Explore the Hofburg and Neue Hofburg – the palace-complex of the Habsburgs – now home to a variety of attractions as well as the Austrian president’s offices. Among them, the Kunsthistorisches Museum holds masterpieces by Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velázquez and more, plus the world’s largest Brueghel collection; navigate using a family audio-guide. Get a joint ticket for the museum and neighbouring Schatzkammer or Imperial Treasury, home to the Habsburgs’ jewels and other treasures. Kids of a certain disposition will also be fascinated by the Collection of Arms and Armour (Hofjagd und Rüstkammer). But best of all, the Kunsthistorisches Museum is mirrored (literally – the buildings face each other and are identical) by the world-class Natural History Museum, where you can ogle meteorites, fossils, dinosaurs skeletons and other items. And nearby is the world-famous Spanish Riding School, a centre for classical dressage where you can watch public performances and occasional training sessions involving its Lipizzaner stallions.
Spend another half-day or so at the Technisches Museum, which looks at the development of Vienna into a modern city and the evolution of machinery, electronics and transportation, with workshops for kids, or the Haus der Musik, an interactive museum of music where children can, for instance, conduct an orchestra, play giant instruments and carry out sound experiments (there’s also a kids’ club for locals and regular children’s concerts). Both are great for those visiting Vienna with teenagers.
Head for the Prater, a former royal carriage-riding area that’s now a park popular for family outings, especially for its Riesenrad or giant ferris wheel, most famously seen in Orson Welles' The Third Man and offering great city views. The Prater is a crazy mix of the old and the new, with its Miraculum magic theatre, carousels, ghost and grotto trains, rollercoasters, tacky arcades, Punch and Judy shows and museum, plus restaurants, cafés and snack stands. Beside it, the ‘Green Prater’ is a former hunting ground still given over to nature, with walking, cycling and horse-riding popular throughout its meadows and forests, plus a miniature railway.
Get more city views from the Donauturm (Danube Tower) with its 150m observation desk, revolving restaurant serving Viennese specialities, and revolving café where you can get local pastries or Sunday brunch.
Take in some children's opera. Several venues have children’s or teens’ performances, ranging from grand opera to sing-along, including the Vienna State Opera, which even has its own venue for young audiences, MuTh, the concert hall of the Vienna Boys' Choir, the Volksoper, which also hosts children's workshops on opera, ballet and instruments, the Vienna Musikverein and the Wiener Konzerthaus.
If you're enjoying a summer family holiday in Austria, chill out on the Donau Insel (Danube Island) in the middle of theriver, to which locals flock to rollerblade, cycle, swim, canoe, hang out in restaurants and bars (some of them floating) and go clubbing. Beware of the nudist beaches on the northern and southern parts. In summer the island hosts the free Donauinselfest music festival.
Explore Vienna’s Museumsquartier or Museum District, not least the Zoom Children’s Museum, with discovery areas for ages 0–12 plus changing exhibitions. Also within the Quartier is wienXtra-kinderinfo, an information service on activities for kids up to 13, including theatre, museum events and sports training. And the Quartier is another great place in Vienna to simply hang out, especially on summer evenings when you can enjoy drinks from open-air bars and recline on outsized sofas while the kids race around the courtyard.
For more family fun in Vienna, head out to the Lainzer Tiergarten, a huge, free wildlife reserve on the southwest outskirts, full of wild boar, elks, fallow deer and mouflons. There’s also a visitor centre, a museum, horse-drawn carriage rides, hiking trails, animal-feeding sessions, an observation tower and observation point, and restaurants and cafés.
Don’t confuse the Lainzer Tiergarten with the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the world’s oldest zoo, in the grounds of the UNESCO-listed Schloss Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer palace (i.e. Austria’s Versailles), a short underground ride from the centre. Schönbrunn’s glorious grounds also include mazes, statuary, a palm house, a fake Roman ruin, a museum displaying the fairytale golden imperial carriages, a puppet theatre and a playground. The Children's Museum – Schloss Schönbrunn Experience is a guided tour (by appointment only in English) that teaches kids about the lives of the imperial children, lets them play with toys from imperial times and dress up as princes and princesses, and more besides.
Lastly, in wet weather check out Minopolis, the ‘Children’s City’, with 25 reduced-scale urban environments where kids can play out their fantasy adult roles and learn about their dream jobs, from firefighters and train engineers to doctors and journalists, or the Bogi Park indoor playground (its name alone sure to induce sniggers).
Use Vienna as the starting point for trips along the Danube to Linz in Upper Austria, Bratislava in Slovakia or Budapest in Hungary.