Schönbrunn Palace#3 in Best Things To Do in Vienna
Originally constructed in 1696 as a hunting lodge, Schönbrunn Palace later became the official Hapsburg summer residence. Under the supervision of Maria Theresa (the only female Habsburg ruler), Schönbrunn evolved into an expansive paradise with ornate rooms and vast elaborate gardens comparable to King Louis XIV of France's palace at Versailles. A tour will lead you through apartments belonging to Maria Theresa as well as Emperor Franz Joseph, his wife Elisabeth, and Archduke Franz Karl. Other highlights include the Blue Staircase, the Mirror Room and the Hall of Ceremonies. Also plan to spend at least an hour in the gardens, which are connected by shaded promenades that extend diagonally from the Gloriette, a stunning Roman-style arch overlooking a vast pool. Located within the grounds is Tiergarten, the oldest zoo in the world.
Travelers say the grounds are beautiful, the tour is insightful and the zoo is entertaining for the whole family, but many warn about how crowded this attraction gets. Many suggest visiting first thing in the morning to avoid the congested atmosphere.
Occupying a large portion of Hietzing (13th District) southwest of the Innere Stadt, Schönbrunn Palace is open daily at 8:30 a.m. (closing times vary depending on the season). Admission ranges from around 14 to 20 euros (about $16 to $23) for adults and about 10 to 12 euros ($11 to $14) for children, depending on what type of tour you select and whether you'll be using a guide. You'll have to pay a few euros extra to explore certain areas of the gardens. For more information, visit the palace's website.
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#1 St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom)
Towering above the streets of the Innere Stadt, this massive cathedral is the true centerpiece of Vienna. St. Stephen's has stood in this very spot since the early 12th century, but little remains of the original aside from the Riesentor (Giant's Gate) and the Heidentuerme (Towers of the Heathens). The Gothic structure standing today was built in the early 1300s and has survived the Turkish siege of 1683. It was here that mourners came to pay their respects to Amadeus Mozart in 1791. In 1805, Napoleon used St. Stephen's doors to post his farewell edict. And it weathered attacks from both German and Russian armies during World War II. Today, this stunning cathedral remains an active house of worship, a national icon and a top tourist attraction.
After you've toured the main section, head underground to the catacombs where many victims of the Great Plague of Vienna were laid to rest. Move on to the gruft, or vault, where numerous urns contain the remains of members of the Hapsburg royal family. Before you leave, you should climb the 343 steps to the top of the South Tower or use the elevator to reach the lookout terrace at the North Tower – you'll be treated to a spectacular view. Visitors call this one of those "must-visit" attractions in Europe, praising the gorgeous church and its surroundings.
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