To experience just how ostentatious Viennese court life was, drop into the Imperial Carriage Museum (the Wagenburg) in the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace.
A giant hall houses what’s left of the Habsburg’s transport fleet; carriages, sleighs, and even a car. And there’s an Empress Elisabeth trail as a bonus.
- Collection of Habsburg vehicles in all their ornate glory
- Clearly no Emperor ever said “Keep it simple” to the carriage builder
- Includes a permanent exhibition devoted to Empress Elisabeth
- Adult entry is €9.50 or get in free with a Vienna Pass. Skip-the-line tickets also available*
- See also: Schönbrunn Palace | Art History Museum
The Imperial carriages
Historical vehicles may not sound too thrilling unless you have a special interest in the displays at hand. But the Wagenburg gives you some insight into court life, throws out some fascinating historical anecdotes, and shows you precisely what the words “ornate” and “lavish” really mean.
For example, there are the miniature carriages used by the children of the Imperial family. There’s a particularly decorative one for the “King of Rome,” the name given to Napoleon’s son by his second wife (Maria Louisa – a Habsburg princess). It was pulled by sheep.
Or take the variety of weird and wonderful sleighs, including a leopard-skin one (unfortunately made from actual leopards, who presumably needed the skin more than Prince Windisch-Graetz did). Paintings reveal how the court would go on extravagant rides around the palace squares in sleighs built solely for that purpose.
Indeed, there is a particular kind of fascination to be had from seeing artwork of the time, and then viewing the actual carriages featured in those paintings.
There’s even a state carriage just for the man (the court equerry) in charge of the state carriages.
If you want to get close to royal history, keep a look out for the following:
- The black hearse carriage used in the funerals of Emperor Franz Joseph, Empress Elisabeth, and their son, Crown Prince Rudolph
- The 1914 motor car used to take the last Emperor into exile
- The coach used by Empress Elisabeth when she first arrived in Vienna in 1854 prior to her marriage to the Emperor. The same carriage was used by Napoleon when crowned King of Italy in 1805
And if you think the late-18th and 19th century carriages are ornate, they are dull and lifeless compared to the explosion of decoration on their baroque predecessors, such as the Imperial coach used to carry the likes of Emperor Joseph II to various formal coronation ceremonies (see the video above).
Somebody clearly ordered too much gold paint and the court motto seemed to have been “You can never have too much scrollwork”.
The Empress Elisabeth trail
They sometimes describe Empress Elisabeth as the Princess Diana of the 19th century, given their shared experiences. The permanent exhibition in the Wagenburg guides you through the life and character of “Sisi” with the help of videos and items that once belonged to the Empress or the court. Full details and impressions here.
Tickets & visitor information
At the time of writing, the Imperial carriage museum opens daily from 9 am to 5 pm (10 am to 4 pm in the winter), with a standard adult ticket costing €9.50. The Vienna Pass sightseeing ticket is valid for free entry. Skip-the-line tickets are also available*. As always, check locally for up-to-date details.
- All display text is in English and German, with audioguides available
- The museum is a large hall and was quite chilly when we visited in February. Be warned. On the other hand, this might mean it’s somewhere to cool down during the hot summer months?
- The entrance has lockers available (requiring a €1 or €2 coin)
- There’s a shop selling a small selection of souvenirs and books (also in English)
- Be aware the toilets are not inside the building but outside around to the right as you face the entrance
How to get to the Wagenburg
See the main article on directions to Schönbrunn. You’ll find the carriage museum in the grounds of the palace, a short walk due west of the main building.
Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna | Website