The Sisi Museum In Vienna: Where 'The Empress' Lives

The Sisi Museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to step back in time and immerse themselves in the life and legacy of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, affectionately known as Sisi
A painting of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, more popularly known as Sisi
A painting of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, more popularly known as SisiAustrian National Tourist Office/Cross Media Redaktion

“The Empress” series on Netflix, released in 2022, boosted my curiosity about Empress Elisabeth of Austria, more popularly known as Sisi. It all started a few years ago when I saw Sisi’s belongings like her silver comb, brushes (that brushed her voluminous hair), jewellery box and other items preserved in the Glass Museum of Passau in Germany. She left them behind in the hotel where she stayed (now a glass museum) as a young princess from Bavaria, leaving for her wedding in Vienna. Since then, I became a Sisi enthusiast and put Vienna on my bucket list, where she was loved and is celebrated to date. 

About The Museum

Sisi Museum in Vienna draws large crowds. It is the right place to explore the intrigue and mystery of Sisi’s life in the Imperial Palace as the private apartments and stunning staterooms of the former imperial family reveal. The show focuses on Elisabeth's personal life, rebellion against the court ceremony, flight into beauty, sporting excellence, travel, and rapturous poetry. From her carefree time as a young girl in Bavaria to her surprising engagement with the Austrian emperor to her 1898 assassination in Geneva, the museum shows the restless life of the legendary Empress. 

Inside the museum
Inside the museumAustrian National Tourist Office/Cross Media Redaktion

Notable Exhibits

Visitors can see numerous personal objects of the Empress to gain an insight into the life of the beautiful and often misunderstood monarch: among the more than 300 exhibits are original items of clothing, a miniature secretaire with envelopes painted in her hand, her watercolour painting box, a 63-piece first-aid kit, and an accessible reconstruction of Sisi's luxurious imperial saloon car. The highlights include the reconstructions of the dress the young bride wore on the evening before her wedding, the Hungarian coronation attire, and the 6-piece mourning jewellery in onyx and jet, which she wore following the death of her son Crown Prince Rudolph. Elisabeth's harp from her childhood, which she brought with her from Bavaria, is also on display besides many famous portraits of the beautiful Empress. 

The death mask of the murdered Empress can be seen in the Sisi Museum, and the black coat with egret feathers, which covered Elisabeth after her assassination on Lake Geneva and in which she was taken to the Hotel Beau Rivage. The collar and front edges of the coat are trimmed with egret feathers; the silk lining has the crowned name of the Empress embroidered on it. 

At 5 feet 8 inches, the tall and slender figure of Sisi, with a tiny waist (of 17 inches, attributed to the practice of tight lacing), looks elegant figuring on chocolate boxes with her unusually long hair braided and bejewelled in the famous “Sisi’s Stars” (a set of twenty-seven stars made of diamonds and pearls). Called the ‘Rose of Bavaria’, her statuettes are still favoured as souvenirs.   

Celebrated as one of the most beautiful and famous women of 19th century Europe, Elisabeth practised demanding beauty routines in addition to her rigorous exercise regimen. Her long hair was washed with eggs and cognac once every two weeks, while the daily hair care took long hours. Elisabeth used these captive hours during grooming to learn languages; she spoke fluent English and French and added Modern Greek to her Hungarian studies. Through fasting and exercise such as gymnastics and riding, she maintained her weight at approximately 50 kg for most of her life. 

The museum displays personal items belonging to the Empress
The museum displays personal items belonging to the Empress Austrian National Tourist Office/Cross Media Redaktion

You can see in the Schonbrunn Palace, too, Sisi’s lingering memories. In the enormous park behind, amidst the royal flowerbeds, pleached alleys, water sprays, and countless fictional marble sculptures, Sisi sauntered in contemplation and wrote poetry in solitude. Walking under the beautiful Wisteria canopy, I visualised the Empress treading softly on a carpet of purple petals. Ornately furnished and hung with rich blue silk, Elizabeth and her husband, Francis Joseph, occasionally shared the grand official bedroom in the palace. Her suite of rooms contains pictures of her husband’s great-grandmother, the mighty Empress Maria Theresa, and her brood, and a desk that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Many of her photographs endorse her celebrated beauty. A life-size statue in the grand antechamber shows her still wasp-waisted at about 50. 

The museum has more than 300 exhibits
The museum has more than 300 exhibits Austrian National Tourist Office/Cross Media Redaktion

Sisi’s gymnastic equipment, including flying rings, is displayed in her dressing room. She is known to have arisen nearly as early as her workaholic husband to preserve her figure. It is said that the Knights' Hall of the Hofburg was converted into a gymnasium; mats and balance beams were installed in her bed chamber so she could practice on them each morning. She took up fencing in her 50s with equal discipline. An avid horsewoman, she rode every day for hours on end. In the Imperial Crypt, the Empress lies next to her husband and son in a relatively modest sarcophagus sans an effigy or crown except for flowers. Her carefully nurtured slender figure lies inside, caught in the royal confines. Still, her spirit must be riding with a carefree abandon in the woods, glad to be released from the heavy, imperial restraints. 

Getting There

The most common option to travel from India to Vienna, Austria, is by air. You can depart from major international airports in India, like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, or Hyderabad. Book a flight to Vienna International Airport (VIE) with airlines such as Lufthansa, Emirates, or Qatar Airways. Ensure you have the necessary Schengen visa for Austria. 

Best Time To Visit

Optimal visiting periods are April through May and September to October, characterised by pleasant weather and fewer crowds. However, the city experiences an influx of visitors from June to August, leading to a surge in room rates.

Museum Operating Hours

Open daily, including public holidays, from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. The last admission is at 4:30 pm, and the ticket office closes at this time. You can explore the Sisi Museum until 5:00 pm and the Imperial Apartments until 5:30 pm. Schönbrunn Palace welcomes visitors daily, including public holidays, from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.

Outlook Traveller