Whenever I start my question with “Do you remember that museum we saw in …” my kids give me the look and reply “Which museum? You drag us to at least a couple museums every place we go to!”
But with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna it was different. I only had to say “Do you remember that museum in Vienna where we had lunch in this really nice round room, where Daddy waved to us from the hole in the ceiling up above?” and they knew exactly which place I was talking about.
My daughter replied with “Was it that place where they had a lot of Egyptian stuff? And all that gold?”
My son added “Was it the one where they had this big painting of a mountain that looked like a tower?”
Yep, that’s the one.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria does have a splendid collection of Egyptian antiquities and quite an impressive collection of gold objects.
The museum is also lucky to have several paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, including The Tower of Babel, which is around 61 inches (over 1.5 meters) wide by 44 inches (about 1 meter) tall (excluding the frame).
That’s the painting my son remembered, though he probably remembered it only because I pointed it out, saying it’s a very famous painting and he should remember it, and because I also explained to him the story of the Tower of Babel at that point.
If you’re interested in The Tower of Babel , you can listen to The Khan Academy’s short piece about this painting, but to be quite honest, I liked two other paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder at that museum much more (more about that later).
What does Kunsthistorisches Mean?
If you don’t speak German, Kunsthistorisches might look like an awfully long word. It’s actually a combination of two words “Kunst” meaning “Art” and “Historisches” meaning “History.”
The Kunsthistorisches Museum then is the Museum of Art History.
A bit of History of the Kunsthistorisches Museum
The Kunsthistorisches Museum stands opposite an identical building that houses the Museum of Natural History, the Naturhistorisches Museum.
Both buildings were commissioned by Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph to showcase the imperial collections “in an appropriate, independent new building using modern suspension and construction techniques” as the guidebook I bought at the museum says.
The design of both museums was supposed to be chosen through a competition, but the appointed jury seemed unable to come to an agreement on the winner. In the end, an architect who didn’t even participate in the competition, Gottfried Semper was invited to modify one of the proposed designs by Karl von Hasenauer.
My guidebook gets into detail of how the two architects didn’t work very well with another, each preferring a different style, but ultimately, the end effect is stunning.
The museums, opened in 1891, are gorgeous not only because of the treasures they hold. The buildings are beautiful as well, as you can see below!
Museum’s Opulent Architecture
Opulent is definitely the right word when describing the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Just look at the photos below:
As you can see for yourself, you can spend quite a bit of time just admiring the building even before you see any collections it houses.
Talking about collections:
What can you see at the Kunsthistorisches Museum?
My kids remember the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection the most probably because it was the first area we visited, so the artwork overload had not set in at that point yet.
In addition, the museum also has a Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Picture Gallery, museum within the museum or the Kunstkammer Wien (the cradle of the collection), and a Coin Collection, which Peter really liked.
Trust me, you can easily spend a whole day at that place. Preferably several days.
Here are a few highlights of the things you can see at the Kunsthistorisches Museum:
Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection
My daughter was right. The museum does have A LOT of Egyptian stuff. The museum’s Egyptian collection counts among on of the greatest collections of its kind.
There are a lot of mummies of course, including animal mummies.
As expected, the collection also has a large number of statues of various Egyptian gods and goddesses.
But the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection also includes everyday objects, such as these, which are not even showcased on the Museum’s Selected Masterpieces page:
You might not think the objects below look especially attractive, but I found them fascinating because of how old they are.
Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities
The Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the Kunsthistorisches Museum is, of course, full of gorgeous, exquisitely carved statues, elaborately decorated vases, and other magnificent objects.
Here are a few that I particularly liked. For instance, would you believe that the gauze-thin fabric barely covering these Aphrodite statues is part of the carving!
I also loved the solemn and distinguished face of this Roman matron.
The Greek and Roman art fits beautifully with the surrounding architecture of the museum.
Hoard of Gold
The Kunsthistorisches Museum collection includes the largest yet known early medieval gold hoard discovered in 1799 near what used to be a Hungarian town of Nagyszentmiklós, nowadays a Romanian own of Sannicolau Mare. The find is believed to be from between the seventh to ninth century AD.
Just take a look at this gorgeous bowl!
I believe this necklace is also from there, though I’m not entirely sure. Wherever it’s from, it’s still beautiful.
Naturally, since Kunsthistorisches Museum is a museum founded by an Emperor, that’s not the only gold it has in its possession.
The Kunstkammer section of the Museum, includes for instance this gold dog leash:
The Kunstkammer, a collection of sculpture and decorative arts showcases items collected by individual members of the Habsburg family.
I very much admired this nearly full size statue of Iris, the Goddess of the Rainbow by Gaetano Matteo Monti from 1841:
I also found particularly lovely this bust of Ippolita Maria Sforza or Isabella of Aragon, by Francesco Laurana from the 15th century.
The Kunstkammer does not include just “art,” however. It also has a pretty large selection of “every day” objects like this one:
The cabinet above, its label said, stored numerous works of art, natural objects, and curiosities. It was made in the 16th century of ebony, maple, nutwood, and silver, possibly in souther Germany or Mantua.
The label for the basin with floral ornament above did not specify what the purpose of this object was. Since it was made with rock crystal, gilded silver, rubies, pearls, and paper, I can only assume it was purely ornamental.
The Kunstkammer also includes some curia, such as this automaton in the form of a ship:
The ship above was designed to be a table centerpiece and includes a complex mechanism that propels the ship across the table, while the tiny crew aboard moves to music coming from inside the ship.
And last, but not least, the Kunstkammer collection includes, of course, numerous busts commissioned by the emperors:
Are you tired yet? But you haven’t even set foot in the Picture Gallery!
The guidebook I bought says that despite its diversity and richness, the picture gallery is an unsystematic collection of art and has “serious – indeed astonishing – gaps” because it has a very small collection or does not even include artwork from France, England, Protestant Holland, and the Italian city-states from the Early Renaissance.
Despite the gaps, you can still see there works by Raphael, Titian, Velazquez, Dürer, Rubens, Van Dyck, van Eyck, and plenty of others.
As I mentioned above, however, the works I really was excited to see were those by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
You can stand for quite a long time in front of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Fight between Carnival and Lent, observing the scene. So many characters, so many activities… It’s fascinating.
Same thing with Bruegel’s Children’s Games:
Amy Orrock is absolutely correct in saying in her article “Homo Ludens: Pieter Bruegel’s Children’s Games and the Humanist Educators”
“Encountering Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Children’s Games for the first time is an experience that is both bewildering and enchanting”
The Kunsthistorisches Museum’s Coin Collection is said to be one of the five largest and most important collections in the world, so Peter, who also runs CoinTalk, an online forum for coin collectors, spent quite a bit of time admiring it, while the kids and I had lunch.
The photos didn’t come out that great, but as the note posted in the room explains
“a tour of the exhibition takes the visitor through almost three thousand years of history, starting with the prehistoric times and continuing right up into the twenty-first century.”
If you’re into coins and are planning a trip to Vienna, put the Kunsthistorisches Museum on your itinerary.
How did the kids like the Kunsthistorisches Museum?
It turns out they did.
They spent quite a bit of time playing with an interactive tablet allowing them to explore the interior of an Egyptian pyramid.
I didn’t have to stand right behind them to see what they were doing. I could see it on the large size monitor on the wall in front of them.
The museum has interactive displays like that throughout the building. We tried just a few.
My daughter also liked the drawing area that the Kunsthistorisches Museum created in their gift shop. Great way of keeping the kids occupied while parents browse for gifts!
How to get to the Kunsthistorisches Museum?
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is located right next to the Museumsquartier U-Bahn (subway) stop of line U2. I honestly don’t know if there is parking space nearby. Probably, but why would you want to drive a car in Vienna, when they have an excellent public transportation system?
Hours and Tickets
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is open 10am to 6pm from June to August, with longer hours on Thursdays (till 9pm).
Between September and May, the museum keeps the same hours, except it’s closed on Mondays.
Admission closes half an hour before exit time.
Ticket fees to the museum are as follows:
Adults – € 14 ($15 U.S.)
Students up to age 27, seniors over 65, military, and unemployed – € 11 ($12 U.S.)
Children and teens under 19 – FREE!
As the Museum’s Hours and Admission page also says:
The KHM Museumsverband is actively supporting refugees and the integration of all those who have been granted asylum. We offer free entrance to assisted groups of refugees and their caregivers (eg. Caritas, Volkshilfe, parishes, private hosts etc.).
To register please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kudos to KHM for providing free entrance to the refugees!
Pin it for later
If you’re planning to visit Vienna, feel free to pin this post for later, or follow our Austria | Vienna Pinterest board, where we collected all of our posts about Vienna, plus posts by many other bloggers, as well as official sites of the places we wrote about, and a few that we didn’t get to see.
We want to thank the Vienna Tourist Board and the Kunsthistorisches Museum for hosting our family at this fascinating place. While we received free tickets, we did not receive additional compensation and the text, format, and opinions are our own, as always.
Where to Stay in Vienna
When we visited Vienna, we stayed at a vacation rental, because that’s what we like to do (review coming soon). All in all, there are plenty of rentals, hotels, hostels, and B&Bs in Vienna to choose from. Take your pick!
Flying to Vienna? Check Momondo
If you’re flying to Vienna, check what price Momondo offers. We used this portal to buy our tickets, because I found it gave me the best deal.
Invitation to the #WeekendWanderlust Link Up
#WeekendWanderlust, hosted by Chris & Heather from A Brit and a Southerner, Jessi & Tara from Outbound Adventurer, Ashley from A Southern Gypsy, Justin and Lauren from Justin Plus Lauren, and yours truly, is a collaborative effort to share travel blog posts, and to discuss all travel-related things.
The hosts organize each week a link up through which travel bloggers from around the world can promote their posts, in exchange for a promise to give some attention to other travel bloggers. (One of the rules for linking up is to comment on three linked up posts.)
If the link up is still open, feel free to add a link to one of your posts below, then comment on at least three other linked up posts.
If you leave a comment on this post, I will reciprocate with a comment as soon as I can!
Also, don’t forget to join the #WeekendWanderlust chat on Twitter, every Saturday, at 11am EST, 3pm GMT, 11 pm SGT. See the list of upcoming topics on Travelogx.