“Vienna with toddler? What about the long haul flight? What on earth are you going to do with her?” Helpful acquaintances frequently asked me these questions prior to taking our two year old on a trip to Vienna, Austria around Easter. In retrospect, I’m glad I ignored most of these comments.
My bucket list trip to Vienna included long afternoons in cafes sipping Gruner Veltliner, attending an opera, visiting the Mozart house, enjoying the several palaces and museums then pausing for a luxurious afternoon nap at the hotel before dressing for a late dinner.
As with many trips since the little V entered my life, very little of that happened. The trip that we actually enjoyed was much better. We enjoyed the playgrounds before an unseasonable Easter snow led us to more indoor pursuits. Having wrapped the little munchkin in every piece of warm clothing we could find, we gorged ourselves on bratwurst and schnitzel. Despite the fogs of jet lag and the language barrier, we learned more about each other. Unlike our normal workaday lives, we spent time together. We collected memories.
That’s the whole point of traveling, right?
From the moment when we walked into the ZOOM Children’s Museum, she began effortlessly playing with other children, though she speaks no German. (I know, I know, bilingualism is the way to go, but it’s very challenging when I only speak Duolingo-German and halfhearted Romance languages while my husband can wade through medical and taco-Spanish.) Sure, there was still plenty of the “this is my toy” and shoving in front of other kids to exact the right to “my turn.” But little V and the Austrian children and their parents simply just enjoyed themselves. At the time we visited ZOOM Ocean, she could steer a ship, maneuver through treacherous waters, untangle herself from octopus limbs, man the engine room, and discover many different undersea creatures.
She asked to go back every day of the trip. Unfortunately, due to its justifiable popularity, we had reserved space two months in advance, and only for one day. Next time, little V. Next time.
Haus der Musik
How can you go to Vienna and not partake in the musical spectacle? Haus der Musik fit the bill for an attraction where a two year old could burn off some jet lag while simultaneously warming up from the chill and sleet. Our munchkin joined in with a school group enjoying an interactive children’s concert (das Zookonzert). On a virtual stage, the children could actually direct the animals just by moving their bodies. Makes you want to be a kid again, right? Even the high schoolers on a scavenger hunt around the museum gave our little 2 year old a chance to play the giant instruments. We spent an excellent few hours (between eating and family nap-time) interacting with the other visitors and watching them try their hand at conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.
Fair warning about conducting the virtual concert: judgments are swift and rival Simon Cowell at times. Thankfully little V just liked watching everyone play.
On the playgrounds we experienced the same camaraderie found at the Haus der Musik and Zoom Ocean. Eager children took turns with her while playing on the basket swing. Though they did not understand each others’ “please” and “bitte,” they shared their sand toys, all kicking off their shoes to stretch tiny toes together in the frosty sand. We found a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities at the Stadtpark across from our hotel, the Vienna Marriott, and joined a school on recess at a small playground outside the Wien Museum in Karlsplatz.
Food also seemed a common language. Little V loved pointing out which dessert she wanted from a glass case. No restaurant offered a children’s menu but none was needed. The Viennese diet of soups, cheese, and spaetzle complimented her two-year-old cravings. The healing powers of soup on an unseasonably cold day transcended a two-year-old’s ability to say Griessnockerlsuppe, but I blame it for her repeated inquiries since for “dumpling soup.” Hotel bellmen smiled at her chattering in English to her stuffed animals, while trying to pass little hard candies surreptitiously to me. “For the little lady,” they whispered.
Viennese candy makes the jet lag sweeter.
The Vienna Marriott on the Ringstrasse fit most of my toddler-friendly-accommodation requirements.
Excellent location–check. Directly across from the Stadtpark which has a playground, U-Bahn station, and Biergarten (and a hot tea and coffee cart, essential when watching little ones play in 40 degree weather). An easy walk along the Ringstrasse to most of Vienna’s best attractions. They also offered a Hertz rental desk inside the hotel, which proved useful when we rented a car to travel to the Wienerwald.
Excellent in-hotel food options–check. This is critical in any toddler-friendly hotel because you never know when they will refuse to wear pants, thus negating all external restaurant options. The extensive buffet breakfast satisfied all of our tastes (why is European muesli so much better than American?), and we frequently had a snack, cup of tea or Weissgespritz in the lobby tea salon. Little V also loved the room service Apfelstrudel, though in full disclosure she mainly ate the creme anglaise. That’s my girl.
Good price–check. Honestly, we tend to spend a little more on hotels because with a toddler, we frequently spend a little more time in the room for naps, etc. than we did prior to her arrival. Rooms at the Vienna Marriott were a comfortable size, and offered the all important bathtub. I don’t know why, but little V is terrified of the shower, so a bath tub is crucial.
As with most of our kid-adapted trips, our visit to Vienna involved a lot of downtime. Because of that, though, we felt rested, and actually got to interact more with the locals than we otherwise would have on a “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” type tour.
Vienna was surprisingly toddler-friendly. All of the U-Bahns and trams we rode had ample assigned spaces for strollers, and people were generally happy to move in order to accommodate our City Mini. At the Naschmarkt, we could wrap little V in a blanket while we ate Indian food outdoors in the 35 degree weather. We also enjoyed running around the various Easter markets.
We still have to see the zoo and the aquarium, and eventually she will be old enough to attend one of the children’s theater productions at Dschungel Wien or a puppet show at Schonbrunn or Lilarum. Little V barely had time to sample all of the confections at Cafe Pruckel, and would never forgive me if she never got to sample the chocolates at Demel after seeing their elaborate window displays.
Hopefully next time my daughter won’t critique my German accent, though I would go again just to hear her say, “affelstoodel.”
What experiences have you had with travel to foreign countries with your little ones? Any communication barriers? How do you overcome them?
A sidebar on restaurants. The food in general is extremely toddler-friendly. These were some of the best restaurants we tried, foodwise: Cafe Pruckel, 1516 Brewing Company, the Naschmarkt, and da Max Huth, a grill house in the city center.
One website I found immensely helpful in planning the trip was Vienna Now. Just don’t tell my daughter the Prater has amusement park rides.