Museum complex colors Vienna arts scene

VIENNA -- Paris may boast the Louvre complex, and Berlin its Museum Island, but now the Austrian capital, sporting its spanking-new MuseumsQuartier, can give larger European art capitals a run for their money.

Stymied by development difficulties for more than a decade, the MuseumsQuartier -- a collection of 20 cultural institutions housed in and around former stables at Vienna's Imperial Palace -- finally debuted last summer and attracted some 700,000 visitors within five months of opening.

"Vienna already had a reputation as a cultural center, but the emphasis has been on its role as a birthplace of classical music and art," said Sigrid Pichler, spokeswoman for the Austrian National Tourist Office (ANTO) in New York. "Now, the MuseumsQuartier offers a stronghold for contemporary arts, and it's definitely the biggest cultural attraction in Austria."

Indeed, the MuseumsQuartier's constituent attractions occupy some 2.4 million square feet of exhibition space, making the city-center complex one of the 10 largest cultural districts in Europe -- if not the world.

In addition, some three-quarters of Vienna's other cultural must-sees are grouped around the refurbished palace and new adjacent structures, according to the ANTO -- not to mention a bevy of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, galleries, hotels and shopping outlets, as well.

Smart art

Among the attractions with the most widespread appeal are the Leopold Museum, with 5,000 pieces of modern Austrian art, including the world's largest Egon Schiele collection; the Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna (or MUMOK), one of Europe's largest contemporary art collections; Tanzquartier Wien, a dance and performance space with ongoing events; and the interactive Zoom Kindermuseum and Children's Theater, with workshops and programs for children ages 4 to 12.

As the MuseumsQuartier was designed as a mecca for creative types -- rather than just an old-fashioned "treasure-house," as official guides put it -- more esoteric venues include the Architektur Zentrum Wien, an architectural exhibition and "platform for reflection," and the T0 Public Netbase Media-Space, described as "a competence center for [Internet] culture."

And the new Kunsthalle Wien exhibition space is now home to the annual Vienna Festival, which this year takes place from May 10 through June 16, with 38 productions from 14 countries. Some 75,000 tickets will be available for 156 music, dance and theater events.

See on line for more information.

Perhaps the most unusual displays in the Museums-Quartier are to be found in the Art Cult Center Tabakmuseum, which features -- in addition to performance space -- a collection outlining the history of tobacco since its arrival in Europe in the 15th century.

For those not completely worn out by the Museums-Quartier itself, the nearby Music Mile Vienna walking route offers a stroll through classical music history, from the Theater an der Wien on Linke Wienzeile down the Karntner Strasse to St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Along the way, memorial stars set in the pavement commemorate 70 classical composers who had some connection to Vienna. Audio guides in English are available. For more information, visit on line.

A helping hand

Such a wide range of offerings might leave some visitors bewildered, but one-hour English-language tours of the MuseumsQuartier leave from the Infopool Visitor Center (at the main entrance) every Saturday at noon, rain or shine. Tours in English at other times can be arranged by e-mailing [email protected] or faxing (011) 43-1 523-5886.

Tour tickets, available at the MQ Ticket Center near the main entrance, cost three euros (about $2.70) per person. The ticket center also sells combination museum admission tickets, priced at 22.50 euros (about $20) and valid for two consecutive days. They include entrance to the Leopold Museum, the MUMOK, the Kunsthalle Wien, the Architektur Zentrum and the Tabakmuseum and entitle bearers to discounts at the Zoom Kindermuseum and the Tanzquartier.

Single, reduced-rate and family tickets also are available at each institution. Although opening hours vary among museums, the passages and walkways of the MuseumsQuartier are accessible 24 hours a day.

At press time, the ANTO had not worked with U.S. tour operators to package visits to the MuseumsQuartier, said Pichler, due to difficulty in coordinating entrance to each venue.

Eating, sleeping in

With each museum or attraction offering at least a cafe on premises, visitors needn't wander far for refreshment; in fact, the Cafe Halle at the Kunsthalle -- set in the Emperor's Lodge of the former Winter Riding School -- is considered "a really trendy restaurant" by native Viennese, said Pichler.

"The MuseumsQuartier gives a boost to the entire area, so the neighborhood behind it is becoming more and more stylish," added Eva Draxler, of the Vienna Convention Bureau.

While the MUMOK, Leopold and Architektur Zentrum also have restaurants, scores of dining options are to be found just outside the complex, including the Naschmarkt outdoor food market on Wienzeile and the restaurant Bar Italia and Cafe Aida on Mariahilfer Strasse.

Lodging, too, is to be found "pretty much within walking distance," according to Pichler. Nearby hotel properties include the three-star Admiral, on Karl-Schweighofer-Gasse; and the Savoy, on Linden Gasse; and the four-star K+K Maria Theresia, on Kirchberg Gasse; Tyrol, at Mariahilfer 15; and Viennart, on Breite Gasse.

For more on the Museums-Quartier, visit on the Web. Agents also can contact the ANTO at (212) 575-7723 or on line at

Guide points guests to best hotel bets

NEW YORK -- When it comes to hotel quality, two and two -- as in stars -- don't always equal four, as Americans checking into European properties often discover.

Recognizing the disparity between U.S. and continental perceptions of service standards, the Austrian National Tourist Office publishes a biannual Austrian Hotels for North Americans brochure.

The current issue lists 72 hotels across the Alpine nation that meet 11 service criteria that guests from North America might consider essential, such as English-speaking staff, no-smoking rooms, 24-hour reception and ice water with meals.

Listed properties include the Westin Bristol and Best Western Kaiserhof in Vienna, the Europe Tyrol Innsbruck and the Sheraton Salzburg.

The 2003-2004 edition should be available later this year or early next, according to the ANTO. For a copy of this year's guide, call (212) 575-7723. -- K.K.

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