Vibrant Vienna is packed with history, culture, green spaces and great places to eat. It’s easy to get around and perfect for a family weekend city break. Here are our top tips for things to do in Vienna on a family holiday with teens.
- A compact and beautiful city
- Home to Beethoven, Mozart and Vienna Boys Choir
- Packed with history and art
- Coffee houses – and delicious cakes
Who went where and when: My sons, Nick 18 and Ed 16, and I went to Vienna for a weekend in February 2016.
A weekend in Vienna with teens
Compact, elegant and stuffed full of cultural treasures, Vienna is a lovely city for a weekend break. It’s a manageable size, pedestrian-friendly and has lots of characterful coffee houses to warm up in on a winter day. It’s also been voted one of the world’s most liveable cities. Here are our top tips for things to do in Vienna on a family holiday with teens.
Get a bird’s eye view of Vienna
Vienna’s small enough to get around relatively quickly. Public transport is very efficient and as it was a chilly few days in February we spent a lot of time hopping on and off the trams and the subway. But first we started with a bird’s eye view.
St Stephen’s Cathedral is a medieval wonder in the historic heart of the city. In search of a view we headed up the south tower. There isn’t a lift. We tackled the 300 plus steps on the tightly spiralling stone stairway along with one or two other breathless parents and a handful of athletic teens.
At the top there’s an indoor viewing floor but luckily one window was flung open. We could soak up the vista of bright blue sky, intricately tiled roofs and fiakers crossing the square below. Incidentally the north tower apparently has a lift and open platform but isn’t so tall. Stephansplatz 3
See the sights of Vienna by tram
The Viennese tram system is a great way to get a feel for the layout of the city. And the best way to grasp the real splendour of Viennese architecture is to do a round of the Ringstrasse by tram. The vintage yellow tourist Ring trams do the complete circle with a commentary but we covered the same route in our own time on the red public trams, with one or two changes on the way.
The Ringstrasse marks the medieval city limits with a grand boulevard that encircles the Old Town or Innere Stadt. In the 1800s a succession of glamorous public buildings and mansions replaced the old city walls, including the Vienna State opera, the Parliament building and the Rathaus or town hall.
There are lots of green spaces too and we braved the cold to walk around the key sights of the historic centre.
The former hub of the Habsburg empire, Vienna has protected its past glories and developed them with care. The sprawling Hofburg Palace in the centre of town is still home to the UNESCO listed Spanish Riding School. The Kunsthistorisches Museum is also housed in a palace and just across the road lies the Museumsquartier, in what was once the Habsburgs’ rather spacious Imperial stable yard.
Follow the footsteps of The Third Man
Vienna has long held a bit of a reputation as a spy capital of Europe. Fitting then that it provides the haunting and atmospheric backdrop for The Third Man, one of the greatest British films ever made. Shot in post-Second World War Vienna, which was still in ruins from the conflict, the story deals with racketeering, murder and the febrile atmosphere of the city at a time when Austria was occupied by four different nations. In keeping with the style of this cinema classic, full of shadows and angles, we went on The Third Man walking tour just as dusk was falling.
Our guide took us to some of the famous scenes in the film including the kiosk where Harry Lime the racketeer escapes and the doorway (it makes sense if you’ve seen the film). She had lots of anecdotes from the filming as well as tales of post-war Vienna.
Orsen Welles apparently got fed up of shooting the famous chase in the Viennese sewers and insisted on finishing the scenes on a set at Shepperton back in England. He was probably cold! We stayed above ground which was chilly enough on a February evening, especially as the walk moves slowly to make time for explanations in German and English. Make sure to wrap up warm to really enjoy this leisurely stroll through some of Vienna’s most famous sights. www.viennawalks.com
Ride the ferris wheel at the Prater
The Riesenrad, built in 1897 is one of the oldest ferris wheels in the world. It plays an suspenseful role in The Third Man as well as the 80s Bond film The Living Daylights. The Prater amusement park has lots more contemporary thrills but a ride on the sedate and iconic wheel gives you a panoramic view of the city and the Vienna Woods.
Entrance to the park is free and the rides are charged individually. The Ferris Wheel ticket includes a little exhibition on the history of Vienna told through tableaux displayed in cabins at the entrance to the ride. Riesenradplatz 1
See why Vienna is famous for art….
Vienna has world-class art galleries and museums, far more than anyone could visit in a weekend so we chose just two. The Secession building makes a statement before you even cross the street.
The Secession movement of artists and architects in turn of the century Vienna is epitomised in the hall built to house their exhibitions. It was a reaction against the historic styling of the Ringstrasse. Nowadays it’s the permanent home of Klimt’s dazzling Beethoven Frieze, along with changing contemporary exhibitions and installations. Secession Building, Friedrichstrasse 12
In the Museumsquartier there are still one or two signs of its previous inhabitants. Once the home of 600 Imperial horses and 200 state coaches the area is now a centre for the arts. The museum of modern art, Mumok, is here but we went to see the Schieles and Klimts in the Leopold Museum across the square. Leopold Museum, Museumsplatz 1.
… and music
Vienna is famous as the City of Music. Beethoven lived here, so did Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and many more. Music is everywhere and dance fans still twirl across the floor to the rhythms of the Strauss family’s Viennese waltzes during the winter carnival Ball Season.
We didn’t take a waltz lesson but we did have a go at conducting the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. Anyone can, at the Haus der Musik or House of Music. This is more than a museum, it’s an interactive ‘trip into sound’. Starting out conventional with the reconstructed parlour of Otto Nicolai, founder of the Vienna Philharmonic.
Then up the – musical – stairs to a floor full of interactive displays that encourage you to experiment with the world of sound and hearing.
Up another floor to discover the lives and music of the Viennese composers – Beethoven was clearly a difficult tenant, see the map of his many lodgings around Vienna. On the top floor there’s even the chance to direct a multi-media opera experience. We didn’t get that far but the House of Music is an intriguing visit for everyone, not just musicians. Haus Der Musik, Seiterstatte 30.
Coffee houses in Vienna
In Vienna it’s easy to excuse any trip to a cafe when you’re getting a slice of local culture with your Sachertorte. Incredibly I didn’t take any pictures of cake – I guess I was too busy eating it. But believe us, they are good! There are modern coffee shops in Vienna but we sought out the ones soaked in atmosphere, and in some cases the tobacco smoke of years gone by. They’re not particularly cheap but these are still city institutions.
Traditional Cafe Braunerhof – we sat by the window and watched passing fiaker drivers pointing out the cafe to their passengers.
Glamorous Cafe Central – we’re talking vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and a pianist.
Bohemian Cafe Hawelka – aged photos and posters on the wall above elderly plush banquettes. In the past writers, actors and artists congregated here and it’s easy to imagine Cold War conversations too. We went on a quiet evening, along with young and old locals, for the legendary Buchteln, warm jam-filled rolls served after 8pm.
Places to eat in Vienna
We were on the lookout for Viennese dishes in the Old Town and got it right first time with Gasthaus Reinthaler, a traditional beisl, which is a kind of tavern or trattoria. We ducked down some steps out of the drizzle into a brightly lit cellar room with checkered tablecloths, panelled walls and lots of locals. This is proper home cooking of the Weiner Schnitzel variety with huge plates of salad, potato salad and chips on the side. It was delicious, authentic and not expensive with friendly service. Reinthaler, Gluckgasse 5
The Naschmarkt is a must for food lovers as it’s basically a huge outdoor deli with lots of stalls, cafes and places to eat. Half Vienna and their dogs were there, strolling in the sunshine, tasting and chatting with friends. Nick remembered the dried fruit stall from an Inter-rail visit so we stocked up on banana chips and candied watermelon then grabbed some seats for an outdoor lunch. Cafe Do-An lived up to its good reviews whilst saxophones played in the background. After lunch we walked on through the Saturday fleamarket, full of vintage bric a brac and, of course, fake football shirts. The market is open Monday to Saturday. Do-An, Naschmarkt stand 412
Finally, you can’t visit Vienna, especially with teens, without trying the quintessential Viennese street food: the wurstel. In fact you’d better make that the most famous of them all from the Bitzinger Wurstelstand outside the Albertina museum. It’s basically a giant sausage in a roll with a number of meaty variations including the popular kasekrainer which contains cheese too. Don’t whatever you do find out its nickname before you eat it. Bitzinger Wurstelstand, Albertinaplatz
We didn’t have time for:
The Spanish Riding School – horselovers will know about the Lipizzaners, the famous dancing white horses, who train and perform here. The formal shows must be booked well in advance but you can also get tickets to watch morning exercise or take a guided tour of the stables.
Museum of Military History – of interest if teens are studying WW1, most especially because the centrepiece of the exhibition is the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, precipitating events that led to the outbreak of war.
Planning a family city break? We loved Rome too. Here are our top tips for a visit: Rome with teenagers: where to go, what to do
Things to do in Vienna on a family holiday with teens
If you’ve enjoyed this post please Pin to Save and Share
All photos are all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce these photos without prior written permission