Vienna's Tasty Christmas Markets
Like its surfeit of delightful, curlicue-accented baroque buildings, the Christmas markets in Vienna are cozily traditional. And there are several just a few blocks apart around the UNESCO-recognized Innere Stadt old town area.
It’s best to arrive early at the Rathaus City Hall market to avoid the bottlenecking crowds. With its hundreds of grotto-like stalls and excess of Scrooge-thawing illuminations – including the Rathaus’s dramatically lit neo-gothic façade – it’s a must see as well as a must-eat. But while the markets I've also visited in Berlin were dominated by sausages, Vienna’s appear firmly committed to indulgent Yuletide cakes and pastries.
I start with some crumbly, vanillaesque crescent cookies, the Austrian equivalent of Christmas shortbread. They slide down perfectly with a creamy hot chocolate.
Realizing I’ve eaten dessert before the main course, I rectify matters with a metro hop to the nearby Museums Quartier and the village-like market in Maria-Theresien-Platz square. Overlooked by imposing palace-like buildings, I sidle up to a stand comprising two large, steaming braziers. The first pumps out the almost meaty aroma of horse chestnuts, while the second is packed with crispy-skinned roast potatoes, served in conical paper bags and topped with garlic mayonnaise. In the interests of research, I buy a bag of each.
Waddling blindly southwestward to work off my straining Yuletide belly, I suddenly stumble on the day’s final market. And, luckily, I’ve inadvertently saved the best until last.
Colonizing the stone-paved, fairy-lit backstreets of the Spittelberg district – where narrow passages are dreamily overlooked by shuttered 18th-century townhouses – I find dozens of welcoming little stalls twinkling in the deepening early-evening darkness.
I stop first for a shallow-fried, plate-sized potato pancake that I brush with garlic paste from a little tray on the counter. It’s sinfully delicious. Picking up some little Zotter chocolate bars for home and then warming my hands on a grin-triggering mug of gluhwein flavored with plum liqueur, I move on in search of the day’s final round of desserts.
I start with a chocolate-covered confection resembling an oversized chestnut and filled with soft marzipan. Then I find an icing-sugar-dipped cookie shaped like a horseshoe with thin layers of chocolate cream inside.
But the winner comes from a doubled-sized gingerbread cookie stand. I’m drawn to its pink-iced St. Nicholas figures and date-studded devils with their tongues sticking out. Traditionally, these two work together to decide whether children have been good or bad in the run up to Christmas. As I sink my teeth into the soft, spicy devil cookie and reflect on my naughty over-indulgence in Vienna, I already know which list I’ll be on.
If you go:
Vienna's Christmas markets open daily until December 24, with some continuing into the New Year. Starting around midday, they typically run until at least 8 p.m. Check for information on the markets and on arranging city visits via the Vienna Tourist Board (www.vienna.info).
Well-located sleepover recommendations in the centre of all the action include the Hotel Das Triest (www.dastriest.at).