I’ll admit it, sometimes visiting historical landmarks in Europe can be monotonous. Unless you majored in European history, palaces can blur together making it feel like “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”. But the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna is one of a few notable exceptions.
It was the summer palace of the Habsburg family, Napoleon’s hunting lodge during his brief reign. It was the place where young Mozart astonished the royal family with his talents, and where Emperor Franz Joseph died of a broken heart many years after his beloved wife’s assassination.
Beyond its rich history, it has hundreds of acres of forest which provide an oasis for nature lovers in the city.
Below are four ways to enjoy all that this stunning palace has to offer:
1. Take a walk through the enchanted forest
The vast property surrounding the palace is a treasure trove of fountains, manicured Japanese gardens, hideaways in the woods, and cross country trails. Locals can be seen winding through shady forest paths to escape the scorching heat of the Austrian summer, and lovers meandering through deserted paths looking for places to be alone.
I wanted to explore this fairytale setting for days, to get lost among the towering trees. But of course time is a precious commodity when there is so much else to see.
2. Take the Imperial Tour
Whether or not you know who Emperor Franz Joseph was, I recommend taking the Imperial tour. It gives you access to 40 historically significant rooms in the palace, a guided audio tour, entry into the labyrinth, the lookout and the Palmenhaus. But best of all, it gives you a good dose of Austrian history without drawing your too deep into the long and complex history of the Austro-Hungarian empire. After all, you will want to save some time for the rest of the grounds where so much of the Schönbrunn’s beauty lies.
3. Feast your eyes at the Gloriette
One of the best views of the Schönbrunn (and of Vienna) is from the lookout at the rear of the palace, a structure called the Gloriette. Marvel at the incredible panoramic view of the palace, the symmetry of the gardens, and Stephansdom Cathedral far in the distance.
But bring the right shoes – the path is longer than it looks and includes a ~100 stair climb to the lookout. It’s a bit of work but well worth it.
4. Escape from the Labyrinth
Whether or not yet you enjoy mazes (large or small), the Schönbrunn’s labyrinth is a great way of injecting some innocent fun into a day loaded with very adult things like historical tours and lookouts. It’s not really challenging, but it is fun.
If you have half a brain, you won’t be struck here for too long.
There is no better place to catch a glimpse of the forgone Austro-Hungarian empire as the Schönbrunn Palace. Less restrained than Versailles or less guarded than Buckingham palace, it’s a place of leisure, colour and fun.