With its distinctive yellow walls and detailed facades, Schönbrunn Palace is one of Austria’s most recognisable landmarks. Boasting an incredible 1,441 rooms, the majority of which are adorned with extravagant gold leaf and fitted out with sumptuous carpets, intricate frescoes and grand portraits, it’s the kind of pad that truly gives the phrase “fit for a queen” its meaning.
Now firmly within the boundaries of modern Vienna, the site at Schönbrunn was originally an unassuming rural hunting lodge, enjoyed by society's most powerful people on their summer weekends away. It was under the watchful eye of Maria Theresa - mother of Marie Antoinette - and her husband Franz Stefan that it became a centre of court life, with the pair commissioning an extensive rebuilding project which saw it enlarged to be able to accommodate up to 1,000 people at a time, with no expense spared on the interior decor. The exterior appearance for which it is so famous today was added by Emperor Franz I, who also remodelled the apartments to suit the tastes of his wife, Elizabeth.
What makes Schönbrunn particularly special though, is the fact that despite the modifications that each of its royal owners commissioned, it has undergone virtually zero structural changes since the beginning of the 19th century. The furniture and decorations present in apartments, the theatre and the Chapel are also all entirely authentic, so if you want to see how European royalty really lived, then this is very much the place (or, the palace) to do so. As a result of this preservation, Schönbrunn was granted UNESCO world heritage status in 1996.
It's fair to say that Schönbrunn is definitely not short of a good story or two. In Napoleon's Room you can see where the French statesman slept during his occupation of Vienna; step into the Empress Sisi's Salon and you’ll see all the hallmarks of a woman famed for her obsession with her beauty and weight, who rejected the rigidity of royal life; hop across to the Mirror Room and you’ll see where Mozart gave his first ever concert, at the age of just six.
But while the palace walls have witnessed some of the biggest moments in Austrian history, maybe the biggest of them all came in the Blue Chinese Salon on 11 November 1918, when Emperor Charles I signed a document that would end the Austro-Hungarian monarchy forever. Since then, Schönbrunn has mostly been preserved as a museum, although the Great Gallery was used to host a meeting between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and the Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev at the height of the Cold War.
Just as efforts have been made to preserve the integrity of the palace, so too have they been made to retain the original character of the gardens, with the layout of the Baroque park being virtually identical to the original design. If you happen to spot a groundsman hard at work during your visit then pay extra attention, because traditional 18th-century techniques are still used to trim the trees and bushes. Once you’ve finished wandering through the gardens, test your adventure skills in the Schönbrunn maze; although it was constructed in 1999, it's based on plans from the one that was in its place in 1720.
Schönbrunn is also home to the Vienna Zoo, the world’s oldest zoo, which was started by Emperor Franz I Stephan as a hobby and now contains over 500 species.
Tours: Your entry fee includes an audio guide that follows one of two set tours. The Imperial Tour takes visitors around 26 of the rooms, including the private apartments of the Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth. The Grand Tour takes in all 40, including the Red Salon.
Tickets: Buy tickets online beforehand as it does get busy. Alternatively, if you only want to see the outside then the palace park is free to enter and a lovely place to sit and relax.
How to get there: Take the U4 metro line to Schönbrunn.
You can’t take photos inside the palace, but you can in the park.
And most importantly… the apple strudel in the cafe comes highly recommended. The palace's Strudel Show, where you can learn to make your own, is also oddly enjoyable!
June 1st to June 30th
July 1st to August 31st
September 1st to October 31st
November 1st to March 31st
Austria 1130 Wien