Vienna’s most popular tourist sight is the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace. But what should you do at the summer home of Emperors and Empresses with its landscaped gardens and park?
1. Go early for photos
(Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien – Early-morning view of Schönbrunn palace looking down from the Gloriette)
The Schönbrunn ticket office and palace staterooms normally open during conventional working hours. However, the grounds and gardens open from 6.30am, giving you plenty of time to take photos with nobody but the occasional jogger to spoil the view.
I took the above snap at around 7.10am. Shame about the overcast sky, but you can’t have everything.
Talking of photos…
2. Go up behind the Neptune Fountain
(Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien – The Neptune fountain
The giant Neptunbrunnen dominates the opposite side of the main gardens to the palace. Behind it rises a hill topped by the Gloriette triumphal arches.
Go up the slope around either side of the fountain and track back behind the monument. Peep through the cave or over the retaining wall for fabulous views of the palace and grounds.
This is possibly the best place for palace photos.
3. Take the Grand palace tour
(Schönbrunn Palace, Vieux-Laque room © Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H. – Alexander Eugen Koller)
Nice as the surrounding sights and gardens are (more on that below), if you’re going to go to Schönbrunn Palace then you really ought to go inside Schönbrunn Palace.
You see almost double the rooms, including such joys as the stunning black and gold Vieux Laque Room, the Millions Room with its precious rosewood panels, and Empress Maria Theresa’s bed of state.
(Yep, the Empress had a bed for ceremonial purposes. Don’t we all?)
4. Climb the Gloriette
(Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien – The Gloriette rooftop gives you views across Vienna)
They reckon they built the Gloriette arches to give the Empress something nice to look at out of her palace windows.
Equally, the Gloriette itself offers some particularly spectacular views. It’s at the top of the hill facing the palace, but once there, also climb up to the viewing terrace (basically the rooftop).
Up top, enjoy one of the best views of the palace and of the entire city – look across to Vienna’s centre and Stephansdom, out to the hills in the west, across to the Danube City, and elsewhere.
5. Plan for the markets
(Schönbrunn Christmas market seen at night from the main entrance)
Place an arts and crafts market in the courtyard of Schönbrunn Palace and you’re really on to a good thing.
But don’t leave it at that.
Make sure the stands are high-quality. Throw in food and drink stalls selling the very best of traditional Austrian fare. And give it all a seasonal touch.
All always prove excellent on my visits.
The Christmas and New Year markets (normally) run from late November to early January and the Easter market in the two or three weeks leading up to Easter Sunday.
6. Go late for photos, too
The early morning light across the Schönbrunn gardens has a certain something to it, especially when all is quiet. However, there’s something equally special about the palace lit up at night. The lights go on around dusk and off again around 10pm.
Even if the park is closed, you can get pretty impressive photos from the road outside, especially at Christmas when the seasonal market fills the courtyard (see the market photo above).
7. See a panda bear
As someone with a biology degree, I’m all for objectivity when it comes to the animal world. But…pandas!
The Schönbrunn park also houses Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the oldest working zoo in the world and one of the best, too.
The zoo covers quite an area with all sorts of indoor and outdoor attractions that include a two-storey rainforest house, aquarium, big cats, and all the other usual animal suspects.
Did I mention they have pandas?
8. Just walk around
(Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien – the main gardens in early spring)
Unless you’re on a tight schedule, take your time to wander around the park away from the hotspots like the palace or Gloriette.
The extensive landscaped grounds and parkland hide many pleasant surprises…
A fountain here, a rose garden there.
A tree-lined avenue with a glorious view of the palace at one end.
A café the Viennese like to keep a secret from visitors.
A red squirrel or three.
A little nook or cranny for hushed conversations with loved ones away from governesses and chaperones (I’ve been writing too much historical fiction).
In particular, don’t forget to…
9. Cross over to the west
Most people assume the trim, patterned flower beds in front of the palace form the extent of the landscaped parts of the Schönbrunn complex.
You can pay a little extra and visit the Privy Garden for more flower-based colour and geometric designs.
Or walk west from the palace all the way to the outer limits of the park and up around the back of the zoo.
This route takes you through the Kammergarten, across to the topiary and flower beds next to the huge palm house (a historic iron and glass construction that looks wonderful on photos), then on through a lovely botanic garden.
Many people don’t find their way to these places, so it’s generally quieter than elsewhere.
10. Take in a concert
One of the many things Vienna does well is embed activites in wonderful, historical surroundings. Like those markets.
Mozart and Salieri used to perform in Schönbrunn’s impressive Orangery and the Schönbrunn Palace Orchestra and Ensemble continue the tradition with regular concerts.
Alternatively, slip into Café Residenz inside a converted tract alongside the main courtyard; they had classical music playing while I enjoyed my breakfast there.
And, if you’re very lucky, enjoy a free evening concert in the gardens from the world-famous Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra at the Summer Night Concert.
(Of course there’s plenty more to Schönbrunn than these ten tips. Take a look at the overview page for information on all the sights and activities.)