The name Lainzer Tiergarten is mildly misleading. There are indeed deer to be found in this wooded nature preserve on the western edge of Vienna. But it’s not a garden as we traditionally think of it and there is so much more than deer here.
Tucked in a small area at the foothills of the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods), this lush park is a verdant oasis in one of Europe’s greatest cities. Moving west the flat plain that holds Vienna slopes a little higher, becoming slightly hilly. Trees begin to dot the landscape with increasing frequency until they become a forest. There is Lainzer Tiergarten.
Once the private hunting grounds of many a Hapsburg emperor, it is now a public park available to anyone who enjoys a walk in the fresh air.
Official records as far back as 1270 discuss the reserve as a private area for the exclusive use of the monarch and his guests. In the mid 15th century it was referred to as the Cattle Garden at Laab im Walde. Shortly after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918, it became the property of the Disabled Veterans Trust. It opened to the public in April 1919.
The hunting grounds covered 2,500 hectares, of which nearly 2,000 are heavily forested. Filled with oak and beech trees, there are endless trails to enjoy.
The entire park is encircled by a stone wall, through which there are several gates. Enter through the Nikolai Tor and find yourself immediately in a wooded area full of wild boar. Stop, if you like, for a little meal at the Rohrhaus Inn and enjoy some of the finest inexpensive food available in Vienna. The park houses three restaurants along with several picnic areas.
Or, choose to enter the Lainzer Tor and you are suddenly in parkland. Walk just a little farther and you’ll reach Hermesvilla, a small country cottage built for Empress Elizabeth, popularly known as Sissi to royal and commoner alike. The name derives from a small marble statue of Hermes viewable on the garden level.
Franz Josef had the structure built for his wife in 1886. Rumor says the couple did not get along well. History records that she rarely spent a happy afternoon away from him here, though, preferring to travel throughout Europe. Enjoy the cafe and judge for yourself whether the small mansion is gloomy or cheery enough to attract a monarch. A permanent exhibit inside displays some of her clothes along with many others from 1800 to the early 21st century.
Within the park is a large collection of wild pigs, deer, and other creatures of the forest that find the conditions very congenial. And well they might since they’re well fed. Late afternoon feedings of the deer and wild boar are open to the public with times posted at the gate.
The Tiergarten is soothing and quiet, a peaceful respite from rushing around to see the dozens of exciting sights in Vienna. The contrast to the Hofburg with its dozens of museums is stark. Even the Schonbrunn Zoo, while housing many more animal species, offers nothing quite like this little patch of wilderness at the edge of Austria’s capital.