These two great buildings contain wonderful art collections. The Albertina has been thoroughly refurbished in recent years and now offers the Batliner Collection, great paintings from Monet to Picasso, which are on permanent loan to the museum, in addition to its own great collection. The Batliner is a very comprehensive collection and each piece is of the highest quality.
The Palais Liechtenstein shows the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein, brought together over five or so centuries and, in many instances paintings bought directly from the artists themselves - that's class! This collection is very rich in Seventeenth century work, especially that of Rubens and Van Dyke.
The Albertina is at Albertinaplatz 1, 1010 Wien, a short distance from the Opera House, so any of the trams travelling around the Ring will drop you there.
Google map: tinyurl.com/ykoxuur
The Palais Liechtenstein is at Furstengasse 1, Wien. www.liechtensteinmuseum.at
Not closely served by the U-bahn, but a short walk from the Franz Josefs Bahnhof (S-bahn).
Google map: tinyurl.com/yzep4qc
The Natural History Museum, which was opened in 1889, is one of two enormous and beautiful buildings which face one another across gardens in the city centre - the other is the Art History Museum.
The staircase is very grand and Italy must have been emptied of all its marble to create this building. The view from the cafeteria on the (main) first floor, down through a circular eye some 20 feet across to the entrance hall far below is both spectacular and scary. There is a net drawn tightly across this space presumably to stop people throwing cakes down onto elderly American tourists just entering the building.
On the day I visited the museum there was a delightful half-scale air balloon tethered in the stairwell midway between the floors which added to the sense of enjoyment and well-being one should feel in such a wonderful place.
The collections include geology, natural history, anthropology and archaeology. There are said to be 20 million exhibits here. One of the most famous is the tiny but very sexy Venus of Willendorf, a mysterious and magical female figure from the Upper Palaeolithic period.
As with all museums these days, the place was teeming with children and young people (followed by anxious or exhausted teachers), but that is as it should be. The place is being used as a treasure house, which is precisely what it is.
Naturhistorisches Museum, Burgring 7, Vienna. Take any of the trams travelling around the Ring, the circular street which forms the city centre - you can't miss the museum. It offers good disabled access, there are excellent lifts to all floors, and the audio guide is highly worthwhile. Excellent too are the museums shops.
Google map: tinyurl.com/yfzazrv
The Leopold Museum was opened in 2001, in a brand new building (a large white cube), in the Vienna Museums Quarter. The museum is based on the former private art collection of Rudolf and Elisabeth Leopold. It has since become the most visited museum in the Museums Quarter. Why? Well, because it houses the largest collection of paintings and drawings by that unique artist and general all-round bad boy, Egon Schiele. However in addition to the works by Schiele, which are all exceptionally fine and fill out a view of the artist along with examples of his work at the Belvedere, also in Vienna, there is a great collection of work by other late Nineteenth and early Twentienth century artists, including Klimt, Kokoschka, Kolo Moser and Richard Gerstl.
The museum has a good cafeteria, and an excellent shop which offers scholarly material, exhibition catalogues and postcards.
When I first visted Vienna some twenty years ago I found it somewhat staid and dull. Perhaps I had been unduly influenced by what I had heard and read about the place. The well-travelled visitor regarded Berlin as THE place to go, not Vienna.
Whatever the case, on a recent visit I found Vienna to be lively, well supplied with a range of good bars and restaurants, hotels at various price levels, an excellent public transport system, and offering an enviable number of world-class museums and galleries. There appeared to be a good number of young people there, in contrast to the view expressed in some guide books that the city is dominated in numbers by the very old.
For example, the Natural History Museum has a special Darwin exhibition on at the moment, and the day I went it was full of enthusiastic young people of all ages, noisy, busy, keen. They were allowed to use cameras and phones and were photographing themselves among the exhibits, even handling the woolly mammoth (I don't think it was real). Some indeed were sliding down the marble staircase which in this building is as high as Beachy Head - I don't think that was allowed, but no-one appeared to be rushing to stop them! So, not so staid as the former reputation...
Vienna, capital of Austria. www.wien.info
The Vienna Card offers 72 hours travel on the city's transport network, including buses, trams, S and U-bahns. It also offers reduced rates on some commercial tour buses and trams, and reduced prices on entry to the city's many museums and galleries. A set of coupons comes with the Vienna Card booklet offering discounts on a range of shops, restaurants and bars. At 18.5 euros, (in 2009, up to March 2010) the Card is very good value for three whole days in Vienna. Don't forget to validate it by punching the card when you first get on the bus, tram or whatever. It is not valid until you do.
The Vienna Card (Wien-Karte) is available online before you travel. Or, when you get there, at your hotel or from Tourist Info, Albertinaplatz (Corner Maysedergasse), Vienna. www.wien.info
For a fun afternoon in Vienna, nothing will beat the Haus Der Musik. For those with and without musical prowess, this music museum-cum-musical playground allows you to explore the science and history of music without the need for a PhD.
See the colour and shape of your voice, play giant instruments or even conduct a virtual orchestra - a museum with a difference, definitely.
The Vienna Card is a travel pass and discount voucher rolled into one. It lasts for 72 hours and gives free travel on all modes of transport within the central area. It also gives discounts on wider travel and reduced entry for a host of museums etc.
It costs only €16 but remember to get it stamped the first time you use it. Inspectors are few and far between but get caught without a ticket and you'll be fined around €65 and still have to pay for your journey. Buy it at the airport on arrival, it will save you money on the train in.
The brand new Museum Quarter is getting most of the hype these days, and not without reason. But it's worth making the effort to step beyond the inner city and check out this stalwart of Vienna's cultural scene. Of course it's got Klimt's 'The Kiss' but there's lots of other great stuff too. And the view over Vienna is fantastic.
Austrians have a thing about death and have a museum dedicated to it. Having seen it featured on a holiday programme, it seemed interesting, so when we arrived in Vienna we got our hotel to phone and book (we don't speak German, and it said in guide books that visits are by appointment only). They said they didn't have any English interpreters to show us around and that they would have to get one in just for us (there were 2 of us on the trip) and that we would have to pay extra to cover the cost of the interpreter. We decided not to go in the end (tip for all who don't speak fluent German).
Bestattungs Museum, Vienna: telephone 501 95 4227 to make an appointment
The Liechtenstein Museum opened just three years ago, enriching the already crowded field of
not-to-be-missed Viennese museums. The summer palace of the Liechtenstein family has restored the
palace to house their spectacular baroque collections of paintings and sculpture, which spent long decades underdisplayed in Liechtenstein.
Just floating up one of the grand staircases to the 'Herkulesaal' is to glimpse life as it once was for
this very privileged family; it’s hard to grasp that a whole room-full of Rubens 'cartoons' is privately owned.
Happily the princely collections are now elegantly displayed, including the newly-acquired,
over-the-top Badminton Cabinet and the golden coach which sets the scene as you enter the Sala Terrana. (No surprise that it was sent to Italy in the 1770s to collect the Emperor's bride!) After you view the collection you can stroll through the historic gardens and dine in style at either of the two fine restaurants inside the gates, Rubens 'Palais' or 'Brasserie'.
Scrupulously planned and lit as a fine art museum, the aura of family still hovers over the Liechtenstein Museum, illuminating a golden age of Viennese life and style.
Fuerstengasse 1, 1090 Vienna;
tram: from the Ringstrasse/Schottentor
via route D to Porzellangasse. Entrance is on the little side street,
through imposing cast-iron gates
A museum that is a tribute to the truly unique ecological, architectural and artistic work of 20th-century Austrian artist Hundertwasser. Set among a row of suburban Viennese houses, it defies straight lines with its uneven floors, trees growing from the floor and bold unmistakable mosaics. The museum showcases Hundertwasser's art and life. The cafe/restaurant serves lovely meals and cakes, wine and coffee and is set in an indoor and courtyard oasis.
Untere Weißgerberstraße, 13
Tel: 43 1 712 04 91
Fancy giving the Hapsburgs a bit of lip? Then, if your nerves are up to it, go to the creepiest crypt in Europe.
The Kapuzinergruft (Capuchins' Crypt) lies is in the depths of the Capuchins’ Church (also known as the Church of St Mary of the Angels) and contains the bodies of over 100 members of Austria’s former imperial family – the famously lippy and chinny Hapsburgs.
The administration of the building remains in the hands of the monks, so your visit gets off to a suitably spooky start as a heavily becowled figure emerges silently from behind a curtain to collect your entrance fee and, crooking a bony finger, leads you down to the stygian gloom of the crypt itself (OK – I might have seen too much Scooby Doo in my youth).
And there the whole gang are. Not buried, you understand, but just lying about in their coffins. Sarcophagi are arranged in neat rows as if the Hapsburgs are saying “we may be dead and our empire may have crumbled to nothingness – but we’re not about to let our standards slip”.
The most elaborate tomb belongs to Emperor Franz Josef (the one with the unfeasibly large whiskers who reigned for ages and died in the middle of the first world war). He is flanked by his wife, the Empress ‘Sissi’ and his son Rudolf – tragic principal in the notorious Mayerling affair. Round the corner is Empress Maria Theresa to whom Haydn dedicated a symphony and her son Emperor Josef II – the so-called ‘enlightened despot’ – whose own contribution to Vienna’s musical life was to lambast Mozart for producing “too many notes”. “What a despot!” Mozart was heard to remark (or something very like that).
It is more than a little macabre but visit the Hapsburg stiffs in the Capuchins’ Crypt – where history comes, um, alive.
Neue Markt Square
The State Opera House. If you're too late to buy tickets for a performance, don't miss the opportunity to take a guided tour of this fascinating building. Bombed in world war two, it was rebuilt almost exactly as it was in the 19th-century.
Opernring 2. Nearest metro station: Karlsplatz. Nearest tram: Oper
Sumptuous palace housing an unrivalled collection of 20th century art, including key works by the great Viennese triumvirate of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. The gardens are lovely too.
Some of the Klimts (although not The Kiss) have gone now after a court ruled that they should be returned to the artist's family in Los Angeles.
Prinz-Eugen-Strasse; D tram from the Ring
The Belvedere is where you'll find The Kiss. The Secession houses the intriguing Beethoven Frieze and the beautiful portrait of Emilie Floge can be found at the Vienna State Museum (Karlsplatz).
For Jugendstil and Wiener Werkstatte visit the MAK.
I'm looking forward to staying at the Levante Parliament as I stayed there 20 years ago when it was unlovely student accommodation - it's also very near the Cafe Eiles, frequented by politicians and the actor, Klaus Maria Brandauer.
The best Tafel Spitz (boiled beef not stew) can be found at Cafe Schottenring and the cafe at the Kunsthistorischesmuseum does a fantastic buffet on Sundays (you can even wander off between courses).
Finally, in Winter, for cheap, healthy entertainment - feed the red squirrels at Schonbrunn.
The palace is the former home of the emperor of the Austrian empire, and is open to the public for guided tours. It is the grandest palace that I have ever seen, and a fine example of how Vienna used to be. In contrast to the faded grandeur of much of Vienna city centre, this palace has been restored to its full glory, and is a must on any visit to the city. The gardens by themselves are worth making the trip for and, unlike the guided tours, are free.
Take the U4 (green) underground line towards Hutteldorf. Alight at Schonbrunn station and follow the signs
Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Wien; Tel: +43-1-81113 0; www.schoenbrunn.at
A complex of cultural museums/institutions and more, very close to the sprawling shopping street Mariahilferstr. Some nice bars and bookshops and interesting little knick-knack places in this popular place. Check out the old computer-games store there, nostalgia ahoy!
Museumsquartier, Underground same name
A must for any Klimt fan is the Klimt Villa, his last surviving studio.
Hidden in Wien-Hietzing, it is one of the creative centres of early 20th century art. Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918), the main representative of Viennese art nouveau and co-founder of the Wiener Secession had his studio there during the last six years of his life. Only in summer 1998 was the existence of this studio undoubtedly proved, which led to the foundation of the Gustav Klimt Memorial Society. Soon after Klimt´s death, the original studio house was furnished with a second story and turned into a villa.
The Klimt Villa was declared as a protected zone in 1999, which was enlarged in 2000, but still has not been placed under protection like a historic monument. However, the original concept of the ensemble Klimt used - his studio, his reception room and the side rooms together with the adjacent garden and park - have survived nearly completely.
It must be pointed out that a great number of Klimt´s most important works were created in this studio. Here Klimt portrayed many ladies of society and finished painting some of his wonderful landscapes (especially Attersee motifs).
Feldmühlgasse 15a / Wittegasse;
Directions: Catch underground U4 to Unter St. Veit
or the 58 tram to Verbindungsbahn;
Admission: free, but donations are welcome;
opening times: check website (appointments may be necessary);
We enjoyed the children's museum at the Schonbrunn Palace - even our terminally bored 12-year old thought it was cool - dressing up opportunities and lots of things to touch (and smell!). Lunch in the cafe was good, too - vegetarian options and the "Hapsburger" for the kids.
On a snowy day, the palm house was wonderfully warm.
13, Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse;
Vast and stimulating museum about the world of technology, housed in a beautiful 19th-century building. There is a brilliant section (the "Mini") for small children.
Mariahilferstrasse 212; tel: 899 98, U-Bahn Schönbrunn; www.tmw.at
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