There’s a lot more to Vienna than meets the eye, you have to do a little research first, and keep your eyes and mind open while you’re there or you’ll miss some great experiences. Whenever we go somewhere new, we try to sit down with our kids and discuss some of the history and significance of the places we are going to visit. This gives them some historical perspective, as well as a frame of reference when we see something interesting, so instead of “just another palace” it becomes the “seat of the Habsburg Empire.” After learning about, and listening to, the “Blue Danube”, we spent a couple quick days touring around Vienna, and there is so much to do there for families!
Our kids have lived in the Southern U.S. for most of their lives, so they were super excited to arrive in a magnificent European capital, but only because of the promise of snow. Luckily, the weather came through. Upon arrival at the cathedral we were rewarded with fluffy white flakes swirling through the sky directly to our tongues. All of central Europe is magical this time of year; there’s something for everyone. From Christmas Markets and Seasonal Treats, to the much-coveted Gluwein, which comes in a variety just for kids: Kinderpunsch!
We stayed at the Meininger Hotel Wien Downtown Sissi. When we booked there, we didn’t really understand the significance of the hotel name, but the location was great, and it had wifi and breakfast—two of our “must have” requirements. Empress Elisabeth, commonly known as Sissi (or Sisi), was one of the last Habsburg (Hofburg) rulers, much beloved by Austrians and Hungarians alike. She was a reluctant, tragic leader with many quirks that are well documented in movies, books, and the Sisi museum where we ended up spending an afternoon. The museum is a part of the fabulous Hofburg Estates, which was the political center of the monarchy for nearly five hundred years. The kids loved listening to the audio guide (always a hit with well educated kids!) and learned all about the Empress and the rest of the Habsburg dynasty. They even have the wood file that Sissi was assassinated with on display. Glen and I were especially enamored with the vast array of items that were used in state dinners throughout the dynasty. There’s a little something for everyone in this beautiful, sprawling museum.
While in Europe, we have been focusing on historical sites, with cathedrals and castles topping the list. However, while in Vienna, the Naturhistorisches Museum was too good to pass up, and rivaled the Smithsonian (though not as good as the Deutsches Museum in Munich, which is an absolute must see!) There’s an exhaustive menagerie of taxidermy for the animal enthusiasts in the group, enough rocks and minerals to make even the hardiest geologist gag, and some really great interactive displays for little scientists. A special exhibit on Mammoths was especially fun, and the kids enjoyed the break after a packed schedule (see previous article on trip planning.)
The kids really enjoyed the Spanish Riding School* where Lipizzaner stallions—the descendants of a proud Spanish crossbreed between Spanish, Arabian, and Berber horses—are part of the oldest riding school in the world. It’s great fun to go into the old world arena and watch the horses prance and practice their moves to classical music. However, anyone with even a minor allergy to horses, dander, or dust should stay outside. Glen lasted about 10 minutes before making a quick exit so he could continue to breathe!
Vienna is also the music capital of the world, so you can’t miss the State Opera House, Vienna Boys Choir, and maybe even an impromptu symphony, which ubiquitous costumed solicitors peddle on the streets…remember; keep an open mind and a flexible schedule! We toured the Opera House, which is a literal “who’s who of classical music” though unfortunately we did not have enough time for a show. Although we are wary of giving in too much to the “tourist” experience, on a whim we decided to buy tickets from a man in costume and take in a symphony. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the performance, and with how much the kids enjoyed the show. The Vienna Boys choir is a hard ticket to come by and some procrastinating in ticket buying led to us being seated in a gallery with no view except a large screen TV. This was slightly less interesting to the kids—they actually fell asleep—but who can pass up an opportunity to “see” the Vienna Boys Choir in Vienna? As always, for events that are on your “must see list” book the tickets early so you can get the experience that you want.
We highly recommend Vienna as a family destination. The city was enjoyable for the whole family, and offers the best of old world charm, and new world sites to see.