Unlike the copycat cities in western Europe, the markets in Vienna have space to breathe
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, sang Andy Williams, and Vienna has got the hop on most of Central Europe by launching a Christmas market a few weeks ahead of every other city. Guess what – it’s magical.
At the Wiener Christkindlmarkt in Rathausplatz, tourists and Viennese alike strolled, perused and shopped, as well as making sure to take selfies and ride on the Ferris wheel.
The wooded park outside the Rathaus, or town hall, has been covered in fairy lights. A skating rink flows through the lit, leafless trees and a fun park has been built for big and small kids.
Gluhwein, strudel, and sausage are all on sale from the wooden cabins, as well as all the handcrafted decorations, treats and lights you could ever need.
There are beautiful baubles, and stars to top your tree; candelabra to light your night and bright, swirling lollipops to lap after you’ve had your fill of dinner.
And, amazingly, none of the decorations at Christkindlmarkt were overly gaudy. Perhaps this is because tastes are changing from glitz and glamour to things that appear to have been painstakingly crafted; stuff that should have a story rather than display their (lack of) value.
Or maybe the Germanic people never fell for that con.
Over the next few weeks the markets in Prague, Dresden and Graz will open. Every square and park – indeed any empty space – of cities, towns and villages will be packed with fairs full of stalls, rides and local mulled wine.
As will single squares of the copycat cities in western Europe, where they cram too much in and try to repackage the success of the originals.
Vienna will have more than 20 official markets to visit. As I walked the captivating Ringstrasse to arrive, following in the footsteps of Freud, preparations for Weihnachtsmarkt in Maria-Theresien-Platz were in full flow.
The difference between the markets I have visited at home and in London, and in Prague, Brno and Vienna is that there is space to breathe and enjoy yourself at the latter few. My advice: visit the originals for your gifts and decorations – you’ll have a better story to tell of how you experienced Christmas like never before.