Vienna's museums capture the soul of a once mighty empire that thrived on music and art. Soak in the atmosphere of the plush life of the Hapsburg royals, conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and wander through halls of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Gustav Klimt and Andy Warhol.
Opened in the Hofburg Palace last April, the Sisi Museum celebrates the life of Vienna's Empress Elizabeth. Known by her nickname, Sisi, as a Bavarian princess, she captured the heart of Emperor Franz Josef and was a celebrity throughout 19th-century Europe. Her belongings are on display along with a reconstruction of the luxury railway carriage she used when travelling around the empire. See www.hofburg-wien.at.
The Secession Museum
In 1897, a group of artists struggling to find ways to reflect modern life founded the Secession. Their Secessionist movement, promoting a radical genre of art known as Jugendstil, was a rebellion against the conservative artistic trends prevalent in Vienna. Gustav Klimt led the movement; his magnificent Beethoven Frieze, a 30-metre visual interpretation of the composer's Ninth Symphony, is the museum's biggest draw. But the building itself is a work of art, with its gilded dome referred to by Viennese as the 'golden cabbage'. See www.secession.at.
Haus der Musik (House of Music)
If you have ever dreamed of becoming a maestro, step up to the podium and tackle the House of Music's virtual-conductor program. Pick up the baton and conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on a giant screen in front of you. The musicians follow your lead to Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or a Johann Strauss waltz. When it was my turn, they interrupted me before I could finish and booed me off stage. The US$55 million,
six-storey museum has a bewildering array of multimedia software that makes music heard, seen and felt throughout various zones. The halls dedicated to Vienna's celebrated composers accentuate the phenomenal concentration of talented musicians that originated or worked in the Austrian capital: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, the Strausses, Mahler and Schoenberg, among others.
Going to Vienna and missing the Albertina would be like going to Paris and skipping the Louvre. The Albertina is home to the famous collection assembled by Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen: it contains almost 70,000 drawings and more than a million graphic prints from the late Gothic period to today. The Albertina's works span from da Vinci to Warhol. Exhibitions by Marc Chagall, Alex Katz, Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee will be held this year.
Liechtenstein Museum (pictured)
The opening of the Liechtenstein Museum last March enabled four of Vienna's museums to put together the biggest Peter Paul Rubens collection in the world. Among the works are sketches for paintings and delicate etchings of Rubens' children that show a more intimate side to an artist known mostly for his bold, sweeping canvases. The Prince of Liechtenstein's collections were an essential part of Vienna's museum scene until 1938; when war loomed, they were transferred back to Vaduz and remained far from the public gaze for decades. The new Liechtenstein Museum was set up by the royal family of Liechtenstein and is based around a private collection. See www.liechtensteinmuseum.at.
Sigmund Freud Museum
Freud's former office and apartment have been turned into a museum in his honour. The founder of psychoanalysis lived and worked in the house from 1891 to 1938 and the museum owns the original furniture from his waiting room, almost 80 of Freud's antiques and some of his personal belongings. Also on display are objects from his study and consulting room, including the chair he sat in when listening to patients and a model of his consulting couch. Some original film and sound recordings of Freud can be viewed in the museum's media room. See www.freud-museum.at.