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 issues are raised when you display valuable ethnic artifacts from other countries.
- Modern ethnographic museum with a potpourri of themed display rooms
- Each room covers a particular region or sociocultural issue
- Also explores the relationship of a theme to past and present Austria
- All info presented in English, too
- €16 for adults (one-time free entry with the Vienna Pass. Skip-the-line tickets available online*), which also gets you access to two special collections in the same building
- Current temporary exhibitions include:
- 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 Aztec headdress and “Day of the Dead” art; the next might examine the topic of “migration”.
As such, 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, actually 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. A most impressive sight.
Given the Weltmuseum (re)opened in 2017, the presentations are fresh and modern, with plenty of videos and interactive screens. A diverse approach to displays gives each room its own character.
The overall result is a history museum. And a cultural museum. And a science museum. And, well, a museum of people, essentially.
The exhibits certainly mirror the variety and diversity in human cultures: 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.
The museum raises such issues, but rarely resolves them. Instead, it encourages you to critically examine topics for yourself.
Nor does the Weltmuseum ignore the twin “elephants in the room” when it comes to ethnographic collections: colonialism and imperialism.
Austria never had the colonial legacy of, for example, a UK or France, but 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 one with a precious royal screen “liberated” by Austrian forces during the Chinese Boxer rebellion.
Tickets & visitor tips
Adults pay €16 for a standard entrance ticket at the time of writing, with various concessions available. You can also buy skip-the-line tickets online* or use a Vienna Pass (see my review) to get in free.
The “Cook” cafe and bistro occupies part of the Hall of Columns, so you can marvel at the architecture while you eat. On my visit, the bistro offered 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:
- You can visit the Hall of Columns and bistro (and the toilets and the shops) without an entrance ticket
- The museum shop sells books, souvenirs etc. with a little more colour and diversity than the usual museum outlets
- Go left of the main entrance to find the Imperial Shop, with Viennese wares, souvenirs, arts, and crafts of a more local nature
- 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 major temporary exhibitions. Get a sneak peek behind the scenes in three rooms with glass cabinets stuffed full of figures, masks, sculptures, musical instruments, and model buildings and boats
- The upper levels may also have smaller temporary exhibitions, so watch for those as well
- 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
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