Where in Vienna should you go if you like Empress Sissi of Austria? Is the Sissi Museum worth your time? Below I am sharing the best local places where to trace Habsburg’s Elizabeth of Hungary, aka Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie of Bavaria.
To begin with, there are more stories about ‘Austria’s Diana’ as there are places in Wien related to her. On the one side, Empress Sissi extensively travelled and was rarely at home. On the other side, her extreme personality and tragic death lead to a mix of facts and fiction: from the Sissi Movie tale of a sweet Austrian princess, beauty queen and much loved wife to Sisi being an egocentrical cow, cold hearted mother and frigid spouse.
Most Sissi locations in Vienna deal with one or the other view, in the best case with both.
To reflect Kaiserin Elisabeth’s wide international appeal note that I deliberately use the most popular versions of Sissi’s name.
Sissi Empress of Austria
Born as Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie of Bavaria, Sisi was 15 when she married her cousin Francis Joseph of Austria. While a picture book princess on the outside her lifestyle soon revealed a deeply unhappy individual. On the one hand, the dazzling beauty with model figure was extremely sporty, body conscious, wrote poems and was adored by her husband. On the other hand, Empress Sissi showed little affection with her children, and never quite fitted into the stiff protocol of the Habsburg court.
The only successful political intervention Sisi made with her husband was in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867. She staunchly took the side of the Hungarians. After Elisabeth’s and Franz Joseph’s coronation of king and queen of Austria-Hungary, Sissi was often referred to as Elizabeth of Hungary.
After two of her four children died – Sophie, and later on Rudolph’s suicide – Sisi started to travel extensively. By moving across Europe by rail and on her own yacht she escaped from both the court and Francis Joseph. In 1898, Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni murdered Sissi of Austria in Geneva.
Unlike Sissy, her husband Francis Joseph of Austria was completely taken up in ruling his territory. He was highly conscientious, a hard worker, and a military fan. In 1853/54, Francis Joseph shunned Elizabeth’s older sister Helene against his mother’s intentions, and married mesmerizing Sisi instead. It was namely this fact that Alison Pataki’s novel ‘The Accidental Empress’ relates to.
Although Franz Joseph reportedly deeply loved Sissi, he routinely prioritised his duties as a ruler and had several mistresses. Sissi knew of them and was even said to have actively fostered her husband’s relationship with long time mistress and actress Katharina Schratt, to be free in her travels. Francis Joseph died of pneumonia in 1916, in the middle of World War I, and with him the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Sisi Museum in Vienna
Like many Viennese I have always been ambivalent about Empress Sissi. Not least because in Vienna historic research is just as close to Sissi as the legends around her (though not as popular). If you’d like to disentangle myths and reality around Elizabeth of Hungary the Sisi Museum at Hofburg Imperial Palace is the best place to do this. Actually, the development of the Sissi myth turns as fascinating as the story of Elisabeth of Austria’s life herself.
Among more than 300 objects you will see dazzling portraits such as Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s famous painting of young Sissi Empress of Austria with diamond stars in her hair.
Historic Sissi souvenirs and newspaper clips are as much on show as daily objects, for example her children’s hat, her white silk ankle boots, fans and parasols, her black coat, a replica of Sisi’s hen party dress and coronation dress, a reproduction of part of her Imperial sleeping car.
Location: Michaelerkuppel (underneath the dome), 1010 Vienna
Opening Hours: daily; September to June 9.00 am to 5.30 pm; July and August 9.00 am to 6.00 pm
Tickets: EUR 13.90 (adults, includes Sissi Museum, Imperial Apartments and Treasury); ticket price included in the VIENNA PASS, find out in Vienna Travel Card whether this is a good option for you;
Definitely the closest to a ‘Sisi Palace’ is the Imperial Palace in Vienna, Hofburg. While the Sissi Museum systematically rolls out Empress Sissi’s story, the adjacent Imperial Apartments (Kaiserappartements) frame her world at Hofburg Palace. In Sissi’s exercise and dressing room, for example, the wooden rings are still dangling from the doorframe. On the whole, that red, gold and cream coloured boudoir showcases Imperial furniture, a beautiful vanity unit, various flacons and hair brushes, family portraits and photographs.
What I found actually most impressive were Elisabeth’s copper bathtub and her decorated porcelain water flush toilet. Other rooms such as the richly decorated Alexander apartement and the Small Salon offer a less private peek into Sisi’s life but were still part of her ‘territory’.
Opening Hours Tickets and Tours: see above (Sissi Museum)
Also Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburgs’ summer residence, still exudes a whiff of Sissi Empress of Austria. Overall you will recognise the white-and-gold panelling and red velvet furniture from Hofburg Palace. Since Sissy adored taking care of herself, again it’s her dressing room that leaves the biggest private footprint. Expect an arrangement of fine glass and silver bottles and boxes, an arsenal of soft hairbrushes, and even scales.
In general, you will see all main state rooms of Empress Sissi and Francis Joseph in Schönbrunn’s west wing. They are all 19th century, though some of them were refurbished in the 1850s in the Rococo revival style.
Location: Schönbrunner Schlosstrasse 47, 1130 Vienna
Opening Hours: 8.00 am to 5.30 pm (1st April to 30 June, 1st September to 5th November); 8.00 am to 6.30 pm (1st July to 31st August); 8.00 am to 5.00 pm (1st November to 30th March)
Tickets and Tours: entrance tickets cost from EUR 14.20 (palace only); alternatively skip the lines and join a small group tour through Schonbrunn Palace and gardens;
Imperial Furniture Depot
For a family with multiple residences, mobility was an issue for the Habsburgs, including Sissi. Moving all your bare necessities with you at all times just came with it. At the Hofmobiliendepot you see a range of furniture related to Sissi, for example her night gown and bedroom interiors at Gödöllö castle in Hungary, and furniture from Laxenburg castle. Probably the most endearing pieces of the collection are the cradle of Sissy’s son Rudolph and her other children’s cot beds on the ground floor. My own favourite private object is Sisi’s black umbrella that she used later in her life.
To pay tribute to Sissi movie fans all over the world the depot showcases the original furniture used in the film. While you are there, watch a few sequences of the Imperial couple re-enacted by Romy Schneider and Karlheinz Bohm on a large TV screen. Learn more in Hapsburg’s Museum of Furniture.
Tucked away at Lainz Nature Reserve in the West of Vienna, romantic 19th-century Hermes Villa is a desire made of brick and mortar: Sissy’s husband built it in the 1880s to persuade Empress Sissi to spend more time in Vienna. Sissi referred to it as her ‘palace of dreams’ and ‘Titania’s magic castle’. Each year in the late spring the Imperial couple would spend a few weeks there. By the way, the mansion’s architect is none other than Ringstrasse top builder Carl Hasenauer.
Essentially, Hermesvilla is filled with fine 19th century art, including Gustav Klimt, but also baroque pompous pieces such as Sisi’s and Franz Joseph’s bed. (Since she disliked the bed Sissi reportedly slept on a mattress on the floor.) Overall, the villa makes a perfect destination to explore a more private Imperial lifestyle – it is VERY different from Hofburg and Schönbrunn. Find out what else to see and how to get there in Hermesvilla Vienna.
Sisi’s Favourite Sweets
Despite Empress Sissi’s strict diet she was crazy for candied violets and violet ice cream. Imperial court supplier and patisserie Demel right opposite Hofburg Palace delivered it regularly to her, while Francis Joseph would order Krapfen (donuts) from Demel for his mistress Katharina Schratt. Today, Demel has just moved a few meters up to Kohlmarkt no. 14, where you can still try Sissi’s violet ice cream and sugared violets. Read more about Vienna’s most famous cake shop in Demel Vienna.
Empress Sisi Jewelry
An invisible string of diamond stars glittering in a soft crown of hazelnut hair: Do you recall Empress Sissi’s famous portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter? (If not just scroll up.) On top of Elizabeth of Hungary’s dazzling beauty it also showcases the country’s most famous jewellery.
Die-hard fans of Sissi of Austria can get the 3,10 ct diamond stars at its original designer and vendor – former Imperial court supplier and jeweller Köchert. For more information go to Austrian jewelry. If you’d like to spend less than EUR 13,800 per star, you can bag for example a pair of star earrings with Swarovski crystals for EUR 20 at Schönbrunn’s or Hofburg’s museum shop.
Other Nearby Sisi Sites To Visit
Augustinian Church: The Habsburgs’ family church in the city center where Francis Joseph and Sisi married in 1854. Address: Augusinterstrasse 3;
Sisi Chapel: The neogothic chapel was built by early Sissy fan and tobacconist Johann Carl Freiherr von Sothen. The renovated chapel in the Vienna Woods is nice but doesn’t include any major references to Sissi any more. Address: Am Himmel, Himmelstrasse 125, 1190 Vienna;
Laxenburg Castle: At the 700-year old charming country castle in the South East of Vienna Sissi and Francis Joseph’s spent their honeymoon. Francis Joseph had spent many childhood summers there with his siblings. Later on Sissi gave birth to her second daughter Gisela at Laxenburg. Definitely the castle and gardens make for a great romantic or family day out of Vienna.
Mayerling Hunting Lodge: Though not a Sissi location, Mayerling in the Vienna Woods is closely related to her fate as her son Rudolph killed his girl friend Mary Vetsery and then committed suicide there in 1889. Now, Mayerling is a Carmelite convent, with a chapel right on the location of Rudolph’s bedroom. If you are really into the Mayerling myths and tragedy the castle and carefully done exhibition rooms are worth a visit. Address: Karmel Mayerling, Mayerling 3, 2534 Alland;