managed to click off a couple of pictures before being told no photography. Afterwards, we caught the tour of the Spanish Riding School including the stables. You can get very close to the magnificent stallions on this tour, as well as seeing their tack and other riding related items.
The evening brought an Advent Concert at the Church of the Capuchin Friars. As previously mentioned, it has been beautifully restored and was the perfect addition to our stay in Vienna. Afterward, we had dinner at Café Mozart.
Insider tip: The café culture in Vienna is like no other. For one thing, you will not be thrown out or asked to leave. You can sit all day if you like. Please note that a bill will not be brought until you ask for it. So, keep this in mind, this is true in both cafes and restaurants.
Transition Day from the hotel to ship. I don’t remember much about this morning except packing up and taking a taxi to Handelskai, the port in Vienna.
Christmas Markets are the reason we came, but you may have noticed I didn’t stay much about Christmas Markets. That’s because we were going to see the Christmas Markets in Vienna as shore excursions from our cruise ship. To avoid duplication, we focused our time on the sights and sounds that Vienna uniquely offers. Concerts, operas, museums, Spanish Riding School and of course St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Trust me, there was plenty of time to see the Christmas Markets of Vienna later in the week.
As a traveler and a luxury travel advisor, there is so much more to do, see, eat and drink in Vienna. I’m not sure five days would even be enough. Many museums at the Hofburg Palace, Picasso, and Monet exhibits at the Albertina, the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, and more time to sit and enjoy the café culture of Vienna, and the yummy treats.
And so ends the first 3 ½ days of our visit at Christmas time in Vienna. The Christmas Market river cruise comes next, and the surprises that came along the way.
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