Yesterday we celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary in Vienna! We usually celebrate our anniversary each year with a child-free weekend away, but this year we decided to take the kids along. We were able to find flights with Transavia for just 33 euros from the Rotterdam airport to Vienna, so we thought..why not!?
Vienna, Austria’s capital, is surprisingly child friendly; making this very formal European city a nice choice for families. Even though the kids insisted upon climbing up onto every single art sculpture and fountain we passed, overall, they were pretty good. We spent an enjoyable two nights and two days in this city and this is how we explored it.. kids in tow.
Upon our Arrival..
We arrived in Vienna in the evening around 20:00, and a taxi from the airport into the city centre cost us €35 (an alternative option is the train for €7-11 p.p). The idea of the four of us bunking into one hotel room together did not appeal to us at all. We have tried and tested this several times before and every time it’s a total disaster. For the same price as a hotel room, we were able to find a fabulous two bedroom apartment in a beautiful historical building in the centre of Vienna; an easy ten minute stroll into the inner city centre, and just around the corner from the university, closest bus stop and metro station!
Knowing very well that the kids would not be up for too much walking, we bought a 48 hour pass for the city’s hop-on-hop-off bus service. This allowed us easier access to all of the main sights in and around the city. You may also opt for the city ring tram, which is more affordable than the bus; however, it is a non stop 25 minute tour giving you a quick overview of the city without the flexibility of the hop-on-hop-off bus. There is also the metro of course, which is super easy to use but then you see nothing on route from A to B.
Beware: the bus stops are a single pole, which can be easily overlooked. The first morning, we misread the map and accidentally went on an hour long walkabout trying to find the closest bus stop, which ended up being just around the corner from our apartment! Whoops! My bad. But we definitely walked off those croissants! On the bus there is free wifi and you can listen to an audio in your choice of several languages (a new kids channel is also available). Even though we still did a lot of walking during our time in Vienna, the bus passes were fantastic and I was very grateful for them. It is also worthwhile looking into the Vienna Pass, which not only includes access to the hop-on-hop-off bus, but also free entry to over 60 top attractions.
The city of Vienna is full of so much history. It’s artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. More famous composers have lived in Vienna than in any other city – music is literally in the air. Waltzes, musicals and operettas have their home here. The Vienna Philharmonic orchestra for one, acts as ambassador of Viennese music around the globe – at concerts such as the New Year’s Concert and the Summer Night Concert. The Summer Night Concert is an open-air event for 100,000 visitors, with free admission and set against the fabulous backdrop of Schönbrunn Palace. Which then brings me to the first stop of our adventure…
Day 1: Palaces and Animals
More commonly referred to as “Sisi’s palace”, as this was Empress Sisi’s former summer residence. The 1500-odd room palace has a 300 year history as a former imperial summer residence and is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in Austria. The palace is quite a way out of the city centre, but completely worth the trip out!
A Children’s Museum is also located on the ground floor of the palace, where you can learn more about the everyday life of the imperial family. Children can also try on imperial clothing and play with imperial toys. But there is so much more. The gardens and forests surrounding the palace are massive. The kids would have loved running through the “labyrinth” but unfortunately the maze was closed for the winter. Also located on the palace grounds, is the worlds oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn. Although it was a beautiful zoo, many of the animal pens seemed to be empty for the winter. The young panda twins were definitely a highlight though!!
Really, you could spend a whole day here on the palace grounds. But as we only had two days in Vienna, we continued on with our exploration of this beautiful city. You can find out more about the Schönbrunn Palace, including ticket prices here. You can also buy tickets combining entrance to the palace and the zoo.
Located along the same bus line as the Schönbrunn Palace is the impressive Belvedeere Complex. Composed of two Baroque palaces and surrounded by stunning gardens; once again, one could spend an entire day at Belvedeere and still not absorb all of it’s magnificence. Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), successful general and art connoisseur, had Belvedere palace built as his summer residence, which now houses Austrian art from the Middle Ages to the present day.
State Opera Theatre
Our next stop was the Vienna State Opera Theatre, which is considered one of the most important opera houses in the world; in particular, it is the house with the largest repertoire. We decided not to see a concert during this trip – our children are not quite at the age where they would fully appreciate it.
Purchasing the bus passes also enables you to join a short guided walking tour free of charge (which begins and ends at the State Opera Theatre each day). However, by this stage we had already walked quite a lot, the kids were tired and so we decided not to skip it and sit down for a nice dinner instead.
Day 2: Prater and City Centre
For our second day in Vienna, we wanted to explore more of the city centre. However, first we had promised our kids something that they were really looking forward to…So after breakfast, we hopped back onto the bus, and our next stop was of course.. the iconic Vienna Ferris Wheel.
The Giant Vienna Ferris Wheel
Located in the area of Prate, this giant ferris wheel marks the entrance to the Prater amusement park, heaven on earth for children. The ferris wheel was originally built more than 100 years ago! During the war, it was burned down, but luckily in 1945 it was rebuilt (at the same time as St. Stephen’s Cathedral, State Opera House and the Burgtheater). I knew very well that a ride on this iconic ferris wheel would be inevitable for our family, so I had pre-purchased tickets online to save time at the register. The views over the city were breathtaking!
Entry to this huge amusement park is free, and then you pay a small fortune for each ride you go on. We discovered upon our arrival that most of the rides do not open until March 20! Which for our kids, felt like going into a candy store and not being able to have any candy. Luckily one or two other rides were open to keep the kids happy.
Once we got that out of our system and the kids were satisfied, we then headed back into the centre to explore some more historical buildings.
From the bus stop, it was a short walk through the pedestrian zone, the Kärntner Strasse, to the famous St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Vienna was badly damaged during WWII. Many of the old buildings were bombed to the ground and were later rebuilt. You can see this clearly as you stroll the streets; old and new buildings almost alternate. Vienna is a very impressive and wealthy city, full of beautiful buildings and beautiful people. The streets are lined with the kind of high-end stores of which you do not dare to enter with kids (Prada, Louis Vuitton etc.).
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the symbol of Vienna and also where Mozart was married. Construction commenced in the 12th century and today it is one of the most important Gothic structures in Austria. While heavily damaged in WWII, the church survived. Entrance to the cathedral is free, and for a fee (if you are feeling up to it), you can climb the 343 steps up to the tower and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city. On the roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, colorful roof tiles were laid to create the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the city of Vienna. A visit to the very impressive St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a must for every visitor to Vienna.
The Hofburg is the former imperial palace. In the photo below you can see some of the old city wall which has been discovered and is over 2000 years old! Inside the Hofburg, you can also find the famous Sisi Museum.
Rathaus (Town Hall)
Built between 1872 and 1883, this neo-Gothic town hall is the seat of Vienna’s municipal administration. The City Information Center offers tours of the State Rooms three times weekly. The square in front hosts year-round events, including the world-famous Christmas Markets. While we visited, a huge ice-skating rink was set up in this area between the Rathaus and the Berg-theater.
We noticed that in Vienna, there did not seem to be very many restaurants or cafés compared to other cities we’ve visited. If you felt like stopping for a drink or something to eat, you really had to go hunting for somewhere to do this. We found this quite unusual. But once we did find a nice place to eat, the kids enjoyed some delicious Austrian foods such as Frankfurter sausages and Kaiserschmarrn pancakes.
After all the walking, if you are tired and need to sit down, it may also be handy for you to know that the only place you will find bench seats to rest on are in the parks. There are no seats in the city centre along the streets or in the shopping district. Luckily there are some lovely parks close by, such as the Wolksgarden, Stadt Park, Rathaus Park or the Donaupark across the river where the kids can play whilst mum and dad sit for a moment of rest.
Overall, we enjoyed our time in Vienna but I think it would be nicer to visit during the warmer months when the parks and gardens are greener, and more cafe terraces and attractions are open.
If you are a lover of classical music, then Vienna should most certainly be added to your bucket list.
When I think back to our time in this city, I will fondly remember sitting with my family at a little table in front of a restaurant, eating a Wiener schnitzel and listening to a woman singing opera music in the music-arts school next door. The window to the room she was singing in was wide open and we were enjoying it…. until our son spontaneously sang back to her in a loud operatic over the top style, and then the window was quickly closed haha! I guess they didn’t appreciate his singing after all.