Set in a sweeping park filled with over 4,000 plants is one of Vienna’s premier attractions: the two Belvedere Palaces.
The smaller of the two was erected in 1716 and the grand Upper Palace was completed in 1722. Both offer an outstanding look at the Rococo style popular during the early 18th century. Ownership passed to the Republic of Austria in 1914 and the palaces and grounds became open to the public.
Gardens link the two and include elegant fountains, numerous sculptures, and offer Europe’s first alpine garden, completed in 1803. As you might expect after visiting a place like Versailles, the gardens are immaculately kept, the hedges as perfectly sculpted as the marble figures nearby.
The palaces were originally constructed for the Austrian military commander Prince Eugene of Savoy, famed for conquering the Turks in 1683. Yet, it’s easy to imagine one of the Hapsburgs strolling along not long after. Late spring and early summer are the best times for those who want to see the largest possible percentage of flowers in bloom, but the gardens are lovely at any time of year.
Inside the Lower Belvedere resides the Marmorsaal (Marble Hall), which easily lives up to its name. It also houses the Spiegelsaal (Mirror Hall) that does likewise.
In the interior of the Upper Belvedere can be found several rooms built for the lavish masked balls enjoyed by the royals of the period. The Audienzsaal (Reception Room), the Spiegelkabinett (Mirror Cabinet), the Konferenzsaal (Conference Hall), and Kaffeezimmer (Coffee Room) are all open to the public.
But for many, the biggest attraction is not the buildings themselves, nor the magnificent grounds, but the art collections housed in them.
The lower palace is home to the Austrian Museum of Baroque Art and offers, among others, just what its title says. There are works throughout this art period of the 18th century that are among the best samples anywhere.
The upper palace is home to galleries that offer Austrian art from the 19th through the 20th centuries, including many famous works from the Secessionist movement. Members included Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka all of whom are well known in art circles. The Klimt works, in particular, continue to draw big crowds. Though five of the more well-known paintings were awarded in a lawsuit that saw them auctioned off many remains, including his most famous: The Kiss.
There is a sprinkling of non-Austrians here and there, as well, including a Renoir, a Monet, and a few others.
The Museum of Medieval Art is also a part of the galleries and it is well worth a look both for those interested in art from the Middle Ages as well as amateur historians. The Prunkstall, or ornamental stall, in the former Palace Stables, offers views of dozens of paintings from the period.
A separate building called the Orangery, the former Pomeranzenhaus (Orange House), offers another delightful garden and 18th-century building to view and houses temporary exhibits.