What to do in Vienna in January – six good reasons to visit NOW
The first month of 2019 will be my eleventh January spent in Vienna. Coming back from the holidays, I find the city awakened and refreshed after the somehow artificial glow and glitter bestowed upon it with the occasion of the famous Christmas markets, New Year’s Concert, and change of the year street celebrations. The crowds of tourists covering 15 Christmas markets in one day are gone, and so are most of the holiday lights and decorations. There is a typical aloof Viennese quality to the first two weeks of the year, which is definitely worth exploiting for a truly authentic experience of Austria’s capital. Here is our list of favorite things to do in Vienna in January, which are as many reasons to visit.
1. Enjoy the quiet – see and hear the city of music
If you ever thought about visiting Vienna, you know the famous picture of the silhouette of the Stephansdom (St Stephen Cathedral) against a dark-blue or black winter sky. Looking up to the majestic cathedral, while the cold, moist Viennese wind penetrates your every fiber, that you can only properly do when there are no crowds pushing you around, in or out of a quick picture with the church and the Christmas tree in front of it. During the months of November and December, the Stephansplatz (St Stephen Square) is turned into a Christmas market. As fairytale-like as the atmosphere is during that time, all the glitter and lights prevent you from taking in the view of the Graben and the Kärntner Straße, the two pedestrian arteries, as they start majestically from the Stephansplatz. In January, although not deserted, the place is quiet. Pedestrians hurrying oblivious towards the metro station or chatting while strolling towards their favorite coffee house are typical for Vienna. You might notice not only the sky against the buildings of the city center but also the light snow in the crisp air or the mild, hopeful, spring breeze, depending on the particular day. This is part of the city’s charm as much as the buildings. Pay attention, you might hear the bells of the Peterskirche calling or Vienna’s really talented street musicians. A flute player on the Graben, a blind tenor on Kärntner Straße, and the sound of your own steps as you walk in the tracks of Mozart and Beethoven, it does not get more Viennese than that…..
2. You’re in for an authentic Viennese treat
…..unless, of course, you decide to enter one of the famous coffee houses or spend an evening at the State Opera. In both cases, you should be able to get the best seats effortlessly. Last year, I was in Leopold Café Hawelka one evening and not only did we not have to wait for a table to clear up, but it actually felt like being in a library, with everybody quietly minding their conversations in hushed tones, Viennese style. Without any reservations, you could easily get brunch seats in Café Museum or Cafe Heiner, or listen to live piano music in Café Central in the evenings.
If you want to attend a concert, go online prior to your visit and book your tickets directly from the provider. The Vienna State Opera and Musikverein are common choices, but browse through what the Theater an der Wien and Konzerthaus also have to offer. There is always something for every taste on any date of choice, if you plan a bit ahead. That is one important lesson I learned booking tickets in Vienna over the past ten years. Do not rely on getting them from street vendors or attending last minute Mozart or Strauss concerts, typically overpriced and designed for mass consumption.
3. It’s already sales season
A visit to Vienna in January is bound to save you some cash. Hotels, trains, and flights are cheaper, and so are concert tickets booked ahead. That’s a good thing, as most shops start the winter sales immediately after the holiday season. Therefore, make sure to save enough time, money, and energy for a shopping spree on Mariahilferstrasse or at the Donauzentrum. If you time your expedition right – that is during the working hours on a weekday – you will have the privilege to browse freely, as most locals are at work and sales hunters are still inexistent. Do not postpone too long, eventually, word will spread and by late January the entire city will be assaulted by those attracted to the sinking prices.
4. Museums are museums again
Did I mention how Christmas markets tend to overshadow the city’s landmarks? Well, bear with me, as museums are still the best example of this phenomenon. Meeting up with friends who visit Vienna before Christmas, they often mention they’ve been at the Belvedere, the Maria-Theresien-Platz, the Museumsquartier, or the Schönbrunn…..Christmas markets. These are built-up in front of the respective museums and offer worthwhile experiences – we tour them too, and never get enough. But for a lot of people who pass through the city for a few days, eager to take in as much of the atmosphere as possible, the practice of the Viennese to use the city’s famous locations as punch-drinking meeting places might just prove too confusing or distracting. In January, if you want to hide from the biting wind for a few hours, try any of the above-mentioned museums. And when you are tired of browsing, do stop in the café of the establishment and try a Café Maria-Theresia – my favorite substitute to punch.
5. Nothing warms you up better than chocolate
Still not quite warm enough? How about a visit to the Chocolate Museum in the Prater? Granted, you cannot go on the merry-go-rounds of the oldest amusement park in the world in this weather, but you can still stop by for one of Vienna’s most authentic experiences. The museum takes you on an interactive world tour dedicated to chocolate/cocoa history, and you can follow up with participating in a chocolate making workshop run by passionate experts. Hot cocoa, endless chocolate tastings, and a warm, friendly atmosphere will make you remember Vienna in a sweeter light! Click here and let us organize your visit for you!
6. Not all the glitter is lost
Still worried you’ll miss a glimpse of fairytale Vienna? Don’t worry; it is still there, hiding in plain sight. For starters, remember those bells calling earlier on? The Peterskirche on Graben is a beautiful baroque church standing on the site of Vienna’s oldest church founded by Charlemagne. Dare to go in, as they do keep their Christmas decorations on during January and offer remarkable organ concerts in the evenings.
Secondly, no matter if you live in Vienna for a long time or just spend a few days here, you cannot and should not avoid the delicious pastries and cakes for which the city is famous. In order to burn down all those extra calories, the Viennese have two very characteristic activities in January. One of them is to attend as many balls as possible, and simply turn everything into a waltz. Elegant and as glittery as it can get, this experience is definitely worth every penny. If you fancy attending a ball during your stay, be sure to go online and follow the booking advice I gave you when talking about concert tickets. Or just contact us at Dream, Book, and Travel and we will do all the work for you!
Thirdly, there is one place in Vienna which should never, under any circumstances, stay empty for too long. And that is the Rathausplatz. Be it the Christmas market, the circus, public viewings, or the summer international food festival, whatever is going on at the Rathausplatz is emblematic for the mood of the city at the respective time point. In January, that is the Wiener Eistraum, when the whole place is turned into a fairytale ice-skating ring. One of my top favorite destinations to burn down calories and something I look forward to every year!
If you need more suggestions for your visit, you find here our three days in Vienna itinerary and you can further refer to our Viennese insights! As we do not want you to feel too cold or too lost, we urge you to contact us directly for personalized suggestions, itineraries, and help! We welcome every single one of our guests over hot chocolate and share with them our tips and tricks to best enjoy Vienna despite the cold! We don’t believe that one glove fits all, thus we will gladly put together an itinerary that matches your interests, time frame, and budget, and we will assist with all your bookings! We are looking forward to hearing from you!