One of the benefits of visiting Vienna at different times of the year is you get to see the city in all its forms. Austria’s capital definitely changes and transforms as the seasons pass and with each change seems to come its own festival. It often feels in Vienna like they have a festival for any day ending in ‘y’ and it’s common for them to be on at the same time. However, of all the festivals in Vienna, there’s usually one that draws focus in each season. So let me take you through the biggest seasonal festivals and celebrations across a year in Vienna.
Vienna Adventsmarkets – Winter
Personally, if I had to pick one time of year to visit Vienna, it’d have to be Christmastime. Coming from somewhere like Australia where yuletide celebrations are fairly minimal, it’s hard to imagine something as all-consuming as the Viennese celebration of Christmas. All throughout the city centre and outer districts, Christmas markets known in Austria as Adventsmarkets, arise in any space that can contain them. Markets usually run from mid-November up until Christmas eve, although many transition into New Years markets.
Each market is quite individual, but they all bear common features. They’re each decorated with beautiful light displays, as is many of the city’s main streets. You’ll find elements from plenty of Austrian Christmas traditions being sold, as well as hot food and seasonal treats like Lebkuchen, ie. Gingerbread.
But the true essential item at any Viennese Christmas market is a mug of either glühwein or hot punch. In each market you’ll find several unique mugs for your drink, many in the shape of a boot, that you can even take home with you. For more on Vienna at Christmastime, take a look at my photos of the Christmas lights.
Vienna Ostern Markets – Spring
In most predominantly Christian countries, you’re bound to find something special happening around Easter and Austria is no exception. In Vienna, they respond the way they usually do, with a market. One of the largest markets is held at the Freyung square and features a variety of stalls. At many of the stalls you’ll find incredibly ornate eggs with ribbons attached so they can be hung in windows or on branches.
As for food, you can find both pained boiled eggs, as well as delicious marzipan eggs. There are also plenty of other sweet foods to be enjoyed, including a bunch of different poppy-seed cakes. As with basically every festival or holiday in Vienna, the Easter markets are another good reason to have a drink too.
Beyond markets, they unsurprisingly hold a number of concerts and operas around the city. One of the more interesting traditions is the Easter Fires, fires setup about the city where people gather to sing and dance.
Lichterfest – Summer
Summer in Vienna comes with oh so many festivals. Food, music and film all get plenty of attention as the city basks in the warm weather. None however, seem to have the same broad appeal that fireworks do. That’s why the Lichterfest fireworks festival on the Alte Donau lagoon is so popular. Sponsored by Radio Wien, this festival brings hordes of people of all ages to the shores of the lagoon in late July.
Now, watching fireworks erupt over the water would be a spectacle in itself, but Lichterfest goes one step further. All across the lagoon, you’ll find boats and pontoons adrift, decorated with different ornamental lights. Although many people are out on the water already by mid afternoon drinking and being merry, at night is when the show begins.
Dancing lights from the boats are reflected in the still lagoon surface and then BOOM, the fireworks begin directly overhead. I was lucky enough to watch from a private dock down on the water’s edge last year, a perfect vantage point.
Wiener Wiesn – Autumn
You may have heard of Oktoberfest in Munich, but did you know that similar festivals occur elsewhere in Germany and Austria? Well they do, one of which happens in Vienna around the same time. The Vienna Wiesn festival is a harvest festival that runs from late September through to early October. It’s another great excuse for locals to dress up in lederhosen and dirndls, and of course, drink beer.
Held in the grounds of the Prater park, the festival is held in large marquee tents lined with tables much as you would expect. Throughout the festival, visitors enjoy a variety of musical acts, from folk music to pop and rock. Nowhere as hectic or busy as the celebrations in Munich, you can even attend for free on Mondays and Tuesdays, although you still need to buy beer.
You can also expect to devour plenty of traditional Austrian food, with different regions highlighted on different days. If you’re looking for an excuse to get a drink during September in Vienna, look no further.
Visiting these Festivals in Vienna
Year round, you’ll find the widest range of hotels, hostels and guesthouses available for your stay in Vienna. Although Vienna may not be the cheapest country to visit in Europe, the ease of getting around there means plenty more options are open to you. As for getting there, many major airlines including Qatar Airways fly into the Austrian capital.