If there were one word to describe museum lovers, what would it be? Shopping addicts are described as shopaholics. History fans are known as history buffs. Museum lovers don’t have their own word and yet one visit to Vienna would be enough to warrant inventing a new one. Could museumaholic work? If so, Vienna would be the place to be for all the museumaholics in the world.
The Austrian capital city is among the few cities that can claim the title of European culture capital. Classical music, Secession, Jugendstil, Art Nouveau, imperial architecture, you name it. It is the city where Mozart created the Requiem, where Otto Wagner redefined urban architecture, where artists such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele drew their inspiration. Nowadays, Vienna pays tribute to those great names through its endless list of cultural facilities, appealing to museum lovers of all kinds.
Museums and art galleries can be quite pricey in Vienna though and they’re so plentiful that it can be quite a budget to try and visit them all. Below is a list of our five favourite museums in the city but if you’re willing to check many more museums, you might want to take a look at the Vienna Pass. This pass can be activated for 24 hours up to six days and it allows you to visit almost all the landmarks in the city, including most museums. Sure, the price is high but so are most entrance fees and you can save up quite a few bucks if you want to cross many museums off your bucket list.
The Belvedere is to Vienna what the Louvre is to Paris. Not only is it a prominent fine arts museum, it is first and foremost a Baroque palace built by architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt in the late 17th century. Rather, the Belvedere is made up of two palaces formerly used as summer residences for Prince Eugene of Savoy and later turned into art galleries in 1903.
Both palaces and their respective gardens are well worth on their own merit and both Belvederes house the greatest collection of Austrian art from the Middle Ages to present days. Yet, the Upper Belvedere takes the upper hand when it comes to its architecture as well as its exhibitions as it showcases a more comprehensive art selection and iconic works of art such as one of the copies of “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” by Jacques-Louis David and “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, who is particularly well represented in the museum as the Upper Belvedere boasts the world’s largest Klimt collection.
On the other hand, the Lower Belvedere is a smaller-scaled building which houses medieval artworks, a few temporary contemporary exhibitions on top of beautiful Baroque interiors. Both can be visited together through the Vienna Pass or through a combined ticket.
2. Kunsthistorisches Museum
The Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien was definitely built to impress. Located in front of its twin building on the opposite side, housing the collection of the Natural History Museum, this museum dedicated to the history of arts is a delight for the eyes, even for a non-museum lover.
Brightly painted crests on the ceilings compete with massive marble staircases topped by even more vividly painted arches, so much so that it is hard not to look up when entering a new room. However, the museum knows how to keep its visitors interested as it showcases a diverse collection spanning seven millennia of world’s art history.
The Egyptian section is particularly interesting in that regard and its replica of traditional Egyptian paintings on the walls does a good job at plunging the visitor back in time. Spotting the numerous iconic paintings on display is also a fun game, from “The Tower of Babel” by Bruegel to Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s “Summer”.
The crux of the exhibition though is the Kunstkammer, which is the world’s largest collection of its kind. Also known as the Wunderskammer, literally the room of wonders, it aims at showcasing the most intricate and most beautiful artworks of its time in an encyclopaedic attempt to compile an extensive collection reflecting the knowledge of the day. Ornate items made of ivory are showcased side by side with scientific instruments, convoluted clocks and automatons.
3. Haus der Musik
Vienna is the city of music and it has earned its title through centuries of creativity and invention, centuries during which the very best artists thrived in the city. Some were born there, such as Schubert, while others were drawn to the city as they knew they would find fame and inspiration there, such as Beethoven and Mozart.
Listening to a classical music concert or an opera doesn’t feel the same in Vienna but for those who can’t afford it, the Haus der Musik is the one place to go. This innovative museum is divided into three separate sections, all of which are set to “edutain” the visitor, as in educate them in an endearing way.
The first floor explores the history of the Vienna Philarmonic Orchestra through videos of concerts and educative board games. The third floor follows in the footsteps of the “great masters”, mixing informative panels with fun experiences such as a software called Namadeus, which creates a Mozart-like music based on your name.
Finally, the second floor brings the most memorable experience as it invites you to immerse yourself into the world of sound through a “Sonosphere” made of perception labs, sound galleries and engaging role plays. Plus, where else would you hear an electro remix of Mozart?
The Albertina could be yet another art gallery. It boasts a wide art collection, housing up to one million old master prints, 65 000 drawings and an overall exciting graphic collection comprising of photographs and architectural drawings.
It is also the best place in the city to admire the work of Impressionist and Modernist painters as the permanent exhibition showcases works from Monet to Picasso, Renoir to Chagall.
However, what makes the Albertina stand out the most is its history. Just like the Belvedere, the Albertina once stood as an imperial residence for the Habsburg family and that history shows through the State Rooms which can now be visited alongside the rest of the museum’s exhibitions. Contrary to many Imperial buildings throughout the city such as the Hofburg Palace and the Schönbrunn Palace, photos are authorized in these brilliantly restored and refurbished State Rooms with their splendid wall coverings, tapestries and marquetry.
There aren’t many cities in the world that would build an entire neighbourhood dedicated to culture in all its aspects. That is exactly what the Museumsquartier is though. This massive cultural complex in the midst of the city, just a street away from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, celebrates culture in every way it can and has become the face of Vienna’s art de vivre.
Among the many cultural institutions on-site, the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK draw the most attention. Both are located on the MQ’s central square, facing each other. The Leopold Museum is home to the largest collections of Modern Austrian art, focusing on works from the 19th and early 20th century.
Entire rooms are dedicated to the city’s leading artists, exploring all-encompassing artistic trends from the Secession and Jugenstil movements which revolutionized arts through paintings from Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt to new design trends such as the Wiener Werkstätte, founded by Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann and Fritz Waerndorfer.
The MUMOK then carries the torch of the Leopold Museum to explore contemporary works, shedding light of major artists and lesser-known trends alike, such as the Pattern and Decoration art movement.