*note: this post was originally published at expatsblog.com for its annual writing contest*
Although you may have heard that Austria is not a great place to live with kids because Austrians tend to be “kinder to their dogs than to their own children,” I am here to tell it’s not true. Not true at all. Ok, so maybe some Austrians are a little too lovey-dovey with their dogs and may not absolutely love children (there is always that one grumpy person to give your child a reprimand or that look) but rest assured, Vienna is one of the best places to live with kids! You don’t believe me? Well, read on for the top eight reasons why expat families will thrive here!
1. Online resources: Everything you need to know is at your fingertips – literally. There are a number of fabulous websites dedicated to helping parents navigate fun discoveries. Some of my favorite sites include wienextra, mamilade, quax, and sunny (German only) as well as the following English sites: wien.info, viennababiesclub, trivienna, and citykids. Note that you can sign up for email alerts or RSS feed for many of these.
2. Public transportation – the “Öffi’s” (Austrian abbreviation for “öffentliche Verkehrsmittel”): Vienna is not only a beautiful city but also extremely safe and easy to get around. The public transport system is simply wonderful and quickly gets you where you need to go and as an extra bonus, kids six years and under ride for free. Older kids receive big discounts when using public transport and if you are worried how to get your big stroller onto a tram, rest assured knowing that tram drivers are required to step out and help parents get their strollers and cargo inside (and it’s not uncommon for other passengers to help out).
3. Childcare: While there is some difficulty in finding subsidized childcare for the very young ones, there is an abundance of affordable childcare for “Kindergarten” (preschool/daycare) options for kids aged three to five. The city agency MA 10 governs the public providers and offers subsidies for expats showing proof of residency in Austria. Check out these (German) sites to learn more: kinderdrehscheibe, kindergarten. Instruction at most of the preschools is in German but there are a few private providers that offer bilingual (German/English) options as well (see the Vienna Babies Club website for more information.
4. Parks, playgrounds, and pools galore! Vienna does not just tease your eyes with its stunning architecture but also has beautiful and fun green spaces for little ones to enjoy. Some of my family’s favorite parks include Türkenschanzpark, Stadtpark, Währingerpark, and Rathauspark. Viennese parks usually offer multiple playgrounds and often a duck pond. A word of caution: be prepared for your hearts to stand still as you watch your little ones navigate the high rope courses on these “adventure playgrounds.” Also, you will need to anticipate (and embrace) the joyful mess that ensues when your kids discover water fountains that pump water directly into the sandpits.
While you will most likely always find kids playing outside, no matter the season or temperature, there are also a number of fun indoor play options scattered around Vienna. Even though there is generally an entrance fee, these venues help break up those grey, rainy or snowy fall and winter days when you are stuck at home with activity-craving little people! Some of my kids’ favorites include Monki Park, Lollipop, and Family Fun.
And if you want to hit the water, then Vienna is certainly the right place for you! The Danube offers plenty of beach space to allow splishing and splashing during the hot summer days and there are also a number of “family swimming pools” that only allow entry to people with children. And then there’s Dianabad, a real “Erlebnisbad” (experience/adventure pool) in every sense of the word that guarantees a fabulous time for kids of all ages with its many slides, wave pool, floating rivers, and playgrounds in the water!
5. Things to see: Sure you can spend your days here simply wandering the city admiring the beautiful architecture, gazing up at the many church towers, and stepping back to give a horse-drawn carriage the right of way. Or you can do all that in addition to visiting the many interesting museums this city has to offer. Best of all, nearly all encourage young visitors by providing free admission or offering greatly reduced prices. Many museums offer special tours and events for kids and most offer excellent deals for yearly tickets (valid from the date of purchase) so don’t be surprised if you soon find your wallet bulging from all those annual passes.
Some of my favorite kid-friendly museums include the Natural History Museum (with the moving dinosaur), Schönbrunn Zoo (an all-time favorite literally in the backyard of the Schönbrunn Summer Palace), the Technical Museum (aside from trains, planes, and automobiles, there is a big indoor playroom and the exhibits are very hands-on), ZOOM children museum (an interactive museum with changing exhibits and shows), “Haus des Meeres” (the aquarium housed inside an anti-aircraft tower from World War Two), and the interactive “Haus der Musik” (sound museum) that allows visitors to compose their own music and conduct the Philharmonic Orchestra.
If you don’t feel like going to a museum, the kids will love visiting the beautiful Lipizzaner horses in their stables next to the Hofburg/Imperial Palace or spending some time at the Prater amusement park. Yes, there is a year-round amusement park in the heart of Vienna, containing the still operating “Wiener Riesenrad” (ferris wheel) dating back to 1897. Make sure you have some Euros on hand before you arrive, though, as it’s a pay per ride kind of a deal and it’s not cheap!
6. Winter wonderland: I am not going to lie. The Vienna winter days can be long, grey, dark, and very cold. But sometime around the middle of November right up until Christmas, something magical happens. The entire city turns into a Winter Wonderland. Streets, squares, and parks are filled with countless “Weihnachtsmärkte” (Christmas markets) consisting of stands selling anything from beautiful handicrafts and holiday decorations to sweets to food and, very importantly,“ Glühwein” (mulled wine) and punch to help warm up parents’ cold hands. For younger visitors, there are plenty of non-alcoholic warm punches as well as easy kid food (i.e. sausage in a bun or another Austrian favorite, “Langos” – fried bread) and many holiday lights to gaze at. Some markets (check out the one by the old AKH Hospital, Belvedere, and Türkenschanzpark) also offer carousel rides and the market by Karlsplatz has a petting zoo guaranteeing a fun-filled family outing.
And after the holidays, get ready to teach your kids how to ice skate on the “Eistraum” (ice dream) skating rink in front of City Hall from late January through early March. There is even a special rink for little ones and non-skaters that provide plastic penguins for new skaters to hold onto. And of course, if you don’t want to deal with ice skates, just head to your favorite park to build snowmen and sled to your (little ones’) hearts’ desire.
7. Coffee house culture: You can’t live in Vienna without visiting the beautiful traditional coffee houses (daily?). “Wiener Kaffeehäuser” were founded in the late 17th century and increased rapidly during the next 200 years. These Viennese institutions are spread around the city so if your kids are in need of a quick sugar-fix or you need to negotiate to keep them walking, not fighting, or happy for a little while longer, you can safely promise a slice of Viennese pastry heaven. It’s truly amazing the miracles a (huge) piece of “Sachertorte” (famous Viennese chocolate cake) or “Apfelstrudel mit Schlag” (apple strudel with whipped cream) can bring.
8. Beer gardens & Heurigers: Hands down, one of my favorite things about living in Vienna with kids is the abundance of Beer gardens and “Heurigers” (local wineries with restaurants). Did you know that Vienna is the only capital in the world that has vineyards within its city limits? I bet that just won you over to move here in case my top seven reasons haven’t yet!
Even better is that parents can visit these eateries at complete ease – during the warmer months, these places are quite busy and loud and kids can run and play outside among the many benches and tables to their little hearts’ content. And then there are those Beer gardens and Heurigers that provide a playground. You read that correctly; in Vienna we have restaurants that serve (excellent) beer and wine to parents while providing a fun and entertaining playground for little guests. Some of our favorites are Bamkraxler, Heuriger Sirbu, Feuerwehr Wagner Heuriger, and Buschenschank Nierscher just outside the Vienna city limits.
So, when can Vienna expect your family to move here?