A big thanks to S for guest posting about our first day in Vienna!
Instead of recapping the following days of our trip chronologically, I thought I’d break it down into sections: Museums, Sights, and Food. Today I’ll cover the museums we saw in Vienna. We only saw a handful – there are over 100 museums in Vienna!
Imperial Silver Collection, Sisi Museum, and Imperial Apartments
The first museums we visited were the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg Palace, the former residence of the Habsburg monarchy. Included in our ticket to the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments was the Imperial Silver Collection (Silberkammer), lavish table settings and silverware used by the royal family. We received free English audio guides with our ticket purchase which were great for learning more about the items and rooms on display.
I can definitely recommend these museums as it was a great way to learn more about the history of the Habsburg family and their influence on the Austro-Hungarian empire. For a little intro to these three museums, I can recommend Rick Steves’ video Vienna (you can start at 12:19 into the video to see the inside of the Imperial Apartments). Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside the apartments, but you can see what they look like from Rick’s video.
Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum)
I’ve already admitted that I’m not much of an art buff, but S and I wanted to see at least one art museum in Vienna. Our Trip Advisor research pointed us in the direction of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, ranked number 1 among attractions in Vienna.
The museum has permanent collections of Egyptian and Near Eastern artifacts, Greek and Roman antiquities, and an enormous picture gallery including works from 16th-century Venetian painters, 17th-century Flemish painters, Early Netherlandish painters and German Renaissance painters. Some masterpieces on display include works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Velázquez.
We did pay 2 Euros each for an English audio guide (other languages also available) and it was well worth it. I like how you can go at your own pace with an audio guide and listen in on displays and art pieces that interest you. I especially enjoyed seeing the pieces highlighted on Rick Steves’ video Vienna and the Danube, like Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadow, Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Rosary, and Bruegel the Elder’s The Peasant Wedding.
The biggest highlight for me was stumbling on Cranach’s Adam and Eve paintings which a) I had no idea were at the Kunsthistorisches Museum and b) are prominently featured in the opening credits of Desperate Housewives! I had a silly grin on my face for about 20 minutes afterward.
One of my favourite features of the Kunsthistoriches Museum was the floor in the main foyer. Wow. I took so many photos of the floors. The floor in the foyer of the Natural History Museum is similar and equally as beautiful. Go see the floors! (The paintings are nice, too).
Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum)
S and love to visit museums (can you tell?), especially natural history museums. When we travelled together in New Zealand, we visited the Otago Museum in Dunedin, a fantastic natural history museum. We’ve also visited the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, Canada.
When S suggested going to the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, I love natural history museums and always find them to be fascinating. On the other hand, I felt like we should try to see things you can only experience in Vienna, like art museums featuring works by Austrian painters. In the end, we decided to go because it was open until 9pm on Wednesday and we had no other plans for the evening.
I’m so glad we decided to go because it’s a great museum. The building itself is a twin of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the two face each other across the Maria-Theresian-Platz. Since we went in the evening, it wasn’t overly crowded (ie. no swarms of school children). You can see enormous collections of rare minerals, meteorites, extinct species, dinosaur skeletons and so much more. We were lucky to catch the special mammoth exhibit which runs until March 2nd. It’s a good museum choice for adults and kids alike.
- As S mentioned in the previous post, many museums in Vienna have a day when they’re closed, usually Tuesday or Wednesday. On the flip side, many museums have one day a week when they’re open until later in the evening which leaves the day available for other sightseeing.
- S’s number 1 wish in Vienna was to see the Imperial Treasury Museum (Kaiserliche Schatzkammer) but much to our dismay, we found it to be closed from February 16 – 27. If you have your heart set on seeing a specific museum or exhibit, I would recommend double checking online to see when they’re open to avoid disappointment.
- If you plan to see a lot of museums and sights in Vienna, you can purchase a Vienna Card which offers more than 210 discounts to museums, shops, restaurants and concerts around the city. After looking into it, we found that the discounts were minor (ex. a 1 Euro discount to a museum) and we would have to visit a lot of sights just to justify the roughly 20 Euro cost of the card. In the end, we decided not to get it, but it may be something that interests you.
- Judge for yourself if you’re interested in getting an audio guide. The Naturhistorisches Museum had a lot of displays in both English and German and I didn’t feel like I missed out by not having an audio guide for that museum. However, I did appreciate having an audio guide in the Kunsthistorisches Museum because I’m such an art novice (plus it turns out there was very little information in English about any of the paintings).
We would have loved to have gone to the Belvedere to see works by famed Austrian painter Gustav Klimt and the Museum of Military History (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum) but alas, we ran out of time. Now we have an excuse to go back to Vienna!