Waltzing through Vienna’s Christmas Markets and cakes.
It’s hard to imagine that it was this time two years ago, in 2019 — before Covid — when we traipsed through the Christmas Markets of the Czech Republic and Austria. If Prague in December is magical, Vienna is resplendent. The magnetic meeting spot for so many incomparable classical musicians, the last home to a bygone era of glittering ballrooms, the location of a myriad of aspirational international organizations, Vienna retains all the majesty of its past. Baroque architecture of soaring colonnades and ceilings dominate, and hefty crystal chandeliers are strung up even on the open streets. Night is when it really twinkles.
The Christmas markets at Belvedere and Schonbrunn are charming, but they somewhat pale in comparison to the grandeur of the respective palaces and surrounding gardens. Instead, head to Spittelberg, Karlsplatz, Am Hof and Freyung for more unique handicrafts, and Stephanplatz and Maria-Theresein Platz for roasted chestnuts, cups of spicy mulled wine, heart-warming soup in crusty bread bowls, and an abundance of history. And don’t forget to collect a Christmas shoe-shaped souvenir mug from each market! 😛 For the most breathtaking Christmas market in Vienna though, look no further than the festive carnival spread out in front of the Rathaus (aka City Hall). This is the best place to find painted glass baubles and fragrant cinnamon decorations for the Christmas tree. We recommend keeping it for the last evening in Vienna for something truly unforgettable.
In between and after all that pre-Christmas shopping, you will no doubt become hungry. Before visiting Vienna, we didn’t ever think that any city would surpass London for afternoon tea, but Vienna comes a close second. Bypassing the swarms of tourists at Cafe Sacher and Demel, our two favourite Viennese coffee shops were Cafe Schwarzenberg and Cafe Landtmann. The former is the oldest coffee shop within the Ringstrasse, complete with brusque, no-nonsense service. The latter was a stone’s throw away from Vienna’s grandest Christmas market, and was filled with newspaper-reading locals.
You could spend a week in Vienna, as we did, and still only graze the surface of its delicious history of cakes. The Sacher Torte is the key to the heart of Vienna, it’s about chocolate decadence, with slivers of apricot jam for balance. Other cake slices to look out for include the Mozart Torte (a chocolate cake distinguished by its neon green streak of pistachio marzipan); the Esterhazy Torte (a striped concoction of almond sponge infused with cinnamon, vanilla, brandy, rum and lots of buttercream); and the Nusss Torte (a tribute to walnuts and vanilla and more cream). You will easily find Apfelstrudel everywhere, but the spirit of travel is about seeking adventure, not familiarity. So for desserts not commonly found outside of Vienna, don’t skip the Punschkrapfen (a delicate pink fondant cube hiding a punch of rum-soaked cake layered with chocolate and apricot jam, and a glace cherry hat) and the I-want-this-for-breakfast-everyday Kaiserschmarrn. Known as the “Emperor’s Pancake,” Kaiserschmarrn is a skillet of scrambled fluffy pancakes, soaked in rum, dusted with icing sugar and raisins, and accompanied with apple sauce and plum compote. In stark contrast to the bustling crowds of winter 2019, winter 2021 sees Vienna in lockdown. 😦 We shall dream of the day when we can one day visit again…waltzing through all of the city’s sparkling Christmas markets, and nibbling our way through all its historic cake spots.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destinations:
- Cafe Schwarzenberg, Karntner Ring 17, 1010 Wien.
- Cafe Landtmann, Universitatsring 4, 1010 Wien.
- Aida, multiple locations.
- ☑ Budget: $-$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Cakes.
- ☑ Must-eat: Esterhazy Torte or Mozart Torte.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Waltzing through Vienna’s Christmas Markets and cakes.