Every classical city guide harps on about the Spanish Riding School Vienna as a Must-See. Should you spend two hours to experience baroque horses performing to classical music in a baroque riding hall? For 30 years I wasn’t convinced. See a video and read my first-hand review of watching a show. You will also get a quick overview of shows and tickets on offer.
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE MAY 2020: From 1st July 2020, the Austrian government will allow events for up to 250 people at a one-meter social distance or with one seat free in between. Up to 4 adults who visit in a group will be able to sit together, even though they don’t belong to the same household. Face masks will be required. From 1st August up to 500 or even 1.000 spectators (subject to approval by local authorities) will be allowed to cultural events.
Why Visit The Spanish Riding School Vienna?
- The Spanish Riding School is home of the Lipizzaner stallions, a uniquely beautiful and docile European breed.
- Forming part of the UNESCO Ranking of Immaterial Cultural Heritage the Spanische Hofreitschule ranks in Austria’s List of National Cultural Assets.
- Since it is the oldest classical horse riding school in the world the place is packed with history. In fact, the school was first mentioned in writing in 1565, during the reign of Archduke Maximilian II.
- At the Riding School’s almost daily Morning Exercises the public can observe the white baroque horses exercise to beautiful classical music. They take place in the 18th century baroque winter riding hall.
- Living in the Stallburg right in the city-centre the 72 Lipizzaner stallions train next to the winter riding hall where they perform. During guided tours, guests learn about breeding and training traditions that survived almost 500 years.
- Fun fact: When a Lipizzaner stallion finishes his training, he acquires the title Professor, and is addressed as such by his trainers.
Why Is The Spanish Riding School in Vienna?
To populate his new Court stud ‘am Karst’ in what is Slovenia today, Archduke Charles II imported Spanish horses. Based on these, the Habsburg Emperors then bred a new horse race that was ideally suited for the art of classical horse riding. Because the Court stud was near the town of Lipica, the new horse breed was called Lipizzaner. Only the best young stallions from the stud would be selected for the Spanish Riding School every year. Hence, the Riding School does not have Spanish origins, but the horses do.
Which Shows Are On?
There are four ways to see the Spanish Riding School Vienna and the Lipizzaner: Morning Exercises, Performances, Guided Tours, and the Programme ‘Piber Meets Vienna’.
Children between 3 and 6 years go free, children between 6 and 12 years pay a reduced fee. Children under three years are not allowed to visit the events.
Watching a group of Lipizzaner stallions at an official performance is a bit like watching ballet dancers and graceful athletes. Except that the horses show off distinct exercises, such as the delicate Pas de Deux, the Big School Quadrille, and what is called the School Above The Earth: lifting their front legs, or both their front and back legs, in figures such as the levade, the capriole, or the courbette. Each performance takes about 70 minutes.
Watch a video of a performance of the Spanish Riding School Vienna below.
Bookings: Get tickets for a Performance.
The Morning Exercises let you participate in the daily gymnastics of the Lipizzaner Stallions. The exercises are performed with classical music in the winter riding hall. They take around two hours (10 am to 12 noon) and feature different horses which perform light exercises. The event itself is quite relaxed. You can wander along the galleries to see the horses, leave and re-enter as long as you do not make noise.
Bookings: Get tickets for a Morning Exercise
Don’t tear yourself apart trying to see both the Vienna Boys Choir and the lipizzaner stallions during your stay. Instead, consider seeing them in the same programme, in one location.
The show ‘A Tribute To Vienna’ lets the choir boys perform at the baroque winter riding hall alongside the lipizzaner stallions. The show is performed throughout the year but not at regular intervals. Read more.
The annual summer programme brings the young foals and their mares from the Federal Stud Piber into the Spanish Riding School Vienna. You will get to the Lipizzans from very different side: Some of them pull original carriages with coachmen in historic uniforms. Others parade in beautiful loops across the hall. When I visited the show in 2013, the horses were very playful and would sometimes be allowed to galop around and throw themselves on their backs… In any case, expect a fun horse show and a break from a formal Lipizzaner performance. This makes the event ideal for children from 3 years of age.
Tickets: EUR 10 to EUR 40; free admission for children between 3 and 6 years; half-price tickets for children aged 6 to 12 years.
Bookings: Get tickets for Piber Meets Vienna
What Are The Best Seats At The Spanish Riding School Vienna?
Out of the 10 seating categories the best seats at the Spanish Riding School are the Royal Box, first row, on the first floor gallery, and the Ground Floor Box, first row. Both are located at the upper end of the rectangular winter riding hall. In the Ground Floor Box you sit directly in the arena, at one level with the horses. The Royal Box is set back above the Ground Floor Box.
If you love horses, you may want to learn more about the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School Vienna, how they are bred at the Federal Stud in Piber, how their diet looks like and their training schedule and performances. You will learn about the career of a Lipizzan horse trainer (Bereiter) and what their daily routine looks like. During the guided tour, you will also see the horses in their stables, the training facilities, saddles and other equipment used.
Dates: Monday to Saturday at 2.00 pm, 3.00 pm, and 4.00 pm; Sundays: 10.00 am, 11.00 am, 1.00 pm, 2.00 pm, and 3.00 pm; tours are also taking place in July and August
Tickets: EUR 18;
Bookings: You can buy tickets for a guided afternoon tour onsite, for example when you arrive for the performance.
What Is A Morning Exercise Like At The Spanish Riding School?
My Austrian family and I had never visited the Spanish Riding School Vienna before. It was rather something for a Vienna tourist, we thought. My non-Austrian husband was the first to set foot in the Hofreitschule a couple of years ago. He and my daughter loved it and eventually we all visited the place together to watch a Morning Exercise.
We bought Morning Exercise tickets and a guided tour through the school and stables in the afternoon. I was quite impressed with the large white baroque winter riding hall with visitors’ galleries on two levels, the historically dressed trainers, the delicate trots and dances of the Lipizzaner stallions, and the classical music. Horse trainings couldn’t get more elegant than this.
There were four to six horses training at one time. After about 20 minutes of exercise, new horses entered while the others left to relax. I liked the fact that we were observing part of the daily routine of these athletes. My five year old daughter was fascinated, while my three year old son was happy to be able to move around the galleries and see the horses from different angles.
What I took from this event: You do not need to be crazy about horses to be truly intrigued by the Spanish Riding School Vienna. It is about classical cultural events rather than horse shows.
How To Get To The Spanish Riding School
Being part of Hofburg Imperial Palace, the Spanish Riding School’s entrance is right off Michaelerplatz in the Michaeler Dome, opposite the entrance of the Imperial Apartments and the Sissi Museum. The nearest metro station is U3 Herrengasse, at a five minutes walk. Alternatively, take tramway lines 1,2, or D to Burgring stop and walk across Heldenplatz. On most weekdays, city bus 2A will drop you right at Michaelerplatz, and 1A at nearby Herrengasse.
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