Ah, Vienna, mecca for lovers of classical music, opera, art and Hapsburg opulence. And, quite often, a mecca for visitors if you live here!
But, what if your beloved friends or relatives have no interest in any of the above? Or are not mobile enough for reasons of age, physical fitness, etc. to take in a typically long day of sightseeing? Then it’s time to think outside the box.
Here are a few suggestions for attractions that will not only be much less crowded than Schönbrunn, but may also appeal to those with different interests.
I always take visitors to this museum, which provides an overview of the history of Vienna—at least up until that awkward period known as WWII. Varied exhibits of art, statuary, tools, military hardware, street signs, and many other objects will keep just about anyone’s interest for an hour or two. Most are labeled in both German and English. Rotating exhibits can also be very interesting; for example, there was a recent show of miniatures of all kinds, most displayed at kids’ eye level. Wheelchairs are available for the less-mobile in your party and there is an easily-accessible elevator as well.
There is a small snack bar in the courtyard, which is good because there are not a lot of restaurants located close by. The closest tram stops to the museum are Karlsplatz on the 1, or Schwarzenbergstrasse on the D. If you take the U-Bahn, exit toward Resselpark and walk toward Karlskirche, which looms over the park—you can’t miss it. However, if your visitor really cannot easily walk two or three blocks, it is best to park just behind the museum in the Karlsplatz public parking garage.
Located conveniently right next to the City Museum, this is the most show-stopping church in Vienna. If you want to show your guests just one example of Baroque excess, take them here. A special bonus is the elevator that takes visitors up to the cupola for a close look at the frescoes. The viewing platform is just scary enough to be interesting, but was no problem for even my grandmother, in her 90s, to enjoy. Above the viewing platform, the more adventurous in your party can climb up stairs into the actual cupola for a great view of the city.
To visit the church, see directions for the Vienna City Museum, above. Note that in December, Karlskirche hosts one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Vienna, with a petting zoo, donkey rides, and other activities for children, as well as a good assortment of food stands.
This small museum, located at Hoher Markt, focuses on the period during which Vienna was a Roman outpost known as Vindabona. The museum is at this particular address because during postwar renovations of the Markt, extensive Roman ruins were discovered beneath it. These are now underground and accessible from the museum basement. Exhibits portray life in the town–which was also a military garrison so there is plenty of soldier stuff for the Guy in your life. A fascinating cartoon shows in great and geeky detail how water was piped in from Alpine foothills to Vindabona through aqueducts.
The Roman Museum can easily be visited in 90 minutes or so. The 1A autobus stops just across the street, or the Schwedenplatz U-Bahn stop is just about three blocks away. Parking is also available one block away at the Hoher Markt parking garage.
There are lots of restaurants in the immediate area for a snack or meal to go along with your visit. Two blocks away toward Schwedenplatz, Bermuda Bräu offers a crowd-pleasing meat and potatoes sort of menu. About two blocks in the other direction, on Rotenturmstrasse, Dai Fratelli is a good upscale pizza restaurant.
You read that right. Yes, the waste treatment plant makes for a very interesting tour, especially for the mechanically inclined. Vienna has one of the most technically advanced waste management and recycling programs in the world, and Spittelau is where most of the non-recyclables go to the turned into thermal energy. Not only will you hear many fun facts about recycling on the tour, but you can admire the decorations designed by the famous Viennese artist, Friedrich Hundertwasser.
The plant is scrupulously clean (of course!) and the tour I took involved just short flights of stairs. It’s quite likely there is an elevator as well, though I would ask when booking the English-language tour.
The plant is located at the Spittelau U-Bahn stop which is also a terminus for many bus and tram lines. I do not think there is parking available on-site, however, a visitor could easily be dropped off at the entrance and a car parked at the garage at Franz-Josef Bahnhof just a few blocks away.
If you have a green-thumbed visitor, they will surely enjoy the city botanical gardens. This is the nursery for Vienna, with massive greenhouses providing plants for all the city parks and public areas. However, there are also a number of small demonstration gardens showing various types of plants for different environments (a Mexican garden, for example), a butterfly garden, and a small petting zoo. The gardens are flat, easy to walk around in, and can be negotiated with a stroller or wheelchair if necessary. (The Christmas market is supposed to be especially family-friendly.)
The gardens are located at the Blumengarten Hirschstetten stop on the 88A autobus from Aspernstrasse U-Bahn stop. I do not know if there is a parking lot at the garden, but street parking is available very close by in the neighborhood. There are food and drink machines at the gardens, but no actual restaurant, so plan accordingly.
If you want to show your visitors some Hapsburg bling without fighting the crowds at Schloss Schönbrunn, check out the Schatzkammer. It is not, strictly speaking, “off the beaten track,” being located inside the Hofburg, but it is definitely not as heavily trafficked as nearby attractions. The Treasury contains many of the most eye-popping objects from the Hapsburg collection, from jewel-encrusted crowns and royal robes to church treasures and creepy reliquaries made of skulls and other bits and pieces of saints.
The Schatzkammer can easily be toured in about an hour. Afterwards, stop for lunch or a snack/drink at Café Hofburg in the nearby courtyard. This café, one of the Landtmann chain, is not the cheapest in town, but it offers good, basic Viennese specialties such as Wiener schnitzel and a truly scrumptious collection of pastries.
The closest public transportation stop is the Michaelerplatz stop on the 2A autobus. The Herrengasse U-Bahn stop is also nearby, and several tram lines stop at Dr Karl Renner Ring as well. The museum offers wheelchairs for disabled or elderly visitors.
The Jewish Museum is actually two museums. The main branch, on Dorotheergasse, has both a fascinating exhibit about the Jewish history of Vienna, and rotating exhibits on various topics such as Jews in American cinema, and “Jewish Wit and Humor.” Allow about 90 minutes to see all the exhibits. I am not sure if there are wheelchairs available, but there are definitely elevators between the levels.
A café in the museum serves Mediterrannean and Israeli specialties, and there are many restaurants nearby as well.The closest stop is Plankengasse on the 2A autobus, and Stefansplatz on the U-Bahn is not far away. There is also a parking garage at Stefansplatz.
A second, smaller, Jewish Museum is located at Judenplatz in the former Jewish Quarter, and focuses on the earlier, medieval Jewish history in Vienna preceding a major pogrom that decimated the community in 1420. The ruins of the first synagogue in Vienna can be toured from the basement of the museum.
Several restaurants are also located on the square, including the kosher Alef Alef to complete the theme for the day! Closest stops are Rotenturmstrasse on the 3A autobus or Schwedenplatz on the U-Bahn. Parking is available at Hoher Markt, about three blocks away.
This is a fairly small seawater aquarium primarily notable for being located in a former WWII flak tower. Basically, the Nazi-built tower, one of six in the city, was too big and sturdy to demolish, so the Viennese came up with another use for it in the late 1950s. Take the elevator up to the top for a fantastic view of the city from a large wraparound viewing platform with telescopes for visitor use. Take the stairs back down to read interesting posters about the history of the flak tower—unfortunately mostly in German, but not too difficult to figure out if you have a little of the language since there are illustrations of planes being shot down from the towers, etc.
There is also a small WWII exhibit in the building which is currently closed due to construction. According to the aquarium website tours are available by appointment, but I am not sure if they are available in English.
And oh yes, there are lots of interesting fish, and a rain forest exhibit, too! The entire aquarium looks to be wheelchair and stroller accessible. There is a nice café in the building with a great view over the city. The closest public transportation stop is Neubaugasse on the U-Bahn, or several parking garages are located nearby.
Finally, there are many short drives in the Wienerwald or in the Wachau that are a good way to entertain less-mobile visitors. Nearby, the view from Cobenzl, above Grinzing, is terrific, and Waldgrill Cobenzl serves up a mean schnitzel or wild boar ragout. Kahlenberg is also a nice place to take in the view of vineyards and the city below, with coffee and strudel at the Hotel am Kahlenberg outdoor cafe. Both are accessible by tram (38) and bus (38a) as well by car.