Vienna is the most underrated city in Europe! Disclaimer: I’m one quarter Austrian (my Grandmother was born in Austria, she came to the United States via Ellis Island as a child), but personal bias aside, I’m surprised that Vienna does not get more attention. For example, Travel + Leisure recently released the results of its annual “World’s Best Awards” survey and Vienna did not crack the top 15 cities in Europe. While I agree with many readers about the cities that were on the list (who doesn’t love Barcelona, Siena, Paris, Florence, etc.), I was shocked to find that Vienna did not make the cut. Let me tell you why we love Vienna:
Vienna is beautiful! We stayed in a lovely hotel called the Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof, which is in the heart of Vienna’s old city. From there, we were less than a 5 minute walk away from the Hofburg Palace (the former imperial palace and current seat of the Austrian President), the Spanish Riding School, and the Goldenes Quartier (luxury shopping area). If we walked for another 5 minutes, we could reach the State Opera. And if we walked in another direction, we would come upon St. Stephen’s Cathedral. While wandering around the city, it is impossible to not admire the architecture! You can also climb to the top of St. Stephen’s, parts of the church date back to the 13th century, for an impressive view of the city! In addition to the beautiful surroundings, the people are beautiful — inside and out! We met so many helpful and interesting people, from the local grocery store to the zookeepers, everyone was incredibly nice. Additionally, the traditional Austrian outfits are really something to see and are worn proudly for festive occasions. We stumbled upon the equivalent of a block party and were in awe of how wonderful everyone looked in their Lederhosen and dirndls!
Vienna is DELICIOUS! Two words: strudel, schnitzel. Throughout the city there are restaurants on every corner and we could not find one that we did not like! The selection of cakes at the restaurants was fantastic; my personal favorite Austrian dessert is the apple strudel. We also loved the veal schnitzel/classic Wiener Schnitzel. Our two favorite restaurants were Café Sacher and Café Cental. Café Sacher is the home of the original Sachertorte (a delicious chocolate cake) and it’s a quintessential Viennese coffee-house. Café Central has a more expansive menu and has a pianist who plays while you dine. Additionally, both cafés have stunning interiors that provide the perfect atmosphere for a meal or snack!
Vienna is extremely family-friendly. Six of us traveled to Vienna, my mother and father, my husband and our two young sons, and we all had a great time. For one thing, the city is very walk-able. We brought our stroller along so that our three year old could sit down if he needed to but our six year old did not complain about any of the distances we walked. Secondly, everyone in Vienna speaks English. That’s obviously a generalization because I did not have a conversation with everyone in Vienna but in all of the restaurants, shops, playgrounds and museums we visited, people spoke English. We encourage our children to learn other languages and explain why it’s polite to attempt to speak the language of the host country. However, at age six and age three, my little guys did not remember much more than: guten tag and danke , so it was nice that they could still interact with everyone. Vienna also has some FANTASTIC playgrounds! Not only are the playgrounds designed to entertain AND educate children, but they are also strategically located around tourist attractions. For example, one day we did a “big bus tour” around the city. City bus tours are a great way to get a snapshot of all of the history that an area has to offer. Unfortunately, my three year old was not interested in listening to the audio and he began to get a little bit antsy about halfway through the tour. We selected a “hop on/hop off” bus tour for exactly that reason and so when our bus stopped at Augarten we got off. Augarten contains Vienna’s oldest Baroque park and it was formerly used as both hunting grounds and for morning concerts (imagine: Mozart and Beethoven!). Today, Augarten has a Porcelain Museum and several areas for children, including playgrounds. So, while my parents perused the museum, I was able to run around the park with my little guys, collecting chestnuts, playing games, and enjoying the beautiful day until it was time to get back on the bus! Schönbrunn Palace also has a fantastic playground, just next to the maze and labyrinth. Schönbrunn was the former imperial summer residence and it was easily our favorite part of the trip. My older son and parents were fascinated by the audio tour of the palace and my younger son and I had a wonderful time exploring the area by the Neptune Fountain. Together, we all explored and enjoyed the Schönbrunn children’s museum. The children’s museum is extremely interactive; kids can dress up in period costume and play with toys inspired by life at the palace. In addition to the main entrance to the palace, the children’s museum, the maze and labyrinth, and the playground, we also went to the Schönbrunn Zoo! It’s the oldest zoo in the world and it’s magnificent! After spending several hours touring around, I expected my kids to be worn out but they spent several more hours at the zoo and their happiness was contagious! It was truly an incredible day. We are all looking forward to going back! In addition to the playgrounds, many of Vienna’s museums are suitable for all ages. We highly recommend the Haus der Musik and the Vienna Museum of Natural History (Naturhistorisches Museum Wien)!
The ultimate sign that Vienna, Austria is a great city: none of us wanted to leave! Alas, back to the real world, Auf Wiedersehen!