Vienna: Tour of Schönbrunn Palace

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Day 14 of 18…

Situated six kilometres from the city centre is Schloss Schönbrunn.  It is one of Vienna’s most valuable cultural assets and also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Schönbrunn was the favourite summer residence of the ruling Habsburg family whose dynasty spanned six centuries.  The palace dates back to the 14th century when it was still a hunting lodge and it came into the possession of the Habsburgs in 1569.  Several alterations have been made to the palace over the centuries and much of what we see today is from the more recent renovations during the time of Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) up to the time of her great-great grandson Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830-1916).

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Our family unanimously agreed that Schönbrunn is probably the best palace we’ve ever visited.   Photo credit: https://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/visitor-information/opening-times/

Schönbrunn is easily Vienna’s most popular tourist destination so planning your visit is very, very important.   We arrived at the palace around 2pm.  It was the day before New Year’s Eve, the Visitor Centre was packed to the brim!  So many disappointed faces when the announcement came that over-the-counter tickets for the day had all been sold.

Lucky us, and I say this with a grateful heart, we thought of making reservations a few weeks in advance.  You see, we wanted to do the Grand Tour (the longer of the two tours) and have an expert guide with us so that we could learn as much as we could about the Habsburgs.  (Check the end the of this blog on how we acquired our tickets)

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Christkindlmarkt in front of Schönbrunn during the time of our visit. 

The tour was wonderfully insightful.  Our kids found the 50-minute history immersion far from boring.  They especially liked the trivia that went with every one of the 40 rooms that we explored. Our family unanimously agreed that Schönbrunn is probably the best palace we’ve ever visited.  My hubby said that he was impressed with the planning I did for this one.

The furnitures, ceilings and walls were fit for a king (or an empress, of course).  And the paintings, oh the paintings, were breathtaking!

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At the Hall of Ceremonies hung remarkable paintings of the grand wedding celebration of Joseph II (heir-apparent, son of Maria Theresa) to Isabelle of Parma in 1760.  Only the royal family sat at the table.  Members of aristocratic families where the ones who served them food, and the rest of the guests were just standing, watching the family eat. Photo credit: Google Maps/Earth
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Emperor Franz Joseph I’s Bedroom. Notice his small iron bed. He is said to have been a thrifty emperor during his time. He died on this bed in 1916 at age 86. Photo credit: Google Maps/Earth
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The Carousel Room was the antechamber or waiting room for audiences of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Franz Stephen (Franz I).  The largest painting in the room is the Ladies’ Carousel (by Martin van Meytens, 1743).  Photo credit: Google Maps/Earth
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The palace’s most famous residents were Empress Maria Theresa, her husband and their 13 children (the 3 others died as infants).  These children had become Austria’s precious political assets.  Painting by Martin van Meytens, c 1754/55.
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While other countries went to war, Maria Theresa married her children off to other nations to form strategical alliances. Hence the quote, “Let others wage war.  Thou, O happy Austria, marry.”  The most famous among her children was Marie Antoinette who married the future King Louie XVI of France.  We know what happened to her during the French Revolution, right? Sentenced to death and was guillotined.
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Another famous resident was the intriguing, reluctant empress, Elisabeth (1837-1898).  Emperor Franz Joseph I fell in love with her instantly and married her when she was just 16 years old.
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Elisabeth, ‘Sisi’ as she was called by family and friends, was beautiful.  Her almost ankle-length hair took at least two hours to comb daily by her ladies in waiting.   Speaking of hair, we learned that during that time people did not often wash their hair, once in one or two months at most. Ewww!  I don’t know how true though, that before the time of Sisi, monkeys were used to pick fleas from people’s hairs.  Commoners do this flea-removal exercise  in the town square and markets, hence probably the origin of the term ‘flea market’.
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That large ceramic structure on the right was the heating stove that kept the palace warm during winter.  Style is also Rococo like the rest of the Baroque palace.
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These paintings of Maria Theresa’s daughters in the Balcony room were painted by Martin van Meytens, the court painter.
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The Vieux-Laque Room is the memorial room for Maria Theresa’s husband, Emperor Franz Stephan who died before her in 1765 at age 57.
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This was our group in the Great Gallery.  It was a privilege for us to be able to stand in the same room where Vienna’s monarchy used to hold grand balls and festive banquets.  
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The Great Gallery is 43 metres-long of glossy white-and-gold stucco walls, with tall crystal glass mirrors and staggeringly beautiful ceiling frescoes. 
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Outside the palace halls was the Christmas market where we had some hot choco before heading back to the city centre.
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We would go back if given the opportunity to visit this magnificent city again. I love this picture of the palace, although the four guys in the photo were not us. 🙂

Okay now; how to get tickets for this palace…

  • There are at least two tours that visitors could do – the Imperial Tour which covers 22 rooms or the Grand Tour which covers 40 rooms.  We did the 40 rooms.
  • A ticket would give access to the rooms plus an audio guide.
  • They have a strict admission system – timed entry, but this I think is what gives the visitors the best chance of completely enjoying the experience.
  • There are a few ways to acquire a ticket.
    • The most obvious would be over-the-counter especially for tourists with no fixed itinerary.  But now we know how this could end.
    • One other way is to purchase a ticket from their website where you’ll be asked to fix the date and the time of entry. This includes the audio guide. 
    • Another is getting a Vienna Pass, which gives you access to over 60 attractions in Vienna but of course this is more expensive and for Schönbrunn, there is no guaranteed entry on the day that you decide to go to the palace.  Check out the disclaimers/tips on Vienna Pass website first.
  • For us, we wanted to have an expert tour guide from the palace and not just an audio guide and so a few weeks before our trip, we made a reservation via email.  The reservation includes the ticket for the Grand Tour, the tour guide and what looked like a ‘fast pass’ where we went past everybody else.  They gave us a confirmation email which we took to the Visitor Centre, where we then paid for our tickets.  There were only 15 of us.  Our tour started at exactly 3pm.  This tour runs only twice a day, so we were among just 30 lucky people who got to do this amazing tour.

Here are the other posts on our holiday in Bavaria and Austria:

  1. Munich: Start of our family’s tales from last winter
  2. Munich: Viktualienmarkt Biergarten
  3. Munich: BMW Museum and BMW Welt
  4. Munich: Theatine Church and Odeonplatz
  5. Munich: Christmas Markets
  6. Munich: Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall
  7. Munich: City Aparthotel München
  8. Salzburg: Birthplace of Mozart and Silent Night
  9. Salzburg: Hohensalzburg Fortress 
  10. Salzburg: Residenzplatz Christmas Market
  11. Salzburg: Salzburg Cathedral
  12. Salzburg: Silent Night 200 at Salzburg Museum
  13. Salzburg: Silent Night Tour by Bob’s Special Tour
  14. Salzburg: Silent Night at Oberndorf and Laufen
  15. Salzkammergut: Road Trip to Hallstatt
  16. Salzkammergut: Christmas Market at St Wolfgang
  17. Salzburg: Krampus Run at Hellbrunn Palace
  18. Salzburg: Imlauer Hotel Pitter Salzburg
  19. Obergurgl: A Week in the Austrian Alps
  20. Obergurgl: Chalet Obergurgl Luxury Apartments
  21. Obergurgl: Hohe Mut Alm Mountain Restaurant
  22. Obergurgl: Snowstorm on Christmas Eve
  23. Obergurgl: Day After the Storm
  24. Obergurgl: Snowshoeing
  25. Hochgurgl: Tobogganing
  26. Hochgurgl: Hochgurgl Cable Car Ride
  27. Vienna: First Impressions
  28. Vienna: Hofburgkapelle and Imperial Armoury

 

15 comments

  1. Looks like you learnt a lot on your tour! We stayed at the Parkhotel Schonbrunn just outside the gates. I definitely preferred this palace to Versailles. Don’t mean to rub it in, but Neuschwanstein is also incredible, although much more of a fantasy creation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Neuschwanstein. The tour of Schonbrunn was fantastic! Did you also join the group tour or use the audio tour. I definitely agree with you! This is better than Versailles. 2003 was my first time to visit Versailles, it was okay but the 2nd time in 2013 was chaotic! Way too many people, we could hardly enjoy the exhibits. Did you go to the Imperial Palace and Sisi? We decided to miss those for Schonbrunn because we only had 4 days in Vienna.

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  2. We missed the other palaces as we only had 2 full days. Did the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Prater big wheel, that featured in “The 3rd man” and “Before Sunrise”. Just did the Schonbrunn audio tour and back in 2002, I can’t remember queuing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You guys were so lucky! At 11am they had stopped selling tickets for the Kunsthistorisches already and I was desperate to see the paintings of Bruegel there. Yah we re-watched Before sunset before going to Vienna hahahaha. Prater was so fun!

      Liked by 1 person

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