Leopold Museum, Nationalbibliothek, Prater

I’m exhausted! This was just our first full day in Vienna and it already feels like we’ve done three tours of the city. After so many days of walking, I get tired sooner every day…

For our first visit today we went to the Museumsquartier, a complex off Heldenplatz that houses several museums and galleries. We bought the 72h Vienna Card, which gives you unlimited access to all public transport, so we took the U-bahn there in order to leave as much walking as possible for the museum.
From the different museums there, we chose The Leopold Museum, a huge building spanning 6 floors of exhibitions by Austrian painters. They have a really astounding collection of paintings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, among others. They were impressive, but I especially loved a small photographic gallery of portraits of Viennese stage actors and opera singers from the 1920s. Most of them were tiny photographs of the actors in costume or in character as Macbeth, Othello, Cleopatra, Cio-Cio-san, etc., mugging and posing melodramatically for the camera, and they were all delightful.
On the way out we walked past the Parliament and the Rathaus, the imposing City Hall.

Next we took a tram (gotta make use of the unlimited transport!) to the Nationalbibliothek, the Austrian National Library, which occupies an absolutely gigantic Neoclassical building on Heldenplatz. We were interested in the State Hall, a breathtakingly beautiful library built in the 18th century for the Habsburgs. It’s a cross-shaped wing with a colourfully painted dome in the middle. The walls are covered in shelves after shelves, with many stairs going up and down the multiple levels. There are statues in every corner, as if they were being stored there and people had simply moved them out of the way. I would have been happy to just look at the surroundings, but on the ground level they had an exhibition of newspapers, propaganda posters, and personal letters from the First World War. I couldn’t understand the actual documents laid there for reading, but there was a helpful and well summarised English description of the historical events of the time.

For the afternoon we thought of walking around Neubau, apparently a nice and modern district, but upon alighting there we realised it was a bank holiday today and everything was closed. So we did a 180, went right back into the subway and took off to the Prater, a big amusement park towards the north of the city. We didn’t have any kids to entertain, so we were free to skip all the attractions and go straight to the Riesenrad, a big ferris wheel built in 1897 (I do hope it’s been renovated since!).

I always like to see the cities I visit from above (like the City Hall in Tokyo or the Galata Tower in Istanbul), because it often gives you a more complete perspective of the land and it helps you visualise the layout better, but in this case the view is a bit of a wash. The park is so far up north that the view from the top is really just houses and greenery; you can’t see the big landmarks or even anything resembling a layout (avenues, rivers…). So give this one a pass.
Once back on the ground, it was time to head back to the hotel for a well deserved rest!

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