Ah, you’re in for a treat. The Schönbrunn palace tours take you through a collection of rooms full of priceless furnishings and decor, and all with a story to tell of Habsburg and European history.
As mentioned on the palace tour advice page, the tours come in two Habsburgian flavours: Imperial and Grand.
The Imperial Tour takes you through 22 rooms. The Grand Tour takes you through the exact same route as the Imperial Tour, then on through a further 18 rooms.
It all begins in chambers most closely associated with Emperor Franz Joseph (1830 – 1916) and his wife Elisabeth (the famous “Sisi”), then moves into those with a deeper connection to Empress Maria Theresa (1717 – 1780).
Assume a vast quantity of rococo furniture, silk wall hangings, historic portraits, gilt chandeliers, and a whole host of other items that once felt the touch or the admiring eye of an Emperor or Empress (or a maid or footman).
Here’s what impressed me most…
The Imperial Palace Tour
- I love exhibits that connect the past and present. One of the monumental paintings in the Billiard Room, for example, shows the Schönbrunn gardens, Neptune Fountain and Gloriette as they looked around 150 years ago – little has changed!
(Schönbrunn Palace, Walnut room © Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H. – Alexander Eugen Koller)
- The wall panelling in the Walnut Room is stunning (watch out for walls and floors throughout the tour). You’ll be surprised to hear that this wood panelling is made of…walnut.
- You might say the desk in Franz Joseph’s study was essentially the administrative centre of a mighty empire. And we now shuffle past it, the empire just a memory. A salutary lesson on transience.
Look for the imperial smoking pipes, which would do admirable service as props on the set of Lord of the Rings.
- The bed in Franz Joseph’s Bedroom (where he died) is surprisingly nondescript, reflecting the disciplined life he led. His lavatory is quite plain, too. Yes, the tour takes you to places where even the Emperor had to be alone.
- Much has been written about Empress Elisabeth’s beauty regime and we see her Dressing Room. The set of scales feels particularly poignant when you consider her obsession with her weight.
- Look for the clock in the Salon of Empress Elisabeth. The clockface at its rear is reversed, so you can read the time accurately in the mirror behind it.
- The Marie Antoinette Room served as a dining room and the table is laid out for a meal. Marvel at the remarkable napkins shaped using the unique imperial fold. Only two people at a time ever know the required folding technique.
I suspect the crockery and glassware isn’t dishwasher safe, either.
- Portraits of Empress Maria Theresa’s children hang in the Balcony Room and, if I’m honest, I’d accuse the court painter of only having one face he could paint. Either that or the children were uncannily similar.
(Archduke Joseph presents the six-year-old Mozart to the Emperor and Empress at Schönbrunn in 1762. Photo courtesy of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek – Austrian National Library)
- The Mirrors Room is a feast of mirrors set between white and gold Rococo walls and ceilings. Close your eyes and imagine the tones of a piano played by a surprisingly-competent six year old. For this is (probably) the room where Mozart gave his first performance to the Empress Maria Theresa.
- Soon after, you enter the Great Gallery, which is like something out of a Disney film. Measuring over 40 m by 10 m, it has two huge gilt chandeliers with room on each for 70 candles. It positively invites you to slip into a wig and something opulent and dance across the room while hoping to catch the eye of some Archduke or Archduchess.
The ceiling frescoes include Maria Theresa and her husband surrounded by various figures giving human form to royal virtues and crown lands. Something to consider when you next redecorate your kitchen.
The Great Gallery is also where John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev met in 1961. It was the height of the cold war and a meeting preceded by the Soviets shooting down a US spy plane.
- Two East Asian Cabinets flank a room off to one side of the Great Gallery. Exquisite patterned floors and lacquer panels catch the eye, but look for how the gilt frames peel off to create stands for a variety of priceless Chinese and Japanese porcelain.
- The Imperial Tour ends in the Hall of Ceremonies. Take some time to get a look at the paintings. They show incredibly-detailed scenes from the marriage of the future Emperor Joseph II (Maria Theresa’s son) to Isabella of Parma, a Bourbon princess.
The pictures give a real insight into imperial grandeur at the time. And into Mozart’s fame; even though he wasn’t at the wedding, you’ll still find him in a painting (you need to pass through on to the Grand Tour, I think, to get up close, though).
In the Hall of Ceremonies, you’ll be ushered off through an exit into the gift shop. The Grand Tour, however, continues into some equally remarkable rooms.