Vienna is a very family friendly city, experientially diverse with great places to explore. Unlike Paris, London and Rome that tend to be the more popular European cities to visit, the Austrian capital has typically less crowds of tourists during the busy summer months; providing touring families with autism a unique opportunity to introduce music history and fine art to their children in a less stressful environment. Whether you are planning to visit the city with your special needs child for the first time, or contemplating a return trip, here are our top ten autism-friendly spots to visit.
This lavishly decorated summer palace and its grounds are among the most stunning in Europe and certainly worth a visit. Depending on your child, you can choose to take a short or long tour of the imperial home but allocate time for the magnificent grounds that include a well designed labyrinth and a zoo – one of the oldest in Europe. If walking outdoors for prolonged periods of time bothers your child as it does ours’, take a carriage ride or the budget friendly hop on hop off mini train. For that perfect ‘selfie’ background, climb to the top of the Gloriette and photograph yourself in front of it with the Neptune fountain below.
Special tip: pack a mini fan, sunscreen and, insect repellent
Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
The winter royal palace in the center of the city is filled with priceless collections and exhibits; mostly those of the last two occupants – the emperor Franz Joseph and his still revered wife Elisabeth who lived during the 19th century.If you happen to like horses and think your child can sit for an hour or to two, the palace also houses the famed Spanish Riding school where you can witness rigorous morning practice sessions with horses and trainers.
Special tip: Watch the movie Sissi starring Romy Schneider to understand the historical background better.
Haus der Musik
The House of Music is one of these places that should have been around when we parents were young. It would have changed our museum experiences completely. The interactive and hands-on tools in the exhibits teach scientific concepts of sound creation and propagation. It sure makes learning fun! Our son made his own CD and couldn’t get enough of conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Special tip: Since the museum is extensive, visit their website and plan what sections you wish to visit as it is unlikely you will get to see everything.
What’s truly great about the Technisches Museum apart from the fact there are so many interactive exhibits, is the fact that most descriptions are in German and English, meaning that foreigners can enjoy the experience. The displays include technology and science related machines and gadgets, along with some traveling exhibits that are rotated throughout the year. We loved the music /piano room that explained the development and evolution of the instrument, as well as the section on the European space station.
Special tip: If your child is temperature intolerant, plan to visit in the early summer months as most of the museums don’t have air condition and the rooms get warm.
Natural History Museum
The museum located in Josefstadt is part of a complex of museums that were established in 1750 by Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa and completed in 1889.The building is beautifully decorated with paintings on the ceilings and on the walls of each room.The large and spacious museum houses over thirty rooms with artifacts like rocks, crystals and dinosaur skeletons. A must see is the animatronic T-Rex that is quite impressive and startles unsuspecting visitors as it moves. If you sit next to it for a couple of minutes you’ll understand.
Special tip: Get the audio guide so you can understand what you are seeing. All the written explanations are in German.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)
You haven’t seen Vienna until you’ve visited a Gothic church and Stephan’s cathedral is the best one. Go early as it gets crowded by 9.30am.The dark interior with relics and religious statues are remarkable but if you want breathtaking views of the city either climb the 345 steps to the top of the tower or take an elevator for a couple of Euros.
Special Tip: Check listings for free Church concerts on Sundays. The sound is amazing.
Worth mentioning- The Church of the Minorites (Minoritenkirche)located at Minoritenplatz 2A with its life-sized mosaic copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper on the church’s northern wall.
Vienna’s landmark amusement park boasts two Ferris wheels, one being the Riesenrad that towers over the park’s 200 booths, ghost train, go-karts, merry-go-rounds and historical Prater Museum. It was featured in the unforgettable spy movie The Third Man. Don’t leave without visiting the older rides section with antique rides that will amaze you! You can pay by the ride or buy a thirteen-ride ticket.
Special tip: bring headphones or earplugs if your kid is noise sensitive.
Hoher Markt Clock (Ankeruhr)
Designed in 1913 by Franz von Matsch, the Hoher Markt Clock is truly a unique clock. On each hour, a different historical figure comes out of the clock accompanied by music. It really pleases the crowd of onlookers. The best time to see it is at noon when all 12 golden figurines line up together.
Special tip: It’s a perfect way to end a visit to the old part of the city. It takes 20 minutes to see the entire show so try to arrive a few minutes earlier to catch a good viewing point.
Make this lovely cafe a must stop when you are in Vienna to savor some much needed old time charm. The Baroque architecture within the cafe is noteworthy and the artistically arranged scrumptious pastries will make your mouth water and crave for more.
Special tip: If you want to enjoy your visit, go between meals 2-5pm and enjoy the delectable desserts in a relaxed atmosphere, with the undivided attention of the staff.
No visit to the city is complete without dinner at this famed venue. Make sure you order the Wienerschnitzel that literally hangs off the gigantic plate and comes piping hot. After the meal, walk around Stephansplatz for some souvenir shopping or stop for an apfelstrudel at Konditorei L. Heiner.
Special tip: The restaurant is a Viennese institution so be sure to go off hours otherwise bring electronic devices to occupy your child while you wait.