Spreading out with narrow wings filled with endless corridors of golden rooms, lined with mirrors, dripping with crystal chandeliers. In hidden chambers you’ll find curiosities from original Mughal art embedded in the walls to ceramic vegetables on the walls. After wandering its gilded corridors, it’s no wonder that Schönbrunn Palace is Vienna’s number one attraction. But beyond the gilded ballrooms and Habsburg splendour of the palace, it’s the grounds surrounding it that left an impression. From an Orangery filled meat eating plants on display to a hedge maze and exquisite turn-of-the-century palm houses if you’re planning to visit Vienna and Schönbrunn, make sure you don’t miss the surrounding gardens and parks.
While most of the park is free to visit, some of the gardens can be bought as part of the main ticket. The Privy Gardens tucked to the side of the palace are part of the main Schönbrunn extensive ticket package. As you clamber through the turnstile you come into a small garden filled with citrus plants, where limes, pomelos, lemons and unripened oranges dangle from potted trees. But take the steps up leads you into a covered walkway shaded with leaves intertwined in lattice arches that enclose the parterre. You can imagine women in fanned out dresses peering from behind their fans as they await their secret liaison among the secluded trellises.
Great Parterre and Gloriette
While the entrance to Schönbrunn Palace is spectacular from the front, behind it stretches over the Great Parterre and toward the Gloriette on the hill opposite. This is the face of the park, the one you’ll see on postcards and pictures, and no stroll through the Schönbrunn grounds is complete without visiting this expanse of open space, punctuated by islands of lawns and cultivated flower beds. Symmetry is the secret to this regal open space, joining the palace and the Gloriette with an invisible line marked by the garden structure. If you have time, you can also climb up to the Gloriette, a baroque triumphal arch that crowns the top of the gardens.
In the heart of the park, hidden between the manicured shrubs, you may stumble upon a circular aviary topped with a dome-shaped copper roof.
This old dovecote was built in the mid-18th century and even today you’ll see a couple of doves fluttering around inside the large structure, and are cared for by the Vienna Zoo, which also backs onto the park further on.
This structure is just one of the park’s curiosities, worth seeing for the architecture alone, with its birdcage-shaped dome, alcoves for the birds to nest in and its general presence in the park.
The Schönbrunn Orangery
Just in front of the Privy Garden, the Orangery expands in a line stretching 180m long in hues of light peach. It’s one of the largest Baroque orangeries in the world, along with the one at Versailles, and was built to care for the imperial collection of citrus trees during the harsh Austrian winters. In the summer, the trees sunbathe in the garden outside the building, whereas inside the large arched windows cast light over the huge expanse that once held banquets by Emperor Josef II. This summer, while the citrus plants took to the outdoors, an exhibition of flesh-eating plants dominated the hall with venus flytraps and hanging basket-like plants ready to catch the summer flies.
The Schönbrunn Maze
It’s easy enough to get lost around Schönbrunn’s extensive gardens, but if you really want to disappear among the hedges the Schönbrunn Maze is for you. Originally laid out in 1720 with four quadrant and a pavilion, much of the structure fell into abandon at the end of the 19th century. In 1999, a new maze sprung up, and visitors to the park can get entangled in a labyrinth enclosed with shrubs and hedges.
The Schönbrunn Palm House
Set just outside the Vienna Zoo at the bottom end of the park, this was one of my favourite places in the parkland. Made out of steel rods painted in a dark green and 40,000 sheets of glass, the structure is a wonder to behold from the outside. On the inside, it’s a cornucopia of tropical plants sectioned off into three zones for varying temperatures from cool to warm, where you’ll find palms, ponds with floating lilies, and flowers hanging from trees or sprouting up from the ground. A must visit for any lover of botany.