Chronicles of a writer abroad

Vienna Part III: Worth the price of admission?


As promised, here is a round-up of the things we paid to see in Vienna, and my thoughts on whether we would pay to see them again…

Schönbrunn Palace 

As I noted before, the exterior of Schönbrunn, one of Austria’s most important palaces, is a delight to look at, especially from certain vantage points on its grounds. As I also mentioned, the grounds themselves are vast and beautiful, with fountains, mazes, and even a zoo (more on that in a moment). You could easily spend a day here without even going inside the Palace.

The grounds of Schönbrunn, as seen from the Palace. To the sides are flower beds, just ahead is a beautiful fountain, and if you hike up to the structure at the top of the hill (called the “gloriette”), there is a cafe with great views and delicious apfelstrudel!

But I felt compelled to see what the inside was like, so we did a quick tour. My problem with the interior of palaces is that I get quickly overloaded by detail. Three or four rococo rooms and I’m done, no longer able to see anything new. One thing I did note is that the beds of royalty always seem so disappointingly utilitarian…why would you rather deck out all this furniture that you rarely sit in, instead of the place where you spend one-third of your life sleeping? It’s a mystery to me.

Uniforms interest me somewhat more than furniture.

The best thing I saw while touring the palace was actually a fluke — I stuck my head out an open window and saw this strange apparition in a window across the courtyard. I have no idea what it was doing there, but as an anachronism and an unexpected surprise, I found it delightful.


My verdict: The interior of Schönbrunn is worth the price of admission if, like me, you sorta have to go in to settle your curiosity (in that case, buy the cheapest, most limited tour, as I did — it costs about 10 Euros, and you’ll see enough that way). If you love architecture/design, you’d probably find it more interesting than I did, and might want to consider the more deluxe tour options.

Schönbrunn Zoo

Stelian and I love a good zoo. But our time in Vienna was short — were we really going to spend part of it looking at animals we could see in many other places?

Our guidebook mentioned that this is the world’s oldest zoo, which made us decide it was special enough to warrant a visit. But just as we bought the tickets, I  started to worry that oldest might equate to most inhumane — I remembered the original bear pits in Bern, for example, and the general inhumanity of menageries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Happily, like Bern’s bear habitat, the animal enclosures in the Schönbrunn zoo have been expanded and made more species-appropriate.  Some of the original cages remain for people to look at, and for kids to play inside of — a few parents were snapping pictures of kids inside the old lion cages, which would make for a cool keepsake.  The zoo overall is full of trees and is a lovely place to stroll through (but you have to pay for the privilege, of course). In terms of diversity, we initially thought its offerings would be fairly limited, since it is after all just a side attraction of the palace (and once belonged to a single family!). But after a few hours we had to concede that we wouldn’t be able to see it all. This is a large and serious zoo — it even has exotic animals like pandas and koalas, which I’ve only seen in one or two other places.

Just try to resist that sweet face and those prancing feet.

My verdict: The Schönbrunn zoo is worth the price of admission (I forget exactly how much, but between 15 and 20 Euros) if you are an animal lover. You have to not mind that most of the other visitors are of the typical zoo-visiting demographic (i.e., parents and occasionally-very-cranky children).

Morning Exercises of the Lipizzaner Stallions

We were interested in seeing a performance by these horses, whose forebears were brought to Austria from Spain in the 16th century, leading their home in Vienna to be called the Spanish Riding School. For hundreds of years, the mostly-white horses have been carefully bred and used to entertain patrician (and now, tourist) audiences. No performances were scheduled during our visit, but we found out that we could see the horses go through their morning exercises. Sounds like fun, we thought. And it was…we watched a succession of horses and trainers running through the strict patterns and dainty, mincing steps that they have been trained for. We got to watch this in the Riding School performance arena, which is impressively opulent. The only problem was that the training session was two and a half hours long, and I reached my saturation point after about half an hour. At about the hour mark we ended up tiptoeing out, along with a number of other people who had grown bored of seeing the same thing done over and over with different horses.

The stallions in the Riding School

My verdict: I wouldn’t do this again. The price of admission, at 14 Euros, seems quite high in retrospect. Plus, you can see the horses in their stables if you walk past the Riding School stables at night (there are windows that the public can look in). I would only pay for this if you are crazy for horses. The performance area of the Riding School is grand, but so are many other places in Vienna.

Freud’s Apartment/Museum

Even though a lot of his ideas are no longer in vogue, Freud was a towering presence in my undergraduate psychology degree, and I always thought that if I went to Vienna, I’d go check out his apartment (which doubled as a place where he saw patients). Once we got there, Stelian and I decided to go into the museum (admission is 8 Euros). We soon found that the museum was mostly papers and photographs — you have to have time and patience to go through them (by this point, you may be picking up on a theme — we didn’t have a lot of  time and patience for things that felt tedious. And why should you, when on vacation?). It turns out that Freud (like anyone, I guess) wrote a lot of banal correspondence, and appeared in a lot of not-so-exciting photos. In my view, the highlight of the museum was this:

My mental images of Freud’s couch were much more…comfortable-looking.

My verdict: The Freud museum felt to me as though someone said, “You know, we really ought to have a museum here,” but then they didn’t put their heart into making it interesting (whereas the Einstein museum in Bern is, in my opinion, an example of a person-based museum that does succeed). I did see this right before lunch, when low blood sugar makes me easily critical, but Stelian also thought it was a bit of a bore.

Naturhistoriches Museum

Whalebones flank a doorway

This one is again tailored to our interests — specifically, to Stelian’s love of dinosaurs. 🙂 It, like the zoo, offered an impressive number of well-designed and interesting exhibits, was a beautiful space in itself, and gave us an opportunity to walk through the lovely Museum Quarter.

Hello, up there!

My verdict: This was worth the price of admission for us, but Vienna has many museums, and there may well be one of more interest to you. I recommend learning about the options in advance. There were major attractions — such as the Hofburg Palace and the Belvedere — that we chose not to see during our trip. Vienna is a city of many attractions, so the challenge is to spend your time wisely.

Kudos to anyone who read all the way through this post — I hope it was interesting and/or helpful to you. I’m finished talking about Vienna now, I promise!


4 thoughts on “Vienna Part III: Worth the price of admission?

  1. I’ve been waiting for this update to your visit and you certainly packed lots of sightseeing into your few days! Methinks Laura could use this as a guide book on her brief visit.

    We still enjoy your journeys, from a distance and you don’t bore us with this one either! Keep it up, please:)

    • Excellent review – thank you for your thoughts on paid attractions!! I’m planning a visit to my local library this week to check out the guide books for Vienna and Barcelona for some further inspiration, but I always appreciate a real person’s point of view!! I think I’ll definitely attempt a visit to Schönbrunn (it kind of reminds me of Versailles in Paris by the looks of your photos), but I may give the horses and Freud’s museum a miss. I think I’m spoiled living in the UK as all of our museums are free so the thought of actually having to pay to get into one makes me a bit apprehensive.

      A bit of a weird question, but what’s the nuts-in-food situation like in Vienna? I’ve got a life-threatening nut allergy (ie, cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc..peanuts are OK) so I always try to investigate my food options before my trip so I know what to expect. I think desserts are probably going to be a bit worrying, but do Austrians tend to put nuts in their main meal items?

      • Yes, you will want to be very careful with dessert. The regional tradition seems to be to put nuts in a lot of desserts. Happily you can still eat Sacher Torte and Apfelstrudel (as long as there’s no contamination in the serving process, I guess)…everywhere we went, people seemed to speak English as well as German, so you should be able to ask — and if you are forced to use German the phrase would be something like, “Ich bin allergisch gegen Nusse. Ist das sicher (is it safe)?” As for main courses, I can’t think of anything we ate that contained nuts, except maybe birchermuesli at breakfast. But they don’t tend to appear in hot food, I think. Hope this helps!

  2. Excellent! Thanks for the advice, Kristen! Sadly I did some looking into Sacher Torte ingredients and learned it’s often made with almond meal!! I might have to skip it – I’ll be travelling alone and don’t really fancy finding out what Austrian health care is like..:( I will write that German allergy phrase down and try to master it!

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