Vienna may have resisted the Ottoman army in 1683, but not the rise of virtual reality attractions in the 2020s. One is the Schloss Schönbrunn VR experience in the crown prince apartment of Schönbrunn palace.
- A 24-minute journey through 220+ years of Habsburg history
- Animations, film-like views, and full VR immersion
- Focus on Habsburg personalities, especially Franz Joseph and Elisabeth
- Book a VR experience* in Vienna
- See also:
A VR trip up the Habsburg tree
(Photo © FILMFINITY GMBH)
After settling in place with my headset, everything started with a sweeping aerial journey across the gardens of Schönbrunn and into the palace. These dynamic VR segments always give me goose bumps; the rest of the experience is, however, gentler.
After a short introduction to the origins of the palace building, the bulk of the show largely concerns the history of the more recent Habsburg monarchy.
The VR production covers a period that starts with Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705). For all his achievements, I remember Leopold most for running away before the siege of Vienna. The show then ends with Emperor Franz Joseph’s passing in 1916.
That’s a lot of history to pack into the 24-minute running time. So if you’re already familiar with the Habsburg story, you won’t discover much new.
(Photo © FILMFINITY GMBH)
But if you’re visiting Austrian history from afar, you’ll get a quick overview of some of the important personalities and stories of recent imperial history, with a strong focus on Franz Joseph and (particularly) Empress Elisabeth (Sisi).
So, while based within the Schönbrunn complex, the presentation looks more at the Habsburg dynasty than the palace they built (after all, you can see the latter on a physical tour next door).
Part of the experience involves animations and transitions, part film sequences (though it feels like you’re watching in an old theatre), and part full VR immersion.
The VR elements see you positioned within the scene and able to look around as if you were really there when, for example, Franz Joseph wed Elisabeth or Empress Maria Theresa extolled her plans for the Schönbrunn gardens.
The VR experience opened mid-2022: the two-year development process included accurate reproduction of hundreds of clothes and props for the use of dozens of actors, as well as scanning, for example, palace rooms to support digital replication of true-to-era locations.
My headgear was comfortable and required no tricky calibration; you really don’t need to worry about the technology. Besides, a very friendly member of staff was on hand to ensure all was set up with my preferred language.
A small bonus of the VR experience is the location: the Kronprinzenappartement (crown prince apartment) of the palace, which visitors normally don’t get to see.
My seat was in a room with red damask (?) wall coverings, but other rooms in the apartment are painted with landscapes and classical architectural features…first created by Johann Wenzel Bergl back in the 18th century.
(You find “Bergl rooms” in Schönbrunn’s Children’s Museum, too.)
(Photo © FILMFINITY GMBH)
The crown prince name refers (I think) to its final occupant, Rudolf. He also appears in one of the more tragic stories within the VR experience. The son of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth should have acceded to the throne, but died before his time in Mayerling in 1889.
The role of heir passed shortly after to Rudolf’s cousin, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 precipitated World War I (the Heeresgeschichtliches museum has the car he was travelling in at the time).
Tickets & visitor tips
The VR experience is a standalone attraction within Schönbrunn palace that requires its own ticket. You have no obligation to also take a physical tour of the same palace building.
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
As mentioned above, the virtual reality presentation immerses you in the life of various Habsburgs, while a palace tour immerses you in the location itself (with insight into the lives of Elisabeth and Franz Joseph given you pass through their former living quarters)
As such, you might want to do both or the one that best meets your own interests, of course.
If buying tickets on site, the ticket booth for the VR experience was inside the palace entrance hall itself on my visit (see directions below).
Should you like the virtual reality aspect, then Vienna has several other VR options, such as Sisi’s Amazing Journey, the Future Bus, or Time Travel Vienna, that allow you to travel through time with the right headgear.
And if you like your Habsburg history, then a number of other locations might be worth a look in addition to the palace itself. For example:
- The Sisi museum: a tour through the life of Empress Elisabeth, including the former imperial apartments in the central Hofburg complex and the silver collection
- The Wagenburg carriage museum: just a short walk from the palace and still inside the Schönbrunn park. It features a permanent Empress Elisabeth exhibition
- The Schatzkammer imperial treasury: Habsburg history measured out in crowns, jewels and the regalia of rule
How to get there
Follow directions for Schönbrunn. Once inside the main courtyard, look for the palace tour entrance at the far left corner of the huge façade in front of you. Go inside.
The VR experience ticket booth was on the left just before the small shop. The entrance to the actual “theatre” is at the back of that hall, also on the left. Signs make it all very clear.
Address: Schloss Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna | Website