The most popular tourist attraction in Vienna normally hosts well over 2 million visitors each year. Think of Schönbrunn as Austria’s Versailles, with slightly less opulence and a lot more cake.
Most come for the golden palace, but the surrounds offer plenty more to see and do. Read on for local advice on making the most of Schönbrunn, ticket tips, a map, photos,
jokes, and much, much more…
- Famous 18th-century palace, gardens and park
- Former summer home of the Habsburgs and a World Heritage site
- Numerous attractions, including the gorgeous staterooms, a huge zoo, the Carriage Museum, the Children’s Museum, a maze, giant fountains, and more
- Can be waiting times for the stateroom tour, so book, for example, a guided tour* in advance
- A Vienna Pass gets you into many Schönbrunn attractions for free, including the palace
- See also: Sightseeing in Vienna
So what’s at Schönbrunn?
Well, rather a lot. I have my top ten Schönbrunn activities, but here’s an overview of almost everything there:
Schönbrunn palace and outbuildings
(Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien – the view from the gardens)
In its current form, the palace dates back to the 1740s, though there followed a long history of extensions and rebuilding work.
Once a summer residence out in the country, the growth of the city now means Schönbrunn represents an oasis of (relative) architectural and parkland tranquility in the midst of 21st-century Vienna.
(The site itself began life as a hunting park and lodge, but suffered at the hands of Turkish invaders in 1683. That was the kind of thing homeowners had to contend with back then.)
- Schönbrunn contains hundreds of rooms and you can visit up to 40 of the most spectacular ones on a palace tour. And I mean truly spectacular rooms, each resonant with history: follow in the footsteps of Napoleon, Mozart, and even President Kennedy, not to mention a truckload of Habsburgs
- A large hill stretches behind the palace leading up to the Gloriette. According to legend, they built this triumphal arch simply to ensure a nice view from the windows of the main palace. Indeed, it’s mostly a façade, but with a fantastic rooftop viewing platform and a café inside
The carriage museum
- A mammoth collection of carriages, sedan chairs, and other modes of transport used by the Imperial family fills the Wagenburg. An exhibition inside explores the life of Empress Elisabeth (the famous Sisi)
The Children’s Museum in Schönbrunn Palace
- One wing of the palace now houses a Children’s Museum, which gives youngsters (and oldsters) a taste of life as a little Archduke or Archduchess
Schönbrunn park and gardens
(Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien – part of the landscaped gardens)
The Federal authorities keep the large Schönbrunn park and gardens in immaculate condition, so you can enjoy over a square kilometre of tree-lined avenues, lawns, woods, and landscaped flowerbeds.
They’ve been open to the public since 1779, and the grounds conceal various architectural delights, such as fountains, fake ruins, statues, and walled gardens. Look out, also, for red squirrels entirely unconcerned by the crowds.
- The privy garden includes the kind of flowerbeds, box hedges and vine-covered walkways that shout “costume drama” at you. You half expect to meet some 18th-century monarch conducting an illicit affair with a gardener somewhere within
The Schönbrunn orangery
- Not content with native trees, shrubs, and flowers, the Habsburgs put in one of the world’s longest orangeries to add exotic flair to Schönbrunn’s botany. The building and garden now house unusual (for Austria) plants and rare varieties of fruit trees. And a vineyard. And concerts (see below).
The Schönbrunn maze and labyrinth
- Is it a maze? Is it a labyrinth? Both, I think, because you face more than one hedge-based challenge within. The smallest is (literally) a walk in the park. The largest is best attempted when you’re not in a hurry. These new mazes build on a long tradition: the first maze in Schönbrunn appeared in 1720
The Roman ruins
- No monarch worthy of the name could have a park without some tasteful Roman ruins within. And if you don’t happen to have any, then you just build some. Modelled on the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, Schönbrunn’s authentic-looking Roman ruins went up in 1778
- Another great civilisation forms the cornerstone of this Schönbrunn highlight: the large obelisk purports to tell the story of the Habsburg dynasty in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The writing is made-up nonsense, but certainly looks impressive (which was always the point with imperial constructions)
The Neptune Fountain
- The most striking of Schönbrunn’s fountains sees the Roman god, Neptune, towering majestically (and a little arrogantly) over tritons and sea horses. The Neptune fountain marks one end of the main palace gardens
The Japanese garden
- And for something a little different, try the small 1913 Japanese garden sandwiched between the zoo and the palm house
The Schönbrunn Zoo area
(The zoo in Schönbrunn has a pair of giant pandas)
- Schönbrunn zoo is the oldest working zoo in the world. Some of the 18th-century buildings from the menagerie established by Emperor Francis I have survived, but the animal enclosures look a little different these days: experts rate the zoo as one of the world’s best
Highlights include the Giant Pandas, the rainforest house, the huge polar bear complex, and the aerial walkway among the wooded slopes. The zoo is (obviously) great for kids and probably Vienna’s second-most popular attraction after Schönbrunn Palace itself.
The palm and desert houses
- The Palmenhaus (palm house) dates back to 1882. This huge iron and glass construction contains three climatic zones featuring Mediterranean, tropical, and sub-tropical plant communities
- Built some 20-odd years later than the palm house, the Wüstenhaus desert house has a collection of cacti and other succulents, as well as a few birds and animals (including a magnificently bizarre naked mole rat colony)
(The main entrance to Schönbrunn at Christmas)
The palace courtyard and buildings make a glorious setting for orchestral performances and other events. For example:
The Summer Night Concert
- Experts consider the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to be one of the world’s greatest orchestras. And one of the world’s greatest concert settings is the gardens in Schönbrunn Palace. Put them together and you probably get a very expensive evening of classical music. Wrong – the annual Summer Night Concert is absolutely free
Schönbrunn palace concerts
- The palace’s orangery hosts concerts typically featuring the music of Mozart and Strauss. This is not a new invention: Mozart actually premiered one of his operas at the same venue in 1786
Festive Schönbrunn markets
- The stands at the Schönbrunn Christmas market form a wide circle around a towering Christmas tree. I rate it the most tasteful of the city’s many Christmas markets
- The same location hosts New Year and Easter markets, too, with the latter notable for its giant decorated Easter eggs
All three of Schönbrunn’s seasonal markets earn top marks for quality and place the focus squarely on arts and crafts. Plenty of regional food and drink keeps any winter or spring chills at bay.
Places to eat
All the main attractions at Schönbrunn have their own café, restaurant, or snack bar (or are close to one). For example:
- Landtmann’s Jausen Station sits near the palace in a secluded grove. This is the place locals like me go to, because most tourists aren’t aware it even exists. A lovely little coffee house and restaurant with a youthful, al fresco feel to it
- Café Residenz occupies part of a side tract just outside the palace itself. Classic coffee house ambience, tweaked a little for international guests, with a range of full meals available, too. On my visit, the waiting staff were surprisingly friendly for a busy tourist destination
Tickets & visitor tips
The links above take you to specifics on the various attractions, including ticket info where needed (nearly all the park and garden areas, for example, are freely accessible). But let me offer a few bits of general advice.
The palace and the tours of the staterooms (possibly the most popular tourist activity in Vienna) form the centrepiece of the Schönbrunn complex.
In summer (and at other peak visitor times), you may have to stand in a long queue to get a tour ticket and then wait again until your time slot comes up.
So I recommend one of four approaches:
Palace tour only
There’s a lot you could see, but the “must see” is the Schönbrunn Palace staterooms. If that’s all you want to do, then book a self-guided or guided* tour ticket in advance, because then you get a specific time slot for entering the palace.
Which means no unnecessary waiting.
If you have a Vienna Pass sightseeing pass, you can turn up at Schönbrunn and fix a time for the free Grand Tour of the palace that comes with the pass.
Should you have to wait for a time slot, then make use of the intervening time. At the time of writing, the Vienna Pass lets you skip ticket lines at, for example, the zoo, the Carriage Museum, the privy garden, the orangery, the maze and the Gloriette viewing platform, for example. All of which are in Schönbrunn park.
Or simply take in the park and gardens.
Or drop in for cake at one of the coffee houses.
If you want to do everything, but don’t need/want a Vienna Pass, then buy a combination ticket from Schönbrunn. They offer various choices but all give you decent savings when compared to buying tickets individually for all the attractions.
Equally, if you don’t buy online and book a tour time in advance, then a combination ticket lets you spend any waiting time exploring the other Schönbrunn locations.
Just the free stuff
The staterooms are brilliant, but there’s nothing to stop you just wandering around the gorgeous park and gardens. As mentioned, there’s no fee to enter either. In fact, many Viennese go for their early-morning jog in Schönbrunn park.
You can easily lose a couple of hours just walking around enjoying the views of the palace, Gloriette, Roman ruins, outbuildings, fountains, obelisk and more.
Spring and summer has the advantage of flowers, while autumn brings out the coloured foliage. Winter can disappoint, though the park in snow can be a joy, especially if one of the many red squirrels in the park make an appearance.
How to get to Schönbrunn
For public transport and parking suggestions, see the Directions to Schönbrunn article.
(Note that the hop on – hop off buses also go out to Schönbrunn.)
Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna, Austria | Website