A church with plenty to offer the visitor; Karlskirche has baroque beauty, contemporary art, classical music, and a rare chance to get up close to the workmanship of the original artisans who painted the dome.
- 18th-century baroque church built by Emperor Charles VI
- Use the panorama lift to view the dome paintings and for views across the city
- Also hosts classical concerts throughout the year
- See also: Karlsplatz Christmas market | Stephansdom cathedral
St Charles Church
Unlike many of Vienna’s great churches, Karlskirche can be approached from a distance as you walk across the open area before it.
The exterior architecture impresses with its great dome, but particularly the two giant columns. Their reliefs and golden imperial eagles offer more than a hint of the history of the church, which was built in the early 18th-century by Emperor Charles VI and named after Saint Charles Borromeo.
You need a ticket to enter outside of church services (the revenue goes toward renovation work). But it’s very much worth doing so.
As you might expect from a baroque place of worship, the inside is a smorgasbord of decorative delights…rich in marble stonework, wall paintings, reliefs, statues, scroll work and carvings, with regular splashes of gold. And all in beautiful condition.
Karlskirche is more subtle than some of its over-exuberant colleagues, though, with enough white space to give the senses a rest now and then.
Two aspects stand out in particular, neither of which have anything to do with the interior architecture.
1. Church or gallery?
First, the church also hosts the Karlskirche Contemporary Arts series, where an invited artist produces a large-scale piece of art specifically for the architectural and baroque context of the building.
This powerful idea harks back to a time when the (Catholic) church also served as a sponsor of the arts.
On my visit, two huge (and I mean, HUGE) globes by Tomás Saraceno hung suspended in space; partly with a reflective surface, partly transparent. The effect was stunning, curiously leaving unhindered views of the interior while still offering beautiful reflections of the surrounds.
2. The panorama view
A scaffolded tower off to one side of the dome contains a panorama lift that takes you up to the ceiling for a dual treat.
A few steps up from the top of the lift leads you to a window that looks out across the city to the west (the circular window in the dome in the photo below):
From this height, you see the full glory of the Künstlerhaus and Musikverein buildings off to the side of Karlsplatz, but also catch glimpses of Stephansdom cathedral, the Secession building, the domes of the Kunsthistorisches and Naturhistorisches museums, the Haus des Meeres, the Rathaus, the Votivkirche, and more.
A platform at the top also gets you up close to the plethora of scenes painted across the dome walls. A truly fascinating experience.
First, you now fully appreciate the efforts of those painters. You don’t want to drop your brush from up here (or look down).
Second, a close-up look reveals details you cannot see from below, but also demonstrates how simple strokes that appear clumsily two-dimensional at arm’s length produce marvellous colour and three-dimensional effects when viewed from a distance.
Karlskirche as venue
As with most of Vienna’s great churches, the Karlskirche acoustics lend themselves to classical concerts. Throughout 2020, for example, the Orchestra 1756 performs Mozart’s Requiem (with a choir, obviously) and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons here.
Expect extra concerts around Advent, too. Last time around saw a series of seasonal concerts from the Vienna Concert Orchestra. And the Art Advent Christmas market occupies the park in front of the church (which makes for great photos, with the stalls and a backdrop of a lit-up Karlskirche).
Tickets & visitor information
At the time of writing, a standard adult ticket cost €8. Karlskirche opens daily from 9am to 6pm (Monday to Saturday) and 12am to 7pm (Sundays and public holidays). Services are normally scheduled outside of these hours, but you may run into the occasional extra church activity inside.
- Buy your ticket at the entrance, which is around to the right as you face the front of the church
- Your ticket comes with a colour booklet (available in English) with lovely little explanations of what you’re looking at both inside and outside the building. Particularly useful for understanding what some of those ceiling paintings depict
- Be sure to pop up the spiral staircase immediately after the ticket counter, too, to see the small treasury while there
How to get to the Karlskirche
The church is within walking distance of the very centre of town, but might be one of the easiest sites to reach by public transport.
Subway: Karlskirche sits more or less above Karlsplatz subway station, where the U2, U1 and U4 lines intersect
Tram/bus: numerous trams travel to Karlsplatz or the Karlsplatz/Oper stop, including those that circle the old town – lines 1, 2, D and 71
Address: Kreuzherrengasse 1, 1040 | Website