Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Visiting Vienna With Kids: Parks & Palaces, Museums & Cake

Vienna is the beautiful capital city of Austria, a skyline dominated by Baroque architecture with an incredible history. Known for the long-lasting Hapsburg Dynasty, 19th century intellectual café culture, and home for such composers as Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss. In 2018 Vienna was voted the best city in which to live, for the ninth year running. This is due to the city providing a high quality of life for its residents and the city’s commitment to the cultural wellbeing of its inhabitants. The repeated recognition, and the reasons for this, makes Vienna a perfect destination for a family seeking a cultural city break.

Having always fancied a trip to Vienna, a city with a magnificent history and with so much on offer for culture vultures. When my children were finally old enough to be out of their push chairs and no longer in need of frequent rests, snacks and naps, it seemed like an ideal time to go. All of my research had shown that Vienna had more than enough to keep us all happy – in fact there was so much on offer that narrowing it down was the hard part. Here is where we finally chose to go and my helpful tips for each one.

We stayed in the Inner Stadt or old town, the true heart of Vienna, in a spacious 19th century apartment with high ceilings, and huge windows which I had found on booking.com. On a quiet street, it was just a 5 minute walk to the cathedral, the crowds and the museums. This really was the perfect location as we were close to nearly everything we wanted to see, as well as close enough to just walk back to the apartment when feet did get tired and rests were needed. I would highly recommend doing the same, as we were able to spend our time right in the centre of things rather than travelling around the city.

Some Historical Background

Vienna started life as a Celtic settlement before becoming a Roman military camp during the 1st century AD. An important 11th century trading site, it was the capital of the Babenberg dynasty (976-1278) before its most famous incarnation as the home of the Austrian Hapsburg Dynasty (1273-1918), the most distinguished of European royal houses. Vienna was besieged unsuccessfully by the Turks in 1529 and again 1683, and it was the subsequent reconstruction which turned Vienna into a baroque city. There were massive plague epidemics in 1679 and 1713 that killed thousands. Taken by Napoleon in 1805 and 1809, it was after his defeat that the map of Europe was again redrawn. After much expansion and the rerouting of the Danube, 19th century Vienna became the capital of the Austrian empire. Bombed in 1944 and 1945, Vienna was later painstakingly reconstructed.

Austria gained independence in May 1955 and maintained political neutrality, meaning that it became an important centre for espionage. During the Cold War the city allegedly had more spies than Austrian soldiers, hence the relevance of films such as The Third Man, for which Vienna is still famous. In 2001, Vienna became a UNESCO site, although that is now under threat from planned skyscrapers. Infamous now for still allowing smoking in restaurants, I saw it referred to in one article as the ‘ashtray of Europe’. I think that’s stretching it too far, but it is worth bearing in mind if you are taking the children out to restaurants, as it does make a difference.

St Stephans Cathedral

This really is the heart of Vienna and of its old cultural quarter. The Gothic cathedral dominates the area with a colourful roof of green, gold and white tiles. The cathedral was consecrated in 1147, was rebuilt after a great fire in 1258 and had towers added in 1433 and 1450. It was damaged by the French bombardment of 1809 and again by fire in 1945, when sparks from burning houses in the vicinity started a fire in the roof, walls collapsed and caused significant damage. It was reopened in 1952. Restoration works are still ongoing but are discreet and don’t ruin the overall look of this amazing Gothic structure.

Entrance to the cathedral is free but you can pay to go further into it and get a tour. It’s worth going in first and deciding if you want to pay more to go in (we decided against it). It’s packed with tourists and is very dark and gloomy with a rather oppressive feeling to it, probably due to the jostling crowds. However, what is rather more enjoyable is a trip up one of the towers. The north tower has a lift and is outside with a 360° view, the South tower has 343 steps and takes you higher up so you can look down on that vibrant roof. You get wonderful views across the colourful baroque rooftops of Vienna. There is also a shop up there, which seems a little odd, in the historically graffittied room where fire watchers and Turk watchers were stationed in times past. It’s quite a climb but we all agreed it was worth it.

Back in the interior of the cathedral is the entrance to the catacombs. You wait at the top of the steps for a guided tour, which is the only way to see them, and pay the tour guide directly at the end. The guides do the tour in German and then provide an English translation. The catacombs are divided into two parts, old and new, with the old parts having been refurbished and which are painted white and brightly lit. These contain the tombs of Vienna’s bishops, some rulers and nobility including that of Rudolf IV who has been there since 1365. Their internal organs were stored in urns which you can gaze at with slightly macabre enthrallment, and their hearts were placed in silver urns in the Herzgruft (Heart Crypt) in Hofburg Palace.

The newer parts are gloomy and forbidding. We crept along raw brick corridors, with dim, yellow lighting, to see the ossuary caverns where the bones and skulls of 11,000 people, many of them plague victims, were thrown in. When the caverns got too full, prisoners were sent in to restack the bones and make some space. You can peer through rusted metallic grilles to see the bones piled high and feel a shiver of morbid fascination. These catacombs are ideal for older children as it’s something a bit unusual and have an air of ‘dark tourism’ about them. Mine were fascinated the whole way round, especially looking at the huge piles of haphazardly stacked bones. No photography is allowed in the catacombs out of respect for the dead.

The cathedral square is a busy place, but is fully pedestrianized and a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. Its permanently filled with tourists and ticket touts dressed in flowing red gowns (I’ve seen them referred to as Mozart Stalkers) looking rather incongruous as they shout on mobiles and pursue you to sell tickets to all sorts of concerts and events – don’t pay anything until you’ve looked online to see what it would cost you to buy a ticket directly. They are harmless though and can easily be brushed off.

TIPS FOR TAKING KIDS TO ST STEPHANS CATHEDRAL

Time Travel Museum

Café Central

Plague Column

Prater Park

TIPS FOR TAKING KIDS TO PRATER PARK

Simon Wiesenthal Centre

Opera House

Museum of Military History (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum or Hgm)

Tips for Taking Kids to the Military Museum

Karlskirche

Vienna at Night

Schönbrunn Palace

TIPS FOR TAKING KIDS TO SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE

House of Music

Museum of Illusions

Stadt Park

Things I Wish We’d Had the Time to Do

Getting Around

Archaeology Travel Writer

Sarah Nash

Sarah has a Bachelors degree in Philosophy and a Masters degree in Archaeology. Besides an interest in archaeology and history, Sarah is also a travel obsessed bookworm. Given her aim to get her children to be equally interested in history and travel, Sarah started our History with Kids series of articles. Sarah has also written about places and museums to visit in Salisbury and London.

Recently Published on Archaeology Travel

Read More
Wednesday, 10 July, 2024
Read More
Thursday, 20 June, 2024
Read More

Community Comments

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments