Vienna Christmas season packs a punch

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The centre of the old Habsburg empire treats locals and visitors to quaint Christmas markets featuring crafts and decorations, hot punch and baked goods in all the city's main squares. Reuters The centre of the old Habsburg empire treats locals and visitors to quaint Christmas markets featuring crafts and decorations, hot punch and baked goods in all the city's main squares. Reuters
SummaryThe German expression "Es weihnachtet sehr" fits the mood in Vienna as Austria's capital decks itself out in style for the holiday season.

Vienna Boys' Choir.

The baroque Belvedere palace, just outside the city centre with sweeping views over Vienna, houses an impressive art collection from Vienna in its fin-de-siecle heyday. It includes the famed Gustav Klimt painting The Kiss, which you can also see reproduced on countless scarves, packs of cards and lighters in souvenir shops around the city.

A 15-minute taxi ride from the centre, or a cheaper tram, brings you to the Schoenbrunn Palace estate. Originally planned as a palatial hunting lodge in the 17th century, the site includes extensive gardens and Europe's oldest zoo. In December, it also hosts - you guessed it - a Christmas market.

Back in the city centre, the MuseumsQuartier is a complex of mostly modern art museums built around the former imperial stables. Cafes spill out into the large outdoor courtyard and the area has a lively yet laid-back feel - think Pompidou Centre minus the street artists.

Among the plethora of museums in the city, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, with its extensive Habsburg painting collections of Venetian, Flemish, Dutch and German masterpieces stands out. Until Jan. 12, it is also home to an exhibition of 141 paintings by the late British figurative painter Lucian Freud, many of them on rare loan from private collections. It is the first time Sigmund Freud's grandson has had a show in Vienna and it is likely to be the last time for several years that such a collection is brought together.

For a glimpse of the more recent history of "Red Vienna", the nickname of the socialist-governed city between the two world wars, check out some of the more extravagant social housing that was built during the period - for example the giant Karl Marx-Hof in Heiligenstadt, where revolutionaries of the 1934 February uprising barricaded themselves against artillery fire. A more recent example is the eccentric 1980s Hundertwasser House close to the Danube Canal, a expressionist riot of colour, bendy lines and tree limbs poking through the windows. The city's architectural history is described in the MuseumsQuartier's Architecture Centre.

A visit to the recently revamped Jewish Museum is essential for anyone wanting to understand the central place Vienna's 200,000-strong Jewish population played in the city before it was wiped out in the Nazi Holocaust. As well as documenting the Jews' often grim history, the museum also celebrates the rebuilding of contemporary Jewish life in the city.

For many, Vienna is above all the city of

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