If you are planning on sightseeing Imperial Vienna you need to head to the Hofburg Quarter. This area holds the Hofburg Palace with the Imperial Apartments, it’s gardens and streets are filled with palaces of the nobility. Some of these buildings are now splendid museums. Today it is still the most fashionable area of Vienna and is crammed with elegant shops, art galleries and dazzling coffee houses. You can visit the court churches and the Imperial Crypt with elaborate tombs of the Hofburgs.
This article will guide you on the things you must see when sightseeing Imperial Vienna in the Hofburg area.
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The Burggarten was built on an area that held part of the city walls. This section was destroyed by Napoleon who, after taking the city, wanted to show contempt to the Viennese and their ineffective city wall by razing it to the ground.
It was the Habsburgs who turned this area into a landscaped garden, which was eventually opened to the public in 1918.
One of the things to note are the stunning Greenhouses. It contains the Palm House and a café. A table on the terrace is a pleasant place for a morning coffee.
This building overlooking the garden, the Neue Burg (below), is noteworthy because it was built in the last throws of the Habsburg Empire. More than that, it has a balcony where Adolf Hitler stood in 1938 to declare the ‘Anschluss’, the union of Austria and Germany, to tens of thousands of Viennese.
It now houses the National Library reading room and a number of museums.
Another interesting bit of the park is the Mozart Memorial (1896).
A square you must visit when sightseeing Imperial Vienna is Josefplatz. This elegant square is surrounded by Palaces and the Austrian National Library (the Prunksaal).
It’s really quiet now, with just a few tourists and a steady stream of carriages rolling by. But in 1848 Revolution loyalists used the square as a gathering place.
An equestrian statue of Joseph II (a true monarchist) sits in the middle.
Also, note the 16th century Palffy Palace (under scaffolding on our visit) which was the venue for a performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
This is the largest Baroque library in Europe. The entrance is from Josefplatz. You have to pay first, but then head up the stairs.
It was created in the first half of the 18th century as a private wing of the Hofburg Imperial residence and is one of the most beautiful library halls in the world.
It contains about 2.6 million books including the personal library of Prince Eugene and books from monastic libraries.
Marbled columns are paired and frame the domed main room.
It felt magnificent in there, really old and every book looked well thumbed and worn.
The impressive ceremonial room of the library is almost 80 m long and 20 m high and is crowned by a dome that is magnificently decorated with frescoes.
Sightseeing Imperial Vienna wouldn’t be complete without a visit here.
Graben – and surrounding alleys/streets
Graben is a wide pedestrianised street full of shops and cafés. There are still a few fine traditional shops along here.
The Pestsäule is the most notable statue there.
During the plague of 1679, the Emperor, Leopold I, vowed to commemorate Vienna on it’s deliverance from the disease.
The Pestsäule, this Baroque column, was devised by the Jesuits. You can see a saintly figure and an angel watching the hag (representing the plaque) being destroyed. I personally question the choice of an old woman playing the part of the plague – but I’ll let that go. You can also see the Emperor praying above.
There are a number of lovely streets off the Graben, including Dorotheergasse, a narrow lane with art galleries, auction houses and the popular Hawelka café, Kohlmarkt with beautifully designed shops and Demel Konditorei a famous pastry shop, and Naglergasse or ‘needle street’ after the needle makers that had their shops here in the Middle Ages.
Off one off these streets, the Habsburgergasse, just behind the Michaelerkirche, is a lovely courtyard. Look out for a little yellow row of shops with an archway.
This square is unusual as it has Roman remains excavated here. It isn’t pedestrianised, but like most streets in this area there are very few cars. This allows you to take in the excavations and the surrounding splendour.
The Michaelerkirche has a crypt of well preserved corpses from the 18th century, but it is difficult to work out how to get in there without joining a tour (it’s apparently off the north choir). Best ask your hotel concierge. In the 17th and 18th centuries parishioners were frequently buried, dressed in their finery, beneath the church. They are well preserved due to the constant temperature and can be seen in open coffins.
It was once the Parish church of the court.
The most striking thing on the Michaelerplatz, however, is the entrance to the State Apartments and Imperial Palace.
If you are sightseeing Imperial Vienna you should visit the State Apartments and Treasuries.
State Apartments and Treasuries
Here you can peruse through rooms occupied by various rulers and view treasures massed during centuries of Habsburg rule.
Things to spot are:
- Cradle of the King of Rome
- 10th century Crown
- articles from the Habsburg state banquets
- Empress Elisabeth’s Gymnastic equipment
- Imperial dining hall
- Winterhalter’s portrait of Empress Elisabeth (with stars in her hair)
There is a café in the main courtyard right by this huge statue.
Look out for the Schweizertor, a 16th century Renaissance gateway leading to the oldest part of the Hofburg complex.
A large square out the other side of the State Apartments and Treasuries. It holds an impressive equestrian statue and views of the Palaces nearby.
Events often take place here, such as ice-skating and concerts.
These beautiful formal gardens were created at the same time as the previous garden I’ve mentioned, the Burggarten, i.e. after the destruction of the cities wall by Napoleon. This garden, however, was opened to the public soon after it’s completion in 1820. This is the prettier garden of the two.
It isn’t huge but it makes for a very lovely walk and has a beautiful rose garden.
This garden is very elegant and grand.
The Temple of Theseus was built to house Canova’s statue of the Greek god (now in a museum).
Also, there is a Fountain Memorial to the assassinated Empress Elisabeth.
This is an odd square, but it is surrounded by seats of power where huge changes in the direction of history were decided.
There are the offices of the Federal Chancellor, the ministry offices and the Foreign Office.
Major decisions that shaped Austria’s history have taken place here including:
- meetings of the Congress of Vienna (1814-15)
- the final deliberations in 1914 that led to the outbreak of World War I
- the murder of Chancellor Dollfuss by Nazi terrorists in 1934.
You can see the foundations of an ancient chapel just outside the existing church.
We decided to explore the church here which dates back to 1339. The Minoritenkirche has an odd pyramidal shape thanks to the Turkish siege of 1529.
The door into this church is (confusingly) along it’s side.
Inside there is a mosaic copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper:
- Napoleon commissioned it
- He intended to take it to Milan, where the original is and swap it
- He wanted to then take the original to Paris
- Due to Napoleon’s downfall at Waterloo in 1815 the Habsburgs bought this mosaic instead and placed it in this church which was dedicated to Vienna’s Italian community
The Imperial Crypt is located beneath the Capuchin Church. It contains the remains of 138 Habsburgs. Therefore, it is an obvious choice for when sightseeing Imperial Vienna.
For many members of the Habsburg empire their death meant the creation of an elaborate and beautiful sarcophagus for the Imperial Crypt, and also (rather gorily) a silver urn to preserve their heart and reliquaries to contain their embalmed entrails.
The hearts of 54 members of the royal family are held in special urns in the Herzgruft, or ‘Heart Room’ located a short distance away in St. George’s Chapel of Augustinerkirche, and the embalmed entrails of princes, queens and emperors are kept in the Ducal Crypt below Stephansdom.
They are covered in fine dust, tourists walk slowly through taking photos and the atmosphere is quiet and respectful
This one (below) is the most magnificent double sarcophagus of Maria Theresa and her husband, Emperor Franz I.
Emperor Franz Joseph’s sarcophagus is the only one made from stone instead of metal. He is flanked by the coffins of his wife Elisabeth and son Rudolf.
It was Rudolf’s mysterious suicide (after murdering his 17-year-old mistress) in 1889 that began the downfall of the Habsburg Empire. Because Rudolf left no male heir, the crown was passed from Franz Joseph to his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 tipped off World War I.
Charles I, Franz Ferdinand’s heir, became the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Possibly an odd end to my tour of sightseeing Imperial Vienna, as it is a step outside the Hofburg quarter into Stephansdom, but I would hate you to miss this delightful little street.
It isn’t far from the Imperial Crypt and dates back to Medieval times, although it is now splendidly Baroque.
It’s pedestrianised and therefore is a pleasant place to rest up or enjoy the beautiful bookshops.
I hope you have enjoyed sightseeing Imperial Vienna and hope you get to see it for yourselves. If you have been already, what else would you add to this list in the Hofburg area? Please leave your ideas in the comments below x
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