Nestled in one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions, the Burggarten, is one of its finest: Schmetterlinghaus. An offshoot of the former Imperial Winter Palace gardens, this greenhouse holds over 400 different butterflies, ranging from over 150 species.
The enclosure is carefully maintained at 26C (79F) and 80 percent humidity, conditions that suit the inhabitants well, if a little on the stuffy side for humans. But any discomfort is soon forgotten by the sheer spectacle of hundreds of these tiny creatures fluttering around. Hold very still and several will happily land on your head and shoulders as they dart among the many plants.
Some, though, are not so tiny. The Atlas moth can sport a wingspan of up to 30 cm (13 inches). Its body is proportional and getting clunked in the head by one of these is not a pleasant experience. But the shapes and colors of his neighbors more than makeup for it.
All the residents are bred not captured and, given the variety, the program is apparently extensive. Tiger Swallowtails and Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing compete for airspace with American Snouts, Blue Morphos, and Garden Tiger moths.
The Blue Morpho is an iridescent color matching its name, while the Snout resembles a picturesque palette of orange and white spots on a black background. The Painted Lady nearby is a mottled teal and orange that contrasts well with the orange and brown stripes of her friend, the Milbert Tortoiseshell. The Tiger Swallowtail outdoes them all with his bright yellow stripes alternating with black.
The structure itself offers many attractions, too.
The Jugendstil glasshouse, shared with the art-nouveau Palmenhaus, dates from 1901 when collecting was at its height in Vienna. A tour of Hofburg isn’t complete without a visit. Only 200 meters (650 feet) from the Opera House, it competes well with that spectacular building. The sculpture inside only adds to the delight. There are spiral staircases to climb, bridges to cross, hollow trees to walk through, and several waterfalls to view as well.
Members of the famed Hapsburg dynasty often enjoyed a cup of tea here while on a break from gardening. One, in particular, Kaiser Franz I, often referred to as the Flower Emperor was particularly fond of puttering around. Many of his personal tools have been preserved and are on display here.
Visitors can likewise enjoy a beverage, while skipping the chores, by visiting the small cafe that is part of the building. Here one can take a break from the excessive heat and humidity and enjoy a wonderful view at the same time.
A small store offers dozens of butterfly-themed items, including mobiles for children, books for a range of ages, and more.