Natural history museums can go two ways.
If you’re unlucky, you get dusty cabinets filled with stuffed animals that look like something out of Ebeneezer Wormwood’s Victorian World of The Weird and Strange.
If you’re lucky, you get an engaging, fun and informative peek into the wonders and mysteries of nature.
Fortunately, the Vienna Natural History Museum (NHM – Naturhistorisches Museum) leans toward the second variety, even though the collections began life in 1750 (!).
When you reach the museum location (see below for map), you’ll find two identical-looking buildings on either side of a large square. The one with the elephant statue in front of it is the Natural History Museum, built in 1889.
(The other building opposite is Vienna’s Art History Museum. If you go in there by mistake, animals will be tricky to find. Though there is a rather angry tiger in the “Four Rivers of Paradise” by Rubens.)
Opening hours & tours
Entry is inexpensive – at the time of writing, kids were free and adults €10 with various concessions.
The museum closes most Tuesdays, December 25th and January 1st, but is open on all other days – usually from 9am to 6.30pm. Catch a tour in English on Fridays (4pm) and Saturdays (3pm).
But please check with the museum’s website for the latest information.
You enter at the main atrium. There’s an information desk straight ahead of you with folders in English and a supervised cloakroom on the right, where you can check-in your belongings.
On the left is the exit and shop. Go up the stairs to the right to start your visit “at the beginning” with the geology collection, or climb the stairs ahead to reach the cafe and zoological collections. There are lifts, too, of course.
- Once you enter the museum proper, look up. In fact, wherever you are in the museum, always look up and around, not just at the exhibits. The museum is full of staircases of the “sweeping” kind, ornate marble archways, stone carvings, oil paintings, and glorious ceilings offering a setting as impressive as any of the scientific contents
- The museum is improving continually, so don’t be surprised to find a display closed off temporarily for refurbishment
- Both main floors are laid out so you can go from room-to-room following the sides of a rectangle until you get back to where you started. However, don’t forget the corridors that connect the two long sides of the rectangle in the middle (otherwise you’ll miss some neat displays)
- I’d recommend setting aside at least half a day for looking round, then grabbing a cappuccino and cake to finish. You can go round in a couple of hours, but you won’t get nearly as much out of the visit
- As you walk around you’ll see the occasional item with a large number on it. That’s one of the top 100 exhibits. There’s an accompanying guidebook in the shop or you can just use the numbers as a hint to where you should pay more attention
U2 or U3: Station Volkstheater
D, 71, 46, 49 or 2 to Dr. Karl Renner Ring
48A to Dr. Karl Renner Ring
Address: Burgring 7, 1010 Vienna