The Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, or Austrian National Library, is the former Imperial Court Library of the Habsburgs. It is the largest library in Austria, with four museums and several special collections and archives in the sprawling complex.
This article will focus on the Prunksaal, or State Hall, the picturesque Baroque library with over 200,000 books on the double-storied bookshelves. The Grand Hall at the Austrian National Library is like Mecca for bookworms. It is widely regarded as one of the most magnificent library halls in the world.
How to Get to Austrian National Library Grand Hall
The Grand Hall is inside the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek building. The nearest underground metro station is Herrengasse, roughly a five-minute walk away. Stephansplatz station, which is ten-minutes away, is also an option.
The Court Library entrance is the most convenient one to use, which is on Josefsplatz Road. There is a courtyard with a statue of Kaiser Joseph II, and the entrance to the library is behind the statue. The National Library’s ticket desk is on the ground floor, but the State Hall entrance is upstairs on the second floor.
Admission Price & Opening Hours of Austrian National Library Grand Hall
The ticket price of the Austrian National Library is €10. If you have the Vienna City Card, you get a 20% discount on the ticket cost for a final price of €8. Buy your tickets at the desk on the ground floor, not the second floor where the Grand Hall entrance is.
The opening hours are from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm, except on Thursday when it is open until 9 pm. The Grand Hall is closed on Mondays.
What to See at the Austrian National Library Grand Hall
The Grand Hall wowed us as soon as we entered through the doors. It is opulent from head to toe – rich dark wood bookcases, gold accents everywhere, and ceiling frescoes that rival a world-class cathedral. The ceiling reaches up to 30 metres high under the central dome, giving a sense of vastness.
Emperor Charles VI commissioned the library’s construction in 1723. He had a strong influence on the centrepieces of the State Hall. The image on the central dome depicts Charles VI ascending to god-tier levels with Hercules and Apollo, now his brethren, holding him up. This vividly colourful fresco is the work of court painter Daniel Gran.
Statues and Decorations
The statue bathed in a faint green light beneath the dome is also of Charles VI, albeit a slightly more humble representation. There are 16 other statues on the periphery of rulers and nobility from the Habsburg family. The four ornately detailed Venetian globes are by the Italian cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli.
Books and Literature
As much as the Charles VI statue tries to steal the spotlight, the books irresistibly attract the eyes. There are 128 bookshelves, most double-wide and stacked on two levels. A regal gold plate organizes the shelves by number. More than 200,000 rare and precious books from 1501 to 1850 are meticulously arranged on the dark walnut shelves.
Most notable are Prince Eugene of Savoy’s staggering 15,000 volume collection bound in luxurious Moroccan leather. You can’t touch or read any of the books in the library. A velvet rope prevents anyone from getting too close. However, all the books are digitized and are free to access via the library’s online catalogue.
Unexpectedly, there are exhibits in front of the bookcases. They were about gardens, some not even on gardens in Austria. The Grand Hall would have been so much better without those irrelevant exhibitions. They just got in the way and ruined our pictures. We’re here to see the library! Who gives a shit about gardens? They could have stuck these exhibits in another museum nearby instead of blocking the bookcases with these big white info boards. Hopefully, these were temporary exhibits and are gone by the time of your visit.
There are a handful of pertinent exhibits on manuscripts and religious texts. A noteworthy tome is the Troppau Evangeliary, the oldest surviving book from the Habsburg origins and the library’s founding codex. The Tabula Peutingerina is also pretty cool – a map showing the main roads and communication lines of the Roman Empire at the time.
The Austrian National Library’s Grand Hall is pretty much the archetype whenever anyone imagines a Baroque library. Unfortunately, some things ruined the scenery, like several bare bookshelves and ugly metal scaffolds.
I think the Austrian National Library State Hall’s ticket price is a bit expensive considering we spent just under an hour here. The Grand Hall is not very big, just 80 metres long. If you don’t read every exhibit on gardens or sit there sketching the room, your visit will be similarly short.
The State Hall would have been perfect without the renovation scaffolding, empty bookshelves and the garden exhibits. I still think it’s worth visiting if you’ve never seen a Baroque library. There are other similar libraries in Austria, such as the one at Melk Abbey or Saint Florian Monastery. However, the Austrian National Library is in the heart of Vienna’s museum district and is super convenient to visit.