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Vienna Family Holidays & Breaks

The Riesenrad in the Prater.The Riesenrad in the Prater.© WienTourismus
View towards Stefansdom.View towards Stefansdom.© WienTourismus
A city beach.A city beach.© WienTourismus
A Christmas market. A Christmas market. © Austrian National Tourist Office/ Popp Hackner
The Museumsquartier.The Museumsquartier.© Austrian National Tourist Office/ Popp Hackner
Flying Time 2hrs
Timezone GMT +1
Currency Euro

Today

Overview

Austria's capital, Vienna, with its red trams and its UNESCO World Heritage listed historic centre bears witness to its time as the Habsburgs’ imperial capital. Its magnificent museums and palaces and its atmospheric coffeehouses will charm you, offering plenty of scope for an interesting and perhaps even educational family break. Indeed, combining a cultural break in Vienna with the outdoors activities that are in abundance in the rest of the country can make for perfectly balanced family holidays.

Though its residents can seem aloof – often expensively dressed (animal rights supporters be warned – the furs come out in force in wintertime and they’re certainly not fake) and formally mannered, Vienna is also a dynamic modern city with a cutting-edge music and underground scene and a healthy ethnic diversity. Whatever your take on it, know that in 2009 the Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked the city first in the entire world, which must count for something!

Things to do with kids in Vienna

Explore the Hofburg and Neue Hofburg – the vast 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, all of which you can navigate with the help of a family audioguide. Get a joint ticket for the museum and the neighbouring Schatzkammer or Imperial Treasury, home to the Habsburgs’ jewels and other priceless treasures. Kids of a certain disposition will also be fascinated by the extensive Collection of Arms & Armour (Hofjagd und Rüstkammer). But best of all, the Kunsthistorisches Museum is mirrored (literally – the buildings face each other and are identical) by the mighty, world-class Natural History Museum, where you can ogle meteorites, fossils, stuffed animals, dinosaurs' skeletons and other fascinating items. And nearby is the world-famous Spanish Riding School, a centre for classical dressage where you can watch both public performances and occasional training sessions involving its Lipizzaner stallions.

Two more attractions worth a half-day or so are 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, and 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 those who live locally and regular children’s concerts).

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 film ‘The Third Man’ and offering incredible views over the city from its 15 gondolas. The Prater as a whole is a crazy mix of the old and the new, with its Miraculum magic theatre, traditional carousels, ghost and grotto trains, rollercoasters, tacky slot-machine arcades, Punch & Judy shows and museum, plus countless 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.

Another good place for city views is the Donauturm or Danube Tower with its 150m-high observation desk, revolving restaurant serving Viennese specialities, and revolving café where you can get local pastries or, on Sundays, brunch (free to under-6s).

Chill out on the Donau Insel or Danube Island in the middle of the mighty river, to which locals flock to Rollerblade, cycle, swim, canoe, hang out in restaurants and bars (some of them floating) and go clubbing. Just 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, full of artistic and cultural venues, not least the Zoom Children’s Museum, with four discovery areas for kids aged 0–12, plus changing exhibitions. Also within the Quartier is wienXtra-kinderinfo, an information service on activities in Vienna 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 parents can enjoy drinks from the open-air bars and recline on the outsized red fibreglass sofas while the kids race around the large courtyard.

Venture out to the Lainzer Tiergarten, a huge, free wildlife reserve on Vienna's 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, which is located within the grounds of the UNESCO listed Schloss Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer palace (Austria’s Versailles, in other words), set a short underground ride from the city centre. Schönbrunn’s glorious grounds also include mazes, lots of statuary, a palm house, a fake Roman ruin, a museum displaying the fairytale golden imperial carriages, a marionnette theatre, and a playground. The ‘Children´s Museum – Schloss Schönbrunn Experience’ is a special 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 you might want to 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.

When you’ve had enough, Vienna is the starting point for trips along the Danube to Linz in Upper Austria page, Bratislava in Slovakia, or Budapest in Hungary.

For the Lower Austria region surrounding Vienna, also see our Austria page.

Eat

As a multi-ethnic capital, Vienna offers masses of choice when it comes to eating out, from traditional restaurants serving Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese breaded veal escalope) and other local specialities to Italian trattorias and wonderful Turkish restaurants very popular with the Viennese themselves (they’re usually great value). Head for the famous Naschmarkt, Vienna’s biggest market, including a fleamarket every Saturday but best for food stalls, especially those selling spices and herbs, and for cosy Greek, Turkish, Italian and Japanese restaurants with gardens where you can eat alfresco in summer.

The sweet-toothed shouldn’t miss a slice of the famous chocolate Sachertorte in the Café Sacher, part of a luxury hotel. The Austrian capital is also renowned for its elegant historic coffeehouses (Kaffeehäuser), selling not just wonderful melanges and other coffees but also great hot chocolates and pastries.

When to go to Vienna

Vienna is a good year-round family city-break destination but truly comes into its own at Christmas, when it hosts a number of free festive markets where mulled wine and punch are consumed by adults as the kids ice-skate or play around the Christmas tree. Vienna’s largest Weihnachtsmarkt (Christkindlmarkt/Adventmarkt) is in front of the Rathaus or town hall. Just make sure to bring your woolies – it can get biting cold in deepest wintertime.

How to get to Vienna

Vienna’s international airport has full global links; flights there from London take about 2hrs 10mins. Graz and Linz airports can be cheaper options for getting to the Austrian capital, however, and they have good train connections with it (the same is true of Brno in the Czech Republic and Bratislavia in Slovakia).

For getting to Vienna by train, see our Austria page.

Note that you can also get to Vienna by fast hydrofoil along the Danube from Budapest in Hungary and Bratislava in Slovakia.

Cost

Vienna is by no means a cheap city for family breaks. However, prices remain pretty reasonable when compared against the most expensive Western capitals, such as London. A typical Austrian main course in a restaurant averages €8, a large beer in a bar about €3.20. A standard 2-bedroom apartment at The Levante (see Accommodation) costs abut €200 a night for stays of up to a week, less for longer stays.

By Rhonda Carrier

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