We really wanted our family to experience Christmas in Europe, and there didn’t seem a better place to do that than Austria, especially since we loved Salzburg so much on our last visit. We decided to start in Vienna, though, since we have several friends who love it and we didn’t get a chance to visit it last time.
The architecture here in Vienna is amazing, from the Opera House to St. Stephen’s cathedral to the Hofsburg, beautiful buildings abound. We spent most of our first day here getting our bearings and gawking at the gorgeous buildings.
We were also really excited about exploring the Christmas markets — and there seems to be one on every corner. The first evening, we visited the largest on in front of the town hall (the Rathaus). We wandered around looking at all the lights, letting the girls ride the ponies and the carousel, and trying different foods, but we were really disappointed by the stalls. We had hoped for handcrafted items, but almost everything seemed to be mass produced. After a couple of hours, we grabbed bratwurst and some warm punsch and headed back to the apartment.
Our destination the next day was Schloss Schönbrunn, a 17th-century Hapsburg Palace. The palace complex is huge, but we were able to tour the imperial rooms, explore the gardens and visit the zoo. In the palace courtyard, though, was another Christmas market. This market was smaller and much less flashy, but it had what we were hoping for: booth after booth of handmade wares — wooden ornaments and toys, olive oils, candles and soaps, crystal, and, of course, food. We had a blast picking up some gifts and souvenirs (and getting some snacks and punsch).
The palace was full of baroque extravagance — so much gilding — and we’d opted out of the audio tour, so the girls and I had great fun making up explanations for the rooms as we moved through them. Far more fun than the audioguide, I’m sure! (Seriously, what 8-year-old moves at that pace? Actually, who am I kidding, this 39-year-old thinks they move too slow!)
Afterward, we hiked over to the zoo — the oldest Baroque zoo still in existence — and visited a few of the animals before deciding we were too tired and too cold and needed to go back to the flat. It was quite a lovely zoo, though.
Sunday morning we surprised the girls with an early Christmas present: tickets to a performance at the Spanish Riding School, home of the waltzing Lippizaner Stallions. The show was fantastic; my favorite was the quadrille eight horses performed to end the show.
On Monday, JA requested we visit the exhibit at the Belvedere showcasing Monet and Austrian artists that Monet inspired. The exhibit was fascinating, showcasing different styles of Monet and some breathtaking Klimts.
Afterward, we wandered the gorgeous grounds at the Belvedere and found ourselves in, you guessed it, another Christmas market.
We loved our time in Vienna and feel like there is so much we left undone. I would love to come back sometime when the gardens and park are in bloom and explore more outside. What a lovely place!
This morning, we boarded a train rode through gorgeous Alpine countryside to Salzburg where we’ll stay through Saturday. We have a couple more surprises for the girls while we’re here, and then we’ll train to Munich to start our journey HOME!