Think of European palaces and you obviously think of delicate facades, dramatic fountains, lofty spires, lush tapestries, timeless works of art, and, of course, tropical butterflies.
Or maybe not.
- Small but beautiful palm house
- Same goes for the tropical butterflies
- Quick to get around and very central
- A nice break for the kids from art and architecture
- See also:
(View from the park below with the state hall of the library behind)
The Imperial Butterfly House (German: Schmetterlinghaus) lives in a converted palm house at the edge of the Burggarten park.
Sandwiched between the Neue Burg wing of the Hofburg palace complex and the Albertina art museum, the building offers a short, but colourful, distraction should you ever grow tired of monuments and Monets.
Architect Ludwig Remy built the first greenhouse on this site in the 1820s. The current Jugendstil palm house replaced the original at the start of the 20th century and now houses both the butterflies and a neighbouring café.
That new building made up part of the extensive refurbishments in and around the Hofburg palace that ended abruptly with the emptying of the Imperial purse and the fall of the monarchy after WWI.
Of course, while the royals may have enjoyed the warmth and plants, no exotic butterflies ever delighted the Imperial grandchildren: the butterfly house first opened here in 1990.
(The long glasshouse also has a café and event venue)
The hothouse isn’t huge – it took me about 100 paces to circle the building – but it’s thick with tropical trees, shrubs and flowers, a waterfall, and even a raised bridge that puts you above the vegetation.
You discover, for example, banana and papaya, hibiscus, a huge croton that puts our houseplant to shame, and small beds of flowers lining the sides.
And…it’s full of butterflies.
Blues, reds, oranges, greens, blacks and yellows flit and flash across your vision. A few of the species on display breed naturally, while the rest come from breeding programmes on butterfly farms (no wild or endangered butterflies are involved).
I definitely spotted owl butterflies, and think I identified blue morphos, flame butterflies and longwings among the other species.
On one past visit, a giant model moth suddenly moved and turned out to be a real Atlas Moth: its wingspan can exceed 25cm.
If you’re lucky, you might even catch a few butterflies still emerging from the chrysalis in the pupal chambers.
Tickets and visitor tips
At the time of writing, entrance tickets are €9 for adults, with the usual concessions.
A few tips:
- Look for the feeding tables and honey-coated artificial flowers where you can watch butterflies at rest.
- Just sit quietly on one of the chairs, relax, and take a break from sightseeing stress.
The butterflies pass by and stop on nearby plants. Enjoy a moment of tranquility, particularly when one delicate creature shows enough trust (or foolishness) to land softly on your hand or head.
- Treat the vegetation like a 3D image where you have to refocus your eyes to see the picture. Suddenly you’ll notice that colourful butterfly sitting perfectly still just a hairbreadth away.
- The ticket office has an integrated shop that sells toys, books, puzzles, t-shirts, jewellery and similar. No prizes for guessing the common motif.
- The butterfly house is (obviously) warm and humid, and your camera lens will mist up initially, especially if you visit in the winter months.
You’re in art and history country around the Schmetterlinghaus. But if you want to stick to the natural world, try:
- Vienna Zoo: the aquarium area usually has free-flying tropical butterflies, too. Not to mention all the other animals. Including (drum roll) giant pandas.
- Haus des Meeres: a lovely aquarium and vivarium built into an old flak tower.
How to get to the butterfly house
Like many of the attractions in the Hofburg palace area, this one is only reachable on foot. But it’s very central and close to various stations and stops.
Subway: a short walk from the Herrengasse (U3), Museumsquartier (U2) or Stephansplatz (U3/U1) stations
Tram/bus: take trams 1, 2, D or 71 to Burgring or bus 2A to Albertinaplatz
Address: Burggarten Hofburg, 1010 Wien