Destination: Austria: Vienna
SEE ALSO: Family Friendly: Zoom Kindermuseum.
Housed in a beautiful, meticulously restored palace that dates to the late 1600s, Vienna’s Albertina museum has one of the world’s largest graphic art collections, including drawings by Dürer, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. Most impressive are the palace’s Hapsburg staterooms, which were made accessible to the public for the first time in 2003, when the Albertina reopened after being shuttered for nearly a decade. The ultramodern titanium roof that juts out from over the palais’s entrance, in stark juxtaposition to the Baroque sculpture of Erzherzog Albrecht on horseback, was designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Hans Hollein and caused quite a controversy when it was unveiled (some locals likened it to a ski chute). The museum is located close to the Sacher hotel and the State Opera.
An interesting detail to note is that most of the drawings on display in the Albertina are actually reprints; the originals are kept in a vault and come out only for special exhibits. I was tipped off to this fact when I found myself standing alone in front of Dürer’s famous A Young Hare watercolor with nary a guard or alarm system in sight. When I asked a museum employee, she explained that the originals are extremely fragile and nearly impossible to insure (the Albertina has 50,000 drawings and approximately a million Old Master prints): “We used to lie about it,” she said cheerfully, “but now we’re not allowed to anymore.”
The Albertina hosts fantastic temporary exhibits that are always worth seeing: Starting on May 9, the museum will host a retrospective about Paul Klee (through August 10). After a visit to the Albertina, take a short stroll to the Hofgarten and have lunch or coffee at the Palmenhaus. Open daily.
Built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene, this complex comprises two museums, the Lower and the Upper Belvedere, which are connected by a beautifully laid-out garden. The Upper Belvedere is famous for having Klimt’s The Kiss, but it has many more treasures, including an incredible collection of Schiele paintings (don’t miss the haunting Death and the Maiden). There are Austrian works that date to medieval times and a substantial collection of 19th-century art, including Jacques-Louis David’s oversized portrait of Napoléon.
The Lower Belvedere, which used to house an extensive Baroque collection that moves to the Upper Belvedere this March, is used mainly for temporary exhibits. Highlights in the Fall include “Gustav Klimt & the Kunstschau 1908” (Oct. 1– Jan. 18, 2009). Make sure to take the symmetrical gravel paths leading from one museum to the other and enjoy the fabulous vistas of Vienna.
TIP: The Belvedere’s cafés are not worth a stop; after your visit, take a taxi back to the city center (about a ten-minute ride). Open daily.
Some museums draw you back time and again: I, for one, could not visit Madrid without returning to the Prado’s haunting Goyas or Paris without seeing Rodin’s sculptures. In Vienna it’s the Leopold that I cannot get enough of—in particular the Egon Schiele rooms, which feature more than forty paintings by the Austrian artist. Part of the MuseumsQuartier complex, the Leopold has the largest holding of Schiele’s works, which are displayed in soaring, airy spaces. As is sadly the case with several Vienna museums, there’s some controversy surrounding the legal origins of the collection. Rudolf Leopold, a doctor and patron of the arts, is currently involved in at least restitution lawsuits. This does not diminish the genius of Schiele, who was only twenty-eight when he died of Spanish flu in 1918, just three days after his pregnant wife succumbed to the same illness. One of the most touching images is a simple charcoal drawing entitled Edith Schiele Sterbend (Edith Schiele Dying), the artist’s last work. The rest of the Leopold is nothing to sniff at: other floors contain works by Klimt, like the powerful large-scale Death and Life; Kokoschka; Koloman Moser; and Richard Gerstl, among others. Closed Tuesday.
Showcasing one of Europe’s most remarkable private collections of mostly Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque works, this museum is housed in the Garden Palace of the Liechtenstein family, which was painstakingly restored and opened to the public in 2004. The highlights include Peter Paul Rubens’s Venus in Front of the Mirror, Frans Hals’s Portrait of A Man and Anthony van Dyck’s Portrait of Maria de Tassis. The palace interiors provide a marvelous backdrop, with stately rooms, beautifully restored stucco by Italian artist Santino Bussi, ornate ceiling frescoes and a neoclassical library. In the summer, visiting the sprawling Baroque gardens is a special treat. The Liechtenstein museum is located a bit outside the city center in the Rossau district. Closed Wednesday and Thursday.
Museum of Applied Arts (MAK)
The MAK is one of those cooler-than-thou showcases that embodies the new Vienna. Located in an imposing Renaissance revival–style building, the museum focuses on decorative arts and design, including a fantastic collection of Wiener Werkstätte, Art Nouveau and Biedermeier pieces. Each exhibition room was conceived by a contemporary artist or designer, making for a vibrant, at times challenging, viewing experience. American artist Jenny Holzer, for instance, created a room for the Empire-style and Biedermeier collection, in which electronic signs along the ceiling provide detailed information about the furniture on display, and her own version of a Biedermeier sofa (in aluminum) encourages visitors to have a seat and take it all in. Designers Eichinger oder Knechtl removed all labels from the Art Nouveau furniture and art on view in one of the first rooms; instead, visitors can pick up a brochure at the entrance of the room and read about the pieces at leisure (one of the most famous works here is Klimt’s gilded Stoclet Frieze). It’s very creative and well done, capturing the imagination of young visitors as well, especially the long Historicism Art Nouveau hall where sculpted chairs are displayed behind backlit screens. The fun, adjacent design shop leads to the terrific Österreicher restaurant. Closed Monday.
Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum)
After modern luminous spaces like those found in the Leopold and the Albertina, the somberly lit exhibit halls of the Fine Art Museum can seem a bit dated, but the permanent collection is one of the world’s most illustrious, with important works by Raphael, Canaletto, Bosch, Rubens, Vermeer and Velázquez. There are Egyptian as well as Greek and Roman antiquities collections. Cupola Hall—an ornate extravaganza composed of black-and-white marble columns, mosaics, stucco, gold leaf and a 196-foot dome—is a work of art in its own right. Twice a week the museum hosts a buffet, and even though the food is not exceptional, it’s a treat to stroll through the exhibits between courses (your table is reserved for the entire meal). Sunday brunch is popular with families (it’s free for children under seven), while Thursday’s dinners draw mostly couples. To reserve, contact Gerstner catering company at 43 (0) 1-526-13-61; fax: 43 (0) 1-526-13-61; email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Closed Monday.
Museum of Modern Art (Mumok)
The 9,000-piece collection of Vienna’s Museum of Modern Art (known as Mumok) was shown in numerous underwhelming spaces before finally settling in the MuseumsQuartier in 2001—an indication of how little emphasis was put on contemporary art until recently. Besides the permanent displays, which include works by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Nam June Paik and Marcel Duchamp, among others, the museum hosts interesting temporary exhibits. Open daily.
Museum of Natural History (Naturhistorisches)
The exhibits, which range from insects and birds to bears and dinosaurs, may not be as spectacular as those at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but the Naturhistorisches is still a great place to take the kids, especially on a rainy day. Those not afraid of heights—or exercise—should come to the museum on Wednesday evenings, when you can climb to the roof for a fabulous view. While there, take a look across the Maria-Theresienplatz. The massive sandstone palace that houses the Kunsthistorisches Museum is a mirror image of the Naturhistorisches; not surprisingly, both buildings were designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl von Hasenauer in the late 1800s. Closed Tuesday.
The changing exhibits at the Secession, located near the Naschmarkt in a building with a gilded dome, are hit-or-miss, but Klimt fans should go for the Beethoven Frieze in the basement. Inspired by the German composer’s triumphant Ninth Symphony, the dreamy wall cycle depicts human yearning for happiness and the so-called hostile forces that stand in its way. Considered scandalous when Klimt unveiled it in 1902, the frieze is one of the Austrian artist’s most important works. The inscription over the entrance of the Secession reads “Der Zeit ihre Kunst—der Kunst ihre Freiheit” (“To the age its art—to art, its freedom”)—a motto beautifully expressed in this delicate frieze. Go during off-hours to avoid crowds in the small room. Closed Monday.
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