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.
- Famous 18th-century palace, gardens and park
- Once home to imperial families, now a World Heritage site
- Numerous attractions, including the gorgeous staterooms, a huge zoo, a carriage museum, a maze, giant fountains, VR experience…
- See also:
To save you some thinking, I have my top ten Schönbrunn activities. But below you’ll find a more detailed overview of almost everything there, with links to articles on each attraction.
What to do at Schönbrunn
Schönbrunn palace & outbuildings
(Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien – the view from the gardens. And, yes, I had to get up very early to get this people-free photo)
The current palace dates back to the 1740s, though a long history of extensions and rebuilding work followed.
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.
- Schönbrunn contains hundreds of rooms and you can visit up to 40 of the most spectacular ones on a palace tour
(Each room hums with history; follow in the footsteps of Napoleon, Mozart, and even President Kennedy, not to mention a truckload of Habsburg emperors and empresses.)
- The Schloss Schönbrunn virtual reality experience also takes place within the main palace building. This immersive VR journey focuses more on the history of the Habsburgs, though with some palace elements built in
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 accompanying 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.
Open to the public since 1779, the grounds conceal various architectural delights. Expect fountains, fake ruins, statues, and walled gardens. Look out, also, for red squirrels entirely unconcerned by the crowds.
Incidentally, access to the park and most of the gardens is free.
- 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 rooftop viewing platform and a café inside
- 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.
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, the aquarium, 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
Two other indoor locations close to the zoo are…
- The Palmenhaus (palm house), which 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 each attraction, including ticket info; you require tickets for the palace tour, orangery, privy garden, gloriette viewing platform, maze, zoo, carriage museum, desert house, palm house and children’s museum.
But let me offer a few bits of general advice.
The palace staterooms (possibly the most popular tourist activity in Vienna) form the centrepiece of the Schönbrunn complex and require a tour ticket and time slot to view.
In summer (and at other peak visitor times), you may have to stand in a long queue on site to get a tour ticket and then wait again until your time slot comes up. So buy online in advance.
I recommend one of the following approaches:
Palace tour only
There’s a lot you could see, but the “must see” is the Schönbrunn Palace staterooms. Many people wander around the (free) garden and park areas and take a palace tour.
If that’s you, I recommend one of two options.
1. Guided tour
Go in with a tour guide at a set time. For example:
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
2. Self-guided tour
Take the standard self-guided tour (with audioguide or printed guide) provided by Schönbrunn. I take a deeper look at this option here.
I’d certainly recommend you book your ticket online from Schönbrunn (see their website at the bottom of the page), to avoid queuing and to ensure your time slot fits your trip schedule.
If you’re planning on seeing more than one attraction, then you can obviously purchase individual tickets (see the articles for details). But two strong options are:
This sightseeing ticket gives you one-time free entry to numerous Vienna attractions across 1, 2, 3 or 6 days (see my review for details).
The Vienna Pass gets you into, for example, the zoo and Carriage Museum, and entitles you to take the self-guided Grand Tour of the palace. But you’ll need to turn up at the Schönbrunn arrival centre and fix a time slot for the tour.
If you do have to wait, then simply make use of the intervening time to visit those other Schönbrunn attractions covered by the pass.
Or simply take in the park and gardens.
Or drop in for cake at one of the coffee houses.
If you want to do different activities, but don’t need/want a Vienna Pass, then check the Schönbrunn website for combination tickets.
They offer various choices but all give you 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 also lets you spend any waiting time exploring the other Schönbrunn locations.
Just the free stuff
The staterooms are brilliant, but you might also just wander around the gorgeous park and gardens. As mentioned, you pay 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 often casts a grey pall over everything, though the park in snow can be a joy. And you have the added bonus of red squirrels, who remain active and regularly make an appearance.
How to get to Schönbrunn
Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna, Austria | Website