I’m pretty sure that no one, who has ever traveled, or planned on traveling to Vienna has been able to avoid hearing of, or seeing the Schönbrunn palace and the spectacular gardens around it. The palace is actually the most popular tourist attraction and I must say it is that for a good reason. For someone like me, who has grown up in the middle of nowhere even in Finnish standards, the whole place is beyond understanding.
The palace, containing more than 1400 rooms, was built in the 18th century and today is one of the UNESCO world cultural heritage sites. What is rather interesting is that the palace was actually originally ordered to be built as a hunting lodge, however ending up to be one of the most important buildings of the Habsburg’s era, having hosted hundreds of heads of states and other significant people over the years. To be honest, if that sort of a palace was meant to be a mere hunting lodge, I can not even think of what sort of an end result it would have been, were it meant as a palace to start with.
The palace is easily accessible form Vienna city center with a metro. Once you reach the Schönbrunn station, it is easy to find your way to the main gates, just follow the constant stream of tourists. We were in Vienna late June and in the middle of the week and during the stay the city did not feel that crowded, and as we were to find out, that is no surprise, they were all here! I do not want to even think of what it is like when the tourist season is at its highest in August. I do understand why they recommend you to book the tickets for the visit in advance. We were able to get in with only around 20 minutes of waiting, but I’m sure it would’ve taken several times more, had we been there in August.
Although I’ve always been terrible with focusing on one thing or place for much time, we were still able to spend almost an entire day in and around the palace. Once we arrived to the palace, we bought ourselves the classic passes, which allowed us to do a full tour inside the palace, and to visit four different parts in the gardens. When looking back, I think it was a good decision to get this pass as just the full tour in the palace would’ve been 16 euros, and even though we did only visit three of the four areas covered by the pass in the gardens, it was still worth it.
When starting the tour inside the palace, we did do one big mistake by not taking the audio guides as we assumed that basic information would be available throughout the tour in signs, just as there is in any other similar place and that audio would be just for more details. But no. No information was provided in any other form and we did the tour without a guide, relying mainly on our imagination. Of course it is easy to realize that in a room with a bathtub, one most probably did take a bath, and that in a room with a big dining table, people had dinner, but even I was left wanting for some more information occasionally. So if you are planning on taking a tour in the palace, do not try saving a few minutes like we did, but do take a few minutes in the queue and get the audio guide just to be safe.
After the tour inside the palace, we continued our visit to the gardens. If I was amazed by the looks of the parks in the city center, these gardens just simply blew my mind and I did not even try to think how many gardeners these gardens employed. The word spectacular simply does not make justice to these gardens. The gardens that spread over 120 hectares contain some 20 different areas, and it is easy to spend a few hours in there just wandering around. Most areas in the parks have free entrance, so even if you are traveling on a budget, the palace is not to be missed. Quite frankly, I did think the best and most amazing parts, and the best views were provided in the areas that were free of charge.
After the palace and the gardens were seen, we continued to the Zoo that was also located in the area. This is actually the oldest zoo in the world, founded in 1752. Even though I have seen various zoos around the world, somehow I always get little excited like a little girl in them when moving from one part of the zoo to another one. These are, after all, animals that you really do not (at least hopefully not) see every day in the Finnish forests. The ultimate favorites in this zoo were the polar bears that were wrestling with each other right in front of our eyes, as we hoped the glass wall would be strong enough to keep the distance the whole time, as well as the pandas that were just a little too shy to show their faces and focused on eating their bamboo sticks instead. Of course the mongoose and the elephants, my all time favorites were as awesome as always. Although next time I do hope to see the elephants strolling free in the nature, which hopefully will happen in a few months.