We arrived in Vienna on a crisp, winter afternoon. While the snow had not yet arrived, you could feel it in the air. As we walked to our hotel, the architecture became more and more stunning and as we rounded each new corner, a new spectacular façade came into view. Even the kids stopped in the streets a few times to admire an ornate doorway or balcony. I knew then, it would be easy to entertain my kids in Vienna. I had a list of must see Vienna attractions, but I think letting them walk around while munching on a treat would have kept them happy for hours. Now, if it wasn’t so cold!
As I predicted, on our first morning in Vienna, we woke up to snow on the ground. It was just a light dusting that first day but the kids were beyond thrilled. We bundled up and started marking Vienna attractions & Christmas markets off our list. Yes, there was an actual handwritten list 🙂
Must See Vienna Attractions
We started off our first full day in Vienna at the Hofburg Palace. This was the residence of the Habsburgs for over 600 years! The former winter residence of the imperial family now houses offices of the Federal President, the ministers and secretaries of state as well as museums. During our stay, we visited the Silver Collection, Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments.
The Imperial Silver Collection was interesting. The collection showcases dining services, centerpieces measuring up to 30 m in length and examples of tables set for imperial banquets. Some of the sets were gorgeous and you could see where they were actually used by the imperial families. Lucy and I liked the set with artichokes and pea pods on top.
We did the shortened version of the tour as the kids were only happy to look at the collection for so long.
The Sisi museum was intriguing. We learned that Elisabeth, known as Sisi, became Empress at 16 years old. She didn’t conform well to court life and eventually started spending a great deal of time away from Vienna. Throughout the museum are personal objects on display which attempt to shed light on the life of Sisi. The commentary, with diary entries from her daughter, brought a nice, personal touch to the story. Lucy especially enjoyed seeing the reproductions of Sisi’s dresses.
The historic apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth give insight into the private world of the couple. The nineteen rooms included studies, salons, residential suites, reception rooms, a dining room and more. The opulently decorated rooms contain furnishings mostly dating from the second half of the 19th century. However, the ornate ceramic stoves date back to the 18th-century. We found Sisi’s dressing and exercise room to be the most fascinating. During the long hours spent sitting while her hair was styled, Sisi learned several languages including Greek. All I ever accomplish is getting caught up on the latest edition of People magazine.
Another room we participatory enjoyed was the dining room. Here we saw the table set for a formal dinner. As part of the audio guide, we learned that for official meals, French cuisine was served but for family meals, Franz Joseph preferred more traditional, Viennese cuisine.
It’s a great museum, especially if you’re traveling with a girl.
*Photos are not allowed inside the palace but below are a few of the press photos which give a glimpse of the splendor of the museums and apartments.
The Vienna Hofburg Rates including audio guide:
Adults: 15€ (Discount with Vienna card)
Children (6-18 years): 9€
Children under 6: Free
FREE with Vienna Pass
If you have more time in Vienna, the Sisi ticket might be a better deal and also includes a Vienna card discount. There isn’t a family ticket discount on the Vienna Hofburg ticket but the Sisi Ticket family ticket is 61€.
Tiergarten Schönbrunn – Vienna Zoo
Located on the grounds of the famous Schönbrunn Palace, is the Vienna zoo. It holds the title of the oldest zoo in the world and was founded as a private imperial menagerie in 1752 by the husband of Empress Maria Theresia. Walking the zoo, you’ll see traditional baroque architecture mixed with modern elements housing more than 700 animal species. Lucy was clapping her hands, jumping up and down over seeing a Koala napping, tucked into the trees.
Most of the animals were hanging out in their inside enclosures staying warm, avoiding the outside frosty temperatures. Luckily, we were still able to see pretty much everything despite the cold. I think the penguins, sea lions and polar bear were the only animals excited about the snow.
The Vienna zoo is one of the few zoos in the world to house giant pandas. Lucy was super excited to get to see these magnificent animals. The zoo has even had a few panda births and has a large section dedicated to educating visitors on the destruction of the pandas natural habitat.
Other favorites were the Polarium where kids can watch penguins swimming about and the Aquarium home to Austria’s largest coral reef. More popular animals at the zoo include anteaters, orangutans, otters, tigers and cheetahs.
When you enter the zoo, be sure to pick up a map to see the animals feeding schedules. We were very lucky. While it’s not on the schedule, we happened to be in the hippo house during their mealtime. It was interesting to see these massive animals devour their lunch.
Save time for kids to visit the petting zoo and adventure playground. This will give kids time to run around before moving onto the palace.
*Combo tickets are also available and worth looking into to save money.
After our zoo visit, we walked over to the Schloß Schönbrunn to see the former imperial summer residence. Even the kids were in awe of the palace apartments. And since we visited the Holfburg Palace the previous day, we already knew some of the history of the former residents.
The Grand Tour includes 40 rooms and starts in the apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth (Sisi). It’s interesting to see the relatively sparse decor of Franz Joseph’s apartments. Visitors can see where he was born in the palace, as well as the bed he slept (and died on) in 1916. Lucy and I were interested to see Elisabeth’s dressing room. We asked Lucy if she also wanted ankle length hair like Elisabeth. After first answering yes, she thought about it and decided it would take too long to wash and brush.
Also included are some of the rooms used by Emperor Franz Stephan and Empress Maria Theresa. The Vieux Laque Room was the private study of Franz Stephan. After his death Maria Theresa had it remodeled as a memorial room to her beloved husband. It’s interesting that, although she married off her daughters for political allegiances (except her favorite daughter Maria Christina, who was allowed to marry for love), she herself seemed to be very much in love with her husband. She wore mourning attire for the remainder of her life.
My favorite room is the East Asian Cabinets room with Chinese lacquer panels painted with landscapes, flowers and birds.
A few of our other favorite rooms:
- The Napoleon Room is likely the bedroom of Napoleon from when he occupied Vienna in 1805 and 1809.
- The Yellow Salon contains a secrataire that once belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette of France!
- The magnificent Hall of Ceremonies with it’s incredibly detailed paintings is a sight to behold.
- The Large Rosa Room where Mozart performed as a 6 year old child where it’s said, he hugged Empress Maria Theresa after the performance.
*Photos are not allowed inside the palace but below are a few of the press photos providing a glimpse of the grandeur of the apartments.
*Again, look at the combo tickets available. Some of the combo tickets also include Vienna card discounts.
I realize that palace visits aren’t for all families. My kids did enjoy the tour (for a short period of time). Even they could appreciate the beauty and splendor of the palace. The kids found some rooms more interesting than others, so they only listened to about half the audio guide. We stress the importance of the entire family getting to pick activities. Our day included the palace, which was more for mom and the zoo and children’s museum, which were for the kids.
Schloss Schönbrunn Kindermuseum
Right next door to the palace is the children’s museum – one of Lucy’s favorites from our trip. Lucy and I tried on period clothes and the kids learned about the lives of the imperial child. K thought he was a bit too cool for the museum, but that didn’t stop him from going down the slide several times! Lucy played with the toys from imperial times, tried to replicate some of the elaborate hairstyles on mannequins and laid the table for an imperial banquet. Kids get to use real glasses and place settings – no plastic for royal children!
Adults: 9.50€ (Save with Vienna card)
Children (3-18): 7.50€
I don’t think this is currently included in the passes
*There is also a combo ticket to visit the Maze and Labyrinthikon Playground.
We visited the zoo, palace and children’s museum all in one day plus spent some time at the Christmas market. We were among the last to leave the children’s museum before closing in the evening, so it was a long day.
If visiting in the warmer months, we would have spent more time in the zoo, gone into the Palmenhaus Schönbrunn (greenhouse) and meandered through the Schönbrunn grounds and gardens. You could easily plan to spend 2 leisurely days in this area if you have time.
Wurstelprater Amusement Park & Wiener Riesenrad (Ferris Wheel)
The following day it was time for more kid fun at Prater Park and the Ferris Wheel. The amusement park is jam-packed with 250 attractions including mini roller coaster, hall of mirrors, carousel, swings and more. Since we were visiting in the off season, not everything was open. However, we could still ride the ferris wheel and a few other attractions.
Derrick & the kids tested their strength at the Strength Tester/Punching Bag. Lucy was a bit disappointed when her punch didn’t even register on the machine.
The ferris wheel from 1897 is 64.75m (212 ft) tall and has become one of Vienna’s top attractions. Before embarking on the ride there is a small museum you can visit. The approximate 20 minute ride offers unique views over the roofs of Vienna.
Lunch was traditional Viennese sausage from the stand Bitzinger just outside of Prater Park entrance.
Prater Park Rates:
It’s free to enter the park but rides cost between 1.50€ – 5€
Wiener Riesenrad Rates:
More to see with kids in Vienna
Since we spent so much time discovering the Vienna Christmas Markets, we weren’t able to visit every attraction on our list. A few more places we wanted to see included the House of Music (Haus der Musik), St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the Spanish Riding School.
A couple more of the must see Vienna attractions that didn’t make it on our list, as I knew there wouldn’t be time, were Kunsthistoriches Museum (Art History Museum) and Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum).
Additionally, Vienna boasts several large green areas for kids to play. As the parks were covered in snow all but the first day, the kids didn’t get a chance to run around the grounds or play at the playgrounds. They did play in the snow and throw snowballs at each other – next time we need to pack ski gloves. Those mittens came up short when dealing with ice and snow.
I REALLY wanted us to watch the The Magic Flute for children at Marionettentheater Schönbrunn. Sadly, there were no performances during our visit. We had friends who saw the performance over the summer and said it was one of their favorite experiences with kids in Vienna. I even purchased the The Magic Flute ebook to read with the kids prior to our visit. I was hoping I could talk everyone into seeing the opera since the kids show wasn’t available. I lost that battle.
Where to buy Vienna card
I’ve mentioned a lot about the Vienna card, since it’s what we had during our visit. This is not a card for getting free entry into attractions. Instead it offers 210 discounts at museums attractions, theatres and concerts, shops, cafés, restaurants and FREE travel on Vienna’s public transport system.
Buy the Vienna card in hotels and from the Tourist Info offices at Albertinaplatz, Vienna Main Station, the airport, the Wiener Linien ticket and information offices or online.
Children (up to age 15) ride on public transport FREE with an adult who has the Vienna Card, so that’s an extra savings with kids.
Please note that fares vary by zone.
I would have minimally spent 6.60€ per day for one adult and one child. That is only 1 return trip on pubic transport. Due to the extreme temperatures, we rode public transport everywhere, so multiple times each day.
Using public transport roundtrip twice would cost 13.20€ for one adult and one child with single tickets or 12€ for one adult with the 24 hour transportation pass and single child tickets. At this rate, it’s clear the Vienna Card is worth the money even if I only visit one attraction to make up the 1.90€ price difference with the Vienna Card. The family discount for the children’s museum saves 4.70€.
*Note – Children up to the age of six travel free of charge on the Vienna public transport. Children up to the age of 15 travel free on Sundays and public holidays and during the school holidays
Is the Vienna card right for you? I think the Vienna Card can be valuable, especially for families. I wouldn’t expect a huge savings. The more places you visit, the more you’ll save.
One of the biggest benefits of public transport is the inclusion of one child. Vienna is a large city and attractions can be fairly far from each other. Also, in the winter, it’s easier to jump on the tram or underground to get to your destination. Walking in the wind, cold and snow for a long period is not fun with or without children.
Additionally, if you plan to see many of the participating attractions the card will save you a little money. I didn’t find the shopping or restaurant discounts beneficial. I didn’t want to plan my trip around specific restaurants, so that part of the card didn’t get used. It is wise to check to see if there are any participating locations nearby the attractions on your list, so you can stop in for a bite to eat or a bit of shopping and take advantage of the discount.
If you don’t plan to use public transport often or visit many of the attractions, then the card is not for you. Once you’ve planned your trip, take a look at what discounts are available and check the math to see if you’ll save money with the Vienna card or if it’s better to just purchase tickets separately.
So what about the Vienna Pass or Go Vienna Pass?
The Vienna Pass is an entirely different pass that includes FREE access into 60+ attractions, fast track access to popular attractions and the hop-on-hop-off bus. It doesn’t include public transport. You would need to get a TravelCard, if desired, but you should be able to use the Hop-on-hop-off bus for most of your transportation needs.
The cost of the hop-on-hop-off bus for 24 hours is 29€ or you can use the bus for an unlimited amount of time as long as your Vienna Pass is valid.
Some of the other attractions we wanted to see but didn’t have time for induced the House of Music (Haus der Musik), St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the Spanish Riding School. These 3 attractions are also included free with the Vienna Pass.
Ensure your first stop is to the Vienna tourist office. You can pick up a family guide “on your marks, set – Vienna. This guide includes top family attractions as well as a small detective hunt with a kid friendly map.
Since we came in from Bratislava, we arrived at the Vienna train station. It’s huge! I felt like I was at an airport. We didn’t have our Vienna Cards at that point. W
Thanks to points from my Chase Reserve card, we stayed at the Vienna Marriott for “free”. There’s a tram stop right outside, making the location super convenient. The current bonus for the Chase Reserve is 100,000 points – more than enough for a trip to Vienna, especially if you book through the Ultimate Rewards portal. If you don’t want the high annual fee, the Chase Preferred card has a 50,000 point bonus. I paid 62,000 points on my 5-night room.
The winter holiday is a perfect time of year to travel with kids in Vienna. Although time spent outdoors will be limited due to the cold temperatures, its an enchanting time to be in Vienna. The must see Vienna activities are open and ready to welcome visitors. Christmas Markets are overflowing with tasty delights and sparking treasures. The entire family will adore the fun and excitment of the imperial city.
What are your must see Vienna activities? Any favorite things to do with kids in Vienna?
If you’re visiting during the holidays, see why the kids will enjoy a festive Vienna Food Tour. We ate our way through one of Vienna’s Christmas Markets, discovering delicious, traditional Viennese cuisine.