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Imperial Castles of Vienna


Empress Maria Theresia; Emperor Franz Joseph; the legendary, miserable Empress Elisabeth: These are just a few of the famous names connected to Vienna’s palaces. Close your eyes and picture said palaces for a few moments: I’m pretty sure that you’re seeing stately mansions, painted in dazzling white or sunny yellow. Thanks to the Habsburg dynasty, the city of Vienna has inherited an abundance of castles, which lure thousands of tourists into the city each day. Over a hundred years after the cessation of the Habsburg Empire, the Hofburg, Schönbrunn Palace and the like are visited by 1-3 million people each year! Yet what makes these palaces so interesting? What does, for example, the Belvedere have to offer which the others don’t? Here, I’ve compiled a list of their main features, trying to make it easier for you when time is short and castles are a plenty – so you can pick the right one for you!

If you’ve never been to Vienna before and would like to slowly ease your way into the fabulous world of the Habsburgs, then the Hofburg is definitely the right place to start. It is located right at the Ringstraße, Vienna’s grand circular boulevard, at the center of the city. Its Imperial Apartments offer more than a glimpse into the lives of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth. Here, one can see the Emperor’s writing desk, from where only he could look at two very special intimate portraits of Elisabeth, created by the German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Elisabeth is depicted with her long hair draped loose about her bare shoulders. This was considered as quite erotic and scandalous during the 19th century! Another highlight is Elisabeth’s Dressing/Exercise Room, where she spent many hours a day honing her trim physique. As one is passing through the rooms of the Hofburg, one cannot help but be reminded of the popular Sissi film trilogy from the 1950s. The interior decoration, which dates back to the era of Empress Maria Theresia and sticks to the colour scheme of red-white-gold, just automatically brings a young Romy Schneider to mind. One is instantly put in a nostalgic Habsburg mood!



Now, Elisabeth fans, brace yourselves: The entrance fee does not only include access to the Imperial Apartments, but also to the Sisi Museum! It features many items that used to belong to the Empress, which are exhibited in such a way as to give the visitor an insight into the real, not always rosy life of Elisabeth. Here, one learns about Sisi’s aversion to court ceremonial, as well as her adoration for the poet Heinrich Heine. Amongst her clothes and everyday objects, one should not miss taking a closer look at Elisabeth’s milk tooth, as well as the file, used by an Italian anarchist to assassinate her in Geneva – the tragic end of an Empress, who, in an ironic twist of fate, just like her murderer, resented the ways of the monarchy. The Sisi Museum really is unsurpassed in providing its visitors with a wholesome portrait of Elisabeth’s life – they are indeed doing her justice! Last but not least, I encourage you to take a look at the vast Silver Collection (you don’t have to pay extra for it!). Everything in there is beyond sparkly and shiny: We are talking about 150.000 items which were once used at court, some dating back to the 15th century! (Hofburg: Sisi Museum and the Imperial court household)



The Hofburg complex still has a lot more to offer: The Austrian National Library with its Prunksaal (State Hall), the Imperial Treasury, as well as the Spanish Riding School, amongst other gems. Happy exploring!

From the Hofburg, the Belvedere Palace can be reached within 20 minutes by public transport. It is divided into the Upper and the Lower Belvedere. A most beautiful Baroque garden stretches out between the two mansions. If you can manage to squeeze it in, I advise you to take a long stroll through the garden, admiring its cascade fountains, symmetrical flowerbeds, and the various stunning sculptures erected to enchant 18th century visitors. Both parts of the Belvedere are home to important Austrian works of art by, amongst others, Klimt and Schiele. To keep things fresh and interesting, there are always special exhibitions on. Art lovers will definitely be delighted by a visit to the Belvedere! A piece of advice to save time: Usually, the queues at the ticket office are endless, so be smart and buy your ticket online beforehand!

Belvedere Palace


Schönbrunn Palace, which will most likely be familiar to those of you who have seen the Sissi trilogy, is situated a bit further away from the city center (take the underground line U4 to Schönbrunn station). If you intend to pay a visit to the palace, make sure to plan in an entire day. The palace does not only contain splendidly furnished Baroque rooms from the Maria Theresian era, but is also surrounded by a vast park. Put on some comfy trainers and climb Schönbrunn Hill to get to the Gloriette, an Early Classicistic building. Franz Joseph liked to take his breakfast here! Today, the Gloriette is used as a café (all the better for us thirsty visitors!), and allows us to enjoy a splendid view of the Palace and its gardens. If you’re in the mood for further amusement, the Schönbrunn Maze is not far away from the Gloriette – it’s quite amusing trying to find one’s way out of it; children and adults alike will be thoroughly entertained!

            The interior part of the palace also pays homage to its adjacent gardens – just have a look at the Bergl Rooms and you’ll see what I mean! Designed to give the illusion of an extension of the palace gardens, its walls feature various plants and animals. What a marvelous experience for every age group!

The Great Gallery should not be missed – warning, it may take your breath away! It is over 40 metres long and boasts 60 golden chandeliers! A visit will make you feel like proper courtiers. Fans of the Hofburg will certainly feel at home at Schönbrunn Palace.

Animal lovers will certainly appreciate Schönbrunn Zoo, to be found on the grounds of the seemingly endless park. It has been voted Europe’s Best Zoo numerous times, and I can definitely vouch for that.

Schönbrunn Palace


If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, then the Hermesvilla, at the heart of the Lainzer Tiergarten, is the palace for you. The Tiergarten is a wildlife preserve, and home to deer, mouflons and bats. The Habsburgs used this area to go hunting. The villa itself was a present from Franz Joseph to his wife Elisabeth, as an incentive for her to come home from her extended periods of travel. The paintings decorating the interior part of the Hermesvilla are by Makart and Klimt. Motifs from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream are heavily featured. Should you decide on a visit, please be aware that the Hermesvilla cannot be directly accessed by public transport: This means that you are in for a free Habsburg exercise programme as you make your way through the Lainzer Tiergarten on foot!

Julia Meister

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