Update: As of October 2017, there is uncertainty about the future of the Winter Palace, which is owned by the Ministry of Finance. As always, check locally or online before visiting. Currently you cannot visit it.
If you’re popping into town for some milk and bread, it’s handy to have your own palace to hole up in should it rain.
Which is presumably why Prince Eugene of Savoy kept staterooms in the old city, as well as his main Belvedere residence about a km up the road.
The Winterpalais (winter palace) dates back to 1696: a few years after Eugene’s death in 1736, the building was bought up by the state under Empress Maria Theresia.
For a long while, the palace provided offices for the finance ministry, but Eugene’s richly-appointed city residence is now a venue for regular art exhibitions. So what you see inside very much depends on the current display.
Even so, the refurbished public staterooms still provide insights into the lives and luxuries of the 17th and 18th century’s wealthy few. As a city Palais, it’s not a standalone building, but threaded into one of Vienna’s historic inner city streets:
Inside the Winterpalais
A red carpet leads you into the palace, past the toilets and lift, and up the huge stone stairway. This is where you get your first impression that the former owner may not have struggled to pay the heating bills.
Stone statues flank this grand staircase, with a relaxed-looking Hercules figure half way up, resting his weapon like a bored nightclub bouncer.
The top of the stairs takes you into the small shop and ticket counter and the ten or so rooms that make up the viewable staterooms.
These rooms reminded me of the Albertina, with the decorated hardwood floors and silk-lined wall panels (warning: I’m not an expert on period decor, so I may be out by a few decades with the comparison).
Look out for these particular highlights:
- The many panels featuring geometric forms and scrollwork with their curious faces and figures
- The giant mirrors, presumably put in to create the illusion of bigger rooms
- The “Gold Cabinet” room, with its incredibly ornate ceiling (in gold) and floral designs edged in, um, gold
- The “Hall of Battle Paintings”, which you’ll be surprised to hear is a large room full of giant paintings of battle scenes. These include some of Prince Eugene’s greatest triumphs, such as the Relief of Turin in 1706 or the 1717 Siege of Belgrade
- The somewhat incongruously-placed little chapel room attached to the Hall of Battle Paintings. It has an altar, and the walls are painted to give you the impression you’re kneeling in a real stone chapel
At the time of writing, this winter palace opens daily from 10am to 6pm and tickets are €9 for adults with concessions. But you’re likely better off getting one of the combination tickets, if you’re planning on taking in any of the other sights that come under the Belvedere umbrella.
Be sure to check the website for the latest visitor information, though. There you can also learn about current and forthcoming exhibitions, which often include contemporary themes or artists.
As with most Viennese palaces, remember to always look down, up and around – the floors, walls and ceilings contain most of the secrets and delights. You can get round the rooms fairly quickly, so there’s no need to devote even half a day to this palace – maybe just an hour (though it will depend on the exhibition).
How to get to the Winterpalais
The palace is inside the center, on a side road just 100m from the main shopping street of Kärntnerstraße. So there’s a strong chance you’ll be nearby if you’re visiting the usual city centre sights.
Subway: the closest station is Stephansplatz (lines U1 and U3), which is 5 minutes walk away.
Bus: take the 2A to Plankengasse (also 5 minutes walk away).
Tram: the nearest trams are on the Ring that circles the centre. Catch the line 2 tram to Weihburggasse, then it’s another 5 minutes walk.