The magic of Christmas markets: Vienna and Bratislava

Who I am
Martí Micolau
@martimicolau
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Proud and aware of its charm, tied to its own history and reluctant to unnecessary upheavals, the Austrian capital maintains the face of what was for centuries the reference point of Central European arts and culture.

An immense range of possibilities? makes Vienna an ideal destination for history and art lovers and for romantic weekends of classical music and good food.

From met? November the pi? beautiful squares in the Austrian capital turn into enchanting Christmas markets. The scent of typical Christmas sweets and hot punch create an unmistakable atmosphere.

Last year we decided to visit them at the end of November to enjoy the Christmas atmosphere in advance and not be overwhelmed by the crowds of holidays: we have booked a long weekend which now will I tell you? in detail:

1 day

Arriving at the Vienna International Airport just before midnight we scapicoliamo to be able to take the last available ride of the S24 Bhan surface metro line that connects the Viennese airport with the city center. With a little ticket more? of 7 euros in less than 4 minutes we arrive at the Praterstern underground station, not far from the Ibis Budget Wien Messe Hotel, in the Prater district, excellent for those who want to fully enjoy the beauties of the city? without wasting too much time on the move.

In any case, the important underground network (6 underground lines) and surface vehicles create a very efficient connection system, all without even the? shadow of stamping machines.

The next morning we start the discovery of Vienna with a breakfast in a cafe on the street of the hotel, but it turns out to be disappointing; much better the following breakfasts in the Viennese chain of bakeries Str? ck present everywhere in the city? and in many metro stations.
At this point we take cos? the metro line U1 and in just three stops we are in the city center.

Innere Stadt

Going up the escalators of the Stephansplatz metro station we are immediately amazed by the facade of the Stephansdom that rises in front of us and dominates the entire historic center.
The city cathedral with its two splendid towers in the Gothic style? the hub of the? Citt? inside?, once surrounded by walls and today a symbol of commercial and tourist Vienna.
We therefore decide to dedicate a quick visit to the interior of the cathedral and to climb the northern tower. This last experience for? does not fully satisfy us, since the view from the top (at a cost of 4 euros) alas? is partially obstructed by the roof of the church (photo)? I must say that there are certainly better viewpoints in the city ?!
We descend from the tower and enter the Graben (photo). The main pedestrian artery surrounded by elegant Baroque palaces and splendid lights? the ideal setting to enjoy a walk in the typical Viennese atmosphere, among the Mozart symphonies coming from the luxurious cafes? and the sound of the horses' hooves pulling carriages full of tourists.
We then turn left onto Kohlmarkt to reach the beautiful Michaelerplatz, dominated by the splendid white facade of the Hofburg imperial palace (photo).
The majestic imperial complex is divided into various structures that house various museum poles, including the Kaiserappartements (imperial apartments) and the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School), as well as the national library and the current residence of the President of the Republic.
By purchasing a 25 euro ticket per person, which also includes a visit to the Schloss Schonbrunn, we decide to visit the imperial apartments where the sovereign Franz Joseph and? His? Sissi, immersed in the very rich collections inherited from the Habsburgs and the anecdotes that characterized the life of the famous couple.
At the exit we find ourselves in Heldenplatz. Despite the gloomy sky, the splendid facade of the Neue Burg, adorned with a series of large windows interspersed with majestic colonnades,? Illuminates? the one that ? one of the most? large and suggestive of the city? (photo).
The reduced time does not allow us to visit the adjacent Burggarten and above all the Albertina museum, famous for the collections of Raphael, Rembrandt and Klimt, but to visit it you should have a whole day at your disposal.
We then decide to cross the Ringstrasse, the famous avenue that runs along the old walls of the Innerestadt.
We get on tram 2 to take a ride along the famous Burgring. Self ? true what? an excellent solution to rest a little? the legs can not? say the same for the eyes! Sitting on the wooden seats of the old tram, we can admire, in an overall view, all the splendor of the most beautiful buildings. important in Vienna, still witnesses of an extraordinary vitality today? cultural (photo).
After having skirted a stretch of the Danube canal, another essential symbol, albeit a bit? stereotyped, of the city, we decide to have lunch in one of the typical Wurstelstand (sausage kiosk) and enjoy an exquisite Kasekrainer (a sort of sandwich with sausage stuffed with cheese and accompanied by various sauces) in the Schwedenplatz.
The persistent cold and a light drizzle make us opt for an afternoon visit to one of the many museums in the city, the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Before entering the building, we spend a few minutes admiring the elegance of its facade and the beautiful dome (photo).
Crossing the entrance we find ourselves in front of the imposing main staircase from which we can admire glimpses of the dome, the corridors of the upper floors and the majestic? Theseus and the Centaur? by Canova. Gi? only this view pays off the ticket price!
The masterpieces seen in the extraordinary collections commissioned by Rudolph II of Habsburg cos? how l? very elegant coffee? located on the first floor overlooking Piazza Maria Teresa literally leaves us speechless.
After the visit we find ourselves in Maria Theresien Platz: between the grandeur? of the buildings of the museums of ancient art and natural history the first Christmas market awaits us (photo). The brightly lit kiosks offer traditional artistic handicrafts, original gift ideas and many specialties? culinary from which? difficult to stay away!

Rathausplatz

At this point we decide to fully immerse ourselves in the pre-Christmas atmosphere by reaching the famous Rathausplatz.
The splendid Town Hall Square, surrounded by the imposing political buildings and in front of the elegant Burgtheater, deserves a separate discussion.
The Rathaus Palace? majestic, impossible not to look up to the sky to see how far the closest tower can go. high, and you can not? than to be fascinated by the thousands of gothic-style windows lit for the party that decorate the main facade (photo).
During the period of our stay the square is? already? transformed into a fairy-tale Christmas village that hosts the largest market big city.
In the center and on the right there is an elegant playground for children, with fountains, statues and pretty benches; on the left a spectacular skating rink full of ice trails.
Nothing is left to chance: Christmas sounds and scents and thousands of splendid lights covering every tree in the park make the atmosphere even more? magical.
To warm up from the intense cold we decide to look for a place for dinner, do not expect? Italian? Times, at seven in the evening the restaurants are already? full!
Following the always useful tips of the Lonley Planet guide we try one of the typical Viennese Beisln in the Schwedenplatz area. These popular places, a symbol of Austrian culinary culture, are ideal for enjoying traditional and regional cuisine in a warm family atmosphere.
In the Beim Czaak restaurant, greeted by the very nice owner who tries hard to explain the specialties to us. of the day in an Austrianized Italian, we are served a sublime mushroom soup and a classic Schnitzel (breaded cutlet served with fried potatoes), all accompanied by a delicious draft beer.
The time for a short walk in the Piazza del Duomo to enjoy the beautiful illuminations of the Graben and back to the hotel for the night.





2 day

Shӧnbrunn

Much of the second day we dedicate it to the visit of the pi? prestigious of the Austrian palaces: Schloss Schӧnbrunn.

The imperial estate, reachable via the U4 metro line and far from the center of Vienna, is almost a tourist destination in itself and what about your visit? like a journey through history.
Walking along a wide avenue that from the exit of the metro runs alongside the immense imperial park, you reach the splendid square in front of the external facade of the castle and, as usual, a Christmas market enriches an already atmosphere. made incredible by the majesty? of the building.
In order not to waste too much time (given the long line of visitors!) We decide to start our visit to the imperial rooms.
A series of spectacular environments culminate with the largest room. sumptuous of the complex, the magnificent ballroom of the Grand Gallery.
From the huge windows you can see on one side the bell tower of the Stephansdom and on the other the vastness? of the imperial gardens; ? right from the Schlӧsspark that continues our visit.
In the autumn season, given the scarce flowering and the dark colors, the magnificence of these immense gardens is not fully enjoyed, rigorously decorated according to a very specific scheme and surrounded by wide avenues and sumptuous statues.
The central avenue ends with the monumental Fountain of Neptune, the splendid Baroque work which, with its obelisk, almost seems to support the hill above.
Looking around we realize how vast the whole complex really is,? Is it unthinkable to be able to visit it in its entirety in one morning? there would be to see among other things the Palm House, the Irrgarten labyrinth, the Tiergarten zoo and the magnificent Gloriette with its panoramic view of the city, but time to layout ? limited and so? we head towards the entrance square where to wait for us for a lunch on the fly c ?? the beautiful market and its many specialties? culinary.

A goulash soup served in a loaf of bread and the typical spatzle immediately kidnap our eyes and our sense of smell, so? without thinking twice we decide to order them? never choice was more? apt!

Prater

Time to rest for a few hours in the hotel and then with a 10-minute walk we find ourselves enjoying a truly special sunset in the mythical Prater.
The park, famous for being the most? ancient amusement park in the world,? an unmissable stop for those who want to enjoy a romantic view of Vienna touching the sky and for those who want to relax with long walks in the countryside.
Crossing the entrance you are captivated by this magical atmosphere made up of rides, Christmas markets, attractions of various kinds and the magnificent Riesenrad Ferris wheel that dominates the entire area and that with the slow rotation of its ancient cabins almost seems to mark the minutes .
The complete tour (which takes about 20 minutes) at sunset? a special experience, even for those like me who suffer from dizzy heights! In fact, from the 70 meters of the wheel you can see all the pi? large buildings and the most large churches of the city, in a play of Christmas lights that causes a unique emotion.

Spittelberg

For dinner we decide to move to the Neubau district. Between the Mariahilfer strasse shopping street and the Burggasse is what? perhaps the most? lively and popular of the Viennese districts.
Walking through the narrow streets of the Spittelberg district, flanked by the inevitable Christmas markets and craft shops of all kinds, we have the impression of experiencing the real Vienna in all its authenticity.
Far from mass tourism, the clubs are full of young people and life (even late in the day) with a profusion of mulled wine and music of all kinds.

A really nice discovery !!

Continuing along the very commercial Mariahilfer strasse, among the windows of vintage shops and designer ateliers, we arrive in the MuseumQuartier.
Given the late hour and the museums (obviously) closed, a walk in what? the cultural hub of contemporary Vienna. Nothing more? mistaken!!
The comings and goings of visitors who flock to this square during the day to enjoy the unique collections of the MUMOK and the Leopold Museum, gives way to the numerous cafes-restaurants that enliven the city's social gathering in the evening.
Furthermore, a series of light projections on the basalt monolith of the Museum of Modern Art and on the colorful design benches scattered along the central square, give a unique character to this place, in stark contrast to the adjacent Baroque-style museums of the imperial stables.



3 day

One more reason? to choose Vienna? the possibility? to reach, in little more? of an hour by train, even another European capital.

In fact, about 60 km east of the Austrian capital rises Bratislava, the young Slovakian capital whose visit you? revealed a beautiful and unexpected experience, a completely different world from the one admired in the previous days.

Bratislava

We reach the Wien Hauptbahnhof station from which we take the train to Bratislava.

Along the entire route along the course of the Danube, we cross the Austrian countryside: the autumn colors, without even the shadow of an inhabited center, frame us on this journey.
The arrival at the central station seems to catapult us back twenty years, the dynamism? and the pomp of a capital in step with the times like Vienna leave room for a much more? backward in terms of reception and mobility.
The lack of signs and signs in English, as well as the absence of tourist offices also make it difficult to understand where the means of connection with the? City start from? old?!
With a little? patiently we manage to find the terminus of tram n.13 which in about twenty minutes leads us to the historic center.
Crossing the Porta di San Michele, the main access point to the pedestrian center, we enter what? known as the Star? Mesto (old town).
Walking along the characteristic Michalsk? Main street, flanked by white buildings with sharp roofs that house pretty craft shops and typical restaurants whose windows praise the great sports figures of the nation, you can breathe the typical atmosphere of the cities? of the east. Still far from mass tourism and in full development, the city? it almost seems to want to shake off the immobility? of the communist forty years and the iron curtain that separated it? from nearby Vienna and which has left indelible traces.

However, the fact that it represents a fundamental crossroads between 3 countries, being also very close to the Hungarian border, makes Bratislava a city? with an important cultural dynamism, confirmed by the museum and university centers present and by a palpable mix of different ethnic groups and languages.

In less than 5 minutes on foot from the Porta di San Michele we reach the beautiful Main Square. Framed by beautiful buildings? the site of a large Christmas market with stalls offering local delicacies and souvenirs of all kinds.
The tower of the old town hall is the backdrop to the monumental Maximilian Fountain and a beautiful Christmas tree placed next to a stage where every evening, for the festivities? Christmas, a musical or theatrical show is staged.
Despite the intense cold, the people in the square? really a lot! Along the streets we admire a series of original bronze statues, much appreciated by tourists: The Guardone, who emerges from the ground to peek at passers-by and the friendly Bell? Ignazio.
In less than ten minutes we reach Hviezdoslavovo Square, the hub of commercial Bratislava.
This immense avenue hosts numerous kiosks where you can taste the various specialties? of local cuisine and in one of these we taste the typical zemiakov? placky (potato pancakes) and potatoes (fried with whole skin) covered with bacon? alas? raw to say the least !! An unsatisfactory dining experience.

After the disappointing lunch we decide to reach the Castle which dominates the whole city with a nice and tiring twenty minute walk.
The setting of the sun on the red roofs of the city? old, in contrast with the elegant dazzling white of the building and the Danube in the background, make the atmosphere unique (photo).
The timetable does not allow us a visit to the rooms of the palace, so? we decide to enjoy the splendid view of the city? which begins to light up for the evening as you descend along an avenue covered with leaves that leads back from the castle gardens to the historic center.
The romantic walk through alleys and steep stairs is enriched by the discovery of truly suggestive and unexpected views.

The time available before the departure to Vienna allows us to admire the Main Square again, this time decorated with splendid lights.
We climb the tower of the old town hall to appreciate this beautiful square from above. The sight ? breathtaking!!

Time for a snack with a kurtoskalacks, the typical Hungarian dessert, and a hot chocolate in the small market in Piazza Primaziale (the pretty little square of the homonymous building, adjacent to the Main Square) and we are back on the train to Vienna, tired but satisfied by that awareness of who greets a place for which it? worth the trip.
We spend the last evening of our trip for a sublime dinner based on goulash and dumplings in a cozy beisln in the Alsergrund district, not very far from Rathausplatz, which allows us a last stroll in this square from which it seems almost impossible to separate. ?



4 day

4 day

To start off on the last day, let's look for a coffee? that can give us a dream breakfast and erase the sadness of departure, cos? we reach the famous Caf? Central to enjoy an authentic Sachertorte. The twenty minutes in a row (just to enter the club !!) testify to the fame that accompanies this splendid venue. Decorated with a series of colonnades, vaults and luxurious chandeliers? a triumph of elegance and style. Far less triumphal (to our justified dismay) are croissants and a slice of cake, not at all exciting given the predictable prohibitive prices.

Leaving the city center, we take tram D towards Rennweg and in a quarter of an hour we find ourselves in the splendid scenery of the Schloss Belvedere.

Belvedere Palace

The elegance and the exquisite beauty that accompany the complex formed by two symmetrical buildings, located respectively at the top? and at the foot of a hill and connected by magnificent gardens, they are something amazing.
On the square at the entrance of the Oberes Belvedere (the upper Belvedere and heart of the entire complex) a small lake is the backdrop to the very nice Christmas market, which still does not open its doors but which goes very well with the beautiful rear facade of the building (photo) .
The visit of the halls of the palace, enriched by the refined frescoes of the Austrian art gallery and a sensational view of the gardens and the whole city? ? of those that will never be forgotten.

Fascinated by the prestigious setting of the Sala dei Marmi and the famous Klimt's The Kiss and Judith, we move to the Schlossgarten.

Walking in the immense French garden, between the white of the fountains, the green of the perfectly decorated flower beds and the buildings of Vienna in the background, one gets the impression of being part of an eighteenth-century painting.

After the visit to the Lower Belvedere, which houses contemporary collections, we decide to take a trip to the Wieden district, the only area of ​​the center not yet explored.

Karlsplatz and Narschmarkt

I got off the tram at the stop right in front of the magnificent State Opera House on our left we notice the imposing baroque structure of the Karlskirche which overlooks the opposite Karlsplatz with its imposing dome.
The square hosts a small lake which, on the occasion of the festivities? Christmas, is emptied and filled with straw and hay to host yet another very pretty market.
Continuing along the avenue that runs alongside the University? and then turning left you enter the Narschmarkt.

To say that it is a simple market? reductive: the one that develops for about a kilometer between the two busy avenues of the Wienzeile and surrounded by elegant buildings? un world as ?, a teeming with life!

Tourists get lost in the set of typical products and restaurants of the most? various culinary traditions from around the world.
IS? a business not to stop and eat here. Lost in the embarrassment of choice, we decide to try Israeli cuisine in the very special Neni restaurant. A fantastic experience in the Middle Eastern flavors of an almond-crusted grilled chicken with tomato chatnies and an exquisite kebab served with fried potatoes.

Satisfied but full of melancholy we are forced to reach the airport and say goodbye to a city? that thanks to its wonders and its elegance has literally conquered us ... and will surely see us again? in its streets :)


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