On our first day in Vienna, we jumped right in and set off to Schönbrunn Palace, looking to experience the imperial nostalgia Vienna is famous for.
Schönbrunn Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Austria’s most visited tourist attraction. For centuries the palace served as the summer home of the Habsburgs, and to this day reflects the interests and tastes of the Habsburg monarchs. Schönbrunn is considered to be one of Europe’s most impressive Baroque palace complexes and Austria’s most significant cultural monument.
History of Schönbrunn Palace
The Schönbrunn estate came into Habsburg possession in 1569 through Maximillian II. It passed to many successors, who did little more than use it as a hunting ground.
The creation of Schönbrunn Palace can be attributed to Emperor Leopold I. In 1693, he commissioned Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, to build a grand hunting lodge for his son, and heir to the throne, Joseph I. Unfortunately, Joseph died suddenly in 1711 before the palace was completed, halting construction for many years.
The unfinished palace became the dower residence of Joseph’s widow, Wilhelmine Amalie, until Emperor Charles VI acquired Schönbrunn in 1728. Eventually, Charles gifted the palace to his daughter Maria Theresa, who had a fondness for the palace and its gardens.
Under Maria Theresa’s influence, Joseph I’s hunting lodge was extended into a palatial residence. Schönbrunn Palace soon became the focus of court and political life. Since then, the palace has hosted many of Europe’s leading statesmen.
Ownership of Schönbrunn Palace was passed to The Republic of Austria at the end of the monarchy in 1918.
Our Visit to Schönbrunn Palace
We decided to purchase the Classic Pass which included the “Grand Tour” of the palace. We wandered through 40 authentically furnished rooms, including the state rooms and private apartments of Franz Joseph and his wife Elizabeth, or Sisi as she was commonly called.
As we expected, many of the rooms were luxurious, but some were surprisingly modest. The audio guide said that Franz Joseph liked to live more modestly than other royals.
As we were walking around Schönbrunn Palace, we couldn’t help but compare it to the Palace of Versailles. Mike kept calling it a “mini Versailles” but didn’t seem as impressed with it as he was Versailles.
I thought the palace was nice, but noticeably less extravagant than Versailles. It’s actually strange I thought that because the most interesting room for me was called the “Millions Room”. The entire room was covered with rare Palisander wood panelling, decorated with 60 Rococo cartouches. The cartouches framed Indo-Persian miniatures, showing scenes from the life of Mongol rulers in India. It was quite unique!
While our visit was nice, and the interior was beautiful, the palace didn’t leave too much of a lasting impression. Maybe it’s because we’d already visited some palaces on this trip. Or maybe it’s because I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, which always disappoints me, and sometimes even makes me a bit grumpy.
After our tour of the palace we went to explore the Schönbrunn gardens. Gardens are always my favourite part of palaces!
The public was first welcomed to the park at Schönbrunn Palace around 1779. It’s a large area (1.2 kilometres east to west and one kilometre north to south) with many different features, making it the perfect recreational area for both visitors and locals.
The palace looks out onto a wide pathway, called the Great Parterre. The gravelled path is broken up by eight sections of manicured, symmetrical gardens, known as the Crown Prince Garden.
At the end of the walkway is the crowning element of the Great Parterre- the Neptune Fountain.
Beyond that, you’ll see a vast, sloping lawn leading the way to the Gloriette. Go up to the top and you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the palace and city.
If you decide to explore beyond the immediate vicinity of the palace, you’ll find many smaller gardens, fountains and statues. There’s even a hedge maze and the world’s oldest zoo!
My personal favourite, however, was the Palm House. We didn’t go in, but I just loved its unique construction and impressive design.
Interesting Facts About Schönbrunn Palace
- The Schönbrunn Palace has 1,441 rooms.
- Schönbrunn means “beautiful spring”, named after the artesian well from which the court got its water.
- Emperor Franz Joseph was born in the palace in 1830. In 1916 he also died there, in his bed, at the age of 86.
- In 1961, the legendary meeting between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev (Vienna Summit) took place in the palace’s Great Gallery.
- The palace and gardens were inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1996.
- Eight million people visit Schönbrunn Palace, park and its attractions each year.
Tips for Visiting Schönbrunn Palace
- There are many different tours and ticket options available depending on how much of the palace you want to see. All tours come with an audio guide.
- When you purchase your ticket, you will be assigned an entrance time. I was quite impressed with how the entrances were staggered every few minutes, as this prevented huge crowds of people trying to push through the rooms all at the same time.
- The palace is open daily, including public holidays. The palace always opens at 8:30 am. Closing times are 5:30 pm in the spring and fall, 6:30 pm in the summer and 5:00 pm in the winter.
- Ticket sales start at 8:15 am and last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.
- Park gates open daily at 6:30 am. Dogs are not allowed in the park.
- There is a cafe in the Gloriette if you work up an appetite wandering the gardens.
- Try and catch a classical music concert at the Orangery in the evening.
- The Vienna Card will give you a small discount on the price of admission.
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