Vienna’s most popular tourist sight is the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace, summer home of Emperors and Empresses with its landscaped gardens and park. But what should you do there?
- See also: Schönbrunn tickets and visitor info
Here my top tips:
1. Go early for photos
The Schönbrunn ticket office and palace staterooms open at 8 am, so tourists tend not to arrive much before that.
However, the grounds and gardens open from 6.30 am, giving you a good hour to take photos with nobody but the occasional jogger to spoil the view. I took the above photo at around 7.10 am: barely a soul in sight.
2. Choose the Grand palace tour
Nice as the surrounding sights and gardens are, if you’re going to go to Schönbrunn Palace, then you really ought to go inside Schönbrunn Palace.
You see almost double the rooms, including such joys as the stunning black and gold Vieux Laque Room, the Millions Room with its precious rosewood panels, and Empress Maria Theresa’s bed of state.
3. Go late for photos, too
There’s something special about the early morning light across the Schönbrunn gardens, especially when all is quiet. However, there’s something equally special about the palace lit up at night. The lights go on around dusk and off again around 10 pm.
Even if the park is closed, you can get pretty impressive photos from the road outside, especially at Christmas when the market is on.
4. Take in a concert
One of the many things Vienna does well is embed activites in wonderful, historical surroundings.
Mozart and Salieri used to perform in Schönbrunn’s impressive Orangery. The Schönbrunn Palace Orchestra and Ensemble continue the tradition with daily concerts.
Alternatively, slip into Café Residenz inside a converted tract alongside the main courtyard; they had classical music playing while I enjoyed my breakfast.
And if you’re very lucky, you can enjoy a free evening concert in the gardens from the world-famous Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra at the Summer Night Concert.
5. See a panda bear
As someone with a biology degree, I’m all for objectivity when it comes to the animal world. But…pandas!
The Schönbrunn park houses Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the oldest working zoo in the world. This is actually one of the world’s best zoos, too.
Did I mention they have pandas?
6. Time your visit for the markets
Now, place an arts and crafts market in the courtyard of Schönbrunn Palace and you’re really on to a good thing.
But don’t leave it at that.
Make sure the stands are high-quality. Throw in food and drink stalls selling the very best of traditional Austrian fare. And give it all a seasonal touch.
They are excellent. Trust me on this.
Catch the Christmas and New Year markets from late November to early January and the Easter market in the two or three weeks leading up to Easter Sunday.
7. Go up behind the Neptune Fountain
One of Schönbrunn’s centrepieces is the giant Neptunbrunnen on the opposite side of the main gardens. Behind it rises a hill topped by the Gloriette triumphal arches.
Go up the slope around either side of the fountain and track back behind it. You can peep through the cave or over the retaining wall for fabulous views of the palace and grounds.
This is possibly the best place for palace photos.
8. Walk around
Unless you’re on a tight schedule, take your time to wander around the park away from the hotspots like the palace or Gloriette.
The extensive landscaped grounds and parkland hide many pleasant surprises…
A fountain here, a rose garden there.
A tree-lined avenue with a glorious view of the palace at one end.
An isolated café the Viennese like to keep a secret from visitors.
A set of Roman ruins.
A red squirrel or two.
A little nook or cranny for hushed conversations with loved ones away from governesses and chaperones (I’ve been writing too much historical fiction).
9. Cross over to the west
Most people assume the trim, patterned flower beds in front of the palace are the extent of the landscaped parts of the Schönbrunn complex.
You can pay a little extra and visit the Privy Garden for more flower-based colour and geometric designs.
Or you simply walk west from the palace all the way to the outer limits of the park and up around the back of the zoo.
This route takes you through the Kammergarten, across to the gorgeous topiary and flower beds next to the huge palm house (a historic iron and glass construction that looks wonderful on photos), then on through a lovely botanic garden.
Many people don’t find their way to these places, so it’s generally quieter that elsewhere.
10. Climb to the top of the Gloriette
They reckon they built the Gloriette arches to give the Empress something nice to look at out of her palace windows (as one does).
Equally, the Gloriette itself offers some particularly spectacular views. It’s at the top of the hill, but once there, also climb up to the viewing terrace (basically the rooftop).
Up top, enjoy one of the best views of the palace and of the entire city – look across to Vienna’s centre and Stephansdom, out to the hills in the west, across to the Danube City, and more.
Of course there’s plenty more to Schönbrunn than these ten tips. Take a look at the overview page for information on all the sights and activities.