When I learned that Vienna has some of the most beautiful Easter markets in Europe, there was no question in my mind that that was where we would go for Easter weekend. It was incredibly strange for this pastor’s heart to spend these great three days being a tourist even if it was a little delightful to discover that Easter Monday is a holiday here just as every pastor believes it should be. I didn’t attend a single worship service and that has basically never happened in my life over Easter weekend so it was a strange weekend of wonders and delights in Vienna for me.
My kids loved it. They will tell you about the restaurant I booked on our last night near the Prater. More on that later, but if you were to ask them, that’s all that they would tell you about. It had a playground inside after all. It was a toddler’s dream.
I would have thought that they would have emphasized the number of times we told them it was OK to have dessert first. Before we had lunch or dinner, we often sampled the sweet confections that Vienna has to offer but a playground will apparently beat out chocolate.
It has been my hope to add more of this stories of our adventures and share tidbits of our travels through Europe but I seem to have only shared our very first adventure into the Black Forest. We’ve been back several times and now it’s time to share this adventure by train into Austria.
We took the train which was delayed because of track work but overall a lovely ride through gorgeous countryside where the hills are alive with music. Once we arrived, it started pouring. So much so that the cab driver that took us to our hotel laughed as he pulled away from the curb into the downpour, exclaiming, “Welcome to our wet city.”
After we dropped off our bags, we thought that the rain had passed and were eager to stretch our legs so we started pushing the stroller toward Cafe Sacher for their iconic chocolate cake. The rain wasn’t done and we were soaked. Looking like wet rats with all of the other tourists, we waited in line for this swanky cafe where we sat on high stools in the window, clinked Champagne glasses and gobbled up cake and strudel. It was all, as you can imagine, delicious and a wonderful first taste of cafe culture in Vienna.
Note: I had thought we would go to lunch and had picked out Furhrich a block and a half from the museum but we decided we were not so hungry. This is how the whole thing started with cake coming first.
We ventured around the corner to the Haus der Musik where we got to absorb as much as we could about all of the famous composers of Austria while our kids ran at high speed. It is one of those places where there are lots of interactive elements and they were all about it. They wanted to know what was next. I wanted to listen to a little bit more Schubert but so it goes.
I presented my husband with a list of dinner options and he chose Wrenkh. My meat-loving husband who is not so excited about my determination to make us weekday vegetarians chose a vegetarian restaurant. I was shocked but I think he was compelled by the great wine list. When we got to the restaurant, it was past our kids’ bedtime and they were exhausted so I had two sleepyheads in my lap while we ate and drank in this lovely little bistro.
If you’re interested in the other options he briefly considered, there was Plachutta where we might have sampled Tafelspitz, an Austrian beef speciality. I had noted the cheese plate and he still skipped over it. We walked by later the next day and it did look charming, especially the patio space. Schank zum Reichsapfel was the other option, a cozy, wooden wine tavern loved by locals.
HORSEY RIDES AND EASTER MARKETS
Though our kids love a hotel breakfast, we were determined to try something more authentic and walked to the very traditional Cafe Prückel. I had read that it hasn’t changed much since the 1950’s but didn’t really believe it. I’m a pastor. These are things we say but things have changed except here. They haven’t changed here at all. It was gruff service with mediocre food. Thankfully, the coffee was good and strong.
From there, the girls were really excited to tour through the old city on a fiaker ride. It was a cold morning and we got to Stephansplatz early so there was one lone horse and buggy. It was a closed carriage and so there was no tour. We saw things out the window and my two year old waved at all of the tourists like she was the queen herself. It wasn’t what we thought it would be but it was fun all the same. The kids loved it.
We also ducked inside the very crowded and gorgeous cathedral. We lit candles and my girls prayed for the Baby Jesus as they do every time we light candles. I don’t dare correct them. Jesus needs prayer too especially on Holy Saturday.
From the cathedral, I directed everyone to the Easter market in the old city just a few blocks away. It was smaller than I had thought and some of the stalls were a little weird. But, there was a booth with champagne and so we sat on fake bear skin and watched the market unfold with other parents and their toddlers while sipping bubbly. There’s food and apparently a puppet theater though I have no idea where that was. The kids got to paint styrofoam eggs which will be precious free mementos from this trip that we get to enjoy every year.
We were hungry and wanted something other than what we found at the market so we followed the pretzels to Brezl Gwölb. Tucked in an alley, it is everything you hope to find in Austria and just as delicious. We all had soup and it was warm and soothing — and perfect for dunking pretzels. I had the wild garlic soup which was something I’ve never tried before and now want to eat all of the time. I am trying to master the recipe. It was that good. The girls got a kick out of counting the pretzels in the decor and we had a good chat about whether we should buy some pretzel art. We are still on the hunt and I really wish the pictures I took of the restaurant came out. It was so cute.
We wandered back to the Easter market after lunch and made purchases of things we had admired. We had made reservations for 6:30 at Skopik & Lohn but we decided to make our way earlier and trust they would seat us. We were completely surprised to learn that this kid-friendly place I had researched is actually a Michelin starred restaurant. It was just as delicious as you might imagine and they were so great with the kids in this very trendy restaurant.
PALACES AND AMUSEMENTS OF EVERY KIND
I forgot to mention that we figured out the metro. What we should have done was buy two 24-hour tickets for my husband and I but we were not that swift in figuring out the machines. We also really should have purchased the Vienna City Card to discount all of the museums we ended up going to without planning on it.
On Easter Sunday, we planned to spend the whole day at Schönbrunn Palace and we wanted an early start so we went with the ease of the hotel breakfast. Once we arrived at the palace, we were completely overwhelmed and confused by the tour options. We knew we wanted to do the zoo and the palace but there is no package for just these two things so we went with the Classic Pass Plus deal and it included way more than we could ever accomplish in one day and was way more expensive than I hoped. Again, we should have purchased the Vienna City Card. We are still learning on this European adventure.
This is also the site of our second Easter market and really the reason I wanted to go. It was extremely quiet on Sunday morning but we went straight for the zoo to get back for our 2:30 pm entry to the palace. It’s totally weird to me that this is where the Vienna Zoo is but it is indeed on the palace grounds and an easy walk if you’re not pushing a stroller through gravel. It’s a good size zoo too and we didn’t get to see all of it before we ventured to the maze and its adjoining playground. Then, of course, we sped through the palace while my four-year-old practiced her math skills pressing buttons on the audio guide. I assume she listened to some of it while my husband and I shared the other device we were given.
I didn’t find the wooden painted eggs I had hoped to find. The tradition is real eggs and they are stunning but my kids would totally break them and so I didn’t get any eggs at the Easter Market as I had hoped. There was a very unique carousel though that we enjoyed before getting back on the the metro for the Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel. I had been told that the hours change seasonally and though I did check the schedule here, there wasn’t much concern for that. We were surprised as we approached that the Prater is free to enter and you pay for individual rides.
We wandered to the other side of the Prater to find Kolariks where we had a reservation for dinner. This is what my kids are still talking about. When we arrived, we thought we might like to sit outside near the bouncy house and rides. It was cold though so we didn’t really squirm too much when they sat us in a small dining room off to the side of the restaurant with a full playroom with two play structures and so many toys. It was so clean and they gobbled up their buttered noodles between play sessions with sheer glee. It was, perhaps, my best find.
FAMOUS ART AND BRUNCH
Before catching the train, I really wanted to see one of my favorite pieces of art. The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, who it turns out is Austrian, is at the Belvedere Museum which once was a palace complete with the grounds suited for a palace.
We were quite confident in our metro skills at this point which meant that we took the streetcar to a stop that was on the walled side of the grounds and we had to walk all the way around. So it goes. Thankfully, we had filled our tummies with yummy things at one of the nearby Oberlaa cafes. I had read that they had krampfen, the donut treat this city is known for, but the waiter shook his head in disgust when I asked. So we will have to try that on our next visit.
Before we left town, we wanted to eat and tried to get some schnitzel at the iconic Griechenbeisl but it was locked up tight on Easter Monday so we found ourselves at a cafe around the corner for the cafe where we enjoyed a hearty brunch. Brunch is one of those things we miss so it was a delight all the same to find .. We walked around the corner to pick up our bags at Novotel Wien City. We have come to really like this chain of hotels for their family friendly accommodation. They turned the sofa bed in our room into a bed for the girls before we even arrived. It was a nice, simple touch for which we were grateful.
The train back home was packed solid and we couldn’t get seats until the last 45 minutes. Thankfully some kind Germans took pity on our kids and let them crowd in their comfort. They even shared their Easter baskets with our girls.
FOR NEXT TIME
We discovered that Vienna is a city we would love to return to because we didn’t get to do it all including the much celebrated Spanish Riding School and these heurigers that were not yet open in the spring chill. There is so much beautiful country here that it feels like there is endless goodness to explore. Of course, we feel like that about most things in Europe. How lucky we are to live here for this short while and enjoy all these adventures!