Austria's Top Events
Austrians love to throw a festival, a parade, anything to have a ball - there’s even a season for balls! Every month of the year is rich with wonderful events. Extraordinary concerts and arts festivals take world-class to a new stage, whether floating on a picturesque lake or ringing out from the mountain top. From Christmas magic to flower-adorned cow parades, mouth-watering cuisine to cutting-edge technology, Austria celebrates year-round. Come, join the fun! This is only a taste of all there is to see and do.
Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. Austria shines during this season, when Advent calendars count the days until Christmas and Advent wreaths are lit each Sunday. This festive time of year is filled with caroling, Christmas cookies and joyful celebrations.
Christmas Markets, starting late November. For centuries, these charming markets have rung in the spirit of Christmas all over Austria. Festive outdoor stands gathered before town halls and imperial palaces are strung with lights and evergreens to showcase handmade decorations, seasonal delicacies and unique crafts. Many come to socialize and shop for gifts, while warming up with punch or Glühwein. www.austria.info
St. Nicholas, 6th December. The "Heilige Nikolaus" visits children on 6th December throughout Austria, accompanied by the devil-like figure Krampus. The saint asks children for a list of their good and bad deeds. Good children are given sweets, apples and nuts, whilst bad children can only hope that they don't go into the basket that Krampus carries on his back.
Christmas (Austria). This much loved holiday is celebrated on 24th December in Austria. Once the presents are wrapped and the cookies are baked, families gather for an evening of feasting and exchanging gifts. The "Christkind" (a sort of Christmas angel) carries out the duties of Father Christmas, not only bringing the gifts but decorating the entire Christmas tree.
New Year’s Concert (Vienna), 1st January. The Vienna Philharmonic performs a selection of lively yet profound masterworks from the Strausses and their contemporaries. Broadcast from the Musikverein’s magnificent Golden Hall, this musical New Year’s greeting goes out to more than 90 countries and an estimated 50-million television viewers around the world. www.wienerphilharmoniker.at
Hahnenkamm World Cup Ski Race, Kitzbühel (Tirol), mid-January. It’s no secret that Austria is legendary for skiing, and this is one of the top races on the World Cup ski circuit. www.hahnenkamm.com
Ice World / Eistraum, City Hall (Vienna), starting late January. For several weeks from late January to late March, the plaza in front of Vienna's colorfully illuminated City Hall is transformed into a huge ice rink for everyone to enjoy. www.wienereistraum.com
Mozart Week (Salzburg), late January. Salzburg's most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, gets a full week of stellar classical music events, timed to coincide with his birthday on the 27th January. www.salzburg.info
Carnival / Fasching, Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. On Fasching Tuesday, many people throughout Austria wear colorful costumes as they go about their daily business. Children play dress-up and teenagers or adults go to fancy dress parties. In small communities, there are parades and processions. In Tirol, the processions marking “Fasnacht” (the Shrovetide carnival) are such wild celebrations that these traditional events are only staged every 3, 4 or even 5 years. www.austria.info
Easter / Ostern, late March or April. Easter is a major holiday in Austria, second only to Christmas. Celebrations begin the night before with impressive bonfires, followed by colorful egg hunts on Easter Sunday. Many Austrians take Easter week off to travel or spend time with family.
Salzburg Easter Festival / Salzburger Osterfestspiele (Salzburg), late April. Founded in 1967 by the great conductor (and Salzburg native) Herbert von Karajan, this festival was initially intended as a showcase for opera and now presents classical and contemporary works as well. Christian Thielemann is the current director. www.osterfestspiele-salzburg.at
Donaufestival, Krems (Upper Austria), late April. Austria's premier rock festival, set in the beautiful Wachau, spotlights Indie rock, electronica and experimental music along with performance and visual artists from all over the world. www.donaufestival.at
Vienna City Marathon (Vienna), late April. Starting at the impressive United Nations complex, runners go the distance past the best of Vienna, including Schönbrunn Palace, the Prater, and all the majestic landmarks along the Ring Boulevard. www.vienna-marathon.com
May Day / Erster Mai, 1st May. May Day is a traditional holiday in Austria celebrating spring. Many villages erect festive maypoles, commonly about 50-feet tall, and set up a little “guard” tent to ensure that no other village steals their maypole in the nights leading up to 1st May!
Schubertiade, Hohenems / Schwarzenberg (Vorarlberg), starting mid-May. During Franz Schubert's lifetime, small groups of musicians would gather informally in private salons - in what eventually became known as "Schubertiades". Larger and more formal, this world-renowned festival honors the Austrian composer’s works. www.schubertiade.at
Vienna Festival / Wiener Festwochen (Vienna), starting mid-May. The most important cultural festival in Vienna presents the finest in international music, opera, theater and dance. www.festwochen.at
Summer Night Concert / Sommernachtskonzert (Vienna), late May. The Schönbrunn Palace Gardens are the magnificent setting for this free, open-air performance by the Vienna Philharmonic. www.sommernachtskonzert.at
Life Ball (Vienna), late May. Promoting AIDS awareness since 1993, the Life Ball has become one of the top such events in the world. The joyous celebration and charity event features a major fashion show attended by many top designers and major celebrities. www.lifeball.org
Salzburg Whitsun Festival / Salzburger Pfingstfestspiele (Salzburg), late May. This addition to the famous Salzburg Festival is dedicated primarily to Baroque composers. www.salzburgerfestspiele.at/whitsun
Vienna Jazz Festival / Jazz Fest Wien (Vienna), starting early June. Jazz is a major passion in Austria, and Vienna's annual festival is a magnet for the finest jazz musicians in the world. www.jazzfest.wien
Fête Impériale (Vienna), late June. Reviving an 18-century court tradition, this opulent summer ball takes a modern turn at the magnificent Spanish Riding School. www.fete-imperiale.at
Styriarte Graz (Styria), starting late June. Founded by the great conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who was raised in Graz, this festival is dedicated to a specific composer each year. www.styriarte.com
ImPulsTanz Festival (Vienna), starting mid-July. Top dancers and choreographers from around the world take center stage at Europe’s largest contemporary dance festival. www.impulstanz.com
Bregenz Festival (Vorarlberg), starting late July. This top musical event is known worldwide for its dazzling operas set on the famous floating stage at the edge of Lake Constance. www.bregenzerfestspiele.com
Salzburg Festival / Salzburger Festspiele (Salzburg), starting late July. Always the talk of the summer, Austria’s grandest musical festival highlights the best in classic and contemporary performance. The medieval drama "Jedermann" (Everyman) is staged on the steps of Cathedral Square - with supporting actors reciting their lines from nearby mountaintops! www.salzburgerfestspiele.at/summer
Ars Electronica Festival, Linz (Upper Austria), early September. In a sleek, sculptural building on the banks of the Danube, the world's most important technological festival explores innovations and intersections between technology and art. www.aec.at
Cattle Processions / Festlicher Almabtrieb, late September. In Austria, cows get to spend their summers grazing high up in beautiful alpine pastures. When farmers bring them back to their stables in early autumn, many towns and villages celebrate with festivals and parades honoring the elaborately decorated herds. www.austria.info
Ball Season (Vienna), starting mid-November. The legendary ball season kicks off in mid-November with the Vienna Red Cross Ball, then shifts into high gear with the Hofburg’s Imperial Ball on New Year’s Eve. Until the start of Lent, thousands of elegantly clad guests attend hundreds of formal galas - including the Coffeehouse Owners’, Confectioners’, and Florists’ Balls. The belle of them all is the Opera Ball in the Vienna Opera House. www.austria.info