Anyone wishing to see the interiors of Schönbrunn Palace has to go on a guided tour or buy an entrance ticket for the self-guided equivalent. It’s well worth doing so.
- There are two self-guided tours available
- Buy tickets (€16.40 for an adult) or use the Vienna pass* for the Grand Tour
- The free audioguides are excellent
Why take a palace tour?
Ignoring the details of the rooms, furniture and decoration, whose workmanship and value might go unappreciated to the uneducated eye, Schönbrunn is just one of those places where you can talk of “real” history.
This is the place where Mozart performed to the court, where Franz Joseph took word of news from the front in WWI…where the destinies of countries and continents were decided by Maria Theresia’s strategic marriage planning.
Yet at the same time, so much opulence is a monument to royal decadence and the extreme inequality of times past. In fact, the one thing you won’t see on your visit is much indication of life for those who weren’t members of the royal family.
You can view various bedrooms and ballrooms, but not kitchens or servants quarters. This is a royalist and not a republican tourist attraction!
Contrary to expectations, the entrance to the palace and tour ticket office is not in the center of the building. Instead, go to the left-hand side of the main palace building as you pass through the main gateway to Schönbrunn.
The various ticket options, prices and opening times are covered in depth by the Schönbrunn website. But whatever entrance ticket you actually buy, it all boils down to a choice between taking the Imperial Tour and taking the Grand Tour.
Don’t be misled by the word “tour.” It doesn’t mean someone is taking you round (though that’s an option). Think of them as two different levels of permission for accessing the palace.
The Imperial Tour gives you access to just over 20 rooms, the Grand Tour gives you access to 40. So invest the extra couple of Euros and take the longer tour, for reasons I’ll explain later.
The Schönbrunn website guides you through each of the rooms included. There’s also a short video tour you can view at the UNESCO website or below, but here’s my independent opinion on what they offer…
First, your ticket entitles you to a free — and excellent — audio guide, which has a choice of languages including English.
There is some written information in the rooms (in German and English) but you need the audio guides to benefit from the experience. The narrators tell you what you’re looking at, they put everything in historical context, and they throw in little anecdotes and bonus material, like an original voice recording of Emperor Franz Joseph.
The tours begin in the rooms of the aforementioned Emperor and his wife Elisabeth (the famous “Sissi”). Take a note of the relatively (but only relatively) spartan decor so you can compare it to the rooms used by earlier generations of Hapsburgs.
Franz Joseph clearly led a disciplined life. His bed (the one he died on) is totally nondescript, as is his lavatory. Yes, we get to see the place where even the Emperor had to be alone.
The tour then moves into the rooms more closely associated with Maria Theresia, including the one where Mozart gave his first performance to the Empress. And that’s soon followed by perhaps the most impressive room on the tours: the large gallery or ballroom.
Measuring over 40m by 10m, it has two huge wooden chandeliers with room on each for 70 candles. The ceiling paintings feature the Empress and her husband, surrounded by various figures giving human form to royal virtues and crown lands.
This is also the room 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.
Not long after the great gallery is the Hall of Ceremonies. Take some time to get a close look at the paintings. They show incredibly detailed scenes from the marriage of the future Emperor Joseph II (Maria Theresia’s son) to Isabella of Parma, a Bourbon princess.
The paintings give a real insight into imperial grandeur at the time.
This is where the Imperial Tour ends, and you’ll be ushered off through an exit into the gift shop. The Grand Tour, however, continues into some remarkable rooms.
You see, for example, the room where the last Emperor agreed to give up any role in government following Austria’s defeat in WWI (in 1918). There’s also the room where Napoleon’s son died of lung disease at the young age of 32.
And most impressive of all there’s the Vieux-Laque room. Empress Maria Theresia redecorated it in honor of her late husband after his death in 1765. Its artistry is breathtaking, but it also reveals a rarely-seen side of the monarchy. You get the sense that here was simply a woman very much in love with a man, whose loss she felt very deeply.
In the remaining rooms, you’ll see the bedroom where Franz Joseph was born. It now houses a bed which stands at the opposite end of the scale to the one he died in. It’s the bed of state made for Maria Theresia and which was only used for ceremonial purposes (whatever they might have been!).
Once you emerge from all that imperial splendour, sated with history, you may part with your Euros in a large gift shop stocking the usual postcards, books, chocolates, porcelain souvenirs, a Sissi doll, refreshments and similar.
Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna | Official website