How To Celebrate Christmas in Innsbruck

When you think of Christmas, you probably picture brilliantly white snow falling on fir trees; people wearing woolen mittens holding steaming cups of hot chocolate; and little kids screaming with excitement as they watch Santa bring a bag full of surprises. This is the very Christmasy feeling you get when you travel to Innsbruck, Austria – the capital of the Alps.

The small city located near the border of Germany and Italy transforms into a winter wonderland through the month of December. There are lots of events taking place so make sure to check the calendar and plan your trip accordingly. Starting mid November, there are advent and Christmas concerts, a Christmas flea market, brass music on the tower. The best part is, most of these are free and open to public.

Here are some ways you can get into the Christmas spirit in Innsbruck…

Shop at The Christmas Markets

This was my first time at a Christmas market in Europe and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of families (mostly Italians) in town enjoying simple pleasures. While we in US focus mostly on shopping for presents at big name brands during the holiday season, the people at the Christmas market at Marktplatz were strolling through the decorated squares, sipping on gluhwein (mulled wine), eating cheesy raclette toast, roasted chestnuts and kiachl (fried donuts).

The market in Maria-Theresien-Strasse sold unique Christmas ornaments, little village scenes, handmade woolens, candles, statues, woodwork, candy, cards and so much more. I felt a gift bought here would be a lot more meaningful than from the mall!

Watch The Krampus Parade

Prior to visiting Innsbruck, I did not know much about the tradition of krampus – which apparently has been around for a couple of hundred years in western Europe. In olden times, the Catholic church used the mythological figure (half goat, half demon) to scare kids so they behave well. Men would dress up as krampus and beat up the naughty kids while Santa would bring gifts to the nice ones (naughty or nice, get it?).

Little did I know that I had been a bad girl this year because I was beaten up by many devils in the town of Igls this year! I arrived at the annual krampus parade as an innocent spectator taking videos of the masked devils riding their chariots lit with fire. But then some of these devils pulled adults and kids from the crowd and whipped them with their brooms and sticks. Yes it hurt, and by the time the fourth guy headed my way, I ran for the bus back to my hotel.

Though scary, it was an experience hanging out with locals who brought their little kids to watch the parade. Even the young ones went along with the whippings as it is just a part of tradition.

Stroll Through Swarovski Crystal Worlds

Located just outside the city is a magical Christmas themed garden with lighted figures. Also, the new poetic garden features a unique Crystal Cloud made from 800,000 hand-mounted and enchanted floating crystals – pictures don’t do justice to the glistening reflections!

Being a Swarovski fan, I also enjoyed visiting the museum that tells the story of the family (who was from Bohemia which is now in Czech Republic), and displays some of the most famous gowns and jewels that bestowed celebrities on red carpets. Also, there is the largest Swarovski store I have ever seen selling crystals ranging from $50-50,000. There’s no way you can walk out empty handed from here.

Brunch with a View

If you are dreaming of a white Christmas, you will definitely get it in Innsbruck. Just take the Nordketten cable car to Seegrube, where you will find some of the best ski slopes in the Alps. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the majestic Stubai glacier as I enjoyed my first snowfall of the season. Many locals hike up the mountain, grab a delicious lunch at Seegrube Restaurant, and then take the cable car back down.

Another popular option for Sunday brunch is Restaurant Bergisel SKY (make reservations in advance) overlooking the famous Olympic Bergisel Ski Jump. Perched above the city, the glass enclosed restaurant has some of the best views of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains.

In the mood for Christmas already? Then head to Innsbruck, Austria and enjoy the special season! I would recommend staying at least two days to enjoy the festivities, and longer if you like winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, or winter hiking.

Stepping back into history in Vienna

If you want to step back in time, go to Vienna in Austria.  I visited in summer of 2008 and was plesantly surprised. Surely there are many old cities around the world but what was special here is that the 18th century buildings looked brand new. They were so well maintained that you felt like they have just come up around you. Horse drawn carriages and cobblestone roads were still the norm here. There were cafes and bars at each corner where famous artists, writers and poets have created masterpieces. “Oh that’s where Mozart wrote his music ….and that’s where Rainer drew his painting” the guide would exclaim.vienna parliament

The gardens in front of the Parliament building were magnificent without any pretence. It was summer; the weather was perfect and the flowers in full bloom. As in most European cities, there were street artists, little galleries, fresh food stalls and tiny shops, that further added to the drama.

I did watch an orchestra perform at the same theatre where Mozart used to play. Nothing seemed to have changed with time here. The New Years Eve orchestra in Vienna is world famous and sold out months in advance. There are also tons of museums to choose from and most of them are free to enter.

Mozart theater ViennaThe best part was the festival that was taking place in front of the parliament building. Every night, a different concert or movie would take place. But there was a food pavilion set up to cater the attendees. There were about 20 stalls of vendors offering drinks and food that would put any food festival to shame! As someone who has this notion that Austrian food is mainly “meat and potatoes”, I was pleasantly surprised. There was fusion of Italian, German, Hungarian, Mediterranean, Spanish, Chinese and much more. I had some of the best mushroom dumplings with goulash for under $10.

Austria remains to be one of my favorite destinations in the world and I hope to return there someday soon.