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Schonbrunn Palace

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Surely at the top of any tourist's check-list, the Schonbrunn Palace is a regal 1,441 room palace formerly used as the official summer residence of the ruling Habsburg family. Designed in a Rococo style, the opulent building sits in exquisite grounds totalling more than 176 hectares, so to experience all that the Schonbrunn has to offer, set aside at least half a day of exploring before you set off to visit.

The main building of the palace dates back to 1705, and was built by prominent Vienna architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, who intended the structure to be the most magnificent in Europe, outshining even Versailles, in order to fully reflect the might and majesty of the Habsburg's expanding empire. Yet there has been a palace of one kind or another on this site since 1569, when Emperor Maximillian II converted the existing fortress into an Imperial hunting lodge.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Schonbrunn Palace is a must for tourists, with guided tours around the private rooms and halls of bygone Emperors particularly enlightening. On arrival visitors proceed through an enormous forecourt flanked by old servant's quarters and stables, while a magical Orangerie dating from 1754 is directly to the left of the entrance. Stocked with ranks of citrus trees, hanging baskets of flowers and tropical plants, this light-filled extension is a corner of peace and quiet amongst a palace that is visited by over 8 million visitors per year.

The Palace itself, decked in pastel yellow, with a restrained order to the Baroque facade, is full to the brim with frescoed ceilings, walls of intricate wallpaper, gilt-edged fittings, chandeliers of abundant crystal, impossibly big mirrors, fulsome velvet curtains and extraordinarily opulent items of furniture. Visitors can tour the room where a 6 year old Mozart played for the Empress, the bed chamber in which Emperor Franz Joseph was born, and the halls to which he was confined during his housebound, later years, along with the grand dining rooms and ballrooms that hosted Royals and esteemed members of the European nobility from down the years. The private salon of Empress Elisabeth, known affectionately as Sisi in Austria, is particularly popular, and the neo-Rococo drawing room includes an impressive oil painting of the Empress completed by Skallinsky, as well as a less well known portrait of Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, and Archduchess of Austria, who was infamously guillotined in 1793 aged just 37.

Of course, no visit to the Schonbrunn Palace would be complete without taking a stroll in the extensive Schloss Schonbrunn gardens. The French style gardens feature everything from a maze, an obelisk fountain, botanical garden, palm house, mock Roman ruin, the world's oldest zoo and, most significant of all, the Gloriette. Make sure to walk uphill to the Gloriette for incredible views back across the gardens towards the palace and wider Vienna. The colonnaded belvedere, built in 1775 as part of an overhaul of the grounds, houses a pleasant cafe with an outdoor terrace, and is the ideal way to end a day out at the Schonbrunn.


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