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.

Strauss waltzes. Tickets for the Vienna Philharmonic's schmaltzy New Year's Concert are sold months ahead of time by lottery but for those with more adventurous musical tastes there is plenty on offer. The world-class Vienna State Opera, housed in one of the city's landmark buildings on the elegant inner ring road, hosts world-class stars and also offers tours of its marble and red-plush interior. Front-row tickets in the boxes come with discreet sub-title screens at every seat.

NIGHTLIFE

For something more sophisticated, head to the rooftop bar Le Loft at the Sofitel at sunset for a magnificent view over the rooftops and Prater park.

Live music is a staple at Rhiz http://rhiz.org/, a club in the 8th District where DJs start around midnight. It is one of several joints tucked under the arches of the U6 metro line that runs along the Guertel outer ring road, once the centre of prostitution in Vienna that has now shifted into the Prater.

If you like football hooligans, you will love the neighbourhood called the Bermuda Triangle. A quiet neighbourhood by day whose synagogue and kosher restaurants reflect its history as a Jewish quarter, the area near Schwedenplatz transforms at night into a series of watering holes. The drinking age is 16, so brace for a young crowd.

NATURE TRAILS

The 1,300-square-km Wienerwald (Vienna Woods) offers a huge block of intact nature just a skip and a jump from the metropolis. Many hiking paths pass taverns for thirsty walkers.

The Prater public park in the 2nd District, donated by Emperor Josef II to the people of Vienna in 1766, is a magnet for fun-seekers, combining long boulevards with an amusement park and Vienna's landmark Giant Wheel ride, immediately recognisable to fans of the 1948 film The Third Man.

The Donauinsel (Danube Island) has loads of space to stroll or bike. The city has plenty of places to rent bikes - even electric ones - and Segways.

OTHER OPTIONS

If the Christmas markets are too saccharine, try visiting the snow globe museum in the 17th District for a look at the glass orbs that have enchanted people for more than a century.

Cooking and baking aficionados will find all kinds of courses on making everything from goulash to torte and sweets.

The popular outdoor skating rink next to City Hall does not open until late January, but lace on the skates at the Wiener Eislaufverein near the Stadtpark or at the Engelmann rooftop rink, established

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