Because Vienna has so many museums (over 100!), it can be hard to decide which to visit. Luckily, on our last trip, 3 days out of our 7-day Vienna itinerary were dedicated to exploring as many museums as we could—resulting in this Vienna museum guide!
A Vienna Museum Guide
The imperial family’s summer residence, Schönbrunn Palace is a gigantic museum complex just outside Vienna’s core. Like I said in my list of tips for visiting Schönbrunn, I have the controversial opinion that you can skip the palace interiors and focus on exploring the grounds instead. I’ve done both, and personally, found that the interiors were packed. Because of that, I felt very rushed, and couldn’t really see or soak in the grandeur of the rooms. I preferred to do the interior at the Hofburg Palace instead. The Gardens, however, are beautiful, and offer a great chance to experience life as an imperial family member.
Supplement this Vienna museum guide with my tips for visiting Schönbrunn Palace here!
You should visit Schönbrunn when you:
- Like gardens, views, history, architecture, and/or royal things
- Have a day (or a better part of a day) to spend there
- Are looking for something kid-friendly (The cost of the Schönbrunn Zoo, the oldest in the world, is included in most ticket packages)
I visited the Belvedere on my first visit to Vienna back in 2015 and absolutely loved it. It was one of the highest points of my trip, and I couldn’t wait to bring Tim and my mom there this year. Unfortunately, I was really disappointed by the second pass. They’ve redone quite a few of the exhibits, and the curation felt a bit…hodgepodge.
The Belvedere is the home of Gustav Klimt’s famous “The Kiss”. In 2015, it had a dark room and was individually spotlight, which dazzled the painting’s gold leaf and literally took my breath away. Now it’s in a larger room which kind of underwhelms it. Bit of a loss.
The placards give good information about each of the Belvedere’s pieces, which is also a nice boon. I’m in the camp that likes placards that tell me about the painting (unlocking it, so to speak), rather than about the artist. So I found the Belvedere really interesting and informative that way.
You should visit the Belvedere when you:
- Are a fan of Klimt, Schiele, Funke, Monet, van Gogh, and/or architecture
- Love a baroque garden
- Once had a copy of “The Kiss” on your dorm room wall. You know who you are.
Like Schönnbrun Palace, Hofburg Palace is actually massive complex housing a series of museums rolled into one. Your entry gets you into the Silver Museum, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Apartments.
The Silver Collection includes more than just silver—so if you’re into serve ware, china, and ye auld imperial dining logistics, you’ve found the treasure trove. We breezed through the Silver Museum on our way, but I did find Le Grand Vermeil quite scene-stealing. It’s fire gilt silver, making it look more gold than silvery. And the collection is absolutely gigantic. Apparently it was stolen quite a few times—the audio guide was such good storytelling I actually listened to it twice.
You should visit the Silver Collection when you:
- Really love tableware
You’ll notice when you get to Vienna that Sisi is a big, big deal. But who is she? Nowhere better to find out than at the Sisi Museum. The wife of Franz Joseph, the longest-reigning Emperor of Austro-Hungary, she was quite enigmatic (and I’ll be honest, reading her poetry, probably manic-depressive) during her life. After her death, she took on a nearly goddess-like reverence. Apparently she also captivated Hollywood for a while back in the 50s—the museum aims to “debunk the myth of Sisi”. They’ve got displayed several of her ball gowns, and her life certainly was filled with drama. But I wouldn’t say this is a must-see, unless you’re coming to Vienna a rapturous Sisi fan.
You should visit the Sisi Museum when you:
- Want to get why Sisi is such a big deal in Austria
Having skipped the imperial apartments at Schönbrunn, I thought it was important to get at least a small glimpse of Hapsburg grandeur. I was actually surprised how interesting the Kaiserappartements at the Hofburg Palace are. The audio guide (free) gives a great overview, and the rooms are well curated. My favorite anecdote from the tour was about the state dinners. They each consisted for 9-13 courses, but only lasted a maximum of 45 minutes. Guests couldn’t eat until Franz Joseph picked up his fork, and as soon as he put it down, the plates were immediately cleared. Apparently Franz used to continue holding his fork aloft until he saw that all his guests had finished their meals—a little tidbit I found quite charming.
You should visit the Imperial Apartments when you:
- Like royals, antiques, and/or history
- Are curious to learn more about Sisi and Emperor Franz Joseph, the longest reigning Austro-Hungarian Emperor
- Are addicted to royal gossip (even if it’s centuries-old)
Located just across the street from the Opera House and the Hotel Sacher, the Albertina used to be part of a large fortification. Now it houses one of the largest old master print collections in the world. Their permanent exhibition, “From Monet to Picasso” features key works from modern and contemporary artists—names you know and names you’ll fall in love with. Rotating exhibits lean heavily into the modern, especially modern Austrian artists. Somewhat incongruously, the Albertina also houses several impeccably antique State Rooms from the Imperial Era. I really enjoyed these rooms, specifically the statues of the nine muses, which are stunning.
You should visit the Albertina when you:
- Like contemporary and modern art
- Are a deep art aficionado
- Love interpretive and didactic museum labels. Ie: The magically gloomy evocation of silence has been achieved by a clearly structured organization of the compositions and a two-dimensional manner of painting
Spanish Riding School
I was pretty horse-crazy growing up (even though I lived in a big city and had no access to horses). So for me, visiting the Spanish Riding School and their famous Lipizzaners is a no-brainer. The cheapest and most accessible way is by attending Morning Exercises, which occur mornings at 10. Morning Exercises are training runs for the stallions and their riders.
You won’t see the above-air exercises—the School only rarely does them at Morning Exercises.) You will, however, see all the groundwork. To be honest, I’m really into the Spanish Riding School and the work they do, but Morning Exercises was a little bland for me, even with the informative voice over. It stretches for two hours, with new stallions and riders coming in every half hour. The last half hour is just the first year stallions and riders doing basic movements. The good news is you can leave at any time—it’s quite informal.
While this isn’t a museum per se, I’m including it in the Vienna museum guide because it is a major attraction.
You should visit the Spanish Riding School Morning Exercises when you:
- Like horses, riding, dressage, dance and/or history
- Have the Vienna Pass, so you don’t feel bad for ducking out before the 2 hours are finished
- Don’t mind humming Viennese waltzes for the rest of the day
Note: If you’re going to the Spanish Riding School, I think your money is likely better invested in seeing an actual performance. I saw a show in 2015 and it was the high point of my trip; the only reason we didn’t see one this time was because all performances across Vienna are dark the first week of August. Tickets range in price, but they start at 27€, and the nosebleeds seats actually offer decent views. Check out their program here.
Museum of Military History
I’d identify much more as an art and theater nerd than a military history nerd, but the Museum of Military History in Vienna is one of my favorite museums. For one thing, it’s absolutely stunning. Photos do not do it justice. But content-wise, the exhibitions are deeply interesting. The Austro-Hungarian Empire played such a central role in European history, from the early wars with Napoleon to the later World Wars. In fact, the Military History museum includes the car in which Franz Ferdinand was fatally, world-changingly, assassinated—the act that ignited World War I. Beyond the heavier aspects, there’s also some very interesting logistical things: plenty of weapons, maps, and even fashion. (Ok, I kid—although the old Hussar uniforms are statement-making, for sure!) I find it a really important stop on your tour of Vienna, and would highly encourage visitors to make time to stop by.
You should visit the Museum of Military History when you:
- Like modern history, architecture, the military, and/or weapons
- Want to understand more the turning points of pre-World War I and how it led to World War II
- Want to see a war general sporting leopard print
We weren’t actually planning to pop into the Kunsthistorisches Museum, but the Hop On-Hop Off tour really sold me on it. And what would this Vienna museum guide be without the Old Masters? As it was included in our Vienna Pass, we popped in to tour and see what all the fuss was about.
Kunsthistorisches translates as “Art History”, and fittingly, the Kunsthistoriches Museum’s collections span from antiquity (Greek, Roman, and Egyptian) to the 18th-century Italian Masters. They also have a permanent exhibit of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder—the world’s largest collection by this artist. It always amazes me to see the real paintings I saw in my history books in school; I was surprised how vividly I remembered the Bruegal painting, “The Peasant Wedding” from one such page. The museum building is also incredible—though it wasn’t on our Vienna Itinerary, it was worth popping into just for the architecture alone.
You should visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum when you:
- Like historical art, antiquities, architecture, and the Old Masters
- Love a gruesome Bible-inspired death scene (so many beheadings!)
- Are interested in the Imperial Armoury (which also lives inside)
State Hall of the Austrian National Library
Do you remember that scene from Beauty and the Beast, where the Beast surprises Belle with the library? Walking into the State Hall of the Austrian National Library felt a bit like that. I simply was not expecting anything like it. Everything is gold and brilliant. Shelves tower up two stories. Massive globes spin silently. Hundred-year old books fill every available space. It was….heaven. (You can see on my face how delighted I was!) The exhibitions at the library were also fascinating. Many had to do with Emperor Maximilian I, who reigned during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. But beyond that, there were some fascinating maps, textbooks, and (my favorite) old astrology books on display.
Want to drool over this space? Check out the State Hall of the National Library in photos here!
You should visit the State Hall of the National Library when you:
- Like books, history, architecture (did I mention books?)
- Thought Trinity Library was great (nothing against Trinity—this one just far exceeds those expectations)
- Are addicted to library porn
While this Vienna museum guide doesn’t cover every museum in the city, hopefully it gives you a good overview of what to expect from these. Which museums are you interested in seeing? Which have you been to not on this list? Tell me in the comments!