One of Europe's great cultural centers, Vienna cherishes traditions while continuing to nurture new talent. Treasures from every facet of the arts, artisanship and history are showcased in spectacular settings that weave together the story of the city. 

We've narrowed down Vienna's over 100 museum options to the city's best.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: best for grand masters' paintings

Vienna's imperial splendor is the legacy of the mighty Habsburg monarchy, which also amassed the incredible collection of art and artifacts at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. The crowning glory of this royal stash is the Picture Gallery. Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens, Vermeer, van Eyck, Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio and Velázquez are among the grand masters represented here, along with Pieter Bruegel the Elder, including his 1563 Tower of Babel.

The domed neoclassical building also makes a majestic backdrop for Greek and Roman antiquities, Egyptian and Near Eastern collections covering funerary, culture, sculpture and writing development from about 3500 BCE; priceless coin and medal collections; and gemstones, coral and ostrich eggs turned into dazzling artworks in the Kunstkammer Wien galleries.

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Naturhistorisches Museum Wien: best for natural history

Opposite the Kunsthistorisches Museum – also commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph I in the late 19th century – is its mirror image, the cupola-capped Naturhistorisches Museum Wien. Its stuccoed halls displaying minerals, fossils, dinosaur bones, insects, animals and over 1000 meteorites, among other fascinating objects from its 30-million-strong inventory, document four billion years of natural history.  

Children's artwork at Zoom, a children's museum in Vienna
Children can create art at Zoom, a museum just for them © Richard Nebesky / Lonely Planet

MuseumsQuartier: best for expressionist and contemporary art

Former imperial stables have been transformed into the MuseumsQuartier, a vast cultural complex incorporating performing arts venues, event spaces and restaurants. Its centrepiece museums are headlined by the Leopold Museum, a white-limestone light-filled space where expressionist art includes the world's largest collection by Egon Schiele. 

The edgy, dark-basalt MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art) exhibits 20th- and 21st-century movements like nouveau realism, pop art and shocking, often violent Viennese Actionism. At the high-ceilinged exhibition halls Kunsthalle Wien, photography, video, installations and new media are the focus.

Other MuseumsQuartier highlights are the architecture hub Architekturzentrum Wien and the children's museum Zoom, where kids can get hands-on creating art. 

Schloss Belvedere: best for Austrian art

Baroque Habsburg palace Schloss Belvedere showcases the pantheon of Austrian artists. Overlooking Vienna’s skyline, the Oberes Belvedere (Upper Belvedere) has rooms rich with marble, frescoes and stucco to rival art that includes shimmering works by Gustav Klimt, notably The Kiss (1908). Tiered gardens studded with statues and fountains link it to the state apartments and ceremonial rooms of the Unteres Belvedere (Lower Belvedere). 

Glass-and-steel pavilion Belvedere 21 stages exhibitions by Austrian creators from the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Secession: best for the Beethoven Frieze

The Vienna Secession was formed in 1897 by 19 breakaway artists. Among them was Joseph Olbrich, who designed their Secession exhibition center with its golden dome of intertwined laurel leaves. Klimt was another seminal secessionist, and the star exhibit remains his exquisite, 34m-long Beethoven Frieze.

Visitors in the courtyard of MAK, a museum in Vienna
MAK celebrates the form and functionality of the applied arts from the Renaissance © vvoe / Shutterstock

MAK: best for craftsmanship

Design aficionados will love the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, better known as MAK, which celebrates the form and functionality of the applied arts from the Renaissance. Especially stunning are the early 19th-century furniture and glassware of the Empire Style Biedermeier collection; and Vienna 1900's late 19th- and early 20th-century pieces like a metallic tea set by Josef Hoffmann and timber writing cabinet by Koloman Moser – co-founders of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop).

Albertina: best for modernist art

Guests of the Habsburgs were once accommodated in these imperial state apartments. Now, at renowned graphical art repository the Albertina, they're the permanent home of the exceptional Batliner Collection, comprising such luminaries as Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Chagall and Picasso. A 10-minute walk south on Karlsplatz leads to the Albertina Modern, an offshoot that opened in 2020 and exhibits post-1945 works charting eight dynamic decades of Austrian art.

Hofburg: best for imperial history

The monumental Hofburg palace complex was the Habsburgs' headquarters for more than six centuries. Today its highlights for visitors are the Sisi Museum within the Kaiserappartements, where Emperor Franz Josef I and Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”) lived, and Kaiserliche Schatzkammer, brimming with crown jewels. Book-ending the Hofburg's history lessons is the Haus der Geschichte Österreich, covering Austrian history including the republic's founding in 1918.

Jüdisches Museum: best for Jewish history

The Palais Eskeles houses the Jüdisches Museum, illuminating Jewish life in Vienna from the first Middle Ages' settlement on Judenplatz (which still has visible traces of a medieval synagogue) to the present in its permanent exhibition “Our City! Jewish Vienna – Then to Now.”

A person conducts a virtual orchestra at Haus der Musik in Vienna
Conducting a virtual orchestra. Haus der Musik, Vienna © Helen Cathcart / Lonely Planet

Haus der Musik: best for music

Vienna was instrumental in the careers of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss (father and son), Brahms, Mahler and more (many of their preserved former residences have been turned into museums themselves). For an engaging introduction to the composers, and the wider sphere of sound and music, high-tech exhibits at the Haus der Musik let you "compose" your own waltz and "conduct" the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Third Man Museum: best for film

Of the many movies set in Vienna, The Third Man, shot in 1948 after WWII, retains cult-classic status. The Third Man Museum contains thousands of items of memorabilia relating to the film and its period in the city’s history.

Literaturmuseum: best for literature

Austrian authors, poets and playwrights are the subject of the Literaturmuseum. Inside a beautiful Biedermeier building, the museum examines literature's relationship with other art forms and settings including Vienna through manuscripts, books, paraphernalia and hundreds of hours of audio recordings.

More unmissable museums: best of the rest

Other Viennese treats include the wild and wacky architecture and art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser at his ceramic-covered KunstHausWien; sublime timepieces at the Uhrenmuseum; military history at the neo-Byzantine barracks and munitions depot Heeresgeschichtliches Museum; delicate porcelain at former pleasure palace Porzellanmuseum im Augarten; historic public-transportation vehicles such as horse-drawn trams at the Museum Remise; and fairy-tale imperial carriages at the Wagenburg at the Habsburgs' Unesco World Heritage-listed summer palace, Schloss Schönbrunn.

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