Vienna with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

Vienna with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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Vienna's immaculately preserved historic center is testament to the tremendous wealth and power that the Austro-Hungarian Empire exercised for hundreds of years. Today, Vienna is a picture-perfect storybook fantasy that's replete with horse-drawn carriages, churches that appear to be frosted confections, temples dedicated to luscious pastries, and food stands that elevate the humble hot dog to heavenly status. Here are some tips for planning the perfect family vacation in Vienna with tweens.

Though Vienna is the capital of Austria and home to nearly two million inhabitants, its historic center is cozy, compact, and family-friendly. In the 19th century, forward-thinking city planners saw the value in creating a pedestrian-only zone along the Graben, one of the most fashionable and popular streets in Vienna. Today, you can stroll past gothic, medieval and Art Nouveau architectural gems, including breathtaking cathedrals, elegant shops, and inviting cafes. Best of all, a family vacation in Vienna with tweens allows you to experience it all.


What tween doesn't like treats? For a sweet start to your family vacation in Vienna head to Der Demel. In a city that takes pride in exquisite sweet treats, Der Demel is Vienna's most famous pastry shop and chocolatier. Der Demel was commissioned to supply the Imperial and Royal Court in the 19th century, so if it was good enough for the royal family, it's good enough for mine! In the midst of opulent Baroque surroundings with sparkling chandeliers and lofty ceilings, the stunning cakes, luscious chocolates and delicate pastries are displayed on mirrored shelves to maximum effect. You can watch in open-mouthed disbelief as the chocolatiers create masterpieces that would make Lucy Ricardo swoon. If the weather is agreeable, you can enjoy a linzer torte and hot chocolate outside on the canopied patio offering views of Hofburg Palace. Der Demel is located in the very fashionable Kohlmarkt area, home to Vienna's most exclusive shops. The nearby Kärntnerstrasse, however, may be kinder to your American Express card.
Hofzuckerbäckerei Demel (Der Demel)
Kohlmarkt 14
A-1010 Wien
+43 1 535 17 17 0
Daily 9AM to 7PM

Images of royal Vienna call to mind the Lippizan stallions on spectacular display at the Spanish Riding School. If your tweens are enamored with horses, and who isn't, you'll want to schedule your family vacation in Vienna to coincide with a performance at the resplendent Winter Riding School built in 1729. The performance gives you a chance to observe the classical maneuvers developed over four centuries under crystal chandeliers as brilliant sunlight pours in and creates a magical atmosphere that borders on the celestial. I recommend that you book your visit well in advance on their website.
Spanish Riding School
Michaelerplatz 1
A-1010 Wien
+43 1 533 90 31
Tuesday to Sunday, 9AM to 4PM
Fridays with performances, 9AM to 7PM
May, June, September and October: open on Mondays

Do I hear a waltz? Vienna is synonymous with music and Mozart. As you comfortably wind your way along the Graben, you and your tweens will encounter extremely talented musicians, as well as captivating street performers, mimes, clowns, singers and dancers offering a variety of juggling acts, music, and comedy routines. As is the case in any area frequented by tourists, be mindful of your valuables when you stop to enjoy the entertainment.

In the late 17th century, Vienna was ravaged by plague, and the Emperor vowed to erect a mercy column if the epidemic came to an end. The Pestsäule (Plague Column) is prominently displayed along the Graben. Your hungry tweens might not care about the plague, but they can savor a bratwurst from any of the many stands and stalls in this area. While most of Europe would faint at the idea of eating and walking at the same time, it is a perfectly respectable practice along the Graben. Look for the ubiquitous würstelstand on street corners throughout Vienna. These small stands sell franks, bratwurst, curry wurst and other traditional Austrian sausages usually served on a roll mit senf (with mustard). If your kids like hot dogs, they might like a käsekrainer, a fat frankfurter studded with cheese.

For a memorable day in Vienna with tweens, start with a swift, 30-minute subway ride to Schönbrunn Palace. You can enjoy a very manageable and kid-friendly 35-minute tour of state rooms and the royal apartments, which opened my eyes to a new definition of "apartment." As many as 1,500 people inhabited this sprawling fairy-tale complex that features an impressive fountain and three garden mazes to amuse the kids. Don't miss the math maze, which requires you to solve a math puzzle to find the way out.

The Schloss Schönbrunn Experience is a hands-on museum for kids. The exhibits and activities help them understand how the imperial children lived. Your tweens may love trying on court clothing and learning about proper court etiquette. It has been reported that it took three hours to dress Empress Elisabeth's hair. Obviously, she didn't have to share a bathroom with her siblings.

Every hour, there is a demonstration on how to make apple strudel. Hopefully, the family won't get any ideas as the royal family was accustomed to nine course meals served on fine china with gold flatware. The princess in your group may feel a connection with Maria Theresa's eleven daughters, one of whom is better known as the famous French queen, Marie Antoinette. Your time in Vienna might help you understand why she thought the answer to everything was to "Let them eat cake."
Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse 47
A-1130 Wien
+43 0 1 811 13 – 239
Times vary by attraction


After your royal morning, head back into the city and proceed with haste to Naschmarkt, an open-air market with stalls selling fresh produce, breads, meat, cheese and more. There are counters where you can purchase prepared foods such as grilled chicken, sausages, and sandwiches. You could call ahead and have Konditorei Oberlaa prepare a picnic for you to enjoy. Picnic basket in hand, head for Stadtpark or the Volksgarten to enjoy your picnic under one of the many obliging trees. While your tweens devour their lunch, you'll be delighted with the scenic park and the people watching. If the weather is agreeable, plan an excursion into the Vienna Woods.
Konditorei Oberlaa
Neuer Markt 16
+43 1 513 29 36–0
Daily, 8AM to 8PM


If your tweens are still talking about the equestrian activity at the Spanish Riding School, why not hire a horse-drawn carriage, known locally as a fiaker? For about € 65, you can settle back and enjoy a 40-minute tour of the historic center. It's as close to royal as you'll ever feel and the best way to end a family vacation in Vienna.

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