I grew up listening to the Vienna Choir Boys Christmas album. Yes, album, not cassette, tape or CD. Although vinyl albums have been surging in popularity lately, this memory makes me feel really old. But what’s Christmas with a little nostalgia, right? Along the same lines of thought, when we were in Vienna for Christmas, I insisted we go see a Vienna Choir Boys performance.
History of the Vienna Choir Boys
One of the most famous choirs in the world, the Vienna Choir Boys can trace their origins back to the choirs of the Viennese Imperial court. When the Austro-Hungarian empire fell, the court choir was disbanded. The Vienna Choir Boys were started as a professional choir in order to continue the tradition. Their uniform was changed to the well-known navy sailor suit instead of a military cadet uniform.
The choir is made up of about 100 boys from the ages of 10-14 who are mostly of Austrian origin. They are divided into 4 touring troupes which among them perform about 300 concerts per year.
The boys receive both academic and musical instruction from the Choir. It must be an intense eduction because they are also on tour about 11 weeks of the school year. Sadly, as with many institutions involving pre-pubescent children, there have been allegations of sexual abuse by some of the boys in recent years.
A Vienna Choir Boys Performance
Every Sunday from September to June the Vienna Choir Boys sing at Mass at the Imperial Court Chapel in the Hofburg Palace. This tradition has been ongoing since 1498.
During the Mass, the choir boys sing from their balcony on the organ loft located above the congregation. At the end of the Mass, they come downstairs and perform a couple of songs in front of the Altar.
Hearing the boys singing in this chapel was a sublime experience. The Chapel is very small because it was intended to be a court chapel of the Imperial family. It reminded me of a theatre because most of the seats are in boxes. Both the nobles and the Imperial family sat in one of the boxes to attend Mass.
We were only able to get two sets of tickets with two seats together so my husband and I took a child each. My husband and son were in one of the boxes and my daughter and I were on the ground floor.
Both the acoustics and the visual display are amazing as would befit a Habsburg. The Hofburg Chapel has a lot less stained glass than Sainte Chapelle, the other royal private chapel we visited in Paris. We were all enchanted by this jewel box of a chapel especially with the clear sweet voices of the Choir singing.
Attending a Vienna Choir Boys Performance
The Vienna Choir Boys have a dedicated website that you can book tickets to attend either a concert at the Music and Theatre Hall (MuTh) or a Mass at the Imperial Chapel. The website also has information on the choir’s international touring dates.
On a sunny day, we considered getting an outside table at Demel, the famous cake and chocolate shop in Vienna, a stroke of immense luck. Viennese tend to hang out at Demel sipping their coffee and reading the paper with no real inclination to leave. It’s old school cafe life with no pressure on the cafe to churn through customers to increase profits. In the shadow of the Hofburg Palace, we had picked the cafe because of its fame and its location which is perfect for a rejuvenating break after sightseeing.
The History of Demel Cafe
Located on an upscale side street near the Hofburg Palace, Demel is perfect for people watching as both locals and tourists throng to the area. The street is Vienna’s equivalent of New York city’s Fifth Avenue but with a lot less traffic. Kohlmarkt and its surrounding areas are chock full of upscale international luxury shops. Traditionally it has been the location of big name jewellery stores such as Cartier and Chopard for when you needed to nip out of the palace to buy your wife (or mistress) a pretty bauble to keep her happy.
Demel was set up in 1786 by a confectionary assistant from Wurttemburg who came to the big time in Vienna with a krone and dream. They hold the title of court suppliers of cakes for the imperial and royal family. During the cafe’s long history, it got into a legal tussle with the Hotel Sacher on who could name their cake the original Sacher torte. Located practically on the doorstep of the Hofburg Palace, the cafe was very popular with the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s aristocracy, including Empress Sisi, Austria’s 19th century answer to Diana, Princess of Wales. Demel did a regular delivery of confectionaries to Empress Sisi at the court.
Demel Cafe, A Step Back in Time
The Demel building itself is a neo-baroque concoction that is in keeping with its fluffy, girly cakes. It was designed by the pre-eminent architects of the time. It’s worth a look to see the inside of the building even if you don’t stop for cake (I can’t really comprehend that possibility).
An elegant interior
There is a charming bar on the ground floor if you wanted a quick coffee and cake. Coffee in Austria is always served with a water chaser – don’t ask me why. There are tables in the back as well as a first floor dining room.
Service was excellent. The waitresses, known as Demelinerinnen, still wear starched black dresses trimmed in white, uniforms which were designed a couple of hundred years ago. I don’t speak German but apparently they have a specific way of addressing customers in the third person which shows respect and deference. Apparently, this approach was used when titles fell from disfavour but you still wanted to kow tow to the upper classes.
In addition, you can watch the Demel bakers hard at work. My kids found this fascinating. They were prepared to volunteer to lick the bowls of cake mix like they do at home.
Hard at work making chocolate cakes
In addition, there is a Demel museum showing items from its history as well as a beautiful gift shop. The museum is only open for a couple of hours on a Friday morning.
The Pastries at Demel Cafe
There are so many delicious-looking cakes, we couldn’t choose between them. You go inside the cafe, pick out the ones you want and then order at your table. You know how much my family and I love our cakes and confectionary. We have sampled our way through many a patisserie, including Danish pastries in California, donuts in Minnesota, tea cakes in England and eclairs in Paris.
So we were four people, and we wound up choosing 6 cakes. Because that’s how we roll. And we ate them all. Every last delicious crumb.
so many choices, all so good.
Visiting the Demel Cafe in Vienna
The Demel Konditorei is located on Kohlmarkt 14. Although the Hofburg is huge, you will find Kohlmarkt is the street that runs in front of the giant domed and arched entrance to the Spanish Riding School exhibition grounds. The cafe is open daily from 9-7. It also serves light meals in addition to coffee and cake.
Undoubtedly when you visit Salzburg Austria, you will be doing something related to the Sound of Music. What about when you have exhausted all the Sound of Music related activities? Although a small city, there are plenty of things to do in Salzburg with kids. If you venture further afield for a day trip, there are even more ways to explore the surrounding countryside of Salzburg with children.
Things To Do in Salzburg With Kids
You take a funicular ride up and down to the Hohensalzburg fortress which perches on a mountain over the town. When you are in Salzburg with children, the fortress is an easy way to please the family.
Although it is the largest and best preserved in central Europe, much of the interior decor is missing due to the ravages of time. You won’t have to walk through room after room of artwork and furniture. There is both a marionette display and a torture museum which my kids found fascinating.
The Hohensalzburg Fortress was built in 1077 A.D. for the Prince Archbishops of Salzburg who had lots of money thanks to their control of the salt mines in the area which gave the city its name.
Fun Fact! Salt was known in the Middle Ages as “white gold” because its trade was so valuable. Until the invention of the refrigerator in the 20th century, salt was a primary means of preserving food.
As you can imagine, lots of other people were eyeing up the Prince-Archbishops control of Salzburg and the source of their wealth. The Prince-Archbishops needed an impregnable fortress to send a “Don’t-even- think-about-it” message.
You hear about the fortress’ long history in the short audio guide tour and some of the exhibits.
The fortress looms large over Salzburg
From the top of the fortress there are panoramic views over the Austrian countryside. We had lunch at one of the restaurants in the fortress. The food was standard Austrian fare (schnitzel for the kids of course) but the view was spectacular.
The Hohensalzburg Fortress is open year-round for visitors.
My kids loved going up and down in the dinky little funicular up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. If I had been a stricter mother, I would have made them walk down the hill because you then pass the gates of Nonnberg Abbey.
Having been established in the 8th century, Nonnberg Abbey is the longest continually-operating convent in the German world. You know it as the abbey where Maria von Trapp was a novice in the movie, Sound of Music. The Abbey’s church is open to visit during limited hours. The real Maria and Georg got married here in 1927 but the movie wedding scene was not filmed here.
Hanger 7 Aircraft Museum
Salzburg kids of all ages will love the Hangar 7 Aircraft Museum. Despite my lack of interest in motorised vehicles, even I was impressed!
We discovered that Dietrich Mateschitz, the man who owned Red Bull, the energy drink, is from Salzburg. He houses his collection of airplanes, racing cars and other big boy toys at Hanger 7 Aircraft Museum in the Salzburg Airport.
NB –Although called an aircraft museum, there is so much more than aircraft at Hanger 7.
When you are as rich as Mr. Mateschitz, presumably you don’t like to be limited by mere words and titles.
One of the planes being towed out of the hangar.
The hanger itself is a gorgeous glass building which also has a lounge, outdoor cafe, bar, restaurant and a gift shop. My kids were duly impressed with all the toys on display.
My kids were even more impressed that Mr. Mateschitz kept his real airplanes (the ones for everyday use) in the hanger next door. We spent quite some time watching the workers move the machines around and “exercise” the planes.
Schloss Hellbrunn is one of the fun historical places in Salzburg for children specifically because of its trick fountains. This palace was built by one of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg in the early 17th century by the same architect who built Salzburg Cathedral.
On a hot day, the Schloss Hellbrun water fountains are just the thing to keep kids happy. This particular Prince-Archbishop had a juvenile sense of humour and lots of money to indulge his whims. The palace grounds have grottos, fountains and even a water-powered theater.
The Prince-Archibishop created trick fountains and water jets which when operational would spray his guests with water. He would stay dry, of course. All his guests would have to grin and bear it.
All of the mechanisms are operated by water-power pumped in from nearby Hellbrunn Mountain.
Everyone except the person at the head of the table gets wet.
Schloss Hellbrunn is open daily from March to November. Christmas is a special time to visit Schloss Hellbrunn because it puts on a very pretty Christmas market.
In the Schloss Hellbrunn grounds, there is also the famous gazebo which was used in the movie The Sound of Music when the oldest daughter Liesl sneaks off to meet local boy, Franz, away from the watchful eye of her father.
NB – The doors to the Gazebo are locked because too many middle-aged people were getting hurt trying to dance around the benches like Liesl in the movie. You might need to bench that particular dream.
The Mirabell Palace and Gardens were built by a Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1606 for his mistress and baby-momma. Having produced 15 children for the Prince-Archbishop, I’d say she deserved the palace.
Today, the Mirabell Palace is used by the city government. You can hire out the the famous Marble Room (the former banquet hall of the Palace) for weddings. Mozart used to perform concerts in the Marble Room.
The gardens are extensive with a fountains, a rose garden and even a dwarf garden. There used to be 28 marble statues of dwarfs originally. In the 19th century, they got auctioned off and 15 marble dwarfs were returned to the garden in 1919. These dwarfs are among the quirker aspects of this city when you Salzburg with kids.
My children enjoyed wandering around the beautiful gardens. Of course, the Sound of Music had a famous musical scene set in the Mirabell Gardens as well when the von Trapp kids are relishing their new found freedom and singing Do-Re-Mi.
The Mirabell Gardens just make you want to Do Re Mi around the flowerbeds.
Old Town Salzburg or Altstadt is an enjoyable place to explore. It is pedestrianised which meant I could less vigilant with my children’s need to stand in the middle of the road and gape at things.
Old Town Salzburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Center sandwiched between the Salzach river and the mountains. It’s got many beautiful buildings including many churches as well as the entrance to the funicular (or the road) to the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
As well as historical buildings, there are a lot of stores and restaurants in the area as well that make Salzburg fun for kids to explore. Located so close to Italy, we found several excellent pizzerias in Salzburg (for when your kids get tired of schnitzel).
Exploring the Environs of Salzburg With Children
Berchtesgaden and the Bavarian Alps
Salzburg, surrounded by lakes and mountains, is very near the border with Germany. We visited the beautiful town of Berchtesgaden on the German side of the Bavarian Alps. Berchtesgaden is only about 18 miles away from Salzburg.
The beautiful town of Berchtesgaden
Nazi Summer Camp
Hitler was a fan of the area. He had his summer residence a couple of miles away in the Obersalzberg region. The main Nazis also had homes nearby.
Hitler’s former home was destroyed after World War II and no trace of it has been left. One of the other Nazi homes is now the location of the Kempinksi Hotel Berchtesgaden.
A book with photos of the Nazi complex as they would have existed.
I was told that the Nazi homes were connected by tunnels that went for miles under the mountains. I chose not to tell my kids about the Nazi tunnels because I’m sure they would have wanted to check it out. I saw a sign for it on one of the buildings although I was under the impression that the tunnels were mostly closed.
The Eagle’s Nest
The Eagle’s Nest was the 50th birthday present for Hitler from the Nazi party. It’s perched on top of a rocky outcrop and accessed by a 400 foot elevator shaft. Hitler used The Eagle’s Nest less than 20 times overall because he was paranoid about being trapped and killed in the elevator shaft.
Hitler was supposed to have both claustrophobia and a fear of heights. The Eagle’s Nest then was not the most well thought out gift!! Eva Braun, Hitler’s girlfriend, used the Eagles’ Nest much more than him.
Today the Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant. You can take a bus up to the Eagle’s Nest from Obersalzburg or hike for 2 hours like my son’s Boy Scout Troop did.
Berchtesgaden is also a short ride away from Lake Konigsee, one of the most beautiful lakes in the area. It is part of the Berchtesgaden National Park and renowned for being super-clean. We had a wonderful day exploring Lake Konigsee and could easily have stayed longer.
As you know by now, Salzburg was a very rich little city thanks to the access the Prince-Archbishops had to ‘white gold’. The Salt Mine at Hallein has guided tours of their salt mine which has been churning out salt for 7000 years.
Children need to be at least four years old to visit the mines. You don white jumpsuits and hop on a little train which takes you into the mine. Once inside the mine, you get around by either walking or going down one of the wooden slides. These slides were great fun! Miners used slides to get deeper into the mountain quickly. The miners had to walk back up to get out but luckily we did not have to. Inside the mine, there is an audiovisual program about mining which some adults might find cheesy. My kids liked it, cheesy or not.
As part of the salt mines, they have established a Celtic Museum on the grounds showing how the Celts lived in the area. The Celts were the first to mine salt. Your entry into the salt mines includes a ticket to the Celtic Museum.
If you thought Salzburg was all about The Sound of Music and Mozart, these activities prove that there is plenty of history, museums and outdoor fun to keep a family happy and busy on a visit to Salzburg with kids.
We paid for all of the activities mentioned in this articles ourselves. This article does contain affiliate links which will provide us with a small commission should you click on them but at no cost to you.
Tips for Family Travel In and Near Salzburg
Visiting Salzburg with kids is ideal because it is a compact city and easily walkable. We spent 2-3 hours on each of the activities within Salzburg.
NB – Wear sensible shoes because the cute cobblestones will wear your feet down otherwise.
With respect to what to do in Salzburg’s environs:
Both the Berchtesgaden and the Salt Mines were part of day trips we took.
We flew into Munich because the flights were more frequent and cheaper. There aren’t that many flight options into Salzburg Airport itself.
The drive from Munich to Salzburg is only about 70 miles and takes less than 2 hours on the Autobahn.
NB – If you drive into Austria from Germany,you need to buy a pesky little Austrian car permit at the border which will let you drive on Austria’s highways. Called a vignette, these stickers are not expensive (about €9 for 10 days).
We stayed in the historic centre of Salzburg at the Hotel Kasererbrau in a family suite which had two bedrooms and one bathroom. The hotel’s good value included a great location and a buffet breakfast.
Although located in a pedestrianised area, our taxi brought our bags to and from our hotel. I liked being in a pedestrianised area as well because then I could let the children explore the street more freely without fear of them getting run over by a car.
We hired our rental car through Hertz which we had for the trip from Munich until Salzburg. My husband took the car to Munich when he went back to work in London. In Salzburg, we walked or used taxis. The children and I continued onwards to Vienna, and we thought the Austrian train service is excellent!
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If you’re heading to Austria and wondering what to do in Salzburg, you’re in luck. Although a small city, there are plenty of things to do in Salzburg with kids. You can explore the town or venture further afield for a day trip. In fact, there are a ton of opportunities and destinations to explore the surrounding countryside of Salzburg with children.Check out our favorite Salzburg travel tips and our Salzburg travel guide for the whole family. #salzburg #austria #familytravel #travelitinerary
Wondering what to do in Salzburg? Although a small city, there are plenty of things to do in Salzburg with kids. If you venture further afield for a day trip, there are even more ways to explore the surrounding countryside of Salzburg with children.Check out these Salzburg travel tips. #salzburg #austria #familytravel #travelitinerary #soundofmusic
Heading to Salzburg soon? Check out the best things to do in Salzburg, Austria, with kids. In this Salzburg travel guide you’ll find plenty of Salzburg travel tips and fun ideas for activities in and around Salzburg with your family. #salzburg #austria #kidfriendly
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When we were in Vienna in December, we went to see the famous Viennese Lipazzaner stallions do their morning exercises. It was a bit of disappointment because the horses just trotted around the ring. You really need to have a deep appreciation for horses to spend two hours admiring them walking in circles. Neither the kids not I were that sophisticated.
This last trip to Vienna I was smarter and booked the right tickets at the Spanish Riding School. I coughed up the money for the rather more expensive Saturday morning display. Lasting an hour, this show was rightfully described as akin to horse ballet.
All set for the drama about to unfold.
I booked expensive tickets so that the kids could get a seat on the first floor. With the high railings, it would have been hard for them to see otherwise. There are cheaper tickets for seats on the higher floor and also for standing room. It was a very popular show with people jostling to get a better view.
How beautiful is this show ring? The baroque building the horses use as their exercise/display space was built in 1735. I did think that these horses had a day room for a building which was better than the homes of most of the world’s population.
Coffered ceilings and chandeliers – nothing but the best for these horses!
The show was split into several segments with accompanying classical music. The horse and riders displayed traditional elements of dressage and choreographed dances.
One dance involved a stallion doing the moves on its own with the rider holding his crop hand in the air as if he were holding a sword. The stallion knew what to do with just the most gentle nudging. I was also impressed when eight horses performed a quadrille in perfect sync.
Called ‘above the ground’, there was a display of the horses who were able to jump and kick. These movements are merely acrobatic now but they were honed in the old days to prepare the horses for battle.
I was most amazed when the horses sidestepped across the ring. Seriously. Crossing all four of their legs. I was told this feat was really hard to master. I can believe it! I can’t sidestep gracefully with only two legs!!
The riders go through a rigorous training process over the course of years. Sort of like the no-makeup makeup look, a lot of work and discipline went into making the displays flow seemingly effortlessly.
The riders looked very dashing in their 19th century cavalry officers’ uniforms. We were told the tailcoats had a special pocket with treats for the horses.
Was the Saturday show worth the money? Depends on your perspective. My kids paid full attention and loved it. I know nothing about horses but was still impressed. The nice lady next to me who has owned a horse all her life was rapturous about their beauty and agility. The ticket prices are similar to those you would pay for a top end opera or a ballet, which is effectively the quality of the performance you are getting.
As for me, I don’t think my Vienna Riding School days are over. The kids have put in a request to visit the Lipazzaner stud farm at Piber in Austria where the you can watch the horses get trained.
Salzburg is known by many as the setting for one of the most famous films of all time, The Sound of Music. In fact, every year about 300,000 visitors flock to the city to recreate the songs and story from the film. Do you want to stay in a hotel associated with The Sound of Music?
I have found two great options – one is Villa Trapp which is the actual home of the real von Trapps depicted in the movie. The Schloss Leopoldskron is the von Trapp home from the movie, a Hollywood reimagination of what the von Trapp home would have looked like if the family had oodles more money.
The Villa Trapp is located in the outskirts of Salzburg. Open as a hotel since 2008, the management have worked with the actual remaining members of the von Trapps to make the house as authentic as possible. Maria von Trapp visited the hotel at its inauguration thanks to a private plane lent by a Salzburg local, the owner of Red Bull. She was able to provide lots of details of how the family lived.
For example, this Chinese chair was a gift to Georg von Trapp for his defense of Austrian interests during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Presumably they abandoned it because it was too heavy to unobtrusively sneak over the border.
The von Trapps were pretty unhappy with Hollywood movie version of their father. Unlike the serious disciplinarian played by Christopher Plummer, the actual Georg von Trapp was a loving father and somewhat of a pushover. Yes, he did use a whistle, but it was only because the von Trapps had the largest private garden in Salzburg at the time. The sound of the whistle would carry better than his voice over the acres of gardens because the children were usually playing outside.
The History of Villa Trapp
Georg von Trapp bought the house which had been built in 1863 from the previous owner, his uncle. After his first wife died, Georg von Trapp wanted a country house to raise his children. The von Trapps lived at this house from 1923 to 1938.
When the von Trapps fled the Nazis, they rented the house to the neighbouring Missionaries of the Holy Blood. The house then was appropriated by Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s feared commander of the SS and Gestapo, for his personal. The grounds were used for barracks and the walls were covered with barbed wire to create a compound.
Hitler would meet at Himmler’s house in order to hatch their nefarious plans. One story says that on one visit to Himmler, Hitler overheard a German guard whistling a Russian song which infuriated him so much, he had all of the guards on duty shot.
After the fall of the Nazis, the von Trapps convinced the Missionaries of the Holy Blood to purchase the house. The order built a chapel in Himmler’s office in order to cleanse the house of its bad karma. It was only in 2008, that the Order partitioned off part of the estate and allowed the house and some of the grounds to be opened as a hotel.
The Interiors of Villa Trapp
The 14 bedroom villa makes a charming and peaceful hotel in a secluded location. Here is the staircase where according to Maria von Trapp, the children would slide headfirst on their stomachs down the bannister. You can also see the door that the daughter Maria (renamed in the movie to avoid confusion) locked behind her when the von Trapps left for the last time in 1938.
The living room is a welcoming and comfortable space which opens out into the garden.
From top to bottom: a photo of the von Trapp family with the first Mrs. von Trapp; the rear of the house and the enormous garden; the dining room (one of the earlier scenes from the movie where all the children burst into tears); the room of the children are individually labelled from Maria von Trapp’s memory; and Maria von Trapp’s bedroom (where the famous song My Favourite Things was sang in the movie).
Villa Trapp is a beautiful large house with extensive gardens but it is not the lakeside castle pictured in the movie. For the Hollywood film, the exteriors were from Schloss Leopoldskron (for the back) and Schloss Frohnburg (for the front). The interiors were sets recreated in a Hollywood studio.
The Leopoldskron castle is truly impressive both on the inside and out. Movie scenes could only be shot on the outside of the castle because it was in private hands at the time the film was being made.
The castle is a frothy white and gold confection created in 1736 for the family of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Leopold von Firmian. Yes, you read that right. The Prince-Archbishops of Salzburgs were not so big on the vow of celibacy. Anyway, Leopold loved the house so much, his heart is buried in the Castle’s chapel even though his body is at Salzburg Cathedral.
The Sound of Music At Schloss Leopoldskron
The artificial lake was used in the scene in the movie when Julie Andrews and the children fall out of the boat. Then everyone has lemonade on the terrace (photo above).
The gazebo from the song “16 Going On 17” used to be in the grounds of the castle but had to be removed to Schloss Heilbrunn because so many people wanted to see it. You may also remember it from the song “Something Good” when Georg and Maria pledge their love. The actual pavilion used in the movie was a larger model that was recreated on a Hollywood set.
The Venetian Room in the Schloss was recreated in its entirety in Hollywood for the ball room scene in the film.
The Hotel at Schloss Leopoldskron
There has been a hotel at Schloss Leopoldskron since 2014. Many of the bedrooms are located in the Meierhof, another building on the grounds which is not the castle. It’s definitely not as spectacular but then the prices no doubt are cheaper.
The Schloss has been restored to its former grandeur. You really do get a sense of how much wealth the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg had thanks to the production of salt.
The breakfast room in the Schloss is a two-story grandiose room. You definitely get the impression that you are in a castle!
The grounds at the Schloss are great. My children had fun chasing ducks and playing on a swing hung from the tree. The hotel manager told me that they are family-friendly insofar as children are welcome at the hotel but there are no specific facilities for children. Families do have access to the public park (right outside the grounds of the Schloss) which has a pool and a mini golf.
Details for Visiting Villa Trapp and Schloss Leopoldskron:
Villa Trapp is located at Traunstrasse 34, Salzburg 5026. There are bus and train connections to the hotel. It is not, however, the easiest to access if you don’t have your own car. The website is in English and is pretty informative. If you choose to stay elsewhere, you can just do a tour of the Hotel with an advance booking (which is what we did).
Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron is much closer to the old town section of Salzburg. It is located at Leopold Leopoldskronstarasse 56-58, Salzburg 5020. You need to be a hotel resident to have access to its grounds or otherwise join in one of their public events (such as the Sunday brunch or Shakespeare in the Park events). The Meierhof has 55 rooms and the Schloss has six suites.
I might have gotten out of going to an amusement park in the Costa Brava in Spain but it was another story in Vienna. Having heard that the rides were a bit on the scary side I went to the oldest amusement park in the world, the Prater in Vienna, with a little hesitation. My kids were thrilled, however, because they are adrenaline junkies. And they are also too young to worry about safety.
History of the Prater in Vienna
The Prater is a public park in Vienna famous for its amusement park. It started out as a hunting ground for the Emperors of Austria until Emperor Josef II decreed the land a public recreation area. What eventually became the amusement park soon followed the establishment of restaurants and cafes. The oldest amusement park in the world, you can convince yourself that a visit to the Prater really counts as cultural sightseeing.
The giant Ferris Wheel at one of the entrances to the amusement park, the Wiener Riesenrad, was built in 1897 to celebrate the golden jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. For about 65 years, this Ferris Wheel was the tallest one in the world and has become of symbol of Vienna.
It’s not all historical. Check out this mermaid which has been made to look like Austrian Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst.
The Positives For Prater
This amusement park is the first one I’ve been which is based on your child’s stated age not height. No, there is no proof of age either. My daughter was delighted she could go on many of the big rides because she is very petite. Most people would think she was younger than she is.
There are a lot of rides of varying thrill levels. My kids love roller coasters and I counted at least 8. I saw 2 each of the Ferris Wheels and the haunted houses. You don’t usually get so many in one park.
There are also water rides which came in handy on a hot day like the day we were there.
There are also the usual games and food vendors. There doesn’t seem to be any restriction on bringing food into the park. Presumably they feel gouging you on the ride tickets is enough.
For little children, there is a dedicated small ride area as well as a 75 year old little train that toots around the park. The Prater is also the sight of the local Madame Tussaud’s and Planetarium if you want to avoid rides altogether.
The Negatives for Prater
Can I tell you how much I hate parks that are pay per ride? The little rides are 2-3 Euros each but the bigger rides range from 4-5 euros. With two kids it really adds up. Especially when there are no queues and each kid can just jump on a ride and be fine 2 minutes later.
I also hated this carousel ride which featured real ponies shackled to a cart going around in circles. I can’t believe they have these rides anymore!! I felt so sorry for those poor ponies.
What about the scare factor? Austria’s lack of litigation culture means it has less of a nanny-state culture. Parents definitely need to use their judgment on what rides are appropriate. Some of the rides are scarier than the others. There is one ride called Ejection Seat that looked like a giant rubber band which for 15 Euros will catapult you at 14 meters per second into the stratosphere. I was nauseous just looking at it.
The Praterturm took the otherwise innocuous fairground ride that is a spinning swing and super-sized it. Spinning 110 meters high above Vienna, it is the highest spinning swing in the world.
The Prater Park
In an effort to distract them from the thrill rides I hired a family bike/rickshaw. It was really good value starting at 5 Euros for half an hour. We peddled around the park near the Prater enjoying the sunshine and people watching.
A menace to Viennese society
More accurately I peddled and the children fought over who got to ring the bell. Randomly they would also try to steer in the opposite direction and/or pull on the brake. We were not a coordinated family and lurched around the park like drunken sailors on shore leave.
By the end of this hair raising and tiring cycle ride, I was ready to pay for thrill rides again.
Visiting The Prater
The Prater is very easy to reach by public transportation (Praterstern station on either line U1 or U2). It’s open daily from 10AM to midnight all year round. Peak season is from March until October. Individual attraction opening hours may vary. Entry is free to the park itself but you pay individually for rides.
The bike rental has a lot of bikes of varying sizes for children and adults as well as 2-4 people rickshaws to rent.