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Sometimes overlooked in favor of Paris or London, the central European city of Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Not only is it gorgeous, but Austria’s capital city is packed with museums, palaces and one-of-a-kind attractions. In the summer, families can spend plenty of time outside in the city’s parks, playgrounds and gardens, while in the winter it turns into a snowy wonderland.
Getting to Vienna with points and miles is doable and there are plenty of family-friendly hotels in the city, some at surprisingly affordable award rates. Once you’ve booked those, it’s time to start planning the fun part, what you’ll do when you’re there. Experiencing Vienna with children is about experiencing arts and culture in a fun way. Here are some ideas:
Affordable Family Fun in Vienna
Sometimes finding a bargain in Vienna can seem difficult, but there are actually several free and inexpensive attractions and activities that kids and adults will enjoy.
Climb the St. Stephen’s Cathedral Tower
The city’s most famous church, featuring a unique tiled roof, is worth exploring. The St. Stephen’s Cathedral South Tower, affectionately called “Steffl” by the locals, is one of the city’s main landmarks. Visitors can climb its 343 steps up to the “Türmerstube” for panoramic city views. Tickets for the south tower for adults cost €5, teens age 15–18 are €3, children 6–14 are €2 and children under 6 are free.
See Movies Outside in Summer and Christmas Markets in Winter
Outdoor cinema is a popular pastime in Vienna, with nearly 10 different locations around the city hosting open-air cinemas throughout the summer. From the Belvedere Palace gardens to Vienna’s City Hall Square, there’s something for everyone — and most of the screenings are free. Wintertime brings the city’s glittering Christmas markets, which, if you can somehow avoid buying anything, are technically free. There are also lots of fun ornaments, bakery items and small gifts for purchase starting at just a few euro. During the winter markets, you’ll also find affordable rides and ice skating.
Visit the World’s Oldest Amusement Park
The world’s oldest amusement park is actually the Prater in Vienna and not the more well-known Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. While it’s not the best amusement park we’ve been to, it’s still got an interesting history and makes for a great way to pass an afternoon with kids. Admission to the park is free — you just pay for the rides you want to go on. Most run between €1.50 and €5, but the giant Ferris wheel costs €12 for adults, €5 for kids 3 to 14, and free for kids under 3. The Vienna Chocolate Museum is just across the street, for you to either indulge or avoid.
Go for a Swim
Vienna has several public swimming areas and beaches along the Danube, but the favorite of locals and visitors alike is the famous Strandbad Gänsehäufel. On the Alte Danube (Old Danube, a quaint part of the Danube River stuck in time), this riverside park has ideal swimming conditions and a range of recreational activities like beach volleyball, a climbing park, a soccer field and boat rentals. There are also snack stands to buy things like schnitzel and fries. Entry costs €5.50 for adults, €1.80 for children over 6, and is free for children under 6. In the winter there’s ice skating!
Climb Around Pristine Playgrounds
Vienna is an extremely clean city and its gorgeous parks and playgrounds are spotless. That’s not to say that kids can’t clamber around and play in the sandbox — but even the sandboxes are somehow clean. One of the most easily accessible playgrounds for tourists is behind the impressive baroque Karlskirche church, which is definitely worth seeing. With the glittering dome as a backdrop, there are two playgrounds filled with wooden structures for climbing and exploring: one for older kids and one for toddlers. A favorite structure is a wooden pirate ship.
Educational Fun in Vienna
Vienna’s history is epic, and the number of museums there is staggering. Here are some of our favorite ways to sneak in some learning.
See a Palace
The spectacular 300-year-old Schönbrunn Palace actually has a children’s museum inside of it. Experience Schönbrunn Palace shows visitors what life was like hundreds of years ago. In 12 rooms of the former Habsburg residence, kids can see walls painted with fantasy landscapes, speak fan language (a sort of “secret” code using hand fans) and learn about the art of makeup at the court. The best part: Kids can try on Baroque dresses and wigs (get the camera ready).
Also on the palace grounds is the famous Schönbrunn maze, a separate labyrinth with puzzles and games, as well as a playground. There are various tours of the palace available at prices starting from €16 for adults and €11.50 for kids 6 to 18 (kids under 6 are free). Admission to the children’s museum is €9.50 for adults and €7.50 for kids (children under 3 are free) and entry to the maze is €6 for adults and €3.50 for kids 6 to 18 (kids under 6 are free). There are also various combination tickets available, including a family pass, which starts at €52 for 2 adults and up to 3 children.
Visit the World’s Oldest Zoo
At 250 years old, the Schönbrunn Zoo is the oldest in the world. It holds 700 animal species, including pandas, koalas, orangutans and Siberian tigers. There are various feedings scheduled throughout the day. Take the palace train to get around if you start to get tired. Tickets cost €20 for adults and €10 for children over 6 (under 6 are free). Entry to the Desert and Palm houses is not included.
Teach Your Children About Art
Vienna is filled with incredible art museums and they can be daunting, especially with kids. Thankfully, one of the best, the Belvedere, has a children’s studio where kids can engage with art and draw, paint, experiment, dance and act. In one of our favorite family museum programs, kids can pick up a museum detective kit (20 pages packed with puzzles and games) for free at the Upper Belvedere’s ticket desk and set off on their own journey of discovery through the Belvedere’s masterpieces. Tickets start at €8 for adults and are free children up to age 18.
One of our favorite museums in Vienna is kid-friendly without even trying. Kunst Haus Wien is a brightly colored, fantastically shaped museum devoted to eccentric Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Filled with the artist’s imaginative paintings and architectural models (some of which became a reality, including the building the museum is housed in), the museum excites those young and old. Be sure to get a snack in the otherworldly garden café. Tickets start at €11 for adults and €5 for children 10 to 19. Children under 10 are free.
With so many museums, it can be hard to choose which ones are worthwhile. Aside from all the art museums, we also love the Museum of Natural History, the House of Music, the ZOOM Children’s Museum, the Remise Transport Museum, the Museum of Illusions and the Museum of Technology.
Splurges in Vienna
Vienna is not always an affordable city, and there are definitely several pricey activities. These ones are actually worth the indulgence.
See a Horse Ballet
The world famous Spanish Riding School puts on daily performances with their gorgeous white stallions, known as Lipizzans, in the massive and grand Baroque arena at the Hofburg Palace, often performing to equally grand music. Tickets start at €27 for the nosebleed section and go up (steeply) from there. Another option is to watch the morning exercise for just €15, €7.50 for kids 6 – 12, 3 – 6 are free and children younger than 3 are not admitted. You cannot purchase morning exercise tickets in advance.
Time Travel Vienna
Time Travel Vienna lets visitors feel and experience Vienna’s eventful history through 5D cinema, animatronic wax figures, rides and multimedia. Going back to the days of the Roman camp Vindobona, the Hapsburgs, Mozart and World War II, the experience shows Vienna’s history in a creative and fun way. Tickets start at €19.50 for adults and €15.50 for children 5 to 14. Children under 5 are free.
Restaurants Kids Will Love
Thankfully, most kids like schnitzel, the unofficial national dish of Austria that’s found all over the place in Vienna along with the ubiquitous hot dog and sausage stands.
There are also incredible pastries to be had — and make sure to drag your kids to at least one grand Viennese coffee house.
If you only go to one coffeehouse, make it this one. Café Central in Palais Ferstel has been wowing visitors since 1876 with its high ceilings, magnificent inner courtyard, excellent patisserie and pleasant piano music. Order some kaiserschmarrn (sugared pancake strips) or hot chocolate for the kids so you can sip your coffee in peace.
Skopik & Lohn
Offering a mix of Viennese and French cuisine, trendy Skopik & Lohn has a large outdoor patio where the people-watching is top-notch and kids can be a little louder than they normally would at a restaurant of this caliber. Order them the extremely thin wiener (veal) schnitzel while adults try more exotic fare like mille feuille with smoked eel and duck breasts with thyme jus and rhubarb.
Kolariks Luftburg and Kinderwelt
Classic Austro-Hungarian dishes like goulash, schnitzel, sausages and stelze (grilled pork knuckle) populate the Kolariks menu, alongside salads, pizzas and pastas. There’s also a solid beer list and some self-serve taps for the grown-ups to explore while the kids visit the adjacent children’s play area complete with bouncy castles, slides and jungle gyms.
Vienna’s most well-known market, Naschmarkt, has 120 stalls and restaurants selling everything from produce to sausages to cheese to wine. Neni is a funky Israeli restaurant, while Trattoria Pulcinella sells pizza.
Demel or Sacher
These dueling pastry shops both lay claim to the famous sachertorte; visit both and decide for yourself which one is better. Demel dates back to 1786, while Café Sacher’s red dining room is as grand as it gets.
Vienna is ripe for discovery by visitors young and old alike. It’s impossible not to find something to love in the city, whether its art, history, food or all of the above.
Here are some more travel tips for visiting Vienna:
- Planning a Family Trip to Vienna
- 5 Tips for Visiting Vienna’s Famous Christmas Markets
- 4 Things to Love About Vienna
- Old World Luxe: A Review of the Park Hyatt Vienna
- Flight Review: Austrian Airlines (767-300) Business Class, From Vienna to JFK
Featured photo by Getty Images
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