No one does Christmas better than Europe. I am not sure if it’s the lack of a thanksgiving that makes Christmas more grandiose or if its old, quant wooden structures and roaring fires that just make everything feel right. Regardless, theres no better place to spend your festive period – and it’s really hard to go wrong on a location.
Nearly every capital city has a fantastic Christmas market where you can get handmade crafts all the while eating bratwurst and drinking mulled wine. All European countries do Christmas well, but one region does it better than anywhere else.
The Habsburgs ruled much of modern day Central Europe including parts of Germany, Hungry, Switzerland and Austria – with expansions reaching as far The Netherlands and Romania. Their cultural mark can be seen in iconic crisscross wooden architecture, schnitzel and most notably in timeless musicians such as Strauss, Mozart, and Beethoven.
So engrained in the culture of modern day Austria, compulsory music and art courses are taught in both primary and secondary school. Austria – This is the place to spend your Christmas holiday.
Whether skiing in the Alps is your thing, or you tend to be more into the arts, there is something for everyone. We spent Christmas in 2016 doing a road trip through Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia. Check out the packed itinerary at the bottom of the post for our 12 day schedule.
While I always wish I had more time, we did a few things that you must include in your trip to Austria: Christmas Eve Mozart concert in the Salzburg Fortress, concert at the Vienna state opera and brought in the New Year at the annual Hofburg Palace Ball, Vienna. Activities do get booked up quickly, so planning at least 4 months in advance will allow you to choose from all the activities available. Surprisingly getting tickets to Mozart in Salzburg and a performance at the Vienna state opera was relatively easy and didn’t require much booking ahead of time despite the time of year. I was surprised to see tickets being sold outside the Vienna state opera for day of deals, though the seat quality cannot be guaranteed. See below itinerary for links on where to book tickets.
The one activity that did require extensive planning was, not surprisingly, New Years Eve. Our original plan was to watch the philharmonic orchestra or see an opera on New Years Eve leading up to midnight; I was disappointed to find out that tickets for the orchestra go by a raffle system that starts 2 Jan -28 Feb every year (so start planning a year out if this is your goal). Tickets to the opera are significantly less difficult for New Years, but do book early for the classic performance of Die Fledermaus, an Austrian comedy must, performed every New Year’s Eve.
Skip the opera – Go to the Ball
If you really want to go big this New Years, however, take a look at the Hofburg Silverster Ball. This New Years celebration is held every year within the walls of the hofburg palace itself and offers a range of tickets for every pocketbook (though the cheapest starts at $300pp). We opted for the cheaper tickets, but if you splurge on the grand ballroom seats – it is well worth the money spent.
OUR ITINERARY: 12 days, 3 countries
– and the annual Hofburg Palace Silverster Ball
Day 1 – Arrival in Vienna, 1 hr drive to Melk
Stay at: Pension Marillenhof
Johann-Steinböckstrasse 2, 3390 Melk, Austria
Day 2: Melk Abbey – Schedule tour through website
*Drive to Salzburg following tour
Day 3/4: Salzburg – Christmas Markets & Mozart concert
Stay at: Has am Moos (a BnB outsidet the main city)
Moosstraße 186a, Leopoldskron-Moos, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
Day 3: Christmas Eve
Morning — Self guided walking tour:
Places to visit: Nonnberg Nunnery (where the nuns sing “Maria”),
Mirabell Castle and Mirabell Gardens (the place where Maria and the
children sing “Do-Re-Mi”), and the Felsenreitschule and Festival Halls
(the stage where the Trapps perform during the Salzburg Festival).
LUNCH & CHRISTMAS CONCERT
SALZBURG MOZART ENSEMBLE
24th December 2016 / 1:00pm
Festung Hohensalzburg, Burgsaal, Festungsgasse / Mönchsberg 34, 5020 Salzburg
To get you in the mood for Christmas Eve, a traditional Christmas
Concert takes place in the festively decorated Castle Hall on Salzburg
Fortress on 24th December at 3pm. The well-known Salzburg Mozart
Ensemble will be performing for you.
F. Schubert: Minuetts
W.A. Mozart: Clarinette Quintette
W.A. Mozart: A Little Night Music
Day 4: Christmas Day
Travel from Salzburg to Bled (2hrs 40 min)
Stay at: Carmen guesthouse
Cesta Svobode 37, 4260 Bled, Slovenia
Stop off in Bled for a hike/stretch legs. Ideas for hikes:
Day 5: Ljubljana
Optional (we decided to cut out due to time):
Postojna caves nativity scene + castle (10am)
Onward to Ljubljana (30min)
Alo apartments: Staretova ulica 25, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Evening (5pm): Ljubljana Christmas Spirit Foodie Walk Combined with Boat Ride
Day 6: 1000 – Skocjan caves (50min) then to Vikolínec, Slovakia (8hrs)
Čremošná 8684, Ružomberok, 034 06 Ružomberok, Slovaki
Day 7/8 – Vikolinec Village & search for wooden churches:
*Note we encountered significant snow and a long drive to get here. I
would recommend adding at least a day or two if you make the trip up
to the mountains; if you are limited on time, skip it all together and
save your energy with just seeing Bratislava
Map of mountain trails: http://www.discoverzakopane.com/tatramap.html
Leštiny, Slovakia http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/site.php?id=1273-004
Stop at Čičmany, Slovakia – Preserved cabins with painting – on way to
Day 9 – Bratislava
Apartment pressburg – Železničiarska 7, Stare Mesto, 811 04 Bratislava, Slovakia
11 or 1500 – free walking tour
Day 10: Drive to Vienna
Day 11: Opera/concert, Vienna State opera
*Can also buy tickets day of directly from the opera house, but we
opted to buy ahead of time online
Pre-concert cocktails/cigar: Krugers American Bar
Day 12: New Year’s Eve
Morning: free walking tour
Afternoon: Schoenbrunn Palace
New Year’s Eve party: Hofburg Silverster Ball
Day 13: Fly home 😦