Part 2 of our walking tour of Vienna takes us through the Hofburg home of the Habsburgs at the heart of the city.
Read on for route details, insider location tips, plus links to information on the sights you see and the occasional guided alternatives.
- Full 4-part route takes some 90 minutes without stopping much
- See also
- Book a guided walking tour*
Walk through Habsburg history
Part 1 and the start of the tour took us from the opera house to Josefsplatz square. Now you leave that square through the archways with the road on your left.
(You pass through the arches on the left of the picture)
The building you see on your right as you walk along the vaulted corridor is the late 16th century Stallburg and long time home to the stables of the Spanish Riding School.
Back in the day, the Habsburg owners put the building to a variety of purposes.
For example, the delicate scent of horse manure might mix with the aroma of wood and paint: they kept a huge collection of art above the stables. Those paintings now form part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum collection.
(The Spanish Riding School stables)
As you walk along the arched and vaulted roadside corridor, you quickly reach the stable courtyard with its surrounding arcades.
You can only enter this stable area on a guided tour. However, with a bit of luck, you might see the proud white head of a stallion in the distance.
Tip: If you hang around near the courtyard entrance before, during, and after scheduled training sessions, you might see the horses cross the road outside as they travel to and from the arena.
(Hofburg entrance on the left)
Continue past the stables to reach Michaelerplatz square just after Starbucks (not every Viennese coffee house dates back to the 19th century).
You’re going to walk around to the left and go through the huge entrance guarded by various statues of Hercules to enter the main Hofburg area:
(The road into the Hofburg complex)
But first, take in the historical joys of this location, which dates back about as long as Vienna itself. Roman excavations even occupy part of the square.
The 13th-century Michaelerkirche runs along one side, for example.
(The Michaelerkirche on the right, the Großes Michaelerhaus and former Haydn residence on the left)
Some parts of this gothic church can recall the urgent whispers of worshippers discussing news of Genghis Khan. Go inside to find a plaque noting that the requiem service for Mozart took place within in 1791.
Two older buildings flank the Michaelerkirche. The early 18th-century one heading down the Kohlmarkt road opposite the Hofburg entrance once provided a home for a young Joseph Haydn: a fact also commemorated by a suitable plaque.
If you pop down Kohlmarkt, you soon reach one of Vienna’s most famous cafés and confectioneries: Demel, who used to deliver treats to Empress Elisabeth herself in the 19th century. Often visible by the queues to get in!
(The Loos house)
Further around the square, the slightly unusual newer building with green marble columns enjoys its own particular fame.
Many consider the 1912 Loos House an important marker in the rise of modern architecture. Allegedly, the Emperor of the time (Franz Joseph) rather despised the so-called “house without eyebrows”.
Into the Hofburg
Once you walk between the Hercules statues and through the giant domed entrance building, you have entered the first part of the main Hofburg and bona fide Habsburg territory.
Many emperors and empresses lived within the Hofburg, and the complex also served as the effective administrative centre of the Habsburg family dominions, which at times covered huge swathes of central and eastern Europe.
(Habsburg and imperial history gets rather confusing, so I put together a simple guide.)
The Hofburg itself began life as a fortified 13th-century residence, but went through numerous expansions and alterations as needs changed and various monarchs flicked through the latest architectural catalogues of the time.
As you walk under the magnificent dome and through to a large courtyard, you pass two important entrances.
The Spanish Riding School
(This way to the horses)
The Sisi Museum
On your right is the ticket office and entrance to the Sisi Museum. A self-guided tour ticket covers three areas packed with Habsburgian joys.
- The Sisi Museum itself tells the story of Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898), one of the most enigmatic and fascinating personalities of Habsburg (and European) history.
- The Silberkammer presents imperial household items, ranging from the practical (cake moulds) to gold-plated dinner services and priceless porcelain.
- And the Imperial apartments take you through the furnished rooms used by Elisabeth and her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph.
You then emerge from under the dome into a large courtyard: the Innere Burghof.
Walk straight on toward and though the arches you see ahead of you. But pause a moment before doing so.
(The Innere Burghof courtyard)
Look at the courtyard from the road and you have:
- The 18th century Reichskanzleitrakt lining the right side: administrative offices repurposed into living quarters for various members of the Imperial family and guests.
- The 16th-century Amalientrakt (with the clock) opposite: home to Empress Elisabeth’s former apartments as well as the Federal Chancellery of today’s Austria.
- And the 17th century Leopoldinische Trakt on your left. This now contains the offices of the Austrian president.
(Franz in his Roman outfit)
An 1846 monument to Emperor Franz II/I (1768-1835) dominates the centre of the courtyard. The four seated women surrounding our emperor are faith, strength, peace and justice.
(The double numerals after Franz’s name hide an intriguing story of narcissism, politics and pesky Frenchmen.)
Franz liked to think of himself as an emperor in the more traditional sense. Not what you might call a true man of the people. Hence the classical attire for a ruler born centuries after the Roman empire dissolved.
Schweizertor and Imperial Treasury
The russet and gold portal facing Franz is the 1552 Schweizertor (“Swiss gate”), first erected by Emperor Ferdinand I (1503-1564) as one of those things you do to remind everyone of your imperial status and strength.
The Schweizertor leads you through to the oldest part of the Hofburg (the Schweizertrakt) and, most importantly for visitors, through to the Schatzkammer or Imperial Treasury.
As you might imagine, the treasury contains various remarkable (and priceless) imperial and religious items, including the crowns of the Austrian and Holy Roman empires.
Tip: for a double dose of true treasures, get a combination ticket* for the Schatzkammer and the Kunsthistorisches art museum (focus on the Kunstkammer section inside).
(View across to the Naturhistorisches Museum)
Continue walking in the direction of the road to pass through the Leopoldinische Trakt and eventually emerge out on to Heldenplatz.
Hitler (in)famously announced the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938 on this square.
The two large equestrian statues on the Heldenplatz honour favoured sons from imperial times.
The 1860 statue you see on the right as you come out is Archduke Karl (1771-1847), the first to ever prick the aura of invincibility around Napoleon by defeating the French emperor at the 1809 battle of Aspern-Essling.
(As you can imagine, Napoleon failed to flee in awe and humility; he beat Karl at the more-decisive Battle of Wagram shortly after.)
(The Neue Burg with the Prince Eugene statue)
A relatively new addition to the Hofburg is the rather splendid curved building behind Eugene.
The Neue Burg formed part of unfinished urban expansion plans in the late 19th century.
These plans foundered on economic issues, World War I and (critically) the end of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918; the Neue Burg itself never really achieved formal completion in the Imperial sense of the term.
Today, the building houses various important institutions, including the National Library and various museums. These include Vienna’s ethnographic museum (the Weltmuseum), which itself includes the Imperial arms and armour collection and the collection of historical musical instruments.
Tip: You can access the initial part of the Weltmuseum without a ticket. This lets you see the remarkable pillared atrium inside and stop for a rest at the museum café.
(Once the location of the city walls)
Finally, you follow the direction of the road to cross Heldenplatz and pass through the 1821 Burgtor.
This triumphal construction honoured military success over Napoleon but has since morphed into a more general memorial to the sacrifices made by the military and others in conflict.
You now emerge at the start of Part 3 of our walking tour: along the Ring.