Like everything in Vienna, the Naturhistorisches Museum is done on a grand scale. Opened to the public in 1891, it is housed in a late-19th century building designed in the same Italian Renaissance style as the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) across the street. But, it is filled with treasures of a different sort.
There are the to-be-expected dinosaurs, of course. Huge, detailed, and life-like they dominate the Hall of Saurs. Triceratops never looked so fierce. Kids will get a big kick out of the displays, which include interactive video and tons of up-to-date information.
The entrance halls provide a giant walrus to greet visitors. The first floor holds exotic birds, ancient bees, and butterflies rarely seen in today’s world. There is a small alligator mummy nearby that children love to explore safely. Giant crabs from eons ago are near the cafe, proving that the curator has a sense of humor.
The upper floor is completely filled with stuffed animals covering thousands of species, many of which are now as extinct as their multi-million-year-old ancestors. Wooly mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, and the like are common to nearly every natural history museum. But here you’ll find species you never read about in school.
The Vivarium in the basement has proved a big hit with children of all ages. Sporting a model of the ice-man Otzi, it successfully combines the educational and entertainment values that every museum strives for. There are displays of pre-historical graves, fossils, and more to fascinate everyone. Many of the items can be handled and there are multiple hands-on exhibits, a rare treat in museums.
The mineralogy section is no slouch, either. It’s filled with gemstones and crystalline forms from all over the world. Though it lacks the world-class jewelry quality examples of the Smithsonian in Washington, it is easily a fine competitor to its famed cousin in New York.
The museum boasts the largest collection of meteorites in the world, and it’s not hard to believe. There are rocks from outer space that, not surprisingly, resemble their terrestrial counterparts. But the trip here has altered them into unearthly shapes that will fascinate young and old alike.
One of the highlights of any visit here would be the famous Venus of Willendorf. Looking not very similar to a goddess of love, this 25,000-year-old rock sculpture of a woman is nonetheless a beauty in its own way. It offers a rare glimpse into a kind of artwork of primitive mankind that usually only covers tools, arrowheads, and the like.
In the nearby Hall of Culture, there is on display jewelry, pottery, and craftwork from the Iron Age. Found in a Graberfeld (cemetery) in Hallstatt, it provides a wider look into objects that were used daily thousands of years ago.
Animals, plants, rocks of every conceivable type, craftwork… you’ll find it in abundance at the Naturhistorisches.