To experience the extremes reached in Viennese court life, drop into the Imperial Carriage Museum (Wagenburg). No Emperor ever said “keep it simple” to the carriage builder.
- Habsburg vehicles in their ornate glory
- Includes an Empress Elisabeth exhibition
- Located in Vienna’s Schönbrunn complex
- All texts in English & German
- Book Carriage Museum tickets* online
- See also:
- Overview of Schönbrunn Palace
- History exhibitions in Vienna
(Parts of the exhibition © KHM-Museumsverband)
A giant hall houses what’s left of the Habsburg’s transport fleet; carriages, sleighs, and even a car.
Historical vehicles may not sound too thrilling unless you have a special interest. 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, Marie Louise (1791 – 1847): a daughter of Habsburg Emperor Franz II/I.
Sheep pulled it.
Or take some of the weird and wonderful sleighs on display, including a leopard-skin version (unfortunately made from actual leopards, who probably needed the skins more than Prince Windisch-Graetz ever 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 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
- 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 18th-century “Imperialwagen”; press photo © KHM-Museumsverband)
And if you think the late-18th and 19th century carriages are ornate, they prove dull and lifeless when compared to the explosion of decoration on their Baroque predecessors.
So you see, for example, the Imperial coach used to carry the likes of Emperor Joseph II (1741 – 1790) to various formal coronation ceremonies.
Somebody clearly ordered too much gold paint and the court motto of the time seemed to have been, “you can never have enough scrollwork”.
The Empress Elisabeth trail
They sometimes describe Empress Elisabeth (1837 -1898) 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 some rather impressive items that once belonged to the Empress or the court.
(For more locations in Vienna relative to Sisi, see this tour guide.)
Tickets & visitor tips
Tickets are available from the source or online agencies.
(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)
- 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
Getting to the Wagenburg
See the main article on directions to Schönbrunn (easily reached from the centre on the U4 subway line). 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