A thirst for knowledge quickly turns into a parched throat and empty stomach as mountains of art take their toll on your energy levels. In the Kunsthistorisches Museum, help is at hand at the museum’s café/restaurant on the first floor.
- Absolutely stunning location for the café (like sitting inside your own masterpiece)
- Typical Viennese coffee shop flair
- Bruegel chocolate, anyone?
- See also: Kunsthistorisches Museum tickets & visitor info | Coffee houses in Vienna
(Figures in a Tavern or Coffee House, Attributed to Joseph Highmore, 1692–1780. Image courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art)
The café follows the traditional Viennese coffee house approach, which means staff have a cultivated, formal politeness and you can spend many a happy hour trying to decide what they’re really thinking.
The menu includes a wide range of coffees, teas, soft drinks, beers, wines etc., cakes, and proper cold and hot meals featuring typical Viennese restaurant dishes with a smattering of innovative vegetarian and other options, too.
On my last visit, I enjoyed a rather fine and filling red lentil salad, for example, washed down with a lemon soda. Though given the artistic location, it should perhaps have been vermouth and laudanum drunk from the shoe of a passing Prussian duchess. (That wasn’t on the menu, though.)
If you’re on a budget, this might not be your first choice. For example, a cappuccino costs over €5 (though such prices are not unusual in Vienna’s city centre nowadays). Obviously, you’re paying a premium for the location, as elsewhere around prime tourist attractions.
Talking of location – what a truly magnificent setting to sup your coffee.
You sit below the main dome on an upholstered chair or sofa. Eight arches with black and gold columns lift your eyes up past playful statues and angels to reliefs honouring the likes of Archduke Ferdinand II and, of course, the ubiquitous Emperor Franz Joseph.
It’s the “if there’s a space then fill it” approach to architecture you also see in many Baroque churches in town.
Sitting below such an assault on the senses can inspire, intrigue, and intimidate in equal measure.
There’s something perhaps a little sad about it all, too. So much creativity, emotion, time and expense invested by those who designed, built or commissioned the works. So much opulence and Habsburg self-belief (or arrogance if you prefer).
Did Emperor Franz Joseph sit here, too? Was he pleased? Did he imagine 900 years of self-glorification was soon to end in the trenches of WWI?
Don’t sit here alone – you might start thinking too much. (But then there’s always gorgeous chocolate cake to revive the spirits.)
Incidentally, they do gourmet dinners here every Thursday evening. They look absolutely fantastic. I’ve only ever seen them in passing, feeling like an orphan outside the grocery store in a Dickens novel…staring at the feast with wonder and amazement.
Tip: You can see the upper areas of the dome better if you go up to the second floor (the same floor as the coin collection) and look out from one of the balconies.
The museum shop
The main shop is on your right as you enter the museum and has everything you’d expect.
The focus, inevitably, is on books, exhibition catalogues, DVDs, postcards, souvenirs, and posters, but you’ll also find, for example, jewellery and miniatures. I liked the salt and pepper pots in the style of the Saliera – not cheap, but an awful lot cheaper than the original.
Outside of the Kunstkammer collection and the painting galleries, there isn’t a huge amount of English around the museum. If you plan to explore the other collections without an audio guide, then you might want to get a book here.
Each of the individual museum collections has its own guidebook covering the masterpieces, for example. If you want to quickly browse everything, then a general guidebook obviously makes more financial sense.
Most of the items in the shop are helpfully split by collection. So if you’re looking for a postcard of that Titian or Rubens you just admired, there’s a painting section.
And you know you’re in the Kunsthistorisches Museum when you can buy chocolate with a Bruegel or Rubens-themed wrapping.
Incidentally, the museum also has a smaller boutique shop up the stairs, next to the café/restaurant.