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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.
Because we were at the tail-end of a long trip, we tackled the Austrian capital a little differently than we normally would. We were tired of traveling, mentally preparing for our new life in Canada, and because it was December, 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.
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!
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 Salzburg with kids and Innsbruck with kids). We fell in love with both cities, not to mention that we got loads of snow in Innsbruck (one month later, Vienna still didn’t have snow yet).
So in this article, I’m not going to give a comprehensive list of all the kid-friendly things to do in Vienna. 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.
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 and Where to Stay in Vienna with Kids
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.
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.
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.
While we found this apartment on booking.com, you can also find some great apartment deals in Vienna here on Airbnb.
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 first Ferris wheel! You can save time by buying your tickets online in advance.
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.
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.
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.
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. The event ran this year from November 16, 2019 to January 6, 2020.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 in Italy and the Balkans, and saw fire salamanders in Croatia. 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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I never travel without a good guidebook! Here are my recommended ones (including one for kids!):