From its grand architecture, art and music to its food and fairy tale attractions, here’s how to spend 48 hours in Vienna with kids.
Vienna is a true feast for the senses. A city that invites visitors to step back to a time when soulful strings and haunting vibratos echoed through grand buildings, and art and music was celebrated above all else. A time when horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped around cobblestone streets and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee drifted out of grand coffeehouses, luring visitors to step inside and indulge in a little luxury, with a side of cake.
It’s a city of such rare opulence and grandeur that even the pigeons strut with an aristocratic air. In fact, Vienna’s well-preserved centre, from the pastel buildings adorned with whimsical flourishes to towering statues honouring the city’s great and good that seem to wink at us as we pass by, is do darned perfect it could be plucked from the pages of a fairy tale. Albeit one with some seriously juicy chapters.
The good news? Vienna is wonderfully real, and so surprisingly modern that it’s rated as one of the most liveable cities in the world. No wonder the pigeons are so puffed-up with pride, I would be too if Vienna was my ‘hood.
There are so many things to see and do in Vienna, along with an extensive and affordable public transportation system, making it one of the best spots in Europe for a family getaway. Here, we’re sharing some of the best ways to spend 48 hours in Vienna with kids.
Enjoy a ride in a horse-drawn carriage
Meander along the cobblestone streets of Vienna’s Innere Stad in a 100-year-old open carriage, complete with top-hatted driver and a couple of horses with extraordinary blonde blow outs that strut their stuff like they’re walking the runway. Vienna’s Fiaker’s are operated by licensed drivers who can provide a wealth of information about the city’s history and architecture, if you can speak German. Regardless, they offer a chance to enjoy the highlights of the city with a side of old-world glamour and horse-drawn whimsy while you channel your inner Cinderella.
Go to church(es)
It’s hard to miss the impressive spire of Stephanskirche, AKA St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which, at over 137 metres high, seemed to be watching over us as we explored the city. Having undergone many makeovers and expansions throughout its history, the dazzling Gothic Cathedral, with its magnificent mosaic roof made up of over 230,000 glazed tiles, represents eight centuries of architectural history.
Needless to say, no one could accuse the cathedral’s interior of being minimalist. Instead, its lavishly lined with tall, clustered pillars and pointed arches that draw the eye upwards past carvings of hellish creatures on parapet handrails, enormous elaborate sculptures, and over walls strewn with significant works of art and intricate stained-glass windows that bathe the interior in a warm glow. Eventually, your eyes will reach the extraordinary, vaulted ceiling.
The kids, while suitably impressed by both Stephanskirche’s history and opulent architecture, were admittedly more interested in racing up the spire via a narrow staircase of 343 steps. Not for the faint of heart, as the staircase is steep and claustrophobic, the views at the observation deck are worth the effort. At least that’s what they told me. I took the lift to the “Turmzimmer” or tower room, located just below the cathedral’s tower, which offered view enough for my weary legs.
Another church we developed a soft spot for is Karlskirche, commissioned in the 18th century by Emperor Charles VI to give thanks for the end of a devastating plague that had ravaged Vienna. The church’s facade features a massive dome and two flanking columns adorned with delicate sculptures and carvings.
But it is inside where visitors can admire the church’s fantastic cherub speckled ceiling frescoes and elegant marble altar, illuminated by the flood of natural light that pours in through the dome windows. Be sure to head up to the viewing platform, for a close-up view of the frescoes, then head out to the rooftop balcony to soak up views of Vienna.
Make some noise at Haus der Musik
With only 48 hours in Vienna with kids, adding the Haus der Musik to our itinerary was a no brainer. This unique museum explores the world of music and sound. Located in the city’s historic First District, and housed in a former palace, the Haus der Musik takes visitors on a fantastic interactive and immersive deep dive into the world of sound.
When I mentioned we were visiting a museum, the kids responded with an epic eyeroll. But on discovering Haus der Musik was no ordinary museum, my wee music lovers had to be dragged out, and then, only after several hours of exploring its many floors. They particularly loved creating their own compositions, conducting a virtual orchestra and a cool interactive sound chamber where they could manipulate sound waves.
Experience a night at the Vienna State Opera
The Vienna State Opera is one of the world’s most famous opera houses and a sight to behold with its grand staircase and beautiful chandeliers. The stunning performances, beautiful architecture and rich history of this cultural gem will leave a lasting impression. One of the most magical music experiences in Vienna, it’s an enchanting place to introduce your kids to the opera.
Be sure to choose a family-friendly opera. While some may be too long or too dark and complex for kids, others like Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” or Puccini’s “La Bohème” are more accessible and engaging for younger visitors. Just explain the story beforehand so they have a better chance of following along. Kids can also join an age-appropriate guided tour of the opera house to learn about its history and architecture.
Explore Schönbrunn Palace
An absolute must for families in Vienna is the former summer residence of the Habsburg emperors, Schönbrunn Palace. Built in the 17th century, the UNESCO World Heritage site is made up of a staggering 40 buildings featuring over 1,400 rooms. Visitors can take a guided tour of the glitzy imperial apartments, gilded private chambers and bedazzled banquet halls of the palace’s OTT interior.
The Schönbrunn Palace gardens feature ornate fountains, elegant statues and pretty manicured flower gardens. Horse-drawn carriages trundle up and down the tree lined laneways, adding to the grand atmosphere of a bygone era.
Other notable landmarks of the estate include the triumphal arches and colonnaded terrace of the Gloriette, a huge hedge maze that the kids disappeared into for what felt like several lifetimes, and even a zoo.
The standouts though are an enormous fountain that overlooks the palace, complete with a buff baroque Neptune and spurting sea creatures, and the grand Palmenhaus, which must be the world’s prettiest greenhouse.
Get art and about
Art lovers will adore creative Vienna. The city’s most famous visual artist is the inescapable Gustav Klimt. A pioneer of the Vienna Secession, Klimt imbued his paintings with gilded embellishments that conveyed a sense of opulence and otherworldliness. A proliferation of his famed paintings are spread across numerous galleries and appear to adorn everything from brollies to bierkrugs. If you only have 48 hours in Vienna, the biggest and most important collection of Klimt paintings in the world is housed at The Belvedere Palace. Brimming with eroticism and mystery, the collection includes Klimt’s most famous work, “The Kiss,” as well as other notable pieces such as “Judith,” “Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” and “Danae.”
If you can, squeeze in a visit to the Albertina Museum too. Located in the heart of Vienna, this incredible museum of art showcases an impressive collection that, alongside rotating exhibitions of contemporary art, includes Renaissance masterpieces and one of the world’s most important print rooms which is brimming with drawings, old master prints, modern graphic works and photographs. Notable highlights of the museum’s permanent collection include works by Claude Monet, Leonardo da Vinci, and Pablo Picasso. Oh, and one of my personal favourite Klimt artworks, Mermaids, was on display during our visit.
If you prefer your art street side, take a wall crawl along the Donaukanal. The canal walls are covered in vibrant murals and graffiti, and there are often live painting events and festivals held in the area.
Vienna’s vibrant street art scene, which references everything from political statements to pop culture, extends to the Naschmarkt area and the Neubau and Mariahilf districts. Here you will find epic murals and graffiti covering entire building facades, as well as smaller street art pieces tucked away in alleyways and side streets.
If you want to infuse your entire stay with art, the fabulous Radisson Red Vienna, located on the edge of Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district, is packed with incredible modern artworks and boasts a 24-metre-high mural by Viennese visual artist David Leitner in its courtyard.
Enjoy story time at the Austrian National Library
For this family of bibliophiles and history enthusiasts, a visit to The Austrian National Library was a must. One of the most beautiful libraries in the world, its extraordinary architecture, marble columns and frescoed ceilings, left us breathless. The library houses over 11.6 million items, including books, manuscripts, maps, and musical scores. Treasures on display during our visit included rare, illuminated manuscripts, a Gutenberg Bible and giant Venetian globes dating back to the 16th century. But it was the towering 20-metre-high bookshelves of the Baroque State Hall, built in the 18th century and packed with over 200,000 historic books collecting aristocratic dust under the watch of a stunning Baroque fresco, that had us ready to move in.
Ride the Riesenrad at The Prater
The Prater is a not to be missed attraction for families in Vienna. A popular destination for thrill-seekers, The Prater Amusement Park offers a wide range of rides and attractions for visitors of all ages, from classic roller coasters to modern virtual reality experiences. While the kids loved squealing their way through rides from classic dodgems to the adrenaline-pumping Prater Turm drop tower and the rapid watery descent of the Wildalpenbahn, the park’s most famous attraction is the Riesenrad Ferris wheel.
Originally built in 1897 to celebrate Emperor Franz Joseph I’s golden jubilee, the vintage Ferris Wheel has survived wars and natural disasters, including a fire in 1944 that destroyed most of the park. Still standing proud today, the 65-metre-tall icon offers breathtaking of Vienna’s skyline from its suspended cabins and is absolutely worth the ticket price.
Discover Mozart’s Vienna
Experience the legacy of one of Vienna’s favourite sons: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While you will see statues and tributes to the maestro all over the city, the best place to follow in Mozart’s literal footsteps is up the stairs to the grand third floor apartment of Mozarthaus Vienna. Located in the building where the legendary composer lived from 1784 to 1787 with his family, and composed many of his most famous works, it has been restored to look just as it did during his years there. There are five floors of exhibits, original documents and artefacts, and music lovers can enjoy concerts and other events featuring performances of Mozart’s music throughout the year. If you’d prefer to hear than see his legacy, Vienna is home to many concert halls and theatres where Mozart’s music is performed live, almost every night.
Eating out in Vienna
We arrived in Vienna with high hopes and empty stomachs, so the kids and I were eager to tuck into some of the city’s famous culinary delights. With just 48 hours in Vienna, the Naschmarkt was the place to start. Dating back to the 16th century as a humble milk market, the popular produce and culinary market is a colourful feast for the senses. The market offers several sit-down restaurants, cafes, and bars where visitors can take a break and enjoy a leisurely meal. After devouring our first Wiener Schnitzel – cutlets of tender veal pounded thin, breaded, and fried until golden and crispy and served with a slice of lemon, we explored the rest of the market stalls, heaving with everything from fresh produce to flowers, pastries, exotic spices and incredible Turkish sweets, a popular treat in Austria.
Exploring the city’s cobbled laneways, we also discovered the charms of Viennese Mac’n’Cheese, better known as Käsespätzle, and frittatensuppe, a clear broth soup with thin strips of savoury pancakes. Both big winners that saw us head back for seconds.
We held our pinkies aloft over fine china and cake in Café Landtmann, one of Vienna’s grandest and oldest coffee houses – and Sigmund Freud’s former go-to coffee spot. Here the kids inhaled superb strudel and Kaiserschmarrn, a fluffy raisin studded pancake torn into bite-size pieces and smothered in fruit preserves.
Known for their opulent interiors, traditional coffee houses have been a part of Vienna’s social and cultural fabric for centuries, serving as gathering places for artists, intellectuals, and politicians. Unable to resist, more indulgence followed at Café Sacher, the birthplace of Sachertorte. The rich chocolate cake, filled with apricot jam and smothered in a mirror-like chocolate glaze, was chocolatey perfection.
Despite the competition, in the end it was a simple sausage that won our everlasting devotion. The Käsekrainer is a bodacious banger bursting with little chunks of cheese that stole our fickle hearts (or at least hardened the arteries leading to them). Par boiled then grilled to make sure the cheese is molten and gooey, the sexy snags are stuffed into warm white rolls and smothered in mustard and ketchup. And they were so tasty we found ourselves queuing up at the popular Bitzinger Wurstelstand Albertina on multiple occasions.