Vienna has its own special charm in the pre-Christmas weeks. In normal years, the local Christmas markets attract thousands of visitors from all over the world. And to make their experience truly unforgettable, the city also invests a lot of money in special elegant Christmas lights in the most popular shopping streets. In 2021, there were 34 of them in six districts of Vienna, with almost half located in the 1st district – the historic city center.
Each street has its own lighting design, the constructions are made by different companies. Most of them operate via LED technology, which reduces electricity consumption by up to 80%. Every day from mid-November to about January 10, more than 2 million light points light up in these streets after 4 p.m. That’s more than the number of people living in Vienna!
So let’s take a look at the most beautiful streets.
(1) We start our walk on the street that connects the two squares – Stephansplatz with the Cathedral and Schwedenplatz on the right bank of the Danube Canal. The street is called Rotenturmstrasse, the name is associated with the Red Tower (der Rote Turm), which was part of the medieval fortifications of the city. Before Christmas, however, it could easily be called Red Ball Street. At a height of 10 meters, seven huge red balls are hanging over the heads of pedestrians – one of the most striking Christmas light installations in Vienna.
The glittering balls attract visitors, everyone wants to take pictures of them. If you are lucky and a traditional Viennese fiaker is passing by you, a very nice romantic photo can be created.
The balls attract attention even during the day, they have a diameter of 4 meters and weigh 200 kilograms!
But what bothers me a little is the number of neon signs on this street that disturb the pre-Christmas atmosphere a bit. If you want a photo with less light smog, then you have to go to the end of the street. On the way, you can stop at one of the punch stalls.
(2) When walking along Rotenturmstrasse, you will reach the side street Wollzeile. It is one of the oldest shopping streets in Vienna. Wolle is wool in German, and the name of the street is related to the weavers and wool sellers who once lived here. Maybe that’s why the “woven” endless light curtains stretch across the street and even reflect in the windows of houses and on the roofs of parked cars.
(3) We return to Stephansplatz and continue along Brandstätte Street. There are smaller or larger veils of lights hanging in almost every side street. In Tuchlauben, a gentle baldachin hovers over the street above our heads. This decoration is one of two new ones that were added in 2021.
(4) Now we are in the so-called Golden Quarter, Vienna’s most luxurious shopping district. Here are the department stores of the world’s most famous brands. Their windows are also festively decorated. Huge cylinders hang over the streets.
Interestingly, when you stand under some of these cylinders, the shape changes a bit and rather resembles a giant bell. Some even have clappers inside in the form of two balls.
(5) The street continues, but its name changes to Kohlmarkt. The elegant street is completely shrouded in golden rain – more than 130,000 LED lights, some of them sparkling like small diamonds.
There is a wonderful view from both sides of the street, but it is somehow more beautiful when the green dome of the Hofburg, a former imperial residence, shines through the golden veil.
Already in ancient times, an old Roman road led here. Later, coal was sold here, hence the name Kohlmarkt. However, when the Hofburg was built, the coal market had to move further away from the magnificent emperor’s residence. Various court contractors moved into the street. Demel Confectionery was one of them. Even today, passers-by admire the ingenious decorations in the large windows, made of sugar, marzipan and other sweets.
You can read more about this confectionery in the article: Demel
(6) Another elegant street with luxury shops – Wallnerstrasse – leads to Kohlmarkt. The gold curtains are smaller, but also impressive. And the shop windows of the boutiques of the most famous design brands are also interesting.
(7) Graben is a street in the heart of Vienna’s historic center. Its history also dates back to ancient times, when a long moat (Graben in German) led here, used to defend the Roman camp of Vindobonna.
In 2006, an idea took hold – to transform each year before Christmas the entire street into the largest ballroom in the world, decorated with oversized chandeliers imitating crystal Baroque chandeliers, widely used to illuminate the representative rooms in many Viennese palaces. Even today, if you walk through the historic streets, you can see them in many lighted windows.
Although there is no dancing on the street, people like to walk here and let themselves be enchanted by the beauty of this street. The shots of chandeliers with a historic building such as the Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church) in the background are really very nice.
One cannot miss the enormous chandeliers even during the day when they are not yet lit. They hang at a height of 6 meters, weigh 400 kg and have a diameter of 4.5 m. 10 km of cables and 280,000 lights were used to make them shine in full light. You grasp the size of these chandeliers especially if you find yourself here during the process of their assembly or disassembly. The idea for these chandeliers comes from the then-only 36-year-old Austrian designer Robert Karrer.
I like it when they start selling Christmas trees here in Graben. The street – otherwise without trees – is at least a little green. Have you ever wondered when and where the first Christmas tree appeared in Vienna? You can read about it in this article: The first Christmas tree
When you see these trees and feel the smell of punch or mulled wine, it is clear that Christmas is approaching unstoppably. During this period, there are also stalls here on this classy street, where various charities sell punch. Both locals and tourists like to stop here, warm up and debate until late over a cup of hot drink. By the way, Mozart was one of the most famous consumers of punch. He had discovered it in England, they did not know yet this drink in Vienna at that time…
If possible, stop and stand under one of the chandeliers and get as close as possible, e.g. using the camera zoom. The golden ball in its middle looks small from below, but it reflects the whole luxurious street with the Plague Column…
(8) The side streets connected to Graben also attract your eyes with their Christmas lights. In the ones on the left (if you are heading towards Stephansplatz), there are six smaller chandeliers like the ones on Graben. On the right, the first street is Habsburgergasse. So what should hang in the street named after one of the oldest and most important European dynasties? Of course, the imperial crown! The light installation was modelled on the Austrian crown, originally the personal crown of Emperor Rudolf II from 1602. The crown is part of the coronation jewels and is stored in the Imperial Jewelry in Hofburg.
(9) The next side street is Dorotheergasse. In the past, beautiful palaces stood here, which was one of the reasons why Leopold I had installed some street lanterns here in 1688 as a street illumination trial. As a reminder of this event, 45 modern “candles” are hanging here before Christmas.
(10) The name Spiegelgasse is derived from the word Spiegel (mirror), as mirror manufacturers used to live here in the past. The Christmas decoration is represented by striking big wheel-stars with a diameter of 2.6 m. There are 25 of them and they light up the street like giant sun disks.
(11) Although we are talking about the streets, we must, of course, also make a stop in the most important square in Vienna – Stephansplatz, which is dominated by St. Stephen’s Cathedral. During other seasons, its Gothic façade is reflected in the glass walls of the Haas House, standing opposite to it and still very controversial, designed by the famous Austrian architect Hans Hollein. Before Christmas, however, it is largely covered with lights.
The square also has its own Christmas tree and in Advent, the cathedral is surrounded by stalls, which offer mainly regional specialties and traditional arts and crafts. It is one of the most pleasant Christmas markets in the city.
The whole scenery is complemented by a golden ladder on the south tower of the dome, a symbolic connection between heaven and earth by the Viennese artist Billi Thanner. The beginning of the celestial ladder is inside the cathedral and continues through the dome to its top at a height of 134 meters. Originally, this work of art was to shine only from Easter until the end of May. Then the project was extended until the end of September 2021, even after a lightning strike at the end of August, when one vertical light tube was damaged (later replaced by a new one). This “way into Heaven” was removed in autumn 2022.
(12) Kärtner Strasse is one of the most popular shopping streets and is sure to be walked by every visitor, as it stretches from the cathedral to the famous Vienna Opera. Above the 750-meter-long street hang asymmetrical oval light structures, 6 meters in size, which sway gracefully with every breath of wind. As many as 550,000 LED lamps were used to create them.
(13) If you also decide to walk through the illuminated streets of Vienna, be sure to go to the nearby side street Annagasse as well, which got its name from the Church of St. Anna. Unlike previous busy streets, it is usually pleasantly quiet. And that’s probably one of the reasons why no stars or luxury chandeliers shine here, but music notes. Well, not any notes! These are the opening notes of the most famous Christmas song Silent Night.
Another reason for this decoration is probably the House of Music, also located here. It is the first museum of sound and music in Austria, opened in 2000.
To learn more about the origin of the song Silent Night, click on the article: Silent Night
(14) We have thus completed our street tour in the historic center of Vienna. However, I definitely recommend also a walk along the bustling Mariahilfer Strasse, especially in the late evening hours, when the shops are already closed. Above the longest shopping street not only in Vienna, but in Austria (the inner section measures 1.8 km), there are light structures in the form of comets, but also Christmas villages with churches and deer-pulling sledges. The street is wide, so neon signs do not disturb these Christmas lights.
Make at least a short stop at Gerngross, which is one of the three oldest department stores on this street. It always surprises with interesting decorations in its shop windows.
(15) Neubaugasse, which crosses Mariahilfer Strasse, is also worth seeing. There are no garlands of light here, but remarkable three-dimensional stars with 25 points. They are supposed to resemble the Star of Bethlehem and are actually a combination of Christmas tradition and modern arts and crafts. Among the 22 small, 20 medium and 2 large stars, 80 moonballs also shine into the night.
Every evening for about seven hours, seven days a week, the Christmas lights of Vienna’s streets radiate hope, faith and joy that we will not let be taken away even in these difficult pandemic times… Let the light of hope shine inside us all as well!
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri