Travel special: Designer Ayush Kejriwal gives us the sights and sounds of Christmas markets of Vienna
It's a cold crisp morning here in Vienna, and I am sitting in a café beside the window typing ferociously while admiring the wonderful St Stephen’s Cathedral, surrounded by tiny huts selling all sorts of Christmas goodies. I am sipping on a delicious red velvet latte, and my laptop is covered in flaky pastry from my Apple Strudel, which was utterly divine.
I spent four days in the wonderful city to share with you the magic of the city’s imperial elegance and bustling Christmas markets, adding a sparkling allure to its baroque beauty. I am sure this elegant city puts up an amazing show any time of the year, but with the Christmas markets glittering in its prettiest squares and parks, the effect is almost cinematic. Live music, sacks full of delicious food, glittering pine trees, happy faces, remarkable architecture, wonderful smells and a mystical charm makes for an unforgettable ambience.
Choirs of frosty breath sing in market stalls, and if you wake up early on a Sunday, you can walk through the streets to hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir at Hofburg Chapel, part of the network of courtyards and arches that forms the Hofburg Quarter. In my mind, I had an image of what Vienna would be like: references to Freud, Mozart, bare-breasted stone maidens holding up arches; Schiele’s gauntly elegant self-portraits; suicidal looking cherubs dancing on palace rooftops; kartoffelpuffer (hearty potato pancakes with garlic sauce); giant pretzels and gingerbread and hot, milky mélange coffee.
The city gave me all of that and a lot more! Christmas markets in Vienna are called ‘Christkindlmarkt’ and there are several of them dotted all over the city — just follow the smell of glühwein and sausages. Rathausplatz is one of the most sought-after Christmas markets by tourists, and it’s an absolute delight — packed with charm, from the trees dripping in lights and red illuminated hearts to the grand ice rink.
There are around 150 wooden stalls selling traditional gifts, festive food and Christmas decorations. There is a grand entrance with an illuminated dome and the whole market is lined with trees covered in lights — it’s magical! I was in awe and landed up spending three hours in the market. I bought a pack of 12 baubles, three picture frames and traditional Austrian cookies. I wish I could let you all have a taste of it, they are delicious!
A city is as much about its food as it is about its sights. Vienna offers a wonderful variety of food, and there is plenty to satisfy everyone. I like sticking to the native traditional food, even though I tried several Austrian dishes. Here are a few items that I recommend:
A thin veal cullet that’s breaded and then pan-fried in butter, served with a slice of lemon and an Austrian salad made of potatoes and cucumber with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The pride of Austria — a dense chocolate cake with layers of apricot jam, topped with a shining layer of chocolate icing. You have to visit the Sacher Hotel to try this, even if it means you have to stand in the queue for a while. Try the cake with Viennese mélange coffee or spicy black tea.
Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel)
Oh! Please don’t judge me, I do have a sweet tooth. Made with a light, crispy, flaky pastry that is filled with a mixture of apples, sugar, raisins, lemon, rum, cinnamon, and cloves, the apple strudel is served with a dollop of whipped creme and dusted with icing sugar. It tastes divine with a cup of strong black Viennese coffee. You have to go to Central Café and try it there. Served in opulent surroundings by cheerful waiters, it’s a must-have.
Wiener Wurstel (Viennese Sausages)
Simple yet renowned for their flavour, it’s beef and pork encased in sheep’s intestine. Served with sharp mustard, they are perfectly accompanied by Austrian potato salad, radishes, spring asparagus, and other fresh vegetables. I ate mine in a crusty baguette with a dollop of mustard and ketchup. In the city centre, around the Ringstrasse and the old inner imperial city, there are numerous popular street vendors, or Wurstelstande, to choose from. I ate two of these every day, while I was in Vienna. You have to eat them, trust me they are wonderful... nom nom!
I was there for four days, which gave me ample time to see all the sights and enjoy the Christmas markets. A few of my favourite sites were:
St Stephen’s Cathedral
The seat of the Catholic Church in Vienna, right in the centre of the old town. I loved the roof, which is decorated with glazed and painted tiles in an ornate design.
I spent half a day here. It’s amazing and you must go. I particularly enjoyed the guided Imperial and Grand tour. There is an Apple Strudel show, where they teach you all about traditional apple strudel making techniques — plus you can eat a slice yourself. A win-win situation.
Out of all the museums and art galleries, Albertina was my favourite. An art museum, found in the Hofburg Palace complex, which is home to one of the largest print rooms in the world. It has a very large collection from artists like Monet, Cezanne and Picasso on display. It’s also home to the Hofburg Palace staterooms, which is included in your entry fee.
Apart from the sites mentioned, I did enjoy the City River Cruise, Naschmarkt, Spanish Riding School, The National History Museum and the Sigmund Freud Museum.
Oh, and before I go and plan my next holiday, I will remember to rent one of the electric scooters, to move around the city. They are easy to sign up for and so much fun. I hired one for my entire trip and loved every minute of it.