Think of the Kunsthistorisches Museum main location as a giant chest of artistic treasures, all tied up in beautiful architectural gift wrap.
Several world-class art collections live inside. You probably assume we’re talking paintings by Old Masters. But while the picture gallery is indeed mightily impressive, it’s just one part.
- Outstanding selection of art collected through Imperial history
- If you’re pressed for time, head to the paintings or the Kunstkammer
- A standard adult ticket* costs €16 (concessions available or use the Vienna Pass for one-time free entry)
- Selected temporary exhibitions:
- See also: Museums in Vienna
Inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum
The museum includes several self-contained areas:
- The galleries of paintings, featuring numerous works by Old Masters and a who’s who of western European art. 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 (the positioning and lighting of the displays might be considered art in their own right)
- The Coin collection, which includes a remarkable series of mini-portrait paintings
- The Vermeyen cartoons, documenting the early 16th-century Tunis campaign of Emperor Charles V
(Not to mention regular world-class temporary exhibitions.)
Oh, and the building itself is remarkably impressive, particularly the dome and the staircase (with its own work by Klimt).
So probably 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.
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.
Tickets & visitor tips
- When you enter the building it looks like one ticket office. But if you’re sitting in a queue for tickets, look behind you: there’s another ticket office on the other side of a glass door which may be less busy.
- During significant exhibitions, the ticket offices move to containers outside the main entrance. Major exhibitions may also require a special 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.
- After you get in, go left to put away coats and bags in the cloakroom, which also has lockers (you need a €1 or €2 coin to operate them). Go ahead for audio guides or right for the shop and guidebooks.
- The Kunstkammer contains a lot of accessible information via tablets and there’s plenty of English, too, in the picture galleries. Other areas have less English; you might want the English audio guide 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.
- Take the Plan and general information leaflet – it has a floor plan plus shows you where to find the very top highlights in the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s collections.
- You’re going to need a lot of time to see the museum in its entirety. I took several hours in the Kunstkammer, which is just one section of the building. So either you set aside plenty of time or you use the leaflet to browse through the highlights.
- The cafe/restaurant is a remarkably impressive 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
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