Dating back to the 16th century, the Hofburg Palace was once the family residence of many of the Hapsburgs, successive rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Built over a period of several centuries, the complex incorporates styles ranging from neo-Gothic to Classical Revival to Baroque to many that have no known name. The entire complex of buildings holds over 2,600 rooms.
The earlier parts surround a large courtyard called the Swiss Court, named after the mercenaries who stood guard there. Access to it is gained through a huge gate called the Michaelertor under a golden dome that is well worth a look. Inside there are several statues of the Hapsburgs that you’ll want to explore.
Among the many outstanding sights available to visitors are the former Royal Apartments. The modern word doesn’t begin to convey the grandeur that was once an ‘apartment’. Here, Emperor Franz Josef and his wife, Empress Elizabeth dressed or retired for the day. It must have been no small pleasure to do so given the surroundings.
Visitors can get an idea for themselves by seeing their portraits by Winterhalter. Sissi, as she was known to royal and commoner alike, looks very relaxed and at home with her hair flowing freely. Another shows her dressed in a white ball gown with her hair formally coiffed and decorated with stars. Franz Josef looks on from the next painting, resplendent in his red and white military uniform.
Even the children get their turn, as several items reveal what life must have been like for them. Many of their toys are on display. One of Sissi’s rooms nearby exhibits some of her exercise equipment, a novelty at the time.
Another interesting location is the Imperial Chapel, a room that is more or less the official home of the Vienna Boys Choir. An organization dating back five centuries, many famed composers have early in life been part of it, including Haydn and Schubert. One musical score used by the latter is inscribed in his hand, in German: “F. Schubert has crowed for the last time.”
Don’t miss an opportunity to visit the treasury, called Schatzkammer in German. Here visitors can see many of the crowns used by rulers of the Austrian empire, along with silver plates and cutlery, and more. The oldest crown dates back to the 10th century. One particular item of note is a gold and bronze centerpiece used as a table decoration during banquets. It’s 33 meters (108 feet) long!
Not far away is the famed Spanish Riding School, the Lipizzaner. On the other side is the National Library, and Neue Burg, which houses hundreds of suits of armor and weapons, is also part of the complex.
By the time you’ve finished a tour of the area, you’ll feel as if you knew the members of the royal court and their lifestyle well.