Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria

Beautiful Art in a Beautiful Building: Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

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?”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel, at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel, at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

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:

Cupola Hall ceiling detail
Vestibule ceiling detail

 

Cupola Hall ceiling detail with a view onto third floor balustrade and cupola
Vestibule ceiling detail with a view into the Cupola Hall above

 

Theseus by Antonio Canova in the main staircase leading up to the second floor
Theseus by Antonio Canova in the main staircase leading up to the second floor

 

main staircase leading up to the second floor of the Kunsthistorisches Museum
main staircase leading up to the second floor of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

 

Cafeteria in the Cupola Hall at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria
Cafeteria in the Cupola Hall at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

 

dome above the Cupola Hall
dome above the Cupola Hall
view from the third floor down to the cafeteria in the Cupola Hall
view from the third floor down to the cafeteria in the Cupola Hall

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.

Animal Mummies in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
Animal Mummies in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

 

Krokodile Mummy in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
Krokodile Mummy in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

As expected, the collection also has a large number of statues of various Egyptian gods and goddesses.

statues of Gods and Goddesses (Bast) in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museumstatues of Gods and Goddesses (Bast) in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
statues of Gods and Goddesses (Bast) in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

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:

beautiful Egyptian objects in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection
beautiful Egyptian objects in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection

You might not think the objects below look especially attractive, but I found them fascinating because of how old they are.

fascinating everyday ancient Egyptian household objects in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection
fascinating everyday ancient Egyptian household objects in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection

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!

a collection of Aphrodite statues in the Greek section
a collection of Aphrodite statues in the Greek section

I also loved the solemn and distinguished face of this Roman matron.

Roman Matron in the Roman Portraits and Statues section
Roman Matron in the Roman Portraits and Statues section

The Greek and Roman art fits beautifully with the surrounding architecture of the museum.

view down the Greek and Roman Collection
view down the Greek and Roman Collection

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!

gold bowl from the collection of cold objects discovered near Nagyszentmiklós
gold bowl from the collection of cold objects discovered near Nagyszentmiklós

I believe this necklace is also from there, though I’m not entirely sure. Wherever it’s from, it’s still beautiful.

silver, gold plated necklace
silver, gold plated necklace

Kunstkammer

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:

gold dog leash in the Kunstkammer section at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
gold dog leash in the Kunstkammer section at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

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:

Iris, the Goddess of the Rainbow by Gaetano Matteo Monti
Iris, the Goddess of the Rainbow by Gaetano Matteo Monti

I also found particularly lovely this bust of Ippolita Maria Sforza or Isabella of Aragon, by Francesco Laurana from the 15th century.

Ippolita Maria Sforza or Isabella of Aragon, by Francesco Laurana
Ippolita Maria Sforza or Isabella of Aragon, by Francesco Laurana

The Kunstkammer does not include just “art,” however. It also has a pretty large selection of “every day” objects like this one:

cabinet of Archduke Ferdinand II
cabinet of Archduke Ferdinand II

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.

Basin with Floral Ornament
Basin with Floral Ornament

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:

automaton in the form of a ship, by Hans Schlottheim
automaton in the form of a ship, by Hans Schlottheim

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:

busts of the family of Emperor Leopold I, Paul Strudel, 1695
busts of the family of Emperor Leopold I, Paul Strudel, 1695

Picture Gallery

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.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fight between Carnival and Lent
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fight between Carnival and Lent

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:

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Children's Games
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 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”

Coin Collection

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.

coins from the Coin Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
coins from the Coin Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
coins from the Coin Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
coins from the Coin Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

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.

kids playing with the interactive tool allowing them to explore the interior of an Egyptian pyramid
kids playing with the interactive tool 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 large size monitor reflecting the view my kids had on their interactive tablet
the large size monitor reflecting the view my kids had on their interactive tablet

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!

drawing area in the Kunsthistorisches Museum's gift shop
drawing area in the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s gift shop

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:

Refugees welcome!

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 ticket@khm.at

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.

save our post for later

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.

#WeekendWanderlust link up logo
#WeekendWanderlust link up logo


17 thoughts on “Beautiful Art in a Beautiful Building: Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna”

  1. Jolanta, this is an incredible resource for visiting the Kunsthistorisches Museum! Very thorough. I agree that occasionally some of the ancient Egyptian objects seem to lose their aesthetic beauty over time, but it’s the fact that they’re so old that makes them stand out! My favorite and I think one of the more unique pieces discussed here is the automated golden ship. I want one.

    Greig
    Winederlusting recently posted…Discover Chilean Wine Country – Guide to Chilean WineMy Profile

  2. I have to say, we too are those parents that take our kids to every museum. There are some they love and others they “tolerate”. They have not been to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, but my husband and myself visited on our honeymoon. It still stands out as one of the most wonderful museums I have ever visited. The gold, the Egyptian collection, the marble staircase and statues. It was really too much, but how could you ever forget it? Wonderful piece on a truly one of a kind museum. I enjoyed reading this, it was a wonderful walk down memory lane.
    Kirsten recently posted…Holiday Gift Guide for Those Who Love TravelMy Profile

  3. This looks like a place we would enjoy, and I enjoyed all your photos. I was especially interested in the Egyptian mummies. The architecture is so beautiful too. Thanks for the tips!

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