The Imperial apartments represent one third of the self-guided tour of the Hofburg Palace interiors, sending you through around 20 rooms that offer intriguing clues to the character of their previous Habsburg occupants.
- Journey through the apartments used by Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth
- Puts you in the middle of some pretty impressive history
- Included in the standard Hofburg Tour ticket
- See also: Hofburg Palace Tour
Inside the Imperial apartments
The areas covered by the tour represent just a tiny part of the entire Hofburg complex, but include the rooms used by Empress Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Joseph.
The splendour, furniture and decor draw you back to the latter half of the 19th century, with the (free) audio guide providing the historical context and little bonuses, like an original recording of Franz Joseph ending an audience.
In fact, the audio guide is a must – there’s little written information on display.
Franz Joseph’s apartments
The tour begins in the rooms where the Emperor slept and worked, and takes you through, for example:
- Audience waiting room
- The audience chamber
- Conference room
- His study
- His bedroom
- Large salon
- Small salon
Almost immediately you begin to understand the work ethic and sense of responsibility that guided Franz Joseph throughout his life. And if you paid attention in the Sisi Museum, you’re struck by the contrast to his wife, who you might feel fought for exactly the opposite.
The audience chamber offers a taste of the colours and styles to come, with the neo-rococo furnishings in gold and white, and the red silk damask upholstery. It’s the study and bedroom, though, that bring Franz Joseph to life.
The Emperor was not the most progressive of monarchs, but two qualities shine through in the functional bed, the spartan dressing table, the early starts (he was up at 3.30) and large portraits of Sisi that look down on his work space: a hard worker and a man in love.
And then there’s Sisi.
Also a hard worker (on her riding skills, languages and appearance) and a woman in love (with travel and poetry, for example). The contrast to the rather steadfast and dutiful Franz Joseph is clear.
The second part of the tour goes through or past various rooms used by the Empress. For example:
- Her sitting room / bedroom
- Dressing room
- The Bergl rooms (admire the landscape murals)
- Large salon
- Small salon
The Emperor would ring a bell to enter Elisabeth’s apartments and give her attendants time to get out of the way. I wondered if she dreaded that sound or welcomed it?
The dressing room is, perhaps, the most poignant. It features its own fitness equipment, like two rings hanging incongruously under a doorway. Not what you expect in an Empress’s dressing room (not what the court expected, either). But then Elisabeth wasn’t like other Empresses.
The portraits and photos in the dressing room are not dominated by Franz Joseph and her immediate family, but by her Bavarian family back home and her favourite poet, Heinrich Heine.
I can’t figure her out, frankly. Part of me admires her rebellion against court protocol and traditions, and feels sorry for a dreamer who was uprooted from a happy home and “forced” into the confines of Habsburg ceremony and expectation.
And part of me thinks she was too self-indulgent and perhaps unnecessarily provocative. I wonder how Franz Joseph felt about her choice of wall decoration.
Did he care? Did she care?
It’s all a little sad. All the wealth of an empire won’t help when your wife falls out of love with you (if she ever was truly in love with you). A romance that did not have the happiest of endings.
The tour of the apartments ends with a few extra rooms that remind you that you’re passing through some pretty serious history.
For example, there are the Alexander apartments, where Tsar Alexander I of Russia stayed during the Congress of Vienna in 1814/1815. And the Red Salon features furniture and Gobelin tapestries given to Emperor Joseph II by King Louis XVI of France in 1777.
At the conclusion, you’ll see the dining room decked out as if for a family dinner. Each placing has six glasses, two decanters, two knives, three forks, and a spoon. So we can assume dinners consisted of a little more than beans on toast and a glass of lemonade.
This represents the end of the Hofburg tour but not necessarily the end of the imperial experience. Those wishing to see more of how the Habsburgs lived and “worked” can take the tour of Schönbrunn Palace.