Traveling overseas with kids can be daunting, but direct flights to Vienna from many US gateways cut the hassle considerably. Once in Austria, look for discounts on all forms of public transportation. Often, children below a certain age pay only half, or no fare at all. In Austria's cities, where public transportation is the best way to get around, these discounts pay off. (The discounts don't stop here. Many parks and attractions offer reduced entrance fees or free entry, so always ask before buying your tickets.)
If you just have one day in Vienna, you shouldn't miss the Old Town. A ride in a horse-drawn carriage provides an excellent first glimpse of the city. Alternately, take the Vienna Ring Tram for a tour of the historic buildings along the famed Ringstrasse boulevard that circles the inner city. Stop at the Museum of Natural History, where the building itself is as much of an attraction as its exhibits – which by the way number in tens of millions, and include the Venus of Willendorf, and the gemstone and diamond bouquet Empress Maria Theresa commissioned for her husband. The nearby MQ has a special children's museum, and its courtyards are full of restaurants offering delicious Austrian and international fare.
In the afternoon, explore the inner city. Climb the steps to the top of St. Stephen's Cathedral for an amazing view of Vienna, get a scoop of ice cream or chocolate cake with Schlag at one of the local coffee houses, and visit the Mozarthaus for a diverting introduction to classical music.
Reserve a day for Schönbrunn Palace, its extensive park, and the adjacent Schönbrunn Zoo, which is the oldest in the world. Schönbrunn also has a children's museum, where kids learn about the remarkable lives of children in the imperial court.
Klagenfurt, the capital of Austria's southernmost province, has an almost Mediterranean climate, and its proximity to many bathing lakes makes it a popular summer destination. Though not well-known among Americans – it's not on the popular Vienna-Salzburg-Innsbruck route – it's an ideal spot for an active family vacation. We recommend a car for this region, as it will make you much more independent of public transportation timetables.
Klagenfurt is a lovely small town with a historic city center, and many outdoor cafes. A guided tour is a great way to encounter its assorted historic details and the folklore surrounding its origin. For their part, children love nearby Minimundus, a park featuring a collection of the world's most famous buildings in miniature size.
With majestic mountain ranges to the north and south, the countryside around Klagenfurt makes for lovely walking, hiking, and biking. (Other outdoor sports happen here, too, and any difficulty level can be accommodated.) Your children will love a boat ride on Wörthersee lake, or a visit to the viewing platform on the Pyramidenkogel for a spectacular panorama.
As both the city of Mozart and the location for "The Sound of Music," Salzburg is unsurprisingly a popular family destination. Due to its compact size, you can cover a lot of territory in one day. If you have time, add stops for coffee and cake and other local specialties to stretch out your sightseeing agenda.
Among the most compelling attractions for families is a half-day "Sound of Music" bus tour, which delivers a nice overview of the city and its surroundings. As an alternative, we recommend Fräulein Maria's Bicycle Tour, which covers many of the same stops but in a more active and family-friendly way.
The must-see list also includes the birthplace of Mozart in the Getreidegasse, and Hohensalzburg Fortress, seat of the once-mighty rulers of Salzburg. Next, take your kids on a stroll of the Old Town, where you can browse quirky shops, try on an Austrian Dirndl or a pair of Lederhosen, and discover hidden passages and courtyards amid the city's baroque architecture. A little further afield, have fun at Hellbrunn Palace, where kids will love the trick fountains installed by a mischievous prince-archbishop. Nearby Hallein features the world’s oldest Salt Mines, and to the South of Salzburg, Hohenwerfen Fortress is a spectacular castle with an impressive falconry show.
Salzburg province is magnificent – a realm of rolling hills, mystic lakes, and towering Alpine ranges. Natural wonders are thick here, and your kids will forever remember trips to the largest ice caves in the world, Europe's highest waterfalls near Krimml, or the glaciers atop Austria's highest mountain, the Grossglockner. In summer you'll find hiking trails for the whole family, and in winter, the region has some of the loveliest family-friendly ski resorts in Austria – among them Obertauern or Zell am See.
Austria traditions remain undisturbed in SalzburgerLand. From traditional crafts and costumes to flower festivals, village fairs, and cattle drives: There are many opportunities to experience local culture, and your kids will love the experience. Visit the website of the local Tourist Boards for a calendar of events.
There's no better mix for a family-friendly vacation than Innsbruck, capital of Tirol province. The small Old Town is awash in cultural attractions, spectacular mountain scenery, and local culinary treats.
Start your Innsbruck experience with a stroll through the enchanting medieval center, then show your kids the excellent Museum of Folk Art for a sense of how ordinary people went about their lives here in centuries past. Other interesting sights include the Imperial Palace, where Empress Maria Theresa often stayed with her 16 children; the Imperial Chapel; and the Grassmayr Bell Foundry and museum, where church bells of all sizes are produced and shipped around the world.
For spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains, take a 20-minute ride from the city center on the Hungerburg Funicular and the Nordkette Cable Car. The nearby Alpine Zoo, located at the foot of the Nordkette mountain range, is great for families, too. For another superb outdoor experience, the Zirbenweg Trail is a beginner-level circular hiking path, starting and ending at a mountain-top restaurant; as your reward, try some local favorites such as Käsespätzle, Tiroler Gröstl, Germknödel, or Kaiserschmarrn.
Just outside Innsbruck – and easily reachable with a short shuttle ride -- you'll find one of Austria's most popular attractions: Swarovski Crystal Worlds has reopened its vast park and now includes an entire play tower for kids. To the west of Innsbruck, the quaint town of Hall features an old tower that once housed the mint where the precursor to the dollar was produced. And of course castle lovers won't be disappointed in Tirol. One of the most spectacular is Kufstein Fortress, once a notorious prison for a political dissidents during the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, this province offers a number of possibilities: the Hohentauern National Park in East Tirol; the outdoor Park Area 47 in the Ötz Valley; and the longest suspension bridge in the world, the Highline 179. There are also family-friendly winter sports resorts, at Sölden, Seefeld, Mayrhofen, and Innsbruck, among other spots.
Not quite halfway between Salzburg and Vienna lies Upper Austria's capital city, Linz. The former steel-town on the Danube has lately come into its own as a travel destination, with many interesting art and science exhibits that will also appeal to older children.
Linz has a small historic core, which is the perfect place to start exploring. As European Cultural Capital in 2009, the town has seen numerous quirky exhibits and installations appear ever since. A favorite is the walking path that lets you discover the city from its rooftops.
Like any proper Austrian town, Linz has no shortage of coffee houses. We recommend Konditorei Jindrak for its beloved version of Linzer Torte, the oldest-known cake recipe in the world. If you have time, you can even learn how to make your own here. Thus energized, you'll be ready for a visit to the Lentos Museum, the futuristic exhibits at the Ars Electronica Center, or the Vöst Alpine Stahlwelten. Meanwhile the city's location right on the Danube offers a world of possibilities for outdoor recreation: take a boat ride on the river or rent bikes for the entire family and go exploring the popular Danube Bike Path.
Nearby Linz, there’s also is a beautiful monastery, St. Florian, founded in the 9th century. South of the city, you'll find beautiful bathing lakes, such as the Attersee. Among the quaint little towns of the region, one of the most famous is Bad Ischl, once the beloved summer retreat of Emperor Franz Joseph. The emperor's villa remains a popular attraction. Don't leave without a stop at another iconic cafe, the Konditorei Zauner, famous for its Zaunerstollen and other delicious pastries.
Hallstatt, the picture-perfect village made prosperous by one of the world's oldest salt mines, sits alongside a beautiful lake, and is the perfect location for boat rides, hikes, and general exploring. You can rent a Dirndl, visit the nearby arts and crafts museum, or check the events calendar for one of the numerous traditional fairs and parades. The nearby Five-Fingers viewing platform will test your kids’ courage with glass-bottomed digits stretching out over a breathtaking mountain ledge.