Laxenburg: The Leisure Castle
One of the easiest day-trips from Vienna, Laxenburg is very popular with both domestic visitors and international tourists. The appeal is derived from one of the Habsburg′s favourite spare-time-castles, the Schloss Laxenburg (though there are actually at least three castles now).
The first Imperial Castle built in Laxenburg dates back to the 15th century, now most creatively called the "Altes Schloss" or "Old Castle". It was created for Duke Albrecht III, but little of the original building actually survived the extensive re-vamping that took place under the rule of Austria′s mother of the nation, Empress Maria Theresia.
Laxenburg became one of the Habsburg′s most popular retreats, and Maria Theresia had another building added, not less creatively called the "Neues Schloss" or "New Castle" (sometimes also "Blauer Hof" or "Blue Court", although it is yellow now - the same shade as Schönbrunn). The castle was designed by Lukas von Hildebrandt, who was also in charge with the Schloss Belvedere, the Schloss Hof, the castle of Halbthurn and the Peterskirche (among many other things).
3 Castles: Old & New Court & the Franzensburg Ugliness
In any case, the Blauer Hof and the little church nearby are Baroque gems. Maria Theresia′s otherwise technocratic and sober son Emperor Joseph II (the one from the movie "Amadeus") felt quite passionately for Laxenburg. Today, it is mostly him that the castle is generally associated with. However, he was by far not the last Habsburg to leave a mark in the Baroque buildings.
The "Franzensburg" castle is a neo-Gothic piece of ugliness built for Emperor Franz II of the Holy Roman Empire, who later turned into Franz I of Austria. It was built in 1814, modelled after the Habsburg′s medieval home in today′s Switzerland (the Habichtsburg) and is only one of many constructions in the extensive grounds that surround the castle. Looking at these grounds, it is easy to anticipate what this castle′s main purpose was: A country retreat that allowed visitors to go hunting, riding, smack peasants or whatever else noble folks would fancy doing.
There are well-kept forests, an artificial lake, greens, neo-Classical temples and artworks, pavilions and other playful sights. It is very sad that the extensive English-style park was spoilt with neo-Gothic rubbish that gives the whole thing the appearance of a 19th century Disneyland. The best thing to do is to bring your own picnic, walk around until you find an inviting spot and stay there to eat.
Tour the Park & Town Centre
There are guided tours through parts of the Franzensburg, in which you can marvel at Habsburg-stuff such as armour, arms, artwork and alike. However, since most visitors will come straight from Vienna, where more impressive collections are on exhibit, I would recommend focusing on the park and gardens. Empress Elisabeth ("Sissi"), by the way, gave birth to her only son Rudolf in Laxenburg.
Stroll around the village, too - some top-notch nobility of the Empire built summer retreats in the surroundings of the Blauer Hof: Smaller Baroque palaces and chateaux for the Schwarzenbergs, Dietrichsteins and other close allies of the Habsburgs. Beyond these buildings, which are all in the immediate vicinity of the Blauer Hof and Laxenburg′s main square, the town has little to offer.
Nearby attractions include the towns of Baden and Mödling. If you travel by car, you could also combine a visit to Laxenburg with a stop-over in the monastery of Heiligenkreuz or move on to the Marchfeld plain, with even more castles and chateaux built for the Imperial nobility as country retreats. Laxenburg itself also makes a great stop-over destination for those who travel to the south and want to move on to the Burgenland, be it Eisenstadt, Rust or the Seewinkel area.