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 there’s an Empress Elisabeth trail as a bonus.
- Collection of Habsburg vehicles in all their ornate glory
- Clearly no Emperor ever said “keep it simple” to the carriage builder
- Includes a permanent exhibition devoted to Empress Elisabeth
- Get in once for free with a Vienna Pass. Skip-the-line tickets also available*
- See also: Schönbrunn Palace | Art History Museum
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 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. This includes 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.
Take, for example, the Imperial coach used to carry the likes of Emperor Joseph II to various formal coronation ceremonies (see the video above). Somebody clearly ordered too much gold paint and the court motto seemed to have been, “you can never have too much scrollwork”.
The Empress Elisabeth trail
They sometimes describe Empress Elisabeth as the Princess Diana of the 19th century, given their shared experiences. The permanent exhibition in 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. Full details and impressions here.
(For more locations in Vienna relative to Sisi, see this tour guide.)
Tickets & visitor tips
At the time of writing, a standard adult ticket for the Imperial carriage museum costs €10. The Vienna Pass sightseeing ticket is valid for one-time free entry. Skip-the-line tickets are also available*.
- All display text is in English and German, with audioguides available for a small fee
- The museum consists of a large hall and was quite chilly when we visited in February. Be warned. On the other hand, this might mean it’s somewhere to cool down during the hot summer months?
- The entrance has lockers available (requiring a €1 or €2 coin)
- 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
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.
(Since you’re exploring imperial history, make sure to do the palace tour.)
Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna | Website