The Long Night of Museums

Vienna has an incredible amount of museums. Amongst the standard Fine Art, Modern Art, and Natural History (always a favorite) museums, there are smaller, less renowned museums that span a broad range of topics from snow globes to magic tricks to Viennese security guards. 

One night a year a large majority of these museums open their doors to the public. From 6 PM to 1 AM, a single entry ticket gets you in to as many museums as you can possibly manage in the 7 hour window. 

Jacob and I had a plan.

Actually, I should say that Jacob had a plan. Jacob plans on a level that my brain is only just beginning to function on - mostly due to his influence. He had snagged the event booklet days prior, leafed through it, and made a list of interesting museums to visit. From there another list was made, this time listing the museums in proximity to each other, along with an accompanying Google map. A third list consisted of which museums in the Google map route offered the best freebies.

It had been a long day, but we were determined to hit as many museums as possible within the 7 hour period allowed us. 

Lists in hand, we stopped by the Vienna University art school exhibition center to purchase our tickets. Purchasing our tickets there, the guide book had promised, would be rewarded with a "devilishly delicious" chocolate bar. Jacob's interest had been piqued. Our tickets were handed to us and we waited expectantly to receive our magical chocolate bar. They looked at us with slight impatience.

"Keine Schokolade?", we asked. 

They were out of chocolate. How was this possible? The event had only started 15 minutes ago! There must have been a massive rush on the chocolate.

We ventured into the exhibition, wandered past a couple of old paintings and realized we had only come to that particular museum for the chocolate. Cutting our losses we left the museum for more exciting prospects.

One of the museums we were most anxious to visit is located in one of my favorite buildings in Vienna - the Schmetterling (butterfly) Haus. The building, a gorgeous old copper green and glass conservatory, houses a botanical garden and hundreds of free-flying tropical butterflies.

Butterfly House

We were not the only ones excited about the Long Night of the Museum - half of Vienna, it would seem, had turned out for the event. We filed into the butterfly house and quickly broke into a sweat. They weren't kidding about tropical butterflies. Add a few million mosquitos and some poison frogs and I would be pretty well convinced that I was in the Amazon. 

We shuffled through the sweaty butterfly wonderland and broke out of the conservatory with a gulp of cold Autumn air. Two museums down. 

Just around the corner was the Albertina, a modern art museum that also hosts one of Jacob's favorite spots in Vienna. Soon after walking into the museum, the strains of Spanish guitar dragged me (and me, holding onto Jacob) into an adjoining room. In the center of the room a trio of Spanish guitarists and a Flamenco dancer performed, a large ring of spectators surrounding them.


I've always wanted to see live Flamenco, although I'll admit I didn't think it would be in a museum in Austria. Still not crossing that one off the bucket list until I have experienced Flamenco properly - in Spain, while sitting at a table loaded with Tapas and holding a glass of Spanish wine. 

From there we entered, and quickly exited, an exhibition of an Austrian painter who clearly needs a good psychologist. On the upper floors we found treasure troves of Picasso, Paul Klee, Matisse, and Kandinsky. Our modern art appetite satisfied, we left the Albertina, and stopped (on my request) into the nearby Theater Museum. We wandered for a few minutes, looking vacantly at evidently meaningful exhibitions that were meaningless to us. Why is there a rolled up carpet in this room? Is this room under construction, or is this a display?  

We may never know. 

Leaving the Theater Museum we headed over to Demel's, arguably Vienna's most famous pastry and chocolate shop. Demel's, first established in 1786, has long held an enviable reputation as official bakers to the imperial court of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Rumor is there is even a tunnel connecting Demel's to the palace a few hundred yards away.

Our Long Night Of The Museum booklet had promised samples. When the samples come from a place like Demel's, we reasoned, they are worth waiting in line for. We waited for an hour before entering the shop and received our sample: a shard of red hard candy, broken into pieces like glass. Realizing this would be the only sample we received, we made sure to take a big piece. Heading down the stairs to the shop cellar, I began to hope we may be shown the tunnel which leads to the palace. At the foot of the stairs was a small room filled with extravagant fondant confections commissioned for balls, state events, and the like.


We waited through the German explanation, as I look around eagerly for the next room we would visit. Wait a second, the only other exit here is blocked. Is this it? 

Yes. An hour wait for a 5 minute tour. But the samples were good, and the scent of molten chocolate wafting through the air was divine. 

Munching on our Viennese Jolly Ranchers we walked over to the Natural History museum and spent a lot of time looking at the bug collections and their places of origin. Jacob began to question whether some of his dream destinations were worth the risk. Depending on your mood, the building that houses the Natural History Museum is almost more interesting than the museum itself. It is a truly spectacular building, with large elegant marble staircases, floor to ceiling frescos, and gold flourishes everywhere. 

Natural History Museum

After some gawking at the building, Jacob and I took inventory. We had visited 6 museums, and I was beginning to fade. There were still a few museums however, that we could not miss. Hanging a right to the modern Museum's Quarter we headed into the Contemporary Art museum with excitement. Jacob and I love good contemporary art.

Unfortunately, the current exhibition was not exactly what we would call "good" contemporary art. Four floors were dedicated to one artist and her collection of stuffed animals and pieces of cardboard with words penciled on to them. Noses held high and our elitist eyebrows raised in disdain (please tell me you are catching my humor here) we toured the museum and left for the next. 

Last on our list were the two museums housed in upper and lower Belvedere Palace. Lower Belvedere topped my list of favorites that night, hosting a contemporary art exhibition of the sort I really like - art pieces made of mirrors, reflective surfaces, and light, to discuss the nature of reflections and the forming of self-identity. It was cool. 

 Can you see it? 

Can you see it? 

Upper Belvedere is home to Gustav Klimt's (Vienna's favorite artist) masterpiece, The Kiss. I always remembered my Grandmother having this print framed in her home  - now, seeing it in person, I was oddly gratified that the painting is big in real life, unlike the lovely but somewhat underwhelming Mona Lisa. 

By the time the night wrapped up, Jacob and I were walking zombies, tripping over our tired feet. It was past midnight (way past my bedtime) and we had visited ten museums - perhaps 1/30th of the museums in Vienna.

Ah well, we always have next year.