The name Weltmuseum translates literally as “World museum”. Consider it a lucky dip into the history and culture of the world’s peoples, but with enough self-awareness to know there are issues raised when you display valuable ethnic artifacts from other countries.
- (Re)opened in late 2017 as a modern ethnographic museum
- A potpourri of themed display rooms, each covering a particular region or sociocultural issue
- Also explores the relationship of a theme to past and present Austria
- All info presented in English, too
- €12 for adults (free entry with the Vienna Pass. Fast-track tickets available online*)
- See also: Kunsthistorisches Museum
What’s the Weltmuseum?
The permanent exhibitions of the Weltmuseum take you on a journey across the world, where each room tackles a particular topic or region.
One room might feature “Mesoamerica” with an ancient feathered Mexican headdress and “Day of the Dead” art. The next might examine the topic of “migration”.
You experience a series of vignettes of world history and world cultures, often presented within the context of their connection to Austria. So as well as seeing 19th century Indian art, for example, you learn how the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, came to possess it.
The museum occupies rooms in the Neue Burg part of the Hofburg Palace, encircling a huge marbled atrium known as the Hall of Columns. The hall reminded me of a multilayered Roman villa, all cream marble columns flecked in black, and topped off by painted ceiling arches and a giant skylight:
Given the Weltmuseum (re)opened in 2017, the displays are fresh and modern, with plenty of videos and interactive screens, and a diverse approach that gives each room its own character.
The result is a history museum. And a cultural museum. And a science museum. And, well, a museum of people, essentially.
The exhibits are as varied and diverse as the world itself. A collection of Indonesian ankle chains in one room, an analysis of language distribution in modern-day Vienna in another. Here a beautiful model of the Edo-period residence of a Japanese feudal lord, there a feather bust of a god from Hawaii.
In presenting these cultural and historical artifacts from a region, the Weltmuseum does not shy away from discussing the associated problems and complexities.
So displays of native American art include baseball caps that invite questions about cultural appropriation by sports teams. An examination of life in a Himalayan village highlights the migration of labour to other countries.
Issues are raised, but rarely resolved. Instead, you are encouraged to critically examine topics for yourself.
Nor does the Weltmuseum ignore the twin “elephants in the room” that are colonialism and imperialism, whose practice helped assemble the collections in the first place. Although Austria never had the colonial legacy of a UK or France, the Habsburgs were beneficiaries and enablers of colonial and imperialistic behaviour.
Ironically (and possibly deliberately?), a room examining the legitimacy of former colonial powers possessing valuable artifacts from abroad stands adjacent to a room with a precious royal screen “liberated” by Austrian forces during the Chinese Boxer rebellion.
Tickets & visitor information
The Weltmuseum opens from 10 am to 6 pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and weekends; 10 am to 9 pm on Fridays; closed on Wednesdays. As always, check for up-to-date details.
The “Cook” cafe and bistro occupies part of the Hall of Columns, so you can marvel at the architecture while you eat. The bistro offers coffees, teas, cold drinks and cakes, but also snacks and meals, with both traditional Austrian fare, such as Frankfurter sausages, and world cuisine, such as Miso soup and couscous salad with goat’s cheese.
(The staff were very friendly, too, which is not always a given in a museum café.)
A few more tips:
- The museum shop sells books, souvenirs etc. with a little more colour and diversity than the usual museum outlets
- To the left of the main entrance is also the Imperial Shop, with more traditional Viennese wares, souvenirs, arts and crafts
- You can visit the Hall of Columns and bistro (and the toilets and the shops) without an entrance ticket
- All text, videos and interactive displays are in both German and English (nice!)
- The lower level of the museum features a cloakroom and coin-operated lockers, but also regular temporary exhibitions and a sneak peek behind the scenes into three rooms with glass cabinets stuffed full of figures, masks, sculptures, musical instruments, and model buildings and boats
- The floor above the Weltmuseum permanent exhibitions houses the Imperial Armoury and the Historical Musical Instrument collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. A ticket to the Weltmuseum includes access to both
How to get to the Weltmuseum
It’s hard to miss the entrance. Face the huge, curved historical building on Heldenplatz square and the Weltmuseum is at the right-hand end.
Finding Heldenplatz is easy. It’s at the core of the walking route you probably take on any visit to Vienna, part of the Hofburg complex, and opposite the imposing Art History and Natural History museums.
Subway: The nearest station is Museumsquartier on the U2 line, but it’s just a short walk from Volkstheater (U2 and U3 lines), Herrengasse (U3) and even Karlsplatz (U1, U2 and U4), too.
Tram/bus: Take a 1, 2, 71 or D tram to Burgring
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna | Website