Exploring Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace: A Visitor's Guide
A few kilometers west of Vienna's city center, the spectacular Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn) was built in the early 18th century in a beautiful park-like setting and remains one of Austria's leading attractions. The palace's history, however, goes back further, with its roots being traced to 1569 when Emperor Maximilian II acquired a small summer palace in a converted mill on this site. After the glorious defeat of the Turks in 1683, Emperor Leopold I commissioned an Imperial palace on the site of what was then known as the Palace of Klatterburg that he hoped would rival the Palace of Versailles. Instead, the more modest Baroque Schönbrunn Palace with its 1,441 rooms and apartments was built between 1696 and 1730, and soon after converted into a residence for Maria Theresa, the only female Habsburg ruler. Further alterations took place between 1816 and 1819, and following severe damage in WWII, reconstruction was completed in 1952.
The Imperial Apartments
While only 40 of the Schönbrunn Palace's 1,441 rooms are open to the public, they are enough to provide visitors with a sense of just how magnificent a place it really is. Only accessible as part of a tour, the rooms on display include a number in the Palace's West Wing, home to the sumptuous Apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth (or Sisi). Richly furnished in 19th-century style, the rooms include the Emperor's Audience Chamber and the Walnut Room, named after its rich walnut paneling from 1766, a highlight of which is the candelabra carved out of wood and covered in gold. Another highlight is Franz Joseph's Bedroom with the simple soldier's bed in which the Emperor died on November 21st, 1916, after a reign of 68 years. Also of note here is Empress Elisabeth's Salon with its pastel portraits of her children by Jean-Etienne Liotard.
Of the apartments once occupied by Maria Theresa, some of the most attractive are the Bergl Rooms, the richly furnished Garden Apartments with their exotic decorative styles and including works by Johann Bergl. Other highlights include Marie Antoinette's Room (Napoleon famously stayed here) with its celebrated portrait of Francis I displaying the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece; the Nursery with its portrait of Marie Antoinette; the Yellow Room with its white marble clock, a gift from Napoleon III to Franz Joseph I; and the Breakfast Room with its fine floral paintings thought be the work of the Empress' daughters. Also of note are the Great Gallery, once home to glittering Imperial banquets under ornate ceiling paintings; the Million Room, Maria Theresa's private salon, paneled with precious rosewood, ornamented with gilt carvings, and home to some 260 Indian and Persian miniatures; and the Hall of Mirrors with its crystal mirrors in gilded Rococo frames.
Schönbrunn Park and Gardens
The spectacular park around Schönbrunn Palace covers an area of 500 acres and was laid out in the 18th century in Baroque style. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, its numerous gardens and outbuildings make it a wonderful place to explore. A particular pleasure is simply wandering the numerous paths alongside the park's flower beds while trying to spot all 44 of its 18th-century mythological marble sculptures. Another highlight is visiting Neptune's Fountain, sculpted based on themes from Greek mythology, including the story of Thetis and her son Achilles.
The park's most impressive structure is the Palm House. Built in 1883, it was, at the time, the largest greenhouse in Europe and contains three sections in which numerous exotic plants are kept, along with hundreds of species of butterflies. Also of interest is the Tyrolean Garden, an Alpine note added to Schönbrunn Park that includes a farmhouse built in 1722. Another must-visit is the Classical Gloriette Arcade on the top of the hill at Schönbrunn. Built in 1775, the Gloriette commemorates the Battle of Kolin of 1757 when Austrian troops defeated the Prussian army of Frederick the Great (it's worth the climb for the superb views of the city from the building's roof).
The Mews, the Theater, and Other Notable Features
The Schönbrunn Mews is home to the Carriage Museum, a collection of more than 60 historical state coaches, sledges, and sedan chairs, as well as harnesses and Court livery from 1690-1918. Located in the former Winter Riding School, the collection features the richly decorated Imperial Coach used at royal weddings and coronations. Also of note is the black Funerary Coach, used to take the Habsburgs to their final resting place in the Imperial vault in the Kapuzinerkirche.
Also in the Palace grounds is the Schönbrunn Palace Theater, the only remaining Baroque theater in Vienna. Built in 1747 by Nikolaus Pacassi, Maria Theresa's favorite architect, its rich Rococo decoration was added in 1767. It was here that the Empress herself acted in plays, while in later years Haydn and Mozart gave both private and public concerts (it's now used by the Viennese Chamber Opera).
Another notable feature is the Schönbrunn Zoo. Dating back to Francis I's menagerie from 1752, it's the oldest zoo in the world and currently home to more than 750 species. Finally, the Palace Chapel dating from 1700 is worth a visit for its ceiling paintings, the Apotheosis of Mary Magdalene by Daniel Gran and The Marriage of Mary by Paul Troger. Another important feature is the Schönbrunn Palace Yard, a former parade ground and a magnificent example of Baroque layout flanked by two obelisks and boasting a lovely wrought iron gate.
The Children's Museum
There's much for kids to enjoy when visiting Schloss Schönbrunn. A must for families with youngsters is the Children's Museum on the ground floor of the West Wing. Highlights include fun interactive displays detailing the everyday lives of the imperial family and their children while demonstrating the stark contrast between the living conditions of the royal family compared to that of everyday citizens. Artifacts include toys, fans, and clothing so kids can dress up as a prince or princess. (For a truly memorable experience, English-language birthday banquets can be arranged with advance notice.)
Touring Schönbrunn Palace
A number of excellent tour options are available for a small additional charge to ensure you get the best out of your Schönbrunn Palace experience. For those wanting a taste of the Palace's many delights, the 40-minute Imperial Tour provides a glimpse into 22 of the best rooms, including the State Rooms and Apartments of both Franz Joseph and his wife, Sisi. For those with a little more time and interest, go for the appropriately named Grand Tour. Covering 40 rooms, this hour-long tour takes in the above-mentioned State Rooms along with the 18th-century rooms preferred by Maria Theresia. Special children's tours are also available and dedicated tour guides are available for those with disabilities. If you are opting for a self-guided tour, be sure to request a free English language audio guide when picking up your tickets.
Tips and Tactics: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Schönbrunn Palace
The following Tips and Tactics will help ensure you get the most out of your visit to Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace:
- Accommodations: For a truly unique experience, book a night in the spectacular Schloss Schönbrunn Suite. This exclusive suite includes a salon, two bedrooms, a drawing room, two bathrooms, and the best views in Vienna.
- Dining: Schönbrunn Palace boasts nine unique dining experiences, from the fancy Café Restaurant Residenz with its fine dining options to the outdoor terraced cafés, including Café Gloriette, with excellent views over the Park.
- Shopping: A comprehensive selection of gifts, guides, books, and music related to Schönbrunn Palace is available from the excellent Sisi Shop, the online store of the Schönbrunn, the Hofburg Palace, and the Sisi Museum.
- Access: The Schönbrunn Palace is fully wheelchair accessible.
Getting to the Schönbrunn Palace
- On Foot: Schönbrunn Palace is a 40-minute walk from Vienna's city center.
- By Bus: Schönbrunn Palace is well served by Vienna's bus services (Route 10A, stopping at Schönbrunn station).
- By Tram: Trams to Schönbrunn Palace stop at Schönbrunn station (Routes 10 and 58).
- By U-Bahn (Subway): The nearest subway station is Schönbrunn (Route U4).
- By Train: Vienna is well served by major rail routes from across Europe and Austria. Schönbrunn station is 15 minutes from the main Westbahnhof railway terminus or 30 minutes from Station Meidling.
- By Road: As with most major European cities, Vienna's city center is a bustling commercial and tourist hub. If driving is essential, park on the city's outskirts and use public transit.
- Parking: Nearby public parking is available. Limited handicapped parking is also available.
- Schönbrunner Schloßstraße 47, 1130 Wien, Austria
While there's certainly enough at Schönbrunn Palace to keep the keenest of history buffs busy for the best part of a day, the immediate area has no shortage of great tourist attractions waiting to be explored. At the opposite end of Schönbrunn Park is the Hietzinger Cemetery, famous as the burial place of such well-known Austrians as Franz Grillparzer, Otto Wagner, and Gustav Klimt. In the other direction, and just a short walk away, is the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien), opened in 1918 and one of the best museums of technology in Europe.
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