It's not an overstatement: museums are Vienna's main attraction for a curious visitor. Thanks to the city's Habsburg past and thriving modernism of 1900, world-class painting and design collections abound. You can also find fascinating smaller exhibits, such as those at the House of Austrian History, the Jewish Museum, and the Architecture Center. Vienna's museums are visitor-friendly and provide informative wall texts in perfectly written English. More details below.
#1 - Kunsthistorisches Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day; €21 admission): Consisting of former Habsburg treasures, the Kunsthistorisches is home to one of the great old masters collections in the world. The location itself is memorable: the German theoretician and starchitect, Gottfried Semper, designed this stunning building during the glory days of Austria-Hungary (1871-91), together with the Museum of Natural History facing it and the monumental public square in between.
It's impossible to see this museum in one go; the Kunsthistorisches is known for its masterpieces by Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Correggio, Parmigianino, Titian, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, and Diego Velázquez (here are some of my favorites). Antonio Canova's incredible marble Theseus graces the main staircase. A museum inside the museum is the Kunstkammer – Cabinet of Curiosities – with objects that Habsburg emperors deemed exotic, such as narwhal horns and agate bowls. The marble busts throughout will make you appreciate the famous "Habsburg Jaw." Open until 9 p.m. on Thursday evenings.
#2 - Leopold Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Tuesday; €15 admission): Located inside Vienna's Museums Quarter, the Leopold focuses on a great period in Austrian art – modernism of the early 20th century. The Leopold is best known for its rich collection of Austrian expressionist paintings, especially those by Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoshka, and Egon Schiele. From the latter, you'll find his tormented and emaciated self-portraits and erotic works. Fans of Hans Makart, Gustav Klimt, Albin Egger-Lienz, and the Austrian Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) should also not miss out.
Especially interesting is the room with the interiors of Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann, and Koloman Moser, shown side-by-side. There are lots of design pieces by the Viennese arts and crafts workshop, the Wiener Werkstätte (1903-1932), both from its early angular period and the later one defined by Dagobert Peche.
#3 - Austrian Parliament Building (location; guided tours Monday through Satruday; free admission upon advance registration): Proudly facing the Imperial Palace across from it, the Greek style House of Parliament (1874-83) was a symbol of the emerging middle class in the Austrian side of Austria-Hungary and its constitutional checks on Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph. Today, the Austrian Parliament offers free guided tours to the public both in German and English. All you need to do is register as far in advance as possible. The tour, which takes about an hour, features the Roman temple-like Hall of Pillars and both chambers of the Parliament, including the recently renovated and completely high-tech national council.
The statues outside the building – Pallas Athena, classical historians, horse tamers – convey the primacy of knowledge and wisdom over passion in politics.
#4 - Albertina (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day; €19 admission): When the art lover Duke Albert of Saxen-Teschen (1738-1822) married into the Habsburg family, he used his newfound fortune to buy drawings and prints by the likes of Dürer, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Rubens. A small sample of Duke Albert’s enviable collection is displayed inside his old living quarters, today home to the Albertina Museum.
These days, the Albertina is best known for its permanent show, “Monet to Picasso,” which takes visitors through art movements such as Pointillism, Fauvism, Der Blaue Reiter, Die Brücke, Expressionism, New Objectivity, and Surrealism. There are many holes and gaps; still, it's Central Europe's leading depository for modern art, with masterpieces by Wassily Kandinsky, Edvard Munch, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Lyonel Feininger, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso (both his early and late periods). Keep an eye out for the museum's high-profile temporary exhibits.
#5 - Belvedere Austrian Gallery (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day; €17 admission to the Upper Belvedere, €24 combined ticket; advance ticket purchase): Prince Eugene of Savoy wasn’t just a great military general who routed the Ottoman army, but he also knew how to enjoy the finer things in life as evidenced by his enormous, Baroque summer estate, known as the Belvedere, located within walking distance of Vienna’s city center. The French Prince’s former dominion currently consists of three museums. Of most interest is the Upper Belvedere, a gallery of Austrian paintings ranging from the Middle Ages to the 20th century and including Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss.
Seventeen Gustav Klimt paintings hang in the Upper Belvedere, but you can also enjoy less crowded halls with the wonderful Biedermeier works of Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Peter Fendi, Josef Danhauser, or with the early expressionist Richard Gerstl. The more modestly sized Lower Belvedere houses temporary shows, while Belvedere 21, a steel-and-glass mid-century box a short walk away, is home to contemporary Austrian artworks.
#6 - Schönbrunn Palace (location; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day; €29 admission; advance ticket purchase): Built out during the 18th-century-reign of Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780), this Habsburg summer palace with 1,441 rooms was a symbol of royal power. The quarters of Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916), a self-described workaholic, seem relatively subdued compared with the over-the-top rooms of Empress Elisabeth’s (Sisi) and the “Chinese Cabinet” with inlaid lacquer panels and elaborate parquet floors.
The vast garden, which is open to the public, features the “Roman Ruin” and the Gloriette pavilion, design pieces meant to recall the glory of ancient Rome.
#7 - House of Austrian History (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; €9 admission): For a tourist, Vienna can still feel like a Habsburg city – every building, every exhibition, every story somehow ties back to an emperor. But it turns out the royal family is long gone and that Austria has been through much in the past century.
The House of Austrian History provides an objective and informed summary about the country’s post-Habsburg epoch: The first republic, the annexation by Nazi Germany (the Anschluss) and Austria's complicity in the Holocaust, the "economic miracle" of the 1960s, the search for a national identity. The exhibit requires some reading, but this is an essential museum if you'd like to make sense of present-day Austria.
#8 - MAK – Museum of Applied Arts (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Tuesday; €15 admission): Austrian design has a lot to show for itself thanks to people like Michael Thonet (1796-1871), a cabinetmaker who revolutionized mass-produced bentwood chairs. At the Museum of Applied Arts, located in its Ringstrasse-based Renaissance Revival home since 1871, there’s an entire hall aligned with Thonet chairs made between 1830 and 1930, including the famous No. 14.
Also here: Art Nouveau furniture and household products from across the world, with a focus on its local workshop, the Wiener Werkstätte, founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, and their patron, Fritz Waerndorfer. The museum shop is excellent.
#9 - Imperial Furniture Collection - Möbelmuseum (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Monday; €13 admission): This museum claims to hold the largest collection of exhibited furniture in the world. You’ll not doubt the truth of this statement after having trekked through three expansive floors of densely packed objects, mainly the former belongings of the Habsburg family: baby cribs, desks, sofas, marriage beds, wheelchairs, even toilets.
All are works of unique craftsmanship, but very different from one another (compare Empress Maria Theresa’s unbridled Rococo with the decor-free style of his grandson, Francis II). Preserve some energy to the top floor, which holds the famous bentwood chairs of Thonet and modern pieces from the 20th century. Note: this museum meaningfully overlaps with the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), above.
#10 - Picture Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; €9 admission): This old masters collection located on the top floor of Vienna's Art Academy is Vienna's best-kept secret. Dutch Golden Age is the highlight – including Rembrandt, Pieter de Hooch, Jacob van Ruisdael – but those into Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck (there's a self-portrait made when he was 15 years old), Hieronymus Bosch, and Botticelli will also find treasures amid the mostly B-level paintings used as a teaching tool for the university students.
Experiencing Theophil Hansen's beautiful historicist building inside and out is the icing on the cake. Hansen was the most profilic architect of Vienna's Ringstraße, having also designed the Austrian Parliament (see above).
#11 - Museum of Military History (location; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day; €7 admission): Military outfits, medals, ribbons, cannons, revolvers, swords, maps, paintings of war scenes, paintings of field marshals and Habsburg emperors. If this kind of stuff gets you going, I suggest you add the Museum of Military History to your Vienna list. To me, most striking was seeing the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo, triggering World War I (history within arm's reach!). The crowd, unsurprisingly: men of all ages.
#12 - Mumok (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; €15 admission): One of Vienna’s main outlets for contemporary art, from around 1950 to the current day. Mumok is located in the Museums Quarter, inside a windowless monolithic building clad in dark-gray basalt stone (looks much better than it sounds).
Instead of a permanent exhibit, they rotate the immense collection of photography, film, painting, sculpture, and installations through temporary shows. On any visit, you might find Picasso, Giacometti, and Brancusi sculptures alongside young international artists. Leopold Museum (see above), is next door in case you’d like to combine the two.
#13 - Sisi Museum (location; 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day; €17 admission): Despite its name, only a part of this sizable museum inside the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) is dedicated to fans of Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria (1837-1898), better known as Sisi, the lonely, absent, and peripatetic wife of Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph. The museum makes no attempt to provide a more layered view of the unhappy Empress than what’s on the surface level.
The rest of the exhibit leads through the lavish neo-Rococo imperial apartments where the royal couple spent the winter months (similar to their summer palace in Schönbrunn). The Silver Collection on the ground floor presents Habsburg dishware – silver, gold, glass, porcelain – and, my favorite, copper cooking equipment of all shapes and sizes.
#14 - Austrian National Library – Prunksaal (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; €10 admission): Some call it the most beautiful building of its kind, the Habsburg Court Library on Vienna's Josefsplatz is a Baroque masterpiece. In 1716, Emperor Charles IV tasked his favorite architect, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, to design a building worthy of the vast royal collection.
Roman inscriptions flank the staircase leading up to the library, which is lined with marble, gold, and hardwood. Apart from 200,000 books of immeasurable value, I always get a kick out of those 18th-century immense wooden globes inspired by astrology. Under the frescoed dome stands the dignified Charles's, life-sized and cast in marble.
#15 - The Imperial Treasury (location; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed on Tuesday; €14 admission): The museum is home to Habsburg imperial crowns, scepters, ceremonial robes, and other costly textiles. Most notable is the 16th-century crown of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, but there’s also an emerald vessel so high in value that Genoese jewelers declined to appraise it. The wall texts provide a helpful overview of the constantly shifting Habsburg imperium, which in the 16th century included much of Europe. A separate section shows relics used in court chapels: christening gowns, crucifixes, and altarpieces.
#16 - Jewish Museum of Vienna (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Saturday; €15 admission): This downtown museum provides a good overview of Vienna’s Jewish history from the Middle Ages to the current day. The exhibition details the expulsion of Jews under the various Habsburg Emperors and also the golden era under Franz Joseph, when more than 170,000 Jews lived in Vienna by 1910 (only Warsaw and Budapest had more).
The admission ticket provides access also to the Judenplatz Museum, about a ten minute walk from here, which focuses on Vienna’s medieval Jewish past and the excavated remains of its synagogue. On Judenplatz, there’s a memorial to the 65,000 Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust.
#17 - Dorotheum (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Sunday; free admission): Opened in 1707, the Dorotheum is not a museum but the oldest auction house in the world. Strolling its hallowed halls, which are open to the public, is an experience in itself. Being an auction house means the exhibits change regularly, but you'll encounter furniture, paintings, dishware, watches, and jewelry from different epochs on three floors. If you're curious how much that Baroque-style dresser you couldn't afford will fetch, you can follow the auctions online. A cafe hides on the top floor.
#18 - Beethoven Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; €8 admission): The German-born Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) spent most of his adult life in Vienna and today several monuments and museums honor the great composer. The most informative is the Beethoven Museum in Heiligenstadt, a Vienna suburb, where the maestro spent the summers. The exhaustive exhibition sheds light on Beethoven’s move from Bonn to Vienna, his love of nature and long walks, his work routine and increasingly debilitating deafness, his relations with patrons and women, his legacy, and many other topics.
#19 - Mozart House (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; €12 admission): The museum is located inside the downtown building near St. Stephen’s Cathedral where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) lived for three years from 1784 and where he wrote The Marriage of Figaro. The exhibit is low on Mozart-related memorabilia but it makes up for it with an informative audio guide (wall texts are spare).
Visitors can learn about Mozart’s life in the imperial capital, his penchant for high-living and gambling, his intellectual influences and optimism about the Enlightenment, his brush with freemasonry, the premiere of Don Giovanni, and the murky details of his death.
#20 - Sigmund Freud Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day; €14 admission): The exhibit takes place inside the two apartments on Berggasse where Sigmund Freud lived and practiced for nearly four decades (1891-1938), before fleeing Nazi Austria. However, little of Freud’s furniture and belongings have been retained and instead visitors are met with a collection of wall texts about the life and work of the father of psychoanalysis. The museum feels a bit dated; a more focused biography and a contemporary evaluation of his theories would be a welcome addition.
#21 - Architecture Center (location; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day; €9 admission): Fans of architecture shouldn't miss the exceptional permanent exhibition titled “Hot Questions – Cold Storage” at the Architecture Center, inside Vienna's Museums Quarter. Threaded onto themes such as population growth, public housing, building types, sustainability, the collection explores the history of 20th and 21st century architecture in Austria.
The dark side of Adolf Loos, the Red Vienna period, the story behind the city’s United Nations Office are just a few of the topics. Lots of interesting facts, not all of it architectural, are sprinkled throughout. The temporary shows are located across the courtyard.
#22 - Joseph Haydn House (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; €5 admission): A small and charming museum inside the two-story building where the widowed Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) spent the last twelve years of his life. In Gumpendorf, back then a leafy suburb away from Vienna's downtown, Haydn felt finally free and independent (for three decades, he had been laboring as the Court Conductor of Prince Esterházy). The collection includes draft music scores of The Creation and The Seasons, Haydn's will, and a bit of Viennese urban history.
#23 - Imperial Crypt (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day; €8 admission): Habsburg-fans shouldn't miss the burial chamber where lie the remains of 149 members of the royal family, including those of twelve emperors. The crypt is located below the Capuchin Church in the city center. The most ornate tomb is the double sarcophagus of Empress Maria Theresa (1740-80) and her husband, Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. Their bronze effigies are perched atop the coffin, while four statues at the corners represent her dominions and mourn her passing.
It’s fun to see the evolution of coffin styles, going from Baroque exuberance to sober restraint (Joseph II, Francis II). The most recent person to have been laid to rest here was Otto von Habsburg, in 2011, the son of the last reigning Habsburg Emperor, Charles I.
#24 - Heidi Horten Collection (location; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Tuesday; €15 admission): Heidi Horten doesn’t strike one as a particularly kind or interesting person but the widowed billionaire accumulated an enviable collection of modern art and haute couture gowns. The exhibit is located in the downtown Vienna palazzo where Horten lived before her 2022 death and features a motley mix of early and late-period Picassos, Henry Matisse, Marc Chagall, Chaïm Soutine, Andy Warhol, and Lucian Freud among others.
Horten’s passion was fashion and the most enjoyable part of the evolving show is the playful sketches she received from leading Paris fashion houses (Dior, Givenchy, Patou, Yves Saint Lauren) with fabric samples and brief descriptions on cuts and color.
#25 - Albertina Modern (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day; €15 admission): Opened in 2020, one of Vienna’s newest museums is dedicated to Austrian post-war art, the period from 1945 to the present day. The mission of Albertina Modern, a satellite of the Albertina (see above), is to throw light on Austrian artists within the context of their international peers.
A recent show on Abstract Expressionism, for example, presented Jackson Pollock and his fellow Americans beside local artworks from the same period. Instead of a permanent exhibit, they constantly rotate their collections. The museum shares the building with the Austrian Artists’ Society (Künstlerhaus).
#26 - Secession Building (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; €12 admission): When a group of artists headed by Gustav Klimt broke from the Viennese painters’ association, they built this strange-looking white building with a golden dome to house their own exhibitions. Joseph Maria Olbrich’s 1898 “temple of art” has since become a symbol of the city.
In 1902, the Secessionists staged a show to honor the legacy of Beethoven, for which Klimt painted a frieze about humanity’s yearning for happiness, still on display in the below-ground level. The ground floor houses contemporary artworks inspired by the Secessionist founding principle, inscribed on the building’s facade and coined by the Hungarian art critic, Ludwig Hevesi: “To every age its art. To art its freedom.”
#27 - Kunsthalle Vienna (location; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Monday; €8 admission): Located inside Vienna’s Museums Quarter, the Kunsthalle’s sizable floor space is dedicated to contemporary, mainly international artworks that focus on pressing social issues of the present day. A recent show by the Croatian artist Sanja Iveković, for example, dealt with the objectification of women in the media. Note: the Kunsthalle is an exhibition space without its own collection and that there's another, smaller venue on Karlsplatz in District 4.
#28 - Arnold Schönberg Center (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on the weekend; €6 admission): Arnold Schönberg, who grew up in a lower-middle class Jewish family in Vienna's Leopoldstadt, was a seminal innovator of modern music in the 1920s. His music cut ties with the past, composing atonal works and later moving to the twelve-tone scale. The Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna’s District 3 introduces visitors to the life and work of the composer through photos, correspondences, scores, and his own paintings. The maestro's reconstructed Los Angeles study is also on display.
#29 - Pathological-Anatomical Collection in the Narrenturm (location; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday; €8 admission): A strange and disturbing museum, the pathological-anatomical collection is dedicated to human diseases. On display are preserved samples of tumors, aggressive skin diseases, inflammations, unusual deformities and so on. It's not for the faint of heart.
The museum is inside a strange round white building, decorated with plain rustication, that the enlightened Habsburg Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790) erected as a mental asylum. Some locals refer to it as the "Guglhupf" in reference to the Viennese cake of similar shape.