Sunday 8 January 2012

Imperial Vienna at Christmas

Going away before Christmas means double the levels of rush and disorganisation that are already built into this time of year with festive celebrations and family birthdays rolled into one. This is why I'm only now, when I need to be preparing for a busy term, getting around to sifting through the millions of photos I took in late December of beautiful Vienna!

Pre-Christmas Wien was snowless but freezing, with some days of perfect sunshine when its gold shone ... 

I could not stop snapping the incredible dome of the Hofburg, Vienna's former Imperial Palace. In its chapel you can hear the Vienna Boys Choir sing mass every Sunday morning.

Power at Sea fountain, Hofburg Palace

Exploring the first district or Innere Stadt - Vienna's original walled city, now bounded by the circular Ringstrasse - we walked our feet off (this being the necessary justification for pigging out in Viennese kaffeehäuser, which will need a whole other post) ...

Joseph II gets on his high horse in Josefsplatz

... and how lucky were we to meet up with the best possible guide for our ventures, in the form of blogging friend, the generous and all-round-wunderbare Merisi, whose superb photographs on Vienna for Beginners are a daily fix for all who love this city!

Medieval Blutgasse, around the corner from St Stephans cathedral (left), is where the blood of the Knight Templars is supposed to have run red in a massacre in the 1300s. Mozart lived around the corner in Domgasse.

Minoritenkirche, right

The sounds of Vienna that I will forever hear in my head whenever I think of it are church bells ...


and the constant clippety-clop of horse-drawn carriages ...

These sounds and sights, and the mix of medieval and grand-scale Austro-Hungarian Empire architecture are what combine to give the eerie sense of being out of time, half-inhabiting a different era ...

Franciscan church, left; Emperor Leopold comes over all humble on the Pestsäule (right), erected after the Great Plague hit Vienna

Facade of the Staatsoper. Its opening premiere in 1869 was Mozart's Don Giovanni, with Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Sissi in attendance.

The Hofburg by night

The Heldenplatz, where Hitler announced the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich in 1938

But unlike Prague (see here and here), capital of the Holy Roman empire, which felt as though its historic centre was preserved for sightseeing while everyday life happened elsewhere, Vienna's heart was unmistakably inhabited and full of modern life ...

Every shop window, street and facade was prettied up for Christmas ...

Café Mozart on Albertinaplatz, where Graham Greene drank coffee while working on the film script for The Third Man

Cafe Frauenhuber, where Mozart gave his last public performance in 1791

Italian restaurant Danieli, almost next door

The grand Hotel Sacher, named for the creator of the original Sacher-Torte, dressed for Christmas, with a line-up of flash cars

... the Christmas lights, from mid-afternoon through the night, were the most gorgeous I've seen in any city 

Illuminations on Graben street, where hundreds of Christmas trees were on sale

The Hofburg dome (again!) seen through a veil of golden lights

Shopping crowds in Kohlmarkt

I figured this stylish Viennese lady would lead me to all the best shops if I followed her through this elegant arcade of boutiques ...

does she buy monogrammed handkerchiefs here at Zur Schwäbischen Jungfrau, as Empress Maria Teresia did? ...

Even Vienna's dogs and old Franz Josef himself were getting into the holiday spirit ...

Viennese Westie in Santa suit; Emperor Franz Josef gets his Christmas groove on at Fromme Helene restaurant, Josefstadt

And finally, of course there were the Christmas markets ...

where from quaint to kitsch ...

(how many ways to say I love you?)

it's a feast of colour, taste and delicious smells ...

Warming up with a mug of glühwein is absolutely the Viennese thing to do while freezing one's buns off at the Christkindlmärkte

the Rathaus, below, is the sparkly setting for one of Vienna's biggest Christmas markets ...

There's more to come, I'm afraid (the coffee! the food! the shopping!), as I appear to have lost all capacity for restraint in my enthusiasm for this fantastic city. For now, auf wiedersehen.


  1. Guten tag Karen! What a fantastic post. You must have had the most wonderful time. Unfortunately, I have never visited Vienna but you depict it beautifully - the architecture is just stunning. A visit at Christmas time must have made your visit extra special.

    Another terrific post for the memory book.

  2. What a wonderful paen to the fair city of Vienna, Karen!
    Looking at your beautiful images was a real treat, thank you.

  3. Karen, what a marvelous trip you've had to beautiful Vienna, and a perfect time of year, too. I think I might recall that you'd previously planned such a visit, that had to be postponed?

    And. You got to meet Merisi! Surely, this Viennese visit included Demel's?

    How I look forward to your next report. xo

  4. Talk about looking up at architecture!
    What a great holiday you had in Vienne!!
    Eye-level is very tempting too.
    Gorgeous pictures Karen

  5. Thank you so much for this Grand Tour, Karen!
    The photos actually do justice to this fairyland of a Christmas town.
    I enjoyed it so much -- and no earmuffs needed (unlike your daughter and probably you).
    Don't forget the coffee house tour --- we need our pastries.

  6. Thank you all for the lovely comments. Coffee and pastries coming right up!


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