Vienna with Kids: Our Incredible Winter Visit

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Vienna was our final stop in a 10-week round-the-world trip with our kids. We were moving from Taiwan to Canada, and traveled to 11 countries in between, mainly in the Middle East, Balkans, and Central Europe.

Since we did a loop around Central Europe, we had actually passed through western Austria about a month earlier, in early November (see my articles on the best places to visit in Austria with kids, what to do in Salzburg with kids and why we loved Innsbruck with kids).

By the time we took our final train from Budapest (which, by the way we absolutely loved; read about it here) to Vienna, we were at the tail-end of a long trip, and we tackled the Austrian capital a little differently than we normally would.

Even though Vienna is considered one of the best places to visit in Europe in December, we were tired of traveling, mentally preparing for our new life in Canada, and being the start of winter, it was too cold out for us to do a lot of the usual recommended things to do in Vienna with kids, including spending much time in the city’s huge number of outdoor parks and playgrounds. We also wanted to do some Christmas shopping and not be too rushed for the final days of our trip.

Our kids in front of a Christmas tree made of wooden sleds. Read on to find out the best places to visit in Vienna in winter with kids!
A Christmas tree made of winter sleds

As a result, the Vienna itinerary with kids I’ll provide below is a light one; you could probably pack quite a bit more in than we did if you really wanted to. Still, we managed to visit one different Vienna Christmas market on each day of our trip!

So in this article, I’m not going to give a comprehensive list of all the possible kid-friendly things to do in Vienna (you can find that in other articles). What I will do, though, is cover in great detail our 3-day Vienna itinerary with kids. As usual, we tried to cover a decent mix of things we wanted to see ourselves and ours kids’ choices of what they wanted to do. You may also want to have a look at this budget (rather than kid) focused Vienna three day itinerary.

And for the first time on our European trip, we even braved taking the kids to an art gallery, and it went surprisingly well!

For anyone planning a trip to Vienna in winter with kids, I hope our experiences can give you some ideas or inspiration!

Getting Around Vienna

The top things to do with kids in Vienna are a little spread out. Many museums and sights are concentrated in the city center (Innere Stadt) but accommodations are also generally more expensive there. Belvedere Palace and the main train station lie to the south of the city center, Prater Amusement Park is to the east, while Schönbrunn Palace and Zoo are found in the west.

Thankfully, the city’s excellent network of metro (U-bahn), city trains (S-bahn), trams (Strassenbahn) and buses make getting around Vienna with kids a breeze. If the transportation maps seem complicated, don’t worry about! We mostly just used GoogleMaps to find out what to take to get from point A to point B.

If you’re heading to the airport before or after, the CAT Airport transfer is a direct train from Wien Mitte station to the airport. Alternatively, the regular S-bahn train to the airport is much cheaper, only takes slightly longer, and departs from several stations besides Wien Mitte.

To avoid buying individual tickets each time, consider getting a Vienna City Card. Each adult card also covers free travel for one kid aged 6-15, and under 6 travel free. The card comes in your choice of 24, 28, or 72 hours, with the option to add airport connections. It covers all public transportation in the city, and comes with discounts at various attractions.

I would suggest adding up the attractions you plan to visit and rides you will take to determine whether the pass is worth it for your trip. If it’s not, you can also purchase reasonably-priced 24-hour transportation tickets from any ticket machines.

If you plan to rent a car to get out of Vienna, I recommend using RentalCars, while is what we usually use to find the most convenient and cheapest flights within Europe.

Where to Stay in Vienna with Kids

My son in one of the best places to stay in Vienna with kids
Our family-friendly apartment in Vienna

For our family holiday in Vienna, we decided to stay at this family-friendly apartment in Landstrasse (3rd) district, southeast of the city center. We had simple connections by tram or metro to everywhere we wanted to go, including the main train station, and we could even walk to Belvedere Palace from our apartment (see day three of our Vienna itinerary with kids below).

Two other districts that you’ll want to consider are 4th and 5th; see more info in this detailed guide to where to stay in Vienna.

What made our apartment family-friendly? Well, the hosts themselves (who lived across the hall, though we never met them) had kids. The apartment was huge, and even came with bunk beds, games, and books for the kids. We had laundry, a full kitchen, and an elevator to haul our things up.

My daughter in our family-friendly apartment in Vienna
We loved the apartment just as much as the kids did!

Besides having everything we needed, the apartment was tastefully decorated (with odes to Vienna’s musical past), and in a totally quiet, local building/neighborhood, with no other tourists in sight.

Our Vienna Itinerary with Kids: Day 1

For our first day in Vienna, we headed straight to Prater, which is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. The amusement park is at the northern end of Wiener Prater, a huge park in between central Vienna and the Danube.

The amusement park mainly operates from March to October, but the park and grounds remain open year round. Despite the cold December weather we still decided to go; we thought it would be fun for the kids to explore the grounds.

Most importantly, the Wiener Riesenrad (Prater Ferris Wheel) does operate year world. It’s not often you get a chance to ride on the world’s oldest running Ferris wheel!

Our kids running in a fiels beside Wiener Riesenrad (Vienna Ferris wheel)
The kids’ first glimpse of the iconic Wiener Riesenrad (Vienna Ferris wheel) in Prater

The Ferris wheel dates to 1897 and is one of Vienna’s most iconic sights. It was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world for around 65 years. After being damaged in WWII, only 15 of its 30 “gondolas” were replaced.

Save time by buying your Prater Ferris Wheel tickets online in advance.

Side shot of one gondola on the Wiener Riesenrad (Vienna Giant Ferris wheel). Riding this would even be suitable if you are visiting Vienna with a toddler!
Large gondola of the Vienna Ferris wheel

Although we found the Ferris wheel ticket price a little high, we really enjoyed the room full of exhibits housed in retired Ferris wheel gondolas, which is included in the price of the ticket. Each gondola contained detailed miniature displays showcasing the history of the wheel, including what the original amusement park (complete with beer house) and the fiery scene when it was destroyed.

Our kids looking at a small Prater Ferris wheel museum before boarding
Miniature artistic displays before boarding the Ferris wheel
Visiting the Prater Ferris Wheel museum with kids
Ancient battle scene in one of the gondolas
My son looking at a artistic miniature version of the original Prater amusement park
Peering at the original Prater Amusement Park

Taking a ride on the gondola is a way to experience an important piece of history in Vienna, not to mention the incredible city views. It’s a rather slow ride, and was perfect for our kids because they weren’t scared at all.

Prater Ferris wheel Vienna from below
Going up!

Like our pictures? See the small mirrorless camera we always use when traveling with kids.

View of the inside of the Vienna Ferris wheel
View from inside the gondola
Our kids looking out from the Vienna Ferris wheel (Wiener Riesenrad), one of the best things to do with kids in Vienna
View over Vienna from the top

Even when most of the rides are closed for the winter, Prater Amusement Park is fun to walk around, and really does feel like stepping back in time. There are also several other facilities to tempt visitors with kids, including the Chocolate Museum, Madame Tussauds Vienna (a wax museum), Vienna Zeiss Planetarium, with daily films shown on its domed ceiling. All of the above are indoors and still open throughout winter.

We were too early in the day for it, but there’s also the Prater Winter Market on site, with numerous activities in the afternoon and on weekends.

Visiting Prater Amusement Park in winter
Prater Amusement Park mostly closed in winter, but still fun to explore
Prater amusement park with kids in winter
Our kids at a dinosaur ride in the Prater Amusement Park, one of the best places to visit in Vienna with young kids
Even though they didn’t get to ride it, they still loved seeing the dinosaurs

With plenty of time and energy left after visiting Prater, we hopped on the metro at nearby Praterstern transportation hub to head to Stephansplatz, a square at the geographical heart of Vienna.

The square is dominated by the impressive St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), one of the tallest cathedrals in the world. Its 136-meter tower makes it the tallest structure in Vienna; looking from below, it is impossible not to be humbled by it. We also loved (and hadn’t expected) the multi-colored tiles on the sides of the roof.

Side view of St. Stephen's Cathedral, Stephansplatz, Vienna
Colorful tiles on the side of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Stephansplatz

We arrived to find a large Christmas market set up around the cathedral in the square. With Christmas just around the corner and lots of presents to buy for family back home, we also sought out Wiener Christmas Salon, a dedicated Christmas ornaments shop.

Hanging Christmas ornaments at one of the best Christmas markets in Vienna
Christmas ornaments for sale at a Vienna Christmas Market

While we paid a pretty penny for the few items we bought there, all were exquisite and locally produced. Incidentally, in Franziskanerplatz, the small and extremely cute square in front of the shop, my wife exclaimed, “THIS is what I expected Vienna to look like!”

We could have easily spent several more hours exploring the city center of Vienna; there is much more to it than just one square and cathedral…However, all we wanted to do was head back and enjoy our cozy apartment with a bottle of wine, so we did!

Read about our trips to Prague and Bavaria in early winter of the same trip.

Our Vienna Itinerary with Kids: Day 2

One our second day in Vienna, we let the kids decide the program. We presented multiple choices to them, based on our research on the best things to do in Vienna with kids. Here are some of the things they DIDN’T choose, but you may want to!

Schönbrunn Zoo, the oldest continuously operating zoo in the world, was ruled out because it was quite cold during our visit (if you do visit the zoo, make sure to skip the lines by ordering your tickets online), not to mention that we’d been to several other zoos in previous weeks. The kids also turned down the morning horse exercises at the Spanish Riding School, something I kind of wanted to see myself.

At Schönbrunn Palace, next door to the zoo, the outdoor maze was closed, while dressing up in royal regalia at the Children’s Museum didn’t appeal much to our kids. If you do decide to visit the Palace, you might want to consider letting your kids learn how to make Viennese apple strudels while you’re there!

Similarly, the House of Music, which actually has great reviews and is considered one of the top kid-friendly attractions in Vienna, was ruled out because we had already been to Audioversum during our trip to Innsbruck, almost exactly the same thing.

Last but not least, with the chilly weather, we considered Zoom Children’s Museum, a kind of play center with a variety of programs. However, the activities and programs on offer seemed to require advance reservations.

Aqua Terra Zoo Vienna (Vienna Aquarium) building exterior
The Vienna Aquarium, built in a former WWII anti-aircraft structure

So what did that leave us with? Well, the kids without hesitation chose House of the Sea (Aqua Terra Zoo or Haus des Meeres), the main aquarium in Vienna.

Our kids had been obsessed with reptiles, sea creatures and amphibians ever since the beginning of our 10-week trip, when we spotted loads of fish on our family trip to Italy and the Balkans, and saw fire salamanders while traveling in Croatia with the kids.

They had been begging to go to any aquarium for quite a while; we were just waiting for a city that had a good one!

View of entrance of the Haus de Meeres Vienna with a crocodile in the glass ceiling
Crocodile above the ceiling in the aquarium entrance

The enormous aquarium consists of 10 floors (they get smaller and smaller as you go up). The fun began the moment we stepped in the front door, where a huge crocodile was visible above in the glass ceiling above the ticket counter!

Atlantic Tunnel of fish at the Vienna Aquarium, which we visited with kids
Atlantic Tunnel

The excitement only continued from there; the first floor featured an Atlantic tunnel and the chance to touch fish. In a two-floor tropical greenhouse section, monkeys played all around us while bats flew by; it felt like being in a real jungle!

Other awesome highlights included an enormous tank with hammerhead sharks, a wall of miniature jellyfish, and every reptile, sea creature, insect, and amphibian imaginable. The kids even got to see an endangered Chinese giant salamander, something they’d learned about a few weeks earlier and had been talking about since!

Our kids in a glass tunnel looking at turtles at the House of the Sea (Vienna Aquarium)
Getting up close and personal with turtles
Visiting Haus des Meeres (Vienna Aquarium) with kids and seeing a wall of jellyfish
Wall of jellyfish
Seeing monkeys at Vienna Aqua Terra Zoo with kids
The monkeys just strolled right past our kids

Interestingly, the aquarium building was once an anti-aircraft tower in WWII. A staircase from the 9th to 10th floors contains an exhibit on the history of the structure. The 10th floor has a café (closed for renovations when we visited) offering expansive city views.

If possible, try to time your visit with one of the animal feeding times!

After an exciting few hours in the aquarium, we strolled along Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna’s longest and most fashionable shopping street, which passes by the aquarium.

Trees and Christmas decorations on Mariahilfer Strasse, the best shopping street in Vienna
Mariahilfer Strasse, one of the most famous shopping streets in Vienna

We enjoyed the Christmas decorations and fresh air before hopping on the metro a few stops to Karsplatz, one of the main squares of Vienna. Mainly we went for the Karsplatz Christmas Market, one of the city’s most beautiful.

Karlskirche church forms a magnificent backdrop to the Christmas market. Numerous stalls in the square offer the usual mix of Christmas items, hot boozy drinks, and delicious foods. This market in particular has a focus on handmade crafts.

Karsplatz Christmas market is very kid-friendly. There was a pen at the center with goats and pigs, a merry-go-round, rides, and a large playground right next to it.

Karlskirche Catedral and Karlsplatz Christmas Market, one of the best Christmas Markets in Vienna for children
The Karlsplatz Christmas Market, dominated by Karlskirche Cathedral
Goats and pigs in the middle of Karlsplatz Christmas Market, one of the best Christmas markets in Vienna for kids
Farm animals at the center of the Karlsplatz Christmas Market
Our kids beside a merry-go-round (carousel) at Karlsplatz Christmas Market, perhaps the most family-friendly Christmas market in Vienna
Merry-go-round at Karlsplatz Christmas Market
A children's playground beside Karlsplatz, perhaps one of the best playgrounds in Vienna
Large playground beside Karlskirche and Karlsplatz Christmas Market

Our Vienna Itinerary with Kids: Day 3

For our final day in Vienna (and our last day of a 10-week trip!), we decided to do something we’d never fathomed doing with our kids before: taking them to an art gallery.

Belvedere Palace was only a 15-minute walk from our apartment. The enormous complex consists of two baroque palaces, an upper and a lower one, both of which are surrounded by the Belvedere Gardens.

Visiti Belevedere Gardens (Belevedergarten) with kids
Looking over the Belvedere Gardens

The most iconic view is looking across a large pool of water at the southern side of the upper palace. The Upper Palace also houses the Belvedere Art Galley, most famously known for housing a number of Klimt originals.

Visiting Vienna's Belvedere Palace with kids
The most famous view of Belvedere Palace

I’ve always been a fan of Klimt, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to see his works just because we were traveling with kids, so we decided to brave it and bring them along.

We recommend that you order your Belvedere Palace Art Gallery Ticket online before you go to make things easier. Just don’t forget to print it (they can’t scan phones). Children 18 and under are free, but you need to include them when you buy the tickets.

Are kids allowed in Belvedere Art Gallery? Yes! This image shows our kids in one of the many galleries, with a large fireplace and painting behind them.
The kids did surprisingly well!
My daughter in an alcover in the wall, looking through a window down on a staircase at Belvedere Palace, Vienna
Looking down on the palace’s main staircase

The stunning artwork in the gallery, not only by Klimt but many other artists, made it worth every penny (and all the effort). I had no idea that “The Kiss” was so large, while I couldn’t take my eyes off “Judith and the Head of Holofernes” and some of Klimt’s other lesser-known works. Besides all the paintings, the interior of the palace itself is magnificent as well.

Our kids standing in front of "The Kiss", a painting by Klimt, in the Belvedere Art Galley in Vienna
We had to wait among a crowd of people to get a shot with “The Kiss”, the most famous painting in all of Vienna
Ceiling of Belvedere Palace Vienna
Ceiling of Belvedere Palace

While our kids didn’t love the hour we spent in the gallery, they didn’t hate it either, so we considered it a success. As a word of warning, if you book online like we did, make sure to print your vouchers or you’ll face an ordeal when you try to enter. Also don’t make our second mistake of bringing a backpack into the galleries; you’ll be asked to go back downstairs and check it in at the coat check, which usually has a long line.

By the time we left the art gallery, the Belvedere Palace Christmas Market was just starting outside. We enjoyed a lunch of traditional dumplings, goulash, pretzels, hot boozy egg nog, and mouthwatering pastries.

Belvedere Christmas Market, Vienna
Belvedere Palace Christmas Market
Colorful cupcakes at Belvedere Christmas Market, Vienna
Christmas treats for sale

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that’s all we did for the day! After lunch and walk around the gardens, we headed back to our apartment to pack up our things and prepare to fly to Canada, where we would be setting up our new life, the kids would be enrolling in a Mandarin immersion school to maintain their Chinese ability, and my wife would be becoming a permanent resident upon landing!

Me holding a stocking-shaped glass of hot egg nog at a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria
Cheers from Vienna!

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