Our Guide to a Family Vacation in Austria
Published on: March 6th, 2019
Last modified: July 28th, 2023
Austria is a varied country - elegant cities, charming towns and incredible countryside all come together to create a fascinating country.
From discovering ancient fairgrounds in Vienna to skiing through the Austrian alps, there are so many things to do in Austria. This is our expert guide to a family vacation in Austria.
One of the most elegant cities in the world, Vienna has topped the annual Mercer Quality of Life Survey for nine years running, and for good reason. Sat on the banks of the River Danube, Vienna is a wonderful mix of elegant architecture, an incredible musical heritage and delightful coffee shops. There’s an endless list of things to do in Vienna, making it a great place for families. Whether it’s soaking up the culture or enjoying a fairground ride, Vienna has something for everyone.
Located in Vienna’s second district, Leopoldstadt, the Wiener Prater is a large public park that houses the city’s most famous fairground. The Wurstelprater, the city’s oldest amusement park, is also the oldest amusement park in the entire world. First opened in 1766, the Wurstelprater dates back to the time of the Austrian Empire, when Emperor Joseph II opened the Prater to the public.
The fairground had humble beginnings with snack bars, stalls and a bowling alley but has since evolved, now housing all of the modern rides and attractions. The most famous of these attractions is the ferris wheel, or Wiener Riesenrad, which, at 65 metres tall, sits at the entrance to the park. With more than 250 attractions providing an adrenaline fix, kids and adults alike are sure to find something to enjoy at Prater amusement park.
There are few better places to take in Austria’s culture as a family than in Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace. One of Vienna’s most decadent buildings, the Schönbrunn Palace was built under the orders of Emperor Leopold I back in 1642, when he wanted to build an imperial hunting lodge for his son. Over the course of the 18th century, the Schönbrunn Palace became a palatial imperial residence and remains as elegant today as ever. It’s a great place for families, as the palace runs an extensive programme of activities for children of all ages.
At Schönbrunn Palace, children can learn about history in an interactive way by playing dress up and donning the clothes traditionally worn by the imperial family. In the twelve rooms on the palace ground floor, the exhibitions are all built around getting children engaged in the story of the palace’s 18th century residents. Using the time wheel here, children can also learn about the difference between imperial children and children from ordinary families; a poignant reminder of the differences between rich and poor families at the time. If a child is celebrating their birthday, the experience of hosting an imperial dinner party – where the birthday boy or girl dresses up as Empress Elisabeth or Emperor Franz Joseph – is also a truly unforgettable experience.
Austria’s lake district is an amalgamation of verdant rolling hills, colourful blooming flowers and crisp, clean air. There’s something here for both adults and children alike, so families are sure to find joy in the art of relaxation by one of Austria’s many lakes. The don’t-miss lakes here are Fuschl, Wolfgang and Hallstatt. At the emerald green Lake Fuschl, families can go snorkelling with the hope of seeing 23 different fish species or relax with family strolls along the picturesque lakeside.
Hallstatt Salt Mine
In Hallstatt, charming medieval townhouses line the shore of Austria’s most famous lake, Hallstätter See. After a wander through the beautiful lakeside town, families can delve into the region’s history with a visit to the nearby salt mine museum. Hallstatt Salt Mine is the oldest salt mine in the world, and within its complex there is also an incredible Skywalk offering a UNESCO World Heritage worthy view. Hallstatt salt mine tells the fascinating story of salt mining, beginning 7,000 years ago and journeying through the Bronze Age. Today, a Bronze Age cinema deep below ground and the oldest wooden staircase in Europe make Hallstatt Salt Mine a state-of-the-art interactive museum.
Known for its historic importance and for being featured in 1965 film The Sound of Music, Salzburg is a picturesque region that caters well for families. With such beautiful and pristine surroundings, this part of Austria looks as though it has been lifted straight from a fairytale. In the jewel of Austria, families can take funicular rides up extraordinary mountains, wander through decadent palaces or shop along the charming old town Getreidegasse.
Mirabell Palace and Gardens
One of Salzburg’s most evocative landscapes, the 17th century Mirabell Palace and Gardens serve as the backdrop for the infamous film The Sound of Music. The gardens here are a real treat for families; its rows of roses and conservatories make it a great place to take a family stroll. The Dwarf Garden is particularly fun for all the family, as it houses a number of 17th century garden gnomes, complete with mischievous grins and thoughtful gazes. The enchanting Rose Garden is lined with dozens of perfectly arranged roses, making it a colourful place for the whole family to find sanctuary. Today, the Orangery functions as a palm house and is also worth a visit – it’s the perfect spot in which to spend a quiet moment.
The palace itself is also astonishing, with the Marble Hall having previously been recognised as one of the ‘most beautiful wedding halls in the world.’ Once you’ve wandered through the beautiful palace and gardens, you can even recreate a Von Trapp family scene from The Sound of Music. During the song ‘Do Re Mi,’ Maria and the Von Trapp children dance around the Pegasus Fountain and sing on the steps of the Rose Hill.
Werfen Ice Caves
Located an hour’s drive from Salzburg, the Werfen Ice Caves are a great option for a family day trip. A fascinating natural phenomenon, Werfen Ice Cave is the world’s biggest ice cave. Extending more than 42 kilometres underground, this pocket of unique natural beauty is a protected ecosystem. The first kilometre of this incredible natural wonder is open to the public, and as you step through the 20 metre wide entrance, the whole family is sure to be astounded. Traditional mine lamps are issued to visitors to accompany them through the underground world, so it’s a truly ethereal experience.
Tyrol is an Alpine landscape like no other; a varied landscape of gorgeous peaks, verdant valleys and historic cities makes Tyrol a year-round destination. In winter, travellers flock here to go skiing and in summer, walking and hiking are the favoured activities. With over 400 kilometres of trails here, there’s something to suit every type of family. Head into the mountains of Tyrol and you’ll find plenty of activities and places of interest. Working farms, waterfalls, lakes and nature parks are just some of the incredible landmarks to explore here.
High Mountain Nature Park
The High Mountain Nature Park of the Zillertal Alps is one of the most beautiful nature parks across all of Austria. Offering sweeping views and unforgettable mountaineering, the High Mountain Nature Park starts at an altitude of 1,000 metres and climbs up to 3,510 metres. With narrow gorges opening into glacial valleys, steep rock walls and mountain peaks, visiting this nature park is a must for any active family. Among the many mountains here, the three most well known ones are the Olperer, Reicehenspitze and Hochfeiler, all standing at an awe-inspiring altitude of 3,476, 3,303 and 3,510 metres respectively. With everything from tobogganing to cycling on offer, active families will be delighted by the variety of Tyrol’s High Mountain Nature Park.