[Updated December 2019]
Celebrating Christmas in Austria is guaranteed to leave you with a lifetime of fond memories, no matter in which city or village you choose to stay. But just in case you’re unable to make up your mind, we’ve put together a list of best places to be in Austria at Christmas.
The best place in Austria for Christmas, like anywhere in the world, is where you’re gathered with loved ones and friends. But what makes it even more special in Austria, is the amazing choice of magical settings to spend this special holiday. For us, it’s our home with its mountain views in Tyrol where we’ve been lucky enough to welcome family from all over the globe.
If you’re not lucky enough to have family in Austria, here are some great places to spend your Christmas holidays in Austria.
Best cities to spend Christmas in Austria
For a combination of city comforts, snow-capped mountain peaks and Christmas markets in a historic old town setting, Innsbruck is probably the best city for spending Christmas in Austria. Where else can you go from the heart of the city to playing in the snow on an Alpine peak within an hour?
There are six Christmas markets in Innsbruck, of which four are within walking distance of each other in the city centre. The other two are at the Hungerburg on the slopes of the Nordkette mountain and on the historic Bergisel hill where the Olympic ski jump is. Both have sweeping views over the Inn Valley.
There’s a lot of sparkle in Innsbruck at Christmas time. The famous Golden Roof balcony is the centrepiece of the old town Christmas market while a giant crystal Christmas tree from Swarovski dominates the skyline on the market square.
A fun way to see Innsbruck’s Christmas lights is to jump on the free vintage tram called the Christkindlbahn. The free tram runs every Friday and Saturday between 15:30 to 17:00 from the last weekend in November until the last weekend before Christmas.
Did you know that Swarovski crystals originally come from the village of Wattens near Innsbruck? I can highly recommend visiting the Swarovski Crystal Worlds for its annual light festival at Christmas.
You can catch a shuttle bus from Innsbruck with a special Swarovski Crystal Worlds ticket that includes the transport and your entry.
Top Insider Tip
If you love to ski in Austria at Christmas, the new SKI Plus CITY Card incorporates 13 ski resorts near Innsbruck. The Innsbruck Card, with free access to 22 top sightseeing attractions, is included at almost no extra cost.
The UNESCO World Heritage historic centre of Salzburg, the city of Mozart, is the ideal setting not only for traditional Christmas Markets but also for advent concerts.
Take your time browsing through the Christmas markets on the squares in front of the Salzburg Cathedral and Residence. And if you’re up for some action, exchange your boots for ice skates on the adjacent Mozart Square.
A visit to the Hohensalzburg Fortress is always a highlight when visiting Salzburg but especially so when you’re in Austria for Christmas. The views over the Christmas markets below as well as the surrounding countryside are amazing. There is also a special Christmas concert in the fortress featuring the works of Mozart and his contemporaries.
Don’t forget to visit Hellbrunn Palace for its own charming Christmas market.
For a great end to any day in Salzburg, I can personally recommend the Mozart dinner concert in the world’s oldest restaurant in St Peter’s Abbey. And if you can’t be in the city of Mozart for Christmas, the fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Salzburg is spectacular.
For a busier and more cosmopolitan Christmas in Austria, Vienna is a great alternative to Innsbruck and Salzburg.
During the lead-up to Christmas, Vienna is transformed into a glittering sea of colour. Thousands of crystals and giant chandeliers create the impression of a giant outdoor ballroom in the pedestrian areas of the city centre. A great way to take it all in is by hopping on the sightseeing tram around the famous Ringstraße, especially the last one leaving at around 17:30.
More Christmas highlights in Vienna to look out for include the Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz and the nativity scenes in St Peter’s Church. The beautiful baroque church is also the venue for a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s concert.
If you love Mozart and Strauss and Haydn, there’s a variety of classical concerts in Vienna at any time of the year. At Christmas time, they add to the magic in the Austrian capital.
Best villages for a traditional Christmas in Austria
Zell am See-Kaprun
It will be hard to find a more romantic setting during Christmas in Austria than around Lake Zell. The beautiful lakeside town of Zell am See with the quaint village of Kaprun a few kilometres away has everything to make your Christmas holidays in Austria memorable.
Thousands of stars, in the streets and on the lake, turn Zell am See-Kaprun into a fairytale destination. Add some traditional Advent markets, a Krampus run, the Kitzsteinhorn glacier for skiing, and a Christmas tree which is submerged in the lake and pulled up by divers on Christmas Day and you’ve got something to keep everyone happy.
Seefeld in Tirol
Not far from Innsbruck, this Tyrolean village is on a sunny plateau surrounded by mountains. It has a little lake near its centre and is especially popular for the hundreds of kilometres of cross-country skiing in the area.
We love Seefeld’s traditional Christmas market close to the train station. Everything in the village is actually within walking distance, with ski buses taking guests from their hotels to the nearby Rosshütte ski resort. This resort is ideal for families with small children and one of our favourites for an all-around pleasurable skiing experience.
Back to Salzburgerland, this time the UNESCO World Heritage region of Hallstatt-Dachstein, for a memorable stay in Austria at Christmas. The beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Hallstatt makes Hallstatt one of Austria’s most visited small towns.
With most people visiting Hallstatt on a day trip only, the secret to spending Christmas in Hallstatt is to stay in the village. This way, you can experience the wonderful atmosphere and Christmas lights when the crowds have left.
Best regions to go skiing in Austria for Christmas
Tucked snugly between Germany, Italy, and the two Austrian federal states of Vorarlberg and Salzburgerland, there’s a reason why the Tyrol is one of the most popular winter destinations in Europe. You won’t only find the biggest Austrian ski resorts in this region, but more than 100 smaller resorts too.
Innsbruck, the Tyrolean capital, is also called the capital of the Alps. At Christmas, visitors are treated to a choice of Christmas markets with a beautiful mountain backdrop.
If you don’t want to stay in the city, there are plenty of quaint Alpine villages within easy reach of Innsbruck. The villages of Igls, Sistrans, Rinn, and Tulfes in the Mittelgebirge or “middle mountains” above Innsbruck are excellent choices.
Apart from Innsbruck and its holiday villages, numerous beautiful valleys branch off from the Inn Valley, each with its own traditional villages and ski resorts. The Alpbachtal with its Ski Jewel Alpbachtal Wildschönau, the Stubaital with the Stubai Glacier, and the Zillertal are great options to consider if you want to stay close to Innsbruck.
For a fairytale lakeside Christmas in Austria, Lake Achen provides the perfect setting.
Check here for some great Christmas skiing holiday packages
A region that could come up with perhaps the most beautiful Christmas carol of all time is certainly worth spending Christmas in. You guessed it, Silent Night was first sung in the village of Oberndorf close to Salzburg, the capital of Salzburgerland.
There is a wide variety of big and small ski resorts in Salzburgerland, most of them covered by the Salzburg Super Ski Card, which combines 25 skiing regions, and 2,700 km of slopes.
Salzburgerland is also home to the beautiful Salzkammergut lake district. You really won’t regret spending your Christmas holiday in Austria in one of the towns on the shore of Lake Wolfgang.
Salzburgerland is also mountainous, so the chances of finding snow at least on the mountain peaks are good. And if there’s no snow to play in, there are plenty of thermal baths to relax in.
Tip: If you prefer to base yourself in Salzburg for Christmas, there is a special Silent Night Tour to Oberndorf as well as a St Wolfgang Advent tour from there. The latter includes a boat ride as well as a visit to three romantic Christmas markets next to the lake.
The Austrian province of Vorarlberg shares its borders with Switzerland and Germany. It is here, in one corner, where all countries meet where you will find the Bodensee or Lake Constance. The cities of Bregenz, Dornbirn, Hohenems, and Feldkirch are all close to the lake and all excellent bases for a Christmas holiday in Austria.
Moving down the Inn Valley, the Vorarlberg turns into an Alpine region with three valleys, the Brandnertal, Klostertal, and Walsertal, spreading out like a star from the pretty town of Bludenz. There certainly is a case for celebrating Austrian Christmas traditions here away from big-city hype. I hear the Val Blu Sport Hotel & Spa in Bludenz is a hidden gem for families in the Bludenz Valley.
Tip: A day trip to the petite country of Liechtenstein is easy to do from Vorarlberg.
The weather in Austria at Christmas
A white Christmas in Austria isn’t guaranteed. We felt extremely lucky when it started to snow on Christmas Eve on our very first Christmas here in 2010. We woke up to a winter wonderland the next morning.
For the best chance to experience a traditional white Christmas in Austria, you should head for the mountainous provinces of Salzburg, Tyrol, and Vorarlberg. Even if there’s no snow in the valleys, you’re sure to catch some of the white stuff in the mountains.
The average daytime temperatures range between 0°C and 5°C in Austria at Christmas. But would you believe me if I told you that we had a “braai” (a South African barbeque) at temperatures of over 10°C one Christmas?
You can expect the sun to rise between 07:00 and 08:00 and to set between 17:00 and 18:00 during your Christmas holidays in Austria.
Tips for spending the best-ever Christmas in Austria
- Do your shopping for Christmas Eve and Christmas day early. This is especially important if you plan to do your own cooking. Austrian shops are CLOSED on 25 December and only a very few open on 26 December. Most of them also close by lunchtime on 24 December.
- Pack one decent warm jacket or coat to wear over your other clothes for outdoor activities. I know, it’s not ideal to wear the same jacket in all your Christmas holiday pictures but would you rather be fashionable than warm?
- Try to visit at least one Christmas market or concert outside of the big cities. This is where you’ll get in touch with the locals to experience a traditional Christmas in Austria.
- Collect a Glühwein or Punsch mug at each Christmas market you visit. Just don’t return it to get your deposit (normally €3) back after finishing your drink.
- Wear some thermal leggings and an extra pair of socks if you plan to spend long hours standing around at a Christmas market at night.
- Don’t expect the locals to put up a show just for you, especially in the small villages. Join in their festivities if you like but be respectful of their traditions. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can greet them with “Frohe Weihnachten” which means Merry Christmas.
- If you’re not cooking or staying in a hotel with a restaurant where you are sure to get Christmas lunch, find out in advance which restaurants will be open and book a table well in advance.
Having fun in Austria, and then writing about it, is hard work 😆 . That’s why some links in this article are affiliate links. I may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, if you use any of them to make a purchase for your upcoming trip. It’s totally cool if you don’t use them. I love to help anyway. But if you do, we’ll probably blow it on another family excursion. Which really isn’t such a bad thing, because it will only result in another blog post for you to read.