This European City Is the Ultimate Must-Visit for Christmas Lovers

In this Austrian city, traditions include historic Christmas markets, delicious pastries, and some more unusual holiday festivities.

There’s no better place to be immersed in Alpine Christmas traditions than Salzburg, Austria—a city rich in history, baroque architecture, and in winter, festive markets.

The Christmas season has been a big deal here for centuries: One of the world’s first Advent markets, Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) traces its origins to the 15th century. Locals would set up shop to sell household goods in the main square, and this ritual later became the Nikolaimarkt, to celebrate St. Niklaus Day on the 6th of December. (Back then, Christmas wasn’t celebrated on December 25.)

Nowadays, Christmas markets are a season-long celebration and are wildly popular with locals and foreigners alike—Salzburg sees over 1 million visitors per year at the Christkindlmarkets alone. People come from all over the world to gather under the baroque domes aglow with lights and socialize over a hot mug of spiced wine, called glühwein, or orange punch.

Here’s a guide into the food, festivities, and horned beasts that make Salzburg a must-visit destination at Christmas.

Christmas markets to visit in Salzburg

A Christmas market in Salzburg around sunset with lights illuminating the stalls and strings of lights covered with garland strung above the market, with people in warm coats milling about

Christmas markets are a big part of Salzburg’s winter festivities.

Photo by Calin Stan / Shutterstock

Salzburg Christkindlmarkt on Residenzplatz Square

  • Come for: A market full of people and variety
  • Dates: November 23, 2023, to January 1, 2024
  • Hours: Daily from 9 or 10 a.m. until 8:30 or 9 p.m.

The star of Salzburg’s Christmas markets is the grand market in Rezidenzplatz. Stroll through the area and marvel at the lights, browse ornaments and handcrafted goods on display at the nearly 100 vending booths, and enjoy the scents of pine, spices, incense, and roasting meat. Wander and sample a multitude of local gastronomic delights—from savory spiced sausage, goulash, and cheesy raclette to sweets like pillowy Kräpfen doughnuts and gingerbread cookies.

Keep an eye open for the intricate miniature nativity scenes posted outside the main market. Made by locals, they are remarkably detailed and offer a variety of interpretations of the famous story, including snowy Alpine hamlets and Middle Eastern deserts. You could spend hours here and not see everything.

While you enjoy your visual feast, listen for the melodies that come from every corner. The city that gave us Mozart stays true to its musical roots: You may hear a lone opera singer outside the main market attracting a small crowd, the voices of sing-along choirs, wind music played from high above the square, or the pealing of church bells.

Mirabell Market

  • Come for: A relaxed market loved by locals
  • Dates: November 23 to December 24, 2023
  • Hours: Sunday–Thursday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Friday–Saturday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.

Centrally located just off the Mirabell Gardens (made famous by The Sound of Music), Mirabell Market is dubbed the “after-work market” by locals. The market is only a few minutes’ walk from the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof train station; it’s worth a visit for a sweet treat from one of the market’s vendors while taking in the iconic garden view of the fortress Festung Hohensalzburg. Mirabell is mostly attended by locals and doesn’t get too crowded, especially compared to Rezidenzplatz.

Hohensalzburg Advent Market

  • Come for: A market by a medieval fortress
  • Dates: December 1–18, 2023
  • Hours: Friday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

Concealed within the Festung Hohensalzburg’s fortress walls is the Hohensalzburg Advent Market, an intimate Christmas market on a smaller scale, open only on weekends. Surrounded by parapets and fortress walls, this medieval market adds a festive twist with brass music playing under a Christmas tree as families sip hot drinks on cold winter nights.

The medieval fortress itself, which sits above the old town, is an absolute must-see while in Salzburg. Walk to the top or ride the funicular—located a short distance from the main market square—for views of the domes and spires of the city. Get a bird’s-eye view of the narrow streets that exhibit festive lights and the snow-crowned Alpine peak of Untersberg.

Sternadvent Market

  • Come for: An intimate market in a brewery
  • Dates: November 23, 2023, to January 6, 2024
  • Hours: Sunday–Thursday: 11:00 a.m.–7 p.m.; Friday–Saturday: 11:00 a.m.–8:30 p.m.

Just off the main shopping path of Getreidegasse in the old town, the Sternbräu brewery holds its own Christmas market, the Sternadvent Market, adjacent to the brewery. After passing through the arched entryway decorated with wreaths, head inside to try a Baumstriezel, or chimney cake, which is a cylinderical spiral of dough dipped in toppings like cinnamon sugar. Fresh out of the oven, the crispy pastry steams out the top like a chimney—perfect for strolling around and warming up, unwinding as you go.

Other Christmasy things to do in Salzburg

Person in horned, grimacing Krampus mask at outdoor market selling popcorn

Krampus isn’t exactly the jolliest of creatures.

Photo by Joe Flick

See a Krampus Run

Each Christmas season, Salzburg hosts a series of Krampus Runs, which are a celebration of St. Niklaus’s fiendish companion, Krampus, a half-goat, horned demon who smacks bad children with birch branches. The creature dates back to pre-Christian times and is incorporated into Christmas traditions in many central European and Alpine regions, including Bavaria, Tyrol, Slovakia, and Hungary.

The Krampus Run begins on Linzergasse, across the river from the old town, and ends at Rezidenzplatz (the main Christmas market). During the run, people dress up as the hairy Krampus with grotesque wooden masks and shaggy fur adorned with bells and roam the narrow streets of Salzburg. They roar and jump—as kids run and scream—but it’s all good fun. St. Nikolaus follows, benevolently handing out candies as the Krampuses go wild. Several runs take place at the beginning of December. This year, there will be on one every day December 1–8.

Visit the Christmas Museum

For those interested in the history of Salzburg Christmas traditions, stop by the Christmas Museum located near Mozartplatz and the main market square. Situated on top of Café Glockenspiel, the museum’s historical collection includes Christmas letters, old cookie molds, tree ornaments, doll houses, and other curios that show how Christmas traditions and decorations evolved in Austria and Germany.

Festive places to eat in Salzburg

The interior of St. Peter Stiftskulinarium in Salzburg, Austria

Places like St. Peter Stiftskulinarium make dining a fun and festive experience.

Photo by Joe Flick

St. Peter Stiftskulinarium

Located east of the main market and tucked up against the Festungsberg mountain is St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, a must-visit for any foodie or fan of eclectic decoration. The establishment dates back to 803 C.E. and is composed of rooms ranging from baroque music chambers to intimate dining areas hewn out of the mountainside. The outdoor lounge features cushioned benches and a giant nativity scene at Christmastime.

As for the food, St. Peter serves up plenty of hearty, classic Austrian dishes like schnitzel and wurst. Don’t miss the Tafelspitz: boiled beef and veggies served with a side of luxurious creamed horseradish and spinach. For dessert, try its iconic Salzburgernockerl, a sweet souffle, shaped like the peaks of three local mountains, served with a tart berry cream. It’s surprisingly light and fluffy, and the perfect way to end a night.

Gasthof Goldgasse

Gasthof Goldgasse is both an upscale inn and quaint eatery, serving local, seasonal cuisine sourced from nearby farmers. Famous for its fried chicken in a copper pot, the Gasthof kitchen puts a unique interpretation on recipes from a 1719 cookbook with creations like roasted duck with dumplings. The light wood paneling of hand-cut oak and baroque art adorning the walls give the Gasthof a cozy and sophisticated feel.


For a drink with one of the best views of the city, head to Hotel Stein’s rooftop bar and restaurant , Steinterasse. Here you’ll be greeted with the iconic Salzburg view of the old town, the fortress above, and the snowy Untersberg summit crowning the panorama. Sit inside the elegantly modern bar or on nicer days, brave the cold on the terrace (with blankets provided at each table) and sip a White Negroni or another of its winter cocktails.

Where to stay in Salzburg

Hotel Hyperion

A historic palace built in Viennese Ringstrasse fashion in 1874, Palais Faber now hosts guests as a 115-suite luxury hotel. The 2022-opened Hyperion is located in the new town, only a few blocks from Mirabell Gardens and a 10-minute walk from the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof train station. The accommodations are tastefully modern with accents like designer armchairs and subtle automatic floor lighting. Deluxe suites come with a stand-alone bathtub, and the partly glass-walled bathrooms are equipped with a rain shower.

This article was originally published in 2022 and most recently updated on November 28, 2023 with current information.

Joe Flick splits his time between Seattle, Washington, and Barcelona, Spain. His day job is in real estate, and he spends his free time writing and traveling the world with his camera in hand.
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