Imperial Vienna Tour. Not all trip itineraries allow for 34 football fields packed with prime landmarks and cultural treasures. In fact, that is the size of the Habsburg Emperors’ Palace compound!
Since Hofburg Palace is the heart of historical Wien you’ll first need to pick and choose the best spots. And second, some off-path routes to avoid the crowds also help. Here is how to do it.
A Family Home
My local tour guide Gertrude and I met at the elevator to the Albertina museum to start our Imperial Vienna Tour. “The Albertina is not just a shell to collect art but a key Habsburg town palace. It was home to Empress Maria Theresia’s favourite daughter and three more generations,” explained Gertrude.
In the 1990ies, Klaus Albrecht Schröder, visionary director of the Albertina, turned the ailing building into a successful art attraction. The Albertina boasts both revolutionary elements and beautifully restored interiors. I made a mental note to re-visit that gem of a museum later on.
Lose Your Heart
Just past the Albertina, we sneaked into the elegant Augustine chapel. It was the Habsburg’s favourite wedding place. Empress Maria Theresia, her daughter Marie Antoinette and Empress Elisabeth (‘Sissi’) got married here, among many other Habsburgs.
I loved the Augustine chapel’s white washed walls, with its slim columns running up to the ceiling in graceful curves. A dozen chandeliers hovered between the delicate altar and the white organ in the back. “On some Saturdays you will see loads of fancy hats of upper class Viennese ladies,” Gertrude remarked amused. The Augustine chapel remains popular for certain local weddings. But there was more to losing your heart there: the story of the 54 Habsburg hearts kept in urns at the chapel…
The Emperor’s Wikipedia
I hadn’t been to the Austrian National Library for ages. Since it was essential to our Imperial Vienna Tour we decided to enter. “This was the Emperors’ Wikipedia”, whispered my guide at the sight of 200,000 precious volumes.
Gertrude shed light on this key piece of European baroque, wandering across the large State Hall, pointing out hidden clues and beautiful details: Prince Eugene of Savoy, the Habsburg’s most successful military commander, collected 16,000 leather bound books, which are lined up in two-storey high book shelves at the heart of the State Hall.
Despite its age, the National Library looks glorious and vibrant. That wasn’t always the case. The ‘columns of Hercules’, which carry the main structure of the Library, nearly collapsed 300 years ago. The library needed to be rescued by another Imperial architect.
800 Years In A Nutshell
The 800-year-old Court had witnessed what 20 generations of news correspondents would have been able to cover live. There were stories of medieval battles, building an Imperial residence for the Holy Roman Empire, the Swiss Guard, legendary Burgundian treasures, the Order of the Golden Fleece, and Empress Sissi. The 500-year old Vienna Boys choir still performs at Sunday masses in the local Imperial Chapel.
We passed through the Swiss Gate into the main courtyard. A wild mix of medieval walls and baroquified façades shaped the palace wings. Gertrude used it for a 360 degrees view of what is still going on behind the palace walls. Since the monarchy ended in 1918, the Austrian government uses parts of former Imperial residences for offices and representational purposes.
Imperial Vienna Tour: The Finish Line
We finished up where Imperial Vienna had ended: at the New Castle (‘Neue Burg’) on Heldenplatz. Neue Burg is the opulent crescent-shaped palace that Emperor Francis Joseph built as an Imperial forum. His son Francis Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo in 1914, triggering the First World War and the end of the monarchy.
Should you join an Imperial Vienna Tour, or a general Vienna tour?
Because I love to connect the pieces of Central Europe’s history and get a better grip on the Habsburg Emperors, I would go for Imperial Vienna. Take this tour early during your trip. You will end up with a few pointers of preferred places to visit.
Do you want to book this tour? Email me at barbara.cacao(at)vienna-unwrapped.com.
Great private tours reviewed by Vienna Unwrapped: Sigmund Freud Museum and Tour, Secret Vienna Tour, Vienna Jewish Tour, Otto Wagner Church (Art Nouveau Tour), Music Tour Vienna
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