The front of Schӧnbrunn Palace as they were preparing for Easter markets
Hanging Out with the Habsburgs: A Guide to Visiting Austria’s Schӧnbrunn Palace and Gardens
The Story of Schönbrunn
Built in celebration of the Habsburg emperors’ second victory over the Turks in 1683, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Schӧnbrunn Palace continues to be one of the most significant examples of Baroque architecture in Europe. It served as a replacement to the older Imperial summer residence that had suffered extensive damage in the Battle of Vienna.
It wasn’t until around 1750 that the palace became known as a cultural center. At that time, Maria Theresa of Austria converted the palace to her summer residence and started hosting classical music concerts and elegant balls. It was around this time, as well, that Schӧnbrunn was gaining importance after its establishment of the world’s first zoo.
Today, visitors may tour the impressive 1,441-room palace and gardens, one of the most architectural, cultural and historical monuments in the country. During my recent visit there, we toured the interior with a private guide and then had free time to visit the stables and stroll through the gardens and grounds, imagining cultured life in the 18th century.
Fun fact: What does Schӧnbrunn mean? It's derived from “schӧner Brunnen,” which means “beautiful well.” Legend has it that Emperor Matthias was exploring and hunting in the area in the early 17th century and stumbled upon an artesian well, exclaiming, “What a beautiful well!”
The largest gloriette in the world is absolutely stunning
Highlights of Schönbrunn Palace
The first floor has 40 (!) rooms, all of which are typically open to visitors. Most of the rooms are designed in neo-rococo and Biedermeier style, with white ceilings and furnishings embellished with gold. You’ll notice French-style chairs upholstered in red damask and enormous crystal and golden chandeliers, Belgian tapestries, massive landscape murals and portraits of the Imperial family. Don’t miss the Great Gallery, where you can learn all about the lives of the Habsburgs, from Empress Maria Theresa to Emperor Francis Joseph to his wife Empress Sissi.
There are Chinese-style rooms decked out with black-lacquered panel work and blue and white porcelain vases, as well as two ballrooms lined with frescoes and murals. The Marie Antoniette room - or family dining room - shows off an incredible collection of Venetian porcelain, Imperial dining silverware and fine crystal glasses.
The spectacular view of Vienna from the gloriette and one of the many statues found throughout the gardens
Tell Me About the Gardens
If you have the time, I strongly urge you to visit the gorgeous Schönbrunn Gardens and the Gloriette, which overlooks the castle, the Baroque gardens and Vienna. Within the gardens, you’ll find the Crown Prince Gardens, the Maze, the Palm House and the Tirolergarten at the zoo, home to an original 18th-century farmhouse from Tyrol where you can enjoy an alfresco lunch.
The Palm House, especially, is a delight with its Old World grandeur, glass-iron construction and plethora of flora, including Mediterranean, tropical and northern vegetation. It’s a nice break from the chill outside during the colder months.
Any Insider Tips?
Yes! Check out the award-winning Puppet Theater and attend a marionette opera, such as The Magic Flute or Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (The Bat) performed with incredible wood-carved puppets, a delight for all ages.
How Long Should I Plan for a Schönbrunn Palace Tour?
It really depends on how in-depth you’d like your visit to be. Depending on whether you join the 30- to 40-minute palace tour and garden stroll or choose to visit with a private guide (highly recommended) and include the stables, your visit may take anywhere from one to four hours.
If Austria is in your sights, let’s chat about a day at Schönbrunn Palace. I’ll happily share my recent experience there for inspiration for your own travels.
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