Vienna was the second stop on our #GwoFamily Euro trip, and the city I was second most excited about visiting. While my family and I had an enjoyable time in Vienna, it was not the city we loved most when all was said and done. All was not lost, though! Here are the highlights – what we loved most about Vienna – that made our time there worth it.
Free wifi. I’m not talking about the wifi in our GowithOh apartment; I’m talking about free wifi throughout the city. There are Freewave hotspots everywhere. As a blogger with a social media
obsession obligation, the reliable connections made sharing and reporting so much more convenient and effective, as I was able to do so in real time.
Spanish Riding School. We were lucky to have a privately guided, behind-the-scenes look at this historic and elegant institution. We visited the horse stables, getting up close to the horses, and seeing how well they’re cared for. This type of tour may not be an option for everyone, but I believe a visit to the Spanish Riding School is a must for all visitors to Vienna. The Lipizzaner stallions are stunning, majestic creatures, and it is fascinating to see such natural power and grace in motion. If an evening performance does not work with your schedule or budget, at the very least make it a point to observe the morning training exercises, which are open to the public.
Cafe culture. “Viennese” and “coffee house” just go together, kind of the same way “German” and “beer garden” do. Experiencing the Viennese cafe culture was something I excitedly looked forward to. Knowing they are the hub of community activity, where news is shared and patrons are encouraged to sit and linger for a while, I figured the coffee houses would be my best bet for a glimpse of real Viennese life. Then, I learned that late-afternoon cafe visits for Apfelstrudel and Mélange are the norm, and suddenly Viennese life became a whole lot sweeter. Lucia was confused by the routine we developed of having dessert BEFORE dinner, but she didn’t dare question it. Because of this, she thinks Vienna is the best place in the world.
Griechenbeisl. Since we’re talking about food, I’ll mention this historic inn and restaurant next. Griechenbeisl dates back to 1443 and, through the centuries, has hosted the likes of Beethoven and Mark Twain. A beisl is a cozy and comfortable tavern, restaurant, or inn, that serves hearty and traditional Viennese meals. Griechenbeisl is housed in a lovely vine-covered building on Fleischmarkt near Schwedenplatz, and the interior – with its dark wood accents – has a pleasantly rustic feel to it. Despite it being a Friday during Lent, this Catholic girl ordered a steak (which I NEVER do, even on non-Lenten Fridays!), served with grilled scallops, asparagus risotto, and black truffles. Lucia was tired of having schnitzel every day (I know, right? What’s wrong with that kid?!), so our server graciously offered to ask the chef if he would make a special chicken dish for her. The chef agreed and Lucia was thrilled. We just loved everything about Griechenbeisl and, if we ever return to Vienna, we definitely will dine there again.
Schloß Schönbrunn. There is no shortage of palaces in Vienna. We did not visit all of them but of the ones we did see, Schloß Schönbrunn tops our list. This 1,441-room, former imperial summer residence is one of Vienna’s most popular attractions. There’s no denying that Schönbrunn is gorgeous inside, but we enjoyed our time outside the palace even more. Our Spring visit coincided with Schönbrunn’s Ostermarkt (Easter Market). The grounds were transformed into a pastel-colored, retail wonderland. Wood-slatted merchant stalls formed a border around clusters of Easter egg-shaped chairs where patrons sat and enjoyed wine, beer, pastries, and the sunshine. Since it was such a beautiful day, we paid a few extra Euros and let Lucia run around the playground that’s behind the palace. It was bustling with children and families, laughter and little voices. One of my favorite things to do when traveling with Lucia is letting her loose on playgrounds to meet the local kids and interact with them. It’s even better when the kids don’t speak English because then they and Lucia have to figure out different ways to communicate. It’s fascinating to see how their little minds work. Well, this playground experience at Schönbrunn was no different. Lucia befriended a little girl who looked to be a few years older than she (see photo below), who did not speak English. They played for a long while and when it was time for us to go, I don’t know who was the saddest: Lucia, her new friend, or I. After the playground, we ran around the adjacent maze, letting Lucia lead the way. But even with all this activity and excitement, the highlight at Schönbrunn was the kindermuseum (children’s museum). It’s completely interactive and provides a glimpse into the lives of the imperial children. Young visitors can dress up in royal robes and gowns, pretend to be princes and princesses, sit on a throne or in a horse-drawn carriage and have their pictures taken. (Adults can get in on the action, too!) The museum even has its own mascot, a friendly little ghost named Poldi. I made the mistake of telling Lucia about Poldi days before our trip and she became obsessed! From that point on, it was all she could talk about. She even renamed him: Ghostly. I like Poldi better but not as much as the name The Working Dad gave the little fella, which was Frederick von Scary Pants. All three of us just had such a fun time at Schönbrunn and the kindermuseum. We have lots of happy memories from our visit to last us a long time. (Read Lucia’s blog post about the kindermuseum here!)
Hard to believe that Vienna landed at the bottom of our list of favorite cities from this trip, right? It’s no knock against the city; it just had some stiff competition. It’s still a beautiful, historic, and lyrical city, and I’m thrilled to have experienced it with my family.