December in Austria is exactly how you would imagine it – twinkling lights, wintry weather and wafts of Glühwein in the air.
And this year, the festive season is set to be even more enjoyable after many Christmas celebrations were put on hold for the past two years due to the pandemic.
So if you’re planning to travel to Austria this December, here’s what to expect.
No travel restrictions
There are currently no Covid-related travel restrictions for entering Austria.
Previously, people arriving in Austria had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test (known as 3G), but those rules came to an end in May.
This year will be the first Christmas season in Austria without Covid travel restrictions since December 2019.
Christmas markets are on
Another welcome return this year in Austria is the Christmas markets.
Last year, many markets around the country were cancelled after a snap lockdown in November, although some events still went ahead with strict rules in place.
But this year, the Christmas markets are back in full swing without restrictions, so make sure you visit one (or two) to really get into the Christmas spirit.
Austria’s most famous markets are in Vienna, like the Christkindmarkt in front of the Town Hall that runs from November 19 to December 26.
Some Covid-19 rules still apply
The stressful days of pandemic lockdowns might be behind us (fingers crossed), but there are still a few rules in Austria to be aware of.
In Vienna, it is still mandatory to wear an FFP2 mask in pharmacies, on public transport and at stations. So if you arrive at Vienna International Airport and take public transport into the city centre, expect to be asked to put on a mask.
Nationwide, masks are also required at all health and care facilities, including hospitals and clinics.
Possible strike action
Like in many countries in Europe right now, inflation is rising (see more on this below) and many workers unions are in the process of negotiating pay rises.
This has already led to a strike by rail workers at ÖBB, Austria’s national rail operator, on Monday November 28, with the possibility of further strike action if a deal can’t be reached.
Retail workers and beer brewers are also threatening to strike in early December for similar reasons.
So if visiting Austria in December, prepare yourself for some possible upheaval. Although the latest rail strike caused minimal disruption.
Everything is more expensive
Inflation in Austria is currently over 10 percent, which has led to price increases for everything from daily groceries to energy bills and dining out.
Even the Christmas markets are more expensive this year due to higher prices for the Glühwein mugs. This means some markets in Vienna are charging almost €5 for the Pfand (deposit) for that first glass of mulled wine.
The same applies to ski resorts with hotels, lift tickets and restaurants all costing more this year.
Besides Christmas (December 25) and Stephan’s Day (December 26), December 8, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mariä Empfängnis), is also a public holiday in Austria.
Of course, there are also several celebratory dates in December. For example, every Sunday until Christmas is an Advent Sunday, and Austrian families commemorate it in many ways, including lighting up candles.
On December 4, there is Barbaratag, while on December 5 Krampus pays his visit to Austrian villages and cities. On the next day, December 6, it’s time for St Nikolaus to bring chocolate and tangerines to children who were nice during the year.
Christmas Eve, Day, and St Stephen’s Day (December 24, 25 and 26) are important dates for Austrian traditions.
It’s also worth noting that Austrians celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24, usually with a family meal.
Start of ski season
In some parts of Austria, like on high-altitude glaciers in the Alps, the skiing season is already underway.
Elsewhere, some resorts tentatively open in early to mid-December before the winter season officially starts at Christmas. So you can possibly save some money (and avoid the crowds) by going skiing earlier.
For example, in St. Johann in Tyrol, the adult day pass rate is €29 between December 8 to 23 – far below the €53 in peak season (from December 24).
These off-peak rates don’t apply at all ski resorts but it’s worth checking before booking a trip to the mountains.
New Year celebrations
Expect lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) in Austria – no matter where you are.
Most major cities have a large fireworks display planned for midnight on December 31 and hotels tend to book up quickly – especially in cities like Salzburg.
In Vienna, the bells ring out at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to welcome in the New Year, which is also broadcast on national television. This is followed by fireworks and some even take part in a communal waltz on Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall.
But if you really want to celebrate New Year like an Austrian, then give a marzipan pig to your nearest and dearest. The little pigs represent a good luck charm and are handed out every year on New Year’s Eve.