Austria museums come in a variety of forms, they figure among the very best museums in Europe. Several are housed in architecturally impressive structures that only add to their allure, and the most renowned examples have become must-see attractions for many travelers. As you might suspect, art and history are the major focuses when it comes to the many museums in Austria, and enthusiasts of both subjects could certainly do worse when trying to choose the ideal country for their European vacations.
Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts)
Austria is known for its affiliations with the Hapsburg dynasty, commonly referred to as the House of Austria. During its reign, the Hapsburg dynasty amassed power and a treasure trove of priceless objects. Anyone interested in the renowned art collection of the Hapsburg dynasty certainly won’t want to miss the Kunsthistorisches Museum. This Vienna museum opened in 1891 to display the formidable art collection of the Hapsburgs, and it is especially known for its Dutch, Flemish, and German works. Such famous artists as Rubens and Van Dyck are well represented. Also of interest at the Kunsthistorisches Museum are its Italian, French, and Spanish collections, so visitors can get a comprehensive appreciation of classic European art in general. You can find the Kunsthistorisches Museum across from the Hofburg Palace, in the heart of Vienna. The Hofburg Palace also hosts the renowned Naturhistorisches Museum.
Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum)
The Naturhistorisches Museum is one of the best museums in Austria - in fact, in all of Europe. Housed inside this renowned Vienna institution are more than 30 million objects, and that makes it the third-largest museum of its kind on the planet. Only the natural history museums in New York City and London are larger. The Naturhistorisches Museum was established in 1748 to house Hapsburg possessions, and among its highlights are a Stone Age artifacts collection and a bouquet of flowers that is made of more than 2,000 gemstones. This immaculate bouquet of gems was gifted to the museum’s founder, Franz Stephan von Lothringen, by his wife, the Empress Maria Theresa. While the Naturhistorisches Museum was established in the mid-1700s, it didn’t open in its current building until 1891.
Vienna’s most popular tourist attraction, Schonbrunn Palace was built for the Hapsburgs between the years of 1696 and 1712 and has no less than 1,441 rooms. The architects in charge were the famous von Erlachs, and influential in the overall design was the Empress Maria Theresa. During Maria Theresa’s long reign, the Schonbrunn Palace was the imperial family’s primary summer residence, and it played host to lavish events. Also interesting is the fact that a young Mozart performed in its Hall of Mirrors when he was just six years old. Highlights of the palace and its extensive grounds include the stunning State Apartments, the beautiful Imperial Gardens, and the interesting Carriage Museum. The Schonbrunn Palace admission price includes an audio guide tour that is offered in several languages, including English, and there are special children’s tours in English that cater to younger visitors.
In 2001, Vienna’s much heralded Museums Quartier opened. A major cultural center, this area in the city’s seventh district features architecturally impressive buildings, some of which are of the baroque style and others that are more modern in design. It is best known for its art exhibits. The main museums on the Museums Quartier campus include the Kunsthalle Wien, the Leopold Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation (MUMOK). The Kunsthalle Wien showcases temporary exhibitions that focus on contemporary art from across the globe, while the Leopold Museum mostly revolves around modern Austrian art.
No discussion about the culture and history of Austria would be complete without mentioning Sigmund Freud. Commonly referred to as the father of psychoanalysis, Freud was born within the boundaries of the former Austrian Empire in 1856 and rose to become one of the most influential thinkers of recent history. When he was four years old, Freud moved with his family to Vienna, and while he subsequently spent some time in other European cities, it was in the Austrian capital that he spent most of his time. Freud passed away in 1939; learn more about the his legacy at the Freud Museum at Berggasse 19 in Vienna. It is open daily and features many interesting exhibitions, some of the permanent variety, and others of the temporary kind.
Actually a group of museums that can be found throughout the city, the Vienna Museum focuses on Vienna history in general. The main building that is associated with the institution can be found in the wonderful Karlsplatz town square area. Other buildings include separate specialized museums that focus on such things as fashion and clocks, museums that revolve around archaeological excavations, and musician residences. An example of the museums that focus on archaeological excavations is the Museum of the Romans to the north of Stephansplatz square, while an example of a musician residence is the Johann Strauss residence in the Leopoldstadt district. Separate admission fees apply for each of the various Vienna Museum buildings, unless you are 19 years old or younger, in which case you get in for free. On the first Sunday of every month, admission to the numerous Vienna Museum buildings is free for everyone!
Several Austria museums that are held in high esteem can be found outside of Vienna. A perfect example is Mozart’s Geburtshaus. Located in Salzburg at Getreidegasse 9, this home is where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756. Many of the famous composer’s childhood belongings are on display, with examples including his first viola, his first violin, and the clavichord that he used to compose The Magic Flute. Visitors can even see a lock of his hair. Also among the many highlights is the renowned portrait of Mozart that was painted by his brother-in-law, Joseph Lange. It depicts the composer two years before his death in 1791.
Visit Salzburg, and you will soon notice that the city is dominated by a large fortress. This fortress is the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Work on this imposing structure that sits atop Festungsberg hill began in 1077, and it wasn’t completed until 1681. One of the largest and best-preserved castles in Europe, the Hohensalzburg Fortress certainly gets its fair share of visitors, and it is easy to understand why. The elegant state apartments alone are worth a visit, and a room that is known as the Golden Room features a 16th century porcelain stove that is quite interesting. Anyone who needs more reasons to include the Hohensalzburg Fortress on their list of things to do in Salzburg should know that the castle is home to two museums, one of which is best known for its medieval art, and another that has wonderful arms and armor exhibits. Also of great interest are the views of the Alps that can be enjoyed from the Reck watchtower.
Widely thought of as one of the best Austria museums, the Tiroler Volkskunst-Museum in Innsbruck boasts a fantastic collection of Tyrolean artifacts. The various things that are on display come from several different eras, including the Gothic and Renaissance eras. Highlights include, but are not limited to, a series of mangers, national costumes, and models that depict typical Tyrolean houses. Only adding further substance to the Tiroler Volkskunst-Museum is the fact that it is housed inside an abbey that has its origins in the 16th century.
Found approximately 10 miles outside of Graz and spread over some 120 acres, the Osterreichisches Freilichtmuseum is an open-air museum that presents an in-depth look into the building traditions of Austria’s various provinces. Most of the structures are either farmhouses, barns, or farm related structures that would have been used for such things as food-processing and the storage of farm products. Osterreichisches Freilichtmuseum visitors can get a good understanding of Austria’s rural heritage, and this is definitely a museum that caters to architectural enthusiasts. Early April to late October is when the Osterreichisches Freilichtmuseum accepts visitors.
Rounding out this list of renowned Austria museums is a very somber attraction. Mauthausen, or the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, was the ultimate destination for many of Austria’s Jews during World War II. According to estimates, approximately 200,000 Jews were killed at Mauthausen, and it had a reputation for being one of the most brutal camps of its kind. In addition to malnutrition and abuse from guards, Mauthausen prisoners were subject to hard labor that was cruelly intended to wear them down. The Mauthausen Museum officially opened in 1975 and serves as a horrible reminder of just how cruel human beings can be. Its location is approximately 18 miles outside of Linz (Upper Austria).