Think of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) as a giant chest of artistic treasures, all tied up in beautiful architectural gift wrap.
Numerous world-class works of art live inside. You probably assume we’re talking paintings. But while the picture gallery is indeed mightily impressive, it’s just one of several important collections.
- Outstanding selection of historical art
- If pressed for time, head to the paintings or Kunstkammer
- Selected temporary exhibitions:
- See also:
Inside the Museum
The Kunsthistorisches Museum includes several self-contained areas:
- The galleries of paintings, featuring numerous works by a who’s who of western European painting pre-1800. Look, particularly, for the Bruegels
- The Kunstkammer “chamber of wonders”, full of astonishing artifacts…from decorated backgammon sets to mechanical ships and priceless salt cellars
- The Egyptian Collection, containing all you might expect in your A-Z of motifs from Ancient Egypt
- The Greek and Roman Antiquities, where the clever positioning and gorgeous lighting of the displays might be considered art in their own right
- The Coin Collection, which also includes a remarkable series of mini-portrait paintings
- The Vermeyen Cartoons, documenting the early 16th-century Tunis campaign of Emperor Charles V
The Kunsthistorisches Museum traditionally hosts a major year-end event around the theme of old masters (like Caravaggio, Titian, or Pieter Bruegel the Elder). But you may also come across smaller or more contemporary exhibitions throughout the year.
Oh, and the building leaves a remarkable impression in its own right, particularly the dome and the staircase (with its Klimt interior decoration).
So possibly more art than you can eat in one sitting, especially if you want time to digest what you’re viewing. Unless you’re interested in particular paintings, I’d recommend the Kunstkammer as the “must see” collection.
Tickets & visitor tips
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
A few tips if you choose to buy a ticket on site:
- When you first enter the Kunsthistorisches Museum, it looks like one ticket counter in the vestibule. But if you’re in a queue for tickets, look behind you for another ticket counter on the opposite side of the vestibule which may be less busy.
- At times, particularly during significant exhibitions, the ticket counters move to containers on the square outside the main entrance. Major exhibitions may also require an extra ticket or a timeslot booking.
- Once through the ticket check, look up (trust me).
As mentioned, the museum building itself is rather impressive. So, actually, you should look up, down, and around everywhere as you view the collections. The entrance hall and dome quite take your breath away.
And some more tips to get the most out of your trip:
- After you get in, go left to put away coats and bags in the cloakroom, which also has coin-operated lockers. Go ahead for audioguides or right for the shop and guidebooks.
- The Kunstkammer contains a lot of accessible information via tablets and the picture galleries have plenty of English, too. Other areas have less English; you might want the English audioguide or a book.
- Alternatively, use the KHM Stories app for themed English-language tours of the collection (available for free from the iPhone and Android app stores).
- The stairs leading away from the entrance hall to the left take you to the Kunstkammer, while the stairs to the right lead to the Egyptian collection. Everything else is up the stairs in front of you.
- I took several hours just in the Kunstkammer, which is but one section of the building. So either you set aside plenty of time or you simply browse through the Kunsthistorisches Museum highlights (a free info leaflet should identify these for you).
- The cafe/restaurant makes a remarkably grand place to drink a coffee.
- If you’re there for the paintings by old masters, consider also a couple of other destinations afterwards.
Finally, the Kunsthistorisches Museum feels like a place for hushed voices – a cathedral of art that’s not unwelcoming, but has a touch of high-brow about it. It can be intimidating for those (like me) whose knowledge of art is limited largely to family-friendly Sunday evening TV documentaries.
Do not expect to find much in the way of dumbed-down infotainment or edutainment: I never saw any cartoon figures encouraging us to discover the joys of Italian Baroque paintings.
How to get to the museum
The Kunsthistorisches Museum sits opposite its twin – the Natural History Museum – on the square named in honour of Empress Maria Theresa. The two buildings look almost identical, both completed in 1891 as part of Emperor Franz Joseph’s expansive plans for the Ring.
If you get the museums mixed up, you may find yourself standing in front of a stuffed wildebeest debating how the artist uses the piece to question the true nature of human existence. But it’s actually just a stuffed wildebeest.
The well-worn tourist routes around Vienna’s centre likely take you past. If traveling by public transport, then…
Subway: U2 or U3 to Volkstheater and a short walk
Tram: 1, D, 71, 46, 49 or 2 to Ring/Volkstheater or the 1, 2, 71 and D to Burgring
Bus: 48A to Ring/Volkstheater or the 57A to Burgring
Address: Burgring 7, 1010 Vienna | Website