Palaces are aplenty in Vienna. In a city where there are up to 50 palaces, the top three most visited contenders got to be the Belvedere, Schönbrunn and the Hofburg Palace. Whether it is due to how grand the architecture is, or its close proximity to the city center, let's see why.
The Schönbrunn palace was a summer residence to the imperial family. The complex was massive - it had countless chambers for the imperial family, as well as rooms for official business. The garden was so huge, it took us about 2 hours to slowly walk through it. A zoo is a part of the palace, and it is one of the oldest zoos in the world.
Even though we were only there in winter, I can only see how crazy beautiful the entire area could be in Spring where it is full of life - rows and rows of flowers blooming in the gardens and having trees line the pathways. What we experienced in winter felt a little cold - the trees were bare with a weird shape to it's trunk and branches. We were really puzzled as to why they were like that, but soon realised that they were shaped this way and it was not a natural phenomena. Still, very eye-catching. Something you don't get to see in Summer.
We visited Schrönbrunn on a Saturday during winter and it was still packed with people. One can tell how popular this place is, with all its hype about the zoo and being one of the top sites to visit in Vienna. We had to plough our way through the crowd as we took the U-bahn, and the station was not as near as the palace entrance as compared to where many tourists and visitors alight from their tourist buses. Winter season was suppose to be low season for tourism, but it doesn’t seem so in Vienna. The queue for admission tickets for the Imperial tour, which showcases some 22 chambers of the palace, took us about 30-40 mins. Since there was simply too many people in the palace compounds, they sort of rationed the number of people entering at one point in time to prevent overcrowding. We had to then wait for another hour to get in for the tour which lasts for approximately 30-40 mins. Some parts of the palace is free, like the gardens, if you are not up for spending to see the interior. But, I would highly recommend to visit at least one palace’s interior, as it is really very intricately beautiful. And in this tour, an audio guide is provided. Hence, you will get a deeper understanding to their past as well as the life of Sisi.
We chose to only go for the Imperial Tour and walk the grounds of the palace.
The best part about visiting the palace in winter is that there's a Christmas market at the main courtyard space, so you can fill your tummy after a long walk in the compounds! Have a cuppa punch and piping hot baked potato topped with yogurt and bacon bits. Yum!
Schönbrunn Palace | Schönbrunner Schlossstraße, 1130 Wien | Opening hours: Apr - Jun 0830-1700, Jul - Aug 0830-1800, Sep - Oct 0830-1700, Nov - Mar 0830-1630 | Imperial Tour price: € 12,90
The Belvedere consists of the Upper Belvedere and Lower Belvedere. What separates these two is a large garden. Baroque architecture is everywhere in Vienna, but the Belvedere is considered to be one of the finest Baroque landmarks. As the name suggests, Upper Belvedere is on a higher ground, slowly sloping downwards to the Lower Belvedere. A spectacular view of the city can be seen from the Upper Belvedere.
Just like other palaces, walking around the compounds are favourable if you are on a budget as it is free. I think visiting any one palace’s chambers’ is enough just to get a feel of how they generally look like. We did not enter the chambers in the Belvedere and only strolled around the garden and the admired the architecture from outside, the look from day to night as we were there at the twilight hour. Also, they had a christmas market in there too! I highly suspect that a christmas market could be chucked in to any empty available space - not that it’s a bad thing. You could get your punch fix anywhere you go, really.
Upper Belvedere | Prinz Eugen-Straße 27, 1030 Vienna | Opens daily 1000 - 1800 | Grounds are free, admission tickets prices varies
Lower Belvedere | Rennweg 6, 1030 Vienna | Opens daily 1000 - 1800, Wednesday 1000 - 2100 | Grounds are free, admission tickets prices varies
Unlike Schönbrunn and Belvedere, Hofburg Palace is situated in the centre of Vienna. Also unlike the other two palaces, Hofburg was the winter palace of the Habsburg and the rulers of the Austro-Hungary empire.
We joined a walking tour conducted by our hostel - Wombats City Hostel (The Naschmarkt), which covered some parts of the Hofburg Palace during the tour. We did not pay to visit any museums or exhibitions inside the palace. Entrance fees do eat up our budget quite a lot, so we were really selective about it. Of course if you are willing to and are planning to cover many of these spots, it will be beneficial to purchase the Vienna Card, which has discounts for admission tickets, cafes and more.
I found the Hofburg Palace's layout probably the weirdest of all. In all typical palaces, there'd be some kind of symmetry, with everything in balance, but not the Hofburg. It's architecture layout was kind of all over the place - a sign of it being rebuilt and having wings built added on and on as years passed. Another thing to note is how huge these buildings are. I feel that they are the ultimate representation of imperialism in Austria.
The sheer size and intricacy of these buildings still amazes me and I thoroughly enjoyed viewing them. Vienna being the giant, is so different from other smaller cities. It is so clean and sleek. Though much more commercialised, I can still see why people flock there for a vacation.
The grounds are open somewhat 24 hours, with no gates to them hence no closing hour. Be sure to take a walk around the area at night to see the night view as the whole place lights up with spotlights. It is quite beautiful. The lights turn off at midnight though, so make sure you know the low light settings on your camera and you're good to go.
Hofburg Palace | Michaelerkuppel, A-1010 Wien | Opens daily | Grounds open 24 hours | Grounds are free