The Viennese palaces of Schönbrunn, Belvedere and the Hofburg (Imperial Palace) are a reminder of the splendour of the Habsburg era in Austria. Schönbrunn boasts a beautiful park to get lost in, Belvedere sparkles with the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection, and the Hofburg gives a great overview of everyday life in the Habsburg Court. We were lucky to visit them all during a weeklong trip to Vienna.
But it wasn’t only the Habsburgs who built splendid Viennese palaces. Every noble family who wanted to be noted by the royal court had a winter palace or Palais, as they are more commonly known, in the city. Today, many of these Palais are accessible to the public in the form of a museum, a hotel, or even a coffee house.
This guide shows you the Viennese palaces worth visiting. Like other historical buildings in the Austrian capital, the Viennese palaces are easy to recognise by the set of Austrian flags and bronze information plates found somewhere on the outer walls.
Schönbrunn Palace history
The palace and gardens of Schönbrunn is a vivid illustration of the tastes, interests, and aspirations of the Habsburg monarchy from the 16th century to 1918. The present form of this Viennese Palace came about during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, who had it remodelled in the Rococo style.
10 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT SCHöNBRUNN
|The palace and gardens of Schönbrunn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
|Schönbrunn is the most visited of the Viennese palaces and Austria’s most popular tourist attraction.
|The historic 1961-meeting between US president John F Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev took place in Schönbrunn Palace.
|Schönbrunn has been used as a location for various famous films, including the James Bond movie The Living Daylights and A Breath of Scandal with Sophia Loren.
|Emperor Franz Joseph was born in Schönbrunn in 1830 and died here in 1916.
|It was in Schönbrunn where a 6-year old Mozart jumped into Maria Theresa’s lap and gave her a kiss after performing for her.
|Maria Theresa’s court household numbered more than 1,500 people.
|Schönbrunn Zoo, which opened in 1752, is the world’s oldest zoo.
|According to legend, Schönbrunn got its name from the spring discovered here by Emperor Matthias. The literal translation of Schönbrunn is beautiful spring.
|At 189 metres long and 10 metres wide, the Schönbrunn orangery is the largest in the world after Versailles.
Schönbrunn Palace Tickets
All attractions at Schönbrunn can be booked individually or in combination. Here is a quick overview of the Schönbrunn tickets.
|Grand Guided Tour
If you want to visit more than one attraction, it’s worth buying combination Schönbrunn tickets. Here are some of the available options.
|Classic Pass (including Grand palace tour, privy garden, Gloriette, Maze, Orangery)
|Children’s Museum & Maze
More useful information about Schönbrunn Palace tickets
- You can pre-book your ticket online to avoid queueing at the ticket desk.
- The guided tours are in German or English.
- Free audio guides are available in 16 languages and printed tour descriptions in 21 languages.
- All attractions can be booked individually or in combination. For example, the Sisi Ticket includes admission to Schönbrunn Palace the Vienna Hofburg and the Imperial Furniture Collection.
- Most of the park attractions are closed in winter, roughly from the beginning of November to mid-March.
What to see and do at Schönbrunn Palace
You can easily spend an entire day at Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens. If we had to choose only one of the Viennese palaces to visit, this would be it. On our last visit, it took us the whole afternoon just for the grand tour of the palace, having fun in the maze, and walking to the Gloriette while exploring the gardens. It’s very obvious why Schönbrunn is one of the best places to visit in Vienna.
Schönbrunn Palace Tours
When visiting Schönbrunn, you can choose between an imperial tour and a grand tour of the palace rooms accompanied by an audio guide or a printed guide. If you don’t like reading or holding something to your ear all the time, there are also guided tours by professional guides. They are great if you want fast-track entry and like learning things that you won’t read in a brochure.
Both tours include the staterooms and the private apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and his Elisabeth (Sisi). The grand tour also provides a glimpse of the elaborate 18th-century interiors introduced by Maria Theresa.
The 40 rooms which are open to the public give an authentic impression of the imperial lifestyle and are furnished in faithful period detail. All the Schönbrunn Palace tours begin with the residential suites of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth in the west wing, continuing to the staterooms and Maria Theresa’s apartments.
Tip: Why not combine your Schönbrunn Palace tour with an evening concert featuring the best of Mozart and Strauss in the Orangery. You can tour the palace any time during the day before attending the concert, featuring two opera singers and a pair of ballet dancers, in the evening.
The vast Schönbrunn Park and Gardens has been a recreational space for the people of Vienna since 1779. Visiting the park is free, although an entrance fee is charged to some of the special attractions such as the maze, privy garden, orangery, palm house, and desert house.
Exploring the Schönbrunn park is one of the cool things to do in Vienna with kids. Here are the Schönbrunn Park highlights to look out for.
- Schönbrunn Maze
This is M’s favourite Schönbrunn Park attraction. The Schönbrunn Maze is much more than just a labyrinth. The area of more than 2,500 m² is full of surprises for the young and young at heart. There are bouncing boards, a giant kaleidoscope, a “chiming climbing pole”, and a mathematical riddle to solve.
Inside the Schönbrunn Maze, you will also find the Labyrinthikon Playground where kids can stay entertained for hours. If you’re visiting Schönbrunn as a family, this is a great place to let the kids unwind after touring the palace.
I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of Schönbrunn in the distance with the gardens in front and Vienna behind. They were most likely taken from the Gloriette, the crown jewel of the Schönbrunn gardens.
Legend has it that Empress Maria Theresa had the Gloriette built so that there was something beautiful on the horizon for royal eyes to rest on when looking out over the park. Over the years, it also served as a ballroom and breakfast room for Emperor Franz Joseph.
The Gloriette looks far away when standing in front of the palace. But don’t let the little distance put you off of walking there. There’s so much to admire on the way that you don’t even realise you’re climbing a hill. Besides, you can spoil yourself with a Wiener Melange and a piece of cake at Café Gloriette when you get there.
Tip: If you’re short on time or physically unable to walk up the hill, you can take the Schönbrunn train.
The Schönbrunn Park and gardens are filled with beautiful fountains. They are one of the reasons why Schönbrunn is one of the best photography locations in Vienna.
The Neptune Fountain, about halfway between the palace and the Gloriette, is perhaps the most impressive of them all. It sits at the back of a big pool and is another favourite spot for taking pictures at Schönbrunn.
Tip: You can also walk behind the fountain for a glimpse of the palace from under Neptune’s feet.
The two rows of statues along the hedges on either side of the Great Parterre (the formal garden landscape in front of the palace) look as though they’re “standing on guard” just for you. There are 32 in total, representing mythological or historical figures such as Hercules, Hannibal, and the Two Priestesses of Ceres.
- Orangery, Privy Garden, Palm House, and Desert Experience House
If you’re interested in gardening and have time, you’ll find Schönbrunn’s Orangery, Privy Garden, Palm House, and Desert Experience House worth visiting. For us, a visit to the maze and a stroll through the main park and gardens to the Gloriette were rewarding enough.
What started as a Menagerie founded by Emperor Franz I Joseph, is now the oldest zoo in the world.
Perhaps the most famous residents of Schönbrunn Zoo are the giant pandas, especially the twins Fu Feng and Fu Ban. As it started raining on our most recent visit to Schönbrunn Palace, we skipped the zoo. However, we did visit a few years back and found it to be one of the most attractive and best-organised zoos we’ve been to.
While entering the Menagerie was free when the Schönbrunn park opened to the public in 1779, tickets to other Schönbrunn attractions does not include zoo admission. A standard adult ticket costs €20, and kids from 6 and up pay €10.
An interactive museum in the west wing of Schönbrunn Palace where kids (and their parents) learn about the imperial family’s everyday life in a more entertaining way. We didn’t visit since M opted to go to the Labyrinth instead. You can find more information about it here.
Eating and drinking at Schönbrunn Palace
An outing to Schönbrunn is perfectly rounded off by a drink and a snack or meal at one of the restaurants or cafés on the palace grounds. There are no less than 10 of them scattered around the place. The Café Restaurant Residenz is a typical Viennese coffee house. It’s also home to the court bakery where you can watch an apple strudel show and taste some of the delicious apple-filled pastry afterward.
We quenched our first with a beer and juice and tried the Sacher Torte at the Schönbrunner Schloss Café. The latter wasn’t as good as the real Mccoy from Café Sacher but it didn’t prevent M from gobbling it all up. We liked this spot because we could people-watch while M played with his paper airplane in the parade court in front of the palace.
Imperial Palace Vienna
The oldest of the Viennese Palaces is also one of the biggest palace complexes in the world today. Every emperor liked to add his own bit to be remembered by. So, although the oldest part of the Imperial Palace in Vienna dates to the 13th century, some additions are as recent as the 20th century.
Although no Habsburg emperor has lived in the Imperial Palace since 1918, visitors can still get a feeling of what it was like in imperial times by touring the imperial apartments, Sisi Musem and Imperial Treasury. Furthermore, the famous Spanish Riding School remains a part of the Imperial Palace complex.
I enjoyed my tour of the imperial apartments, Sisi Museum, and the imperial silver collection without feeling rushed when M got sick and had to stay at the hotel with his dad. If there’s one palace that’s easy to include in a Vienna weekend itinerary, it’s this one.
|5 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE IMPERIAL PALACE VIENNA
|As residence of the Habsburgs for over 600 years, it was also once the centre of the Roman Empire.
|Every emperor added to the Imperial Palace, resulting in a sprawling complex with 2,600 rooms where almost 5,000 people still live and work.
|It’s the official residence and workplace of the president of Austria.
|It was from the balcony of the Neue Burg, one of the latest additions to the Hofburg, that Adolf Hitler proclaimed the “Anschluss” of Austria into the Third Reich on 15 March 1938.
|The Vienna Boys’ Choir still sings on Sundays at High Mass in the Burgkapelle (Palace Chapel) dating from 1449.
What to see at the Imperial Palace Vienna
Empress Elisabeth, or Sisi as she is more commonly known, became somewhat of a cult figure after her death by assassination in Geneva in 1898.
The Sisi Museum tries to distinguish between fact and myth by providing insight into the empress’ life through her poetry and personal belongings. You’ll also get to see some of the most famous portraits of the empress with the tiny waist and the long hair.
BTW: Sisi married Emperor Franz Joseph, her cousin, at the tender age of 16. He doted on her but it’s kind of hard to say whether she was equally devoted to him.
Hofburg Imperial Apartments
See where and how Franz Joseph and Sisi lived in 24 rooms of the Imperial Palace. You’ll discover that Sisi was a bit of a health freak. The exercise equipment in her dressing-cum-exercise room isn’t something you’ll normally expect in the living quarters of a 20th-century empress.
The Hofburg’s interior isn’t as exuberant as that of Schönbrunn. However, I got a better idea of the imperial couple’s life from these rooms than from those in the summer palace. And I love the opulently laid dining table. You can’t help imagining yourself as a dinner guest. Would Sisi have found my conversation interesting?
Imperial Silver Collection
Not everyone’s cup of tea (although you’ll see many beautiful teacups ?) but this collection of porcelain, crystal, and gold- and silverware is quite impressive. I liked the French porcelain best, especially the set given to Maria Theresa by Louis XV.
You must walk through the Silver Collection to get to the Sisi Museum. However, it’s entirely up to you how much time you spend here. I had a printed guide to read because they were out of audio guides on my visit. In the end, this suited me well because I could skim through the boring parts.
Vienna Imperial Treasury
If you think the British Crown Jewels are impressive, you haven’t seen the Imperial Treasury in Vienna. At the centre of all the sparkle is the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation dating from the 10th century.
While you can imagine the German imperial crown on the head of some medieval emperor in long robes, the Austrian imperial crown was never used to crown an Austrian emperor. It was made for Emperor Rudolf II in 1602 before it became the imperial crown in 1804.
Note: Imperial Treasury tickets aren’t included in the Imperial Palace tickets for the imperial apartments, Sisi Museum, and silver collection. The can be bought individually for €12 or €20 in combination with a ticket for the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. Children and teenagers under 19 get free admission to both. The entrance is in the Schweizerhof which can be accessed from the inner court of the Imperial Palace.
Imperial Palace Tickets
The combined ticket for the Sisi Museum, imperial apartment, and imperial silver collection cost €13,90 for adults and €8,20 for children from 6 years.
If you’re planning on visiting both Viennese palaces of the Habsburgs, the Sisi Ticket can save you money. For €29 for adults and €18 for children (6 to 18 years), it gives you access to the following.
|Imperial Silver Collection
|Schönbrunn Palace including the grand tour with audio guide
|Imperial Furniture Collection
- I must disclose that I received a Sisi Ticket as part of a media kit provided to me by the Vienna Tourist Board. The Sisi Tickets are to be collected at the Imperial Palace. Thereafter, it gives you skip-the-line access to the Schönbrunn Palace tour. This is very convenient, with Schönbrunn being the most visited attraction in Vienna. And if you only have one or two days in Vienna, this can save you a lot of time.
Belvedere Palace, which consists of an upper and a lower palace building, is the youngest of the great Viennese palaces. It was built in the early 18th century by Prince Eugene of Savoy, the commander-in-chief of the imperial army, as his summer residence.
Unlike Schönbrunn, Belvedere is very close to downtown Vienna and can be included in a sightseeing tour of the historic city centre. It’s a great spot to escape the city crowds and to indulge in Austria’s greatest collection of art.
5 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT BELVEDERE PALACE
|As part of the historic centre of Vienna, Belvedere is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
|The owner, Prince Eugene of Savoy, never lived in Upper Belvedere but used it as an entertainment venue. He held elaborate balls in the marble hall to show off his importance and riches.
|Upper Belvedere is home to the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings, including the famous The Kiss.
|Belvedere was designed by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, considered to be one of the most outstanding Baroque architects of his time.
|The former palace stables are now an exhibition space where a study collection ranging from a Romanesque crucifix to Late Gothic panel paintings and sculptures can be seen.
What to see at Belvedere Palace
After its heydays as party venue under Prince Eugene, the Imperial Picture Gallery was moved to the Upper Belvedere in the second half of the 18th century. Today, it houses Belvedere’s permanent collection of masterpieces dating from the Middle Ages to the present.
Besides the Gustav Klimt collection, you can see important works by French Impressionists and an outstanding collection of Viennese Biedermeier paintings. Oh, and I did I mention the Van Gogh?
Inside Prince Eugene’s living quarters and staterooms, it becomes obvious why Belvedere is viewed as one of the finest Baroque landmarks in Europe. You can tour the Hall of Grotesques, Marble Gallery, and Golden Room for a fascinating insight into Baroque interior design.
Belvedere Palace Gardens
Like all the Viennese summer palaces, Belvedere’s gardens are something to write home about. It’s regarded as one of Europe’s most significant historical gardens in the French style.
The flowers had started to lose their summer sparkle when we visited in late October, but the autumn foliage provided a different kind of beauty.
My favourite part of the garden is the bit in front of Lower Belvedere. If you’re looking for a quiet, shady spot on a bench between hedges, this is where you should head.
Belvedere Palace Tickets
|Upper & Lower Belvedere
- Kids and youngsters under 18 get free admission to Belvedere.
Tip: Buy your Belvedere Palace tickets online for fast-track entry when you visit.
Belvedere Palace Hours
Upper Belvedere: Monday to Sunday from 09:00 to 18:00 and Friday from 09:00 to 21:00
Lower Belvedere: Monday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00 and Friday from 10:00 to 21:00
More Viennese palaces you didn’t know about
When walking around Vienna you’ll notice smaller palatial buildings labelled with a set of red and white Austrian flags and a golden plate providing information about the building and its history.
These are the city palaces, better known as “Palais”, of noble families who came to Vienna to network with other noble families. The ultimate goal was to get invited to the Imperial Palace!
Some of these Viennese palaces still belong to the original families while others have been converted into anything from concert halls and hotels to apartments and cafés.
Viennese Palais typically face the street, have a Baroque façade, and a courtyard with a staircase leading to the main floor. The showpiece of every Palais in Vienna was the reception hall which also doubled as a ballroom and/or concert hall.
The Palais age ended with the collapse of the empire at the end of WWI. Many of them were damaged in the subsequent WWII, but there are enough left to give us a good idea what it must have been like to be part of the nobility in the imperial era. In our wanderings around Vienna, we came across Palais Kinsky, Palais Palffy, and Palais Todesco. Click here for a more detailed list of the Viennese Palaces or Palais.
Things you can do in Viennese Palaces
Have Viennese coffee and cake
Directly opposite the Vienna Opera, one of the best Viennese coffee house experiences awaits in Palais Todesco, home of the Café-Restaurant Gerstner. It’s still just as grand as when Eduard and Sophie von Todesco hosted parties here. The cakes and tarts are delicious (we had the strawberry cupcake and a yogurt tart) and the waiters very professional in their formal black and white attire.
Stay in five-star luxury
You can really imagine yourself to be of noble descent by staying in the heritage-listed Palais Hansen, now known as the Palais Hansen Kempinski. It was built in 1873 as a hotel for the World Exhibition.
Adding to the grandeur, Palais Hansen Kempinski has two restaurants, two bars, a cigar lounge, a ballroom, and a spa. Why not check if there’s a room for you?
Attend a concert
The Vienna Residence Orchestra performs in the Palais Auersperg, a Baroque Palais dating to the early 18th century. This Viennese palace is steeped in history, especially musical history.
What better venue to listen to one of the world’s best chamber orchestras than in a palace where Mozart, Haydn, and Gluck once wrote musical history. This is also where members of the Austrian resistance met during the Nazi occupation to lay the foundations of a new, sovereign Austria.
The Vienna Residence Orchestra performs Viennese classics in the Palais Auersperg daily. You can book your tickets here. If you’re in Vienna for New Year, you can even ring in the New Year with a concert, dinner and dance at Palais Auersperg.
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