There is so much to do with kids in Vienna in both summer and winter that you’ll have your clan clamoring to move to this pretty baroque capital of Austria with its elaborate cafes serving gorgeous cakes and pastries, its horse drawn carriages, exquisite palaces to explore and of course the famous Vienna Boys Choir. And teenage girls could get in a tizz about getting all dressed up and going to one Vienna’s winter balls.
Is it when my youngest daughter Julia conducts the philharmonic orchestra or perhaps when my teenage tom boy Claire waltzes in the arms of a handsome young man? Or then again, is it the look of sheer astonishment in the eyes of the oldest Alice as she gazes at a ferris wheel made completely of sugar? Whatever tips the scale, I fall in love with Vienna as the perfect place to visit with kids AND teenagers, as I found out a few years ago.
House of Music: An fun way to explore Vienna’s music culture
Julia doesn’t conduct the real Vienna Philharmonic, but at the House of Music museum, she wields a baton to conduct a video screen of the Philharmonic and the musicians actually play according to her direction and rate her performance. And we do enjoy a cello concerto at the ornate and remarkably intimate Musikverein concert hall, where if you’re lucky you can even sit up on the stage directly behind some of the most famous classical musicians in the world. Back at the House of Music, the kids also find out what babies hear whilst in their mother’s wombs, play instruments bizarre and large, create their own CDs, and wander through rooms devoted to each of Vienna’s famous musicians from Mozart and Beethoven to Wagner as their music plays.
Learn how to waltz in Vienna
I’m not sure what Johan, our private waltz coach at the renowned Elmayer Dance Studio, thinks when he sees a mother and three daughters all signed up for a lesson at the same time but by the end of the hour we are all dancing beautifully to The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss, taking turns to practice in Johan’s arms. Julia still does the steps when she hears the three-beat rhythm. As a bonus, we watch a bevy of Viennese teenagers, boys in suits and white gloves, girls in high heels and short skirts, go through the rumba, fox trot and even the tango, in their regular Saturday evening classes.
Vienna Boys Choir
On Sunday morning we squeeze under the eves of the Hofburg chapel for a church service accompanied by the gorgeous clear voices of the Vienna Boys Choir. Even more fun was watching them, dressed in their sailor suits and caps, meet their families in the courtyard to go off to Sunday lunch. Right next door at the Hofburg Imperial Palace we marvel at the spectacular prancing white Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School, which has been in operation since the 1500s. Lipizzaner horses developed their unusual prancing gait to avoid the arrows of the enemy during battle but today horses and riders perform remarkable equine ballets.
Every afternoon we stop at one marvellous coffee house after another for hot chocolate, cake and pastries. The kids are particularly in awe of the masterful creations at Café Demel, which was the imperial purveyor of all sweet things to the Austrian court. Here you can watch the chefs work in a glassed-in open kitchen as they spin powdered sugar and egg whites into everything from baby grand pianos to puppets on a string. And there’s even a marzipan museum in the cellar.
Schoenbrunn Palace: a castle with a zoo, a maze and a marionette theater
The Schoenbrunn Palace, now an easy subway ride to the outskirts of town, was once the summer residence of the Hapsberg royals who brought 1000 servants each year to make them comfortable. We tour the ornate rooms of the baroque yellow palace and find out via audio tape about the everyday life of the Empress Eugenie and her 16 children. During the summer, younger children can even dress up as princes and princesses, but those tours are conducted in German. Outside, my kids race through the various mazes that were originally created to amuse the adult royals and explore the Schoenbrunn Zoo, formerly the private zoo to the Hapsburg dynasty and the oldest zoo in the world. But there is nothing folklorique about the place except perhaps the original Tyrolean farmhouse. We laugh at the pranks of the newborn elephants and marvel at the jungle flora and fauna in the brand new rainforest pavilion. In the evening, we watch the Schoenbrunn Marionette Theatre put on an intricate production of Mozart’s Magic Flute, which we already know about after seeing the model for Papageno at the House of Music, and go backstage after the show to see how the puppets are manipulated.
Prater Amusement Park
Vienna is also home to one of the world’s oldest amusement parks: the Prater, which was originally the imperial hunting ground in the Danube forest, and still has a bucolic ambiance. What’s terrific is that entrance to the park is free so you can explore the entire area without paying a cent. Only the rides are charged. We all ride the 100-year-old giant ferris for a spectacular overview of this beautifully laid out city while I am content to watch the kids lose their stomachs somewhere up near their eyeballs in some of the newer attractions such as The Volare flying coaster, where the temporarily insane fly face down along a 420-meter labyrinth, or the Starflyer, which whirls 60 meters above ground at 70 kilometers an hour.
Fun ways to get around Vienna: bikes and carriages
The free bike program is a marvelous way to explore as there are wide bike paths on Vienna’s famous ring roads so that you can easily circumnavigate the city on two wheels and see all its elaborate buildings as you pedal along. In the summer, Danube Island is a wonderful place for kids to let off steam. There are beaches for swimming, bikes, roller blades and boats for hire, and loads of outdoor cafes for the oldies. While in November and December, Vienna’s Christmas markets, most notably the Rathausplatz market in front of the city hall, entice the child in all of us, with brightly lit wooden stalls selling toys, ornaments and hot punch. There are even craft and baking classes for kids while their parents shop.
Back in the heart of town, my kids try making their own cartoon films in the multimedia lab of the interactive Zoom Children’s museum. But it is the old fashioned laneways and cobblestone streets that appeal even more. As we meander along in the back of a horse-drawn carriage, I was happier for my children’s happiness and they were happier for mine.
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