December is the start of winter in Austria. As a landlocked country in Central Europe, winters are cold and snowy, especially in the mountains. Snow may be on the ground in lower-lying cities such as Vienna and Salzburg in December, and nighttime temperatures may dip below 32°F (0°C). Still, daytime temperatures are usually a bit warmer. In the mountains, conditions are suitable for skiing, but December is still relatively early in the snow sports season, so the more reliable snow can be found at higher altitudes.
You might also like to factor the short daylight hours into your itinerary this month. The shortest day of the year falls in late December when the sun doesn't rise until after 7:30 am and sets at around 4 pm.
Crowds & Costs
Austria is a popular destination for skiing in December (the Alps!), so expect high prices and full hotels in ski resort areas, being sure to book accommodation in advance. Visitor numbers will be lower elsewhere, but the Christmas markets in the towns and cities (particularly Vienna) attract some travelers and locals.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Where to Go
The western city of Innsbruck is an excellent destination in December because both snow sports enthusiasts and those who prefer more gentle pursuits will find plenty to do. The Nordkette Cable Car takes passengers to the city's ski fields. Ski areas near Innsbruck include Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Kitzbühel, and Hafelekar-Rinne, one of the steepest ski runs in Europe. Non-skiers can enjoy the mountain views and the imperial and Gothic architecture and sample Austrian food and drink.
If you're spending time in Vienna, it's also easy to fit in a day or two of skiing from the capital in between browsing the galleries, museums, and palaces. The Zauberg Semmering is a relatively small ski area just a 75-minute drive from the capital or reachable on the Semmeringbahn mountain railway. The skiing at Zauberg Semmering is best suited to beginners and intermediate skiers. There's also a freestyle park, night skiing, ice skating, sledding, and more.
What to Do
Austria is all about snow sports in December and throughout winter. Head to the Alps for skiing (downhill and cross-country), snowboarding, sledding, and ice skating, or to Ischgl, a resort town in western Austria's Paznaun Valley, for reliable snow in December. It's one of the highest ski areas in Austria, at 4,527 feet to 9,514 feet (1,380 m to 2,900 m), so it has a long season and reliable conditions this month.
The charming Christmas markets are the biggest draw of Austria's towns and cities in December. Be entertained with concerts, shop for handicrafts, sample festive fare such as chestnuts, gingerbread, and Glühwein (mulled wine), and admire the twinkling lights after dark (which falls early in December!). Many places host these markets, but Salzburg, Innsbruck, Vienna, and Linz are among the best.
Events in December
Christmas markets, nationwide. Starting mid-November, street markets celebrate the advent season with lights, decorations, handicrafts, food, drink, and seasonal items.
Perchtenlaufen, Alpine regions. A traditional procession of scary folktale characters in costume happens in early December.
New Year's Eve, especially Vienna. You'll find parties throughout Austria on December 31, but Vienna is particularly famous for its fireworks displays.