An emperor's fascination with the Earth's natural history led to this museum's amazing collection of gems, fossils and long-lost wildlife.
It may not be the most cutting-edge natural history museum in the world. But, housed in its lavish and monumental building next to the Hofburg Palace, Vienna's Museum of Natural History is one of the grandest. It aims to tell the story of our planet across its entire 5 billion year history, from the formation of the solar system to the first bold art-forms of prehistoric man and beyond. With 29 exhibition halls, 8,700 square metres of floor space and 30 million artefacts, Vienna’s Naturhistorischesmuseum is well worth a visit.
It also has several 'superstar' items, like a diplodocus dinosaur skeleton that is one of the longest in the world and the largest topaz ever found, at 110 kilograms. And the best-known fertility symbol in the world – the 25,000 year-old Venus of Willendorf – is on display in the museum’s halls.
Some of the Museum of Natural History's collections date back to the 1750s, but they were only bought together in 1889, at the order of Emperor Franz Joseph I who had this museum built. An avid collector of fossils, precious stones, skulls and meteorites, his collections have been added to over the years and are today presented in two long loops. Downstairs displays focus on the geological evolution of the Earth and life upon it.
The mineral and rocks collection is an eye-opening display of vivid crystals, and valuable gems. A large part is given over to meteorites – the Museum of Natural History has the largest collection of these interstellar-travelling rocks, including some from Mars. The dinosaurs on the lower level include Diplodocus and Iguanodon skeletons, and an animated model of the ferocious Allosaurus. Look up to see the 7-metre wingspan of the Pteranodon.
Upstairs you'll find the full diversity of the wildlife kingdom on display – from protozoa to penguins. Many of the stuffed animals are presented in dioramas evoking their natural habitats. The star attraction on this level is the 200-year-old Steller’s sea cow, the only skeleton left of this now extinct marine mammal.
The Natural History Museum is located in central Vienna and it is open every day except Tuesdays.