1. Half-Day History Tour of Schönbrunn Palace
The astonishing High Baroque Schönbrunn Palace was built to rival Versailles. Begin your 2.5-hour guided tour with a walk through the magnificent formal gardens, based on the Baroque landscaping principle of interlaced nature and architecture. Approaching the Gloriette, a huge triumphal arch situated on a hilltop with panoramic views of Vienna’s woods, your guide will tell you about the military victories that made Empress Maria Theresa’s reign (1740-1780) a highpoint in the Hapsburg Dynasty’s political and cultural dominance in Europe. The park was opened to the general public in 1779, a populist gesture that reveals Maria Theresa’s canny charm offensive. Indeed, it was under Maria Theresa’s direction that Schönbrunn Palace became the focal point of Austria’s imperial policy and the center of court life, in addition to functioning as the summer residence of a reigning family with 16 children! You’ll see that next generation of Hapsburg rulers also put their stamp on Schönbrunn. The Franz-Joseph and Elisabeth Apartments tell the story of a couple torn apart by the burdens of state. In 1854, Emperor Franz Joseph married the Bavarian princess known better under the affectionate nickname Sisi, who despised the rituals of court life and the ornate environment of the summer palace. She commissioned a spiral staircase leading from her official rooms to a private entry from which she could flee from the palace to the gardens. Visiting one lavish room after another will give you a sense of the opulence that the country girl Sisi fled. Marvel at the unique Millions Room that owes its name to its price. It features antique Indo-Persian miniatures in Rococo frames and wall hangings of carved rosewood from the Antilles that make the Millions Room one of the most accomplished combinations of Oriental and European decorative art from the Rococo era.