Last year Jaime experienced his first real winter ever and since he was always cold, we skipped advent manifestations around the Europe and visited the Christmas market in Zagreb only. Even we had a great time, this year I wanted to show him how advent looked like in other, more famous cities.
Vienna was an obvious choice – it was close, reachable with the car, and well known as an advent destination. I visited several times before, but it seemed to be a perfect destination for Jaime to explore. Two days later, we realized we might be wrong. Vienna is probably the most popular city in the terms of Christmas markets, but we actually liked Zagreb better, and here is why.
Read more: Tips & trick for a day trip to Vienna
Crowds vs. moderate crowds
Wherever you go in Vienna, it is crowded. If there are no people – then it sucks. Weekends are the worst, buses and buses full of tourists are coming to the city and you can see groups of 40 – 50 people following their guides everywhere.
Visiting Christmas markets during the peak hours is a nightmare. Long wait lines for food stalls (which was obviously not enough), walking around surrounded by a bunch of people stopping and taking photos all the time, … I’m not going to lie and say there are no crowds in Zagreb. There are, of course, but a number of people in Vienna and Zagreb cannot be compared at all. Do not forget, the popularity is not always a good thing!
No music vs. music everywhere
We decided on Vienna because we expected it to be more fun than Zagreb, but we got unpleasantly surprised. During our visit to Rathaus Christmas market on Friday evening, we realized there was no music at all. I’m not sure if something was wrong with their sound system or it is always like that.
I remember having a better time in Vienna past years when there was an ice skating ring next to Karl’s church and Christmas songs were blaring from the speakers. This year, it was awfully quiet. In contrary, Zagreb is full of music wherever you go. If there no a live performance, there is some kind of music.
Expensive vs. affordable
Austria is generally more expensive than Croatia (of course), but prices in Vienna went up high. For example, the same cup of mulled wine will cost you 4€ or more in Vienna and only 12 – 15 kuna (2€ or even less) in Zagreb. The same goes for sausages, coffee and basically anything you wish to buy or try. Everything in Zagreb is approximately half priced than in Vienna.
Shop till you drop vs. having fun
After walking around the whole Viennese city center, we realized there is nothing really going on in the city. The markets were all about the shopping, 80% of the stalls were selling souvenirs and other goodies (even products from Venice – not sure why would you want to buy a Venetian mask during the advent in Vienna?), while the rest were reserved for food and drinks.
There is so many different happenings, performances, concerts and workshops going on in Zagreb that we could not believe we did not notice any in Vienna. Being one of the most popular winter destinations, Vienna was surprisingly boring for us, who did not come to shop but to have fun. At the same time, in Zagreb, we saw the concert, checked out kids workshop and went to ice skate.
Already seen vs. new and innovative
As I mentioned before, markets in Vienna were all about the shopping and less about new experiences, trying out different food and enjoying street activities with your friends and family. At the end of our stay, when I asked Jaime if he would like to visit another market, he answered “What for? They are all the same and I am not interested in buying the souvenirs.”. I guess that reflects the best how we felt about Vienna.
In Zagreb, we did not know where to go first. Should we go to ice skate in the biggest ring or should we choose the one in the museum’s atrium? Are we going to try traditional food like sarma, sausages, and fritule or modern Christmas burgers and all kinds of international food? Should we check out the designer district or ride a funicular to reach the new markets in the Upper town? I think you got the point.
These are some of the reasons why we liked Zagreb so much better. We found Vienna to be too crowded, too expensive and too boring. I am looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen in the years to come. Could the “little Vienna”, as Zagreb is often called, actually surpass it’s *big brother* and become known for it’s Christmas markets all around the Europe? Until then, forget Advent in Vienna and head to Zagreb instead!
Did you visit any Christmas market this year? Which one was your favorite?