As we shiver and take shelter from a slew of winter storms, I’ve been dreamily scrolling through last summer’s adventures. In June 2019, we took 4 year old Auden and 2 year old Tristan on a long weekend trip to Vienna, Austria! Vienna had been on my wish list long before moving to London, with its significant role in classical music and reputation as one of the most romantic cities in the world. I didn’t plan this trip down to the minute, so it ended up coming together as a hodgepodge of romantic streets and random meals. It was still completely amazing!! But I don’t really have an itinerary, so I’m listing the “greatest hits”. These are the best things we saw over 3 full days.
Schonbrunn Palace is a must-see. We didn’t tour the inside, which I don’t mind, but I would have loved to attend one of the Schonbrunn Palace Concerts. We can work that into our planning next time, and the kids will be old enough to join us.
Vienna boasts stunning architecture and cozy taverns, and is also very kid-friendly. In fact, the Schonbrunn Zoo (or Vienna Zoo) within the Schonbrunn Palace grounds is the oldest continually operating zoo in the world! It opened as the imperial menagerie in 1752 and has maintained its title of Europe’s Best Zoo for good reason. The enclosures are thoughtfully designed, and the inhabitants range from butterflies to elephants, and from jellyfish to cheetahs. It’s a hilly zoo and we only had a single buggy, so we rented a little wagon to cart the kids around.
After saying goodbye to the Zoo, we walked through the Schonbrunn Palace Gardens, which are impeccably landscaped and filled with interesting corners. I highly recommend finishing your Palace visit at Landtmann’s Jausen Station (the charming garden outpost of Landtmann’s Parkcafe) and trying an apfelstrudel! The food is lovely, and you can try their famous apple strudel, while enjoying the small area for children to run around.
Heading back to the City Center, the MuseumsQuartier is a fun little pit stop for the kids to run around. Vienna seems to have imposing estates and stunning gardens around every bend, and the kids loved exploring the Volksgarten and Belvedere Palace as well.
My favorite way to get a glimpse of a culture is through its food markets. Vienna’s famous Naschmarkt outdoor street market is a colorful, crowded stretch of foods, antiques and crafts. You really must plan to stroll through, and even eat a meal there! It has over 170 stalls and you will absolutely find something delicious for everyone. These are just some vibrant moments on a rainy day, but there are also sit-down and takeaway meals, cafes, and nibbles.
We were lucky enough to walk past the Vienna State Opera during a live performance, which is live-streamed on a large screen in the courtyard outside! People set up chairs and watch the performance, which is one of the coolest things ever. I love that approach to sharing the music and the talent, as well as encouraging new potential audiences. We would have stayed to watch the show, but Auden and Tristan were less enthralled than I was. Again, maybe next time!
Above is the Austrian National Library, which you will surely walk by as you explore the area near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Volksgarten and the City Center area. St Stephen’s Cathedral is truly beautiful, and by chance, we saw them installing the organ. I had really never thought about the mechanics of getting those massive pipes into the organ loft, but it was quite impressive! I guess next time, we’ll hear that organ in action.
Another essential checklist item in Vienna is the Sacher Torte! The kids were pretty patient while waiting in line for the famous Sacher torte at Hotel Sacher. The queue wasn’t very long when we arrived, and the cafe is very kid-friendly. They gave them coloring books and crayons when we sat down, and they weren’t precious about chocolatey fingers on their plush furniture. We went for cake, hot chocolate and mochas! Is it the best chocolate cake you’ll ever eat in your whole life? Probably not, but it would be a bit silly for any food-obsessed, chocolate-obsessed person to go to Vienna and not have the original Sacher torte! So it was worth the queue.
My husband was eager to do a side trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. It’s a 1-hour train ride from Vienna and the 18th-century old town is known for street artists, café culture and reconstructed castle. It’s a cool little town – Matt was glad we went – but I would 100% skip it unless you need pit stop to break up a long journey. The train ride is not scenic, and that’s empty time away from Vienna. If your heart is set on it, don’t plan on more than half a day, unless you’re just trying to relax in a cheaper city during an extended regional tour.
We really loved our trip to Vienna with the kids. Of course, we would have gone more highbrow without them and attended at least one classical concert, but we took full advantage of exploring the palaces, gardens, and Austrian food haunts. Plus, we went to the oldest and best zoo in Europe! Vienna completely lived up to the past 20 years of high expectations, with its classical roots and imposing architecture, plus café culture and romantic vibe.