Often considered the Lady Diana of the 19th century, Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) continues to fascinate with her personality, politics, and fashion. But where should you go in Vienna to best experience “Sisi” and follow in her regal footsteps?
Here some suggestions for your own Empress Elisabeth tour, complete with photos and links to more information and local tips…
- Many locations are within walking distance of each other
- Almost all locations are either free to enter or free with a Vienna Pass
- See also: Sightseeing in Vienna
Top Sisi locations
The Hofburg Palace is your No.1 priority for a Sisi-themed visit to Vienna. This was the main Habsburg residence in town…a huge complex where Sisi and Franz Joseph lived.
The self-guided Hofburg tour covers three major Elisabeth-related attractions:
- The Sisi Museum: learn about her life, loves, travels, and troubles. The exhibits include numerous personal items from the Empress’s possessions, as well as replicas of gowns and jewellery
- The Kaiserappartements: explore the very apartments Elisabeth called home. These offer many clues to her style and personality, such as the choice of photos on the walls (unlucky, Franz Joseph)
- The Silberkammer: view various household items used by the Empress or associated with her, such as the “dolphin” crockery service from Sisi’s villa in Corfu
Another chance to see a set of rooms lived in by Sisi, this time in the Habsburg summer palace. These include her study, dressing room and salon, as well as the royal couple’s bedroom and dining room.
Ostensibly a showcase for the many royal carriages and vehicles, this museum among the Schönbrunn Palace outbuildings has a treat for Sisi fans – the Empress Elisabeth exhibition.
The exhibition features a series of videos accompanied by relevant display items, including her wedding train and the carriage that bore her into Vienna for the first time.
Soon after Elisabeth’s arrival in Vienna in 1854, she married Franz Joseph at the Augustinian Church on April 24. This served as the parish church to the court for almost three centuries, and traces its origins back to the early 14th century.
Sisi and Franz Joseph are not the only famous couple associated with the Augustinerkirche. In 1810, Archduchess Marie Louise married Napoleon here, albeit by proxy (the French emperor wasn’t there in person!).
The Imperial Furniture Collection does what it says on the label. The museum showcases a huge potpourri of fittings and furnishings from times gone past, including many used by Sisi.
The displays also include other items, such as a series of lithographs of the Empress, a set of scales (well worn), a fan, stockings, and much more.
Franz Joseph spared no effort in trying to keep his wife happy, never working out that it really wasn’t in his power to do so.
One such effort was to build the Hermesvilla for Elisabeth, a large summer house out in the Lainzer Tiergarten woodland park at the edge of Vienna. The idea was that its idyllic location might persuade her to spend more time in the city.
Interestingly, some of the inside decor in Elisabeth’s rooms stemmed from the hands of a young Gustav Klimt, before he turned his artistic eye to more pictorial pleasures.
The Volksgarten memorial
The 1907 memorial to Elisabeth erected just a few years after her death is almost a well-kept secret. Despite taking up a big chunk of the very central Volksgarten park, it seems a touch isolated from everything else. Much like the Empress herself.
Approach it from the Heldenplatz side of the park to get a view down a narrow avenue embellished with flowers and topiary (with Sisi’s statue at the end).
The vast majority of Habsburg monarchs find their last resting place in the Kapuzinergruft (Imperial Crypt).
There is no great ostentatious mausoleum for Sisi in the style of the likes of Empress Maria Theresa. Instead, you’ll find Franz Joseph and Elisabeth alongside their son, Crown Prince Rudolph, in a simple chamber. Usually, someone has left flowers.
Not a home or particular haunt of the Empress, but the permanent art exhibition has a rather unusual portrait.
The 1883 Anton Romako painting has a darkness to it quite unlike anything you typically associate with Elisabeth. She stands stark, distant and seemingly unapproachable. You can hardly believe this is her.
The Technical Museum
The what? Bear with me, for in among the scientific instruments and satellites of the Technical Museum is the original 1873 sleeper railway carriage used by Elisabeth for long-distance trips. You can peek through the windows to see her bed, toilet, and similar.
Finally, I’ve not yet plucked up the courage to enter this rather fine, traditional coffee and cake shop in Vienna’s centre. But I know that Demel were once official suppliers of all things sweet to Franz Joseph’s court. This included the candied violets that Sisi so loved.
And you can still buy them today from Demel’s store on Kohlmarkt.