To experience the ostentatious extremes reached in Viennese court life, drop into the Imperial Carriage Museum (the Wagenburg) in the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace.
A giant hall houses what’s left of the Habsburg’s transport fleet; carriages, sleighs, and even a car. And an Empress Elisabeth trail as a bonus.
- Collection of Habsburg vehicles in all their ornate glory
- No Emperor ever said “keep it simple” to the carriage builder
- Includes a permanent exhibition devoted to Empress Elisabeth
- See also:
The Imperial carriages
(Parts of the exhibition © KHM-Museumsverband)
Historical vehicles may not sound too thrilling unless you have a special interest in the displays at hand. But the Wagenburg actually gives you insight into court life, throws out some fascinating historical anecdotes, and shows you precisely what the words “ornate” and “lavish” really mean.
For example, consider the miniature carriages used by the children of the Imperial family.
These vehicles include a particularly decorative one for the “King of Rome,” the name given to Napoleon’s son by his second wife (Maria Louisa – a Habsburg).
Sheep pulled it.
Or take the variety of weird and wonderful sleighs, including a leopard-skin version (unfortunately made from actual leopards, who probably needed the skin more than Prince Windisch-Graetz did).
Paintings reveal how the court would go on extravagant rides around the palace squares in sleighs built solely for that purpose.
Indeed, there’s a particular kind of fascination to be had from seeing artwork of the time while viewing the actual vehicles featured in those paintings.
The man (the court equerry) in charge of the state carriages even got his own…state carriage.
If you want to get close to royal history, keep a look out for the following:
- The black hearse carriage used in the funerals of Emperor Franz Joseph, Empress Elisabeth, and their son, Crown Prince Rudolph
- The 1914 motor car used to take the last Emperor into exile
- The coach used by Empress Elisabeth when she first arrived in Vienna in 1854 prior to her marriage to the Emperor. Napoleon travelled in the same carriage when crowned King of Italy in 1805
And if you think the late-18th and 19th century carriages are ornate, they are dull and lifeless compared to the explosion of decoration on their Baroque predecessors.
An Imperial coach used to carry the likes of Emperor Joseph II to various formal coronation ceremonies. Somebody clearly ordered too much gold paint and the court motto seemed to have been, “you can never have enough scrollwork”.
The Empress Elisabeth trail
They sometimes describe Empress Elisabeth as the Princess Diana of the 19th century, given their shared experiences. A permanent exhibition within the Wagenburg guides you through the life and character of “Sisi” with the help of videos and items that once belonged to the Empress or the court.
Tickets & visitor tips
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
- All display text was in English and German on my visit
- The Wagenburg shop sells a small selection of souvenirs and books (also in English)
- Be aware the toilets are not inside the building but outside around to the right as you face the entrance
- A Vienna Pass sightseeing pass (my review) includes one-time free access to the carriage museum
- Since you’re exploring imperial history, be sure to visit the wider Schönbrunn complex, too. In particular:
- Do the tour of the palace, which includes remarkable rooms and introduces you to the life of the imperial families (notably Empress Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Joseph)
- From the Wagenburg, continue out west for a circular walk through the park that takes in the landscaped areas around the palm house and back to the patterned gardens behind the palace proper
How to get to the Wagenburg
See the main article on directions to Schönbrunn. You’ll find the carriage museum in the grounds of the palace, a short walk due west of the main building.
Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna | Website