If you know me or have been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I like horses. Just, you know, a little. So there was absolutely no way that I was going to travel Europe and not visit Vienna, home of the Spanish Riding School and its famous dancing stallions. I’ve only been dreaming about this city ever since I read The White Stallions of Lipizza[A] by Marguerite Henry about a hundred million times as a child, so no biggie.
But if I thought the Lipizzans were the only thing to love about Vienna, I was in for quite a surprise.
Because my tour at the Spanish Riding School wasn’t scheduled until the afternoon, Leslie and I spent the morning exploring the grounds if the incredible Schönbrunn Palace. This imperial summer house has over 1,400 rooms, and the gardens are home to an enormous fountain, a zoo, a hedge maze, a palm house, horse-drawn carriages galore, and more sassy statues than you can shake a stick at.
Leslie: I’m glad we spent our time here exploring the gardens. We had to skip the gardens at a lot of our other stops, but we had gorgeous weather that day and it felt good to be outside enjoying it and the beauty of the gardens there. It’s a Unesco World Heritage site for a reason.
After hiking up the hill below the Gloriette to see the view it offered of Vienna’s skyline, we wandered over to the Palm House. Because they only took cash and we only had enough to cover the admission fee for one of us, Leslie very kindly let me indulge my plant nerdery while she explored the topiary gardens outside. It was a gorgeous day and the gardens were incredible, so we were both quite content.
The interior of the Palm House was a dream of a place. Every square inch was full of plants—palms, flowers, climbing vines, you name it. The air was thick with humidity and a thousand different scents. I could hear frogs chirping and assumed they were piping a rainforest soundtrack through hidden speakers until I found actual frogs! I wanted to move in immediately, and you can bet your boots I’m going to pattern my future sunroom after this place.
From there, we took the metro to downtown Vienna, where we did a little exploring. The city is full of gorgeous architecture, fun statues, and green space. I loved seeing people out for a stroll or taking their lunch in the city park. As much as I don’t ever want to live in a city again, Vienna is exactly the sort of city I might change my mind for.
Leslie: I enjoyed Vienna a lot; the whole feel of our time in Austria was relaxing and comfortable. The streets and metro were incredibly clean, people were nice, no one seemed in a rush anywhere we wandered.
And maybe it’s just because I was so stinking excited about Lipizzans or because I am straight up obsessed with everything even remotely equine, but Vienna seemed to have an abundance of horses. There were carriage horses everywhere—hundreds of them—and every building seemed to have a horse statue on it or in front of it. It was like playing the world’s horsiest game of eye spy.
I am not ashamed of the depth of my love for this horsey city.
With the last of our time before the scheduled tour, we stopped by two beautiful churches: St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Peterskirche. We only went inside St. Stephen’s, but I loved the green dome on Peterskirche and the geometric pattern on the roof of St. Stephen’s.
Because Leslie isn’t as horse crazy as me, she opted to take a tour of the Hofburg Palace, which shares a building with the Spanish Riding School. She was only able to take pictures in the kitchen area, but she enjoyed the whole experience.
Leslie: This was one of the most detailed tours out of every palace we visited. Each room was well appointed for the time period, and the palace was large and beautiful. Plus, they had great signs about the rather interesting history of the Habsburg Dynasty, especially focusing on Sisi (aka Empress Elizabeth of Austria). I would highly recommend this tour!
- Hofburg Imperial Palace
- Official Site
- Price: Adults 13,90€
- (4 / 5)Rating by Leslie
And finally finally finally, it was time for the moment I’ve been anticipating for my entire life: a tour of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
It was In. Cred. I. Ble—everything I hoped and dreamed it would be, and then some. I didn’t see the horses perform that day, but I have seen them in the past so I know what they are capable of. A few fun facts that I learned on my tour:
- The school was started in the 1500’s by a Hapsburg prince. It’s called the Spanish Riding School because the Hapsburgs come from Spain. The prince wasn’t too keen on leaving Spain for Vienna, so he brought his Spanish horses to help him feel more at home.
- Apprentices only ride for 30 minutes a day on the lunge line for their entire 3-4 year apprenticeship. When they become an assistant rider, they learn on fully trained stallions for several years. When they become a full rider, they are given a 4-year-old untrained stallion that they must train themselves to become a chief rider. The whole process takes 16 years.
- They use stallions because all of the movements are based on the natural movements stallions use when trying to impress mares. Each stallion specializes in a single movement, chosen to reflect his natural ability and preference. Mares are used for breeding (obviously) and as carriage horses.
- They receive 200 rider applications per year, but only accept one or two every couple of years! Apprentices usually start when they are 16 or 17 years old. The first female rider was accepted in 2008. From the moment they start at the school, riders spend 40 hours a week training and caring for the horses. They perform on weekends and only get one day (Monday) off each week,
- All of the horses spend the summer in the mountains just being horses.
Oh goodness, I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. It is truly a wonderful thing when your hopes and dreams are satisfied so completely by reality.
- The Spanish Riding School of Vienna
- Official Site
- Price: Adults 18€, Students 14€
- (5 / 5)My Rating
Yes, Vienna was amazing. If this city isn’t already on your bucketlist, I humbly suggest that it should be. You will not regret it.
Read more about my trip with Leslie here.
 According to Wikipedia, a Gloriette is “a building in a garden erected on a site that is elevated with respect to the surroundings. The structural execution and shape can vary greatly, often in the form of a pavilion or tempietto, more or less open on the sides.”