The visual image most closely associated with historical Vienna is Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s), seat of the city’s bishop and an obligatory stop for visitors.
The cathedral peers down benignly on the “young” buildings that surround it, like a towering giant of a great-uncle. Albeit one with a delightfully multicoloured roof.
Read on and follow the links for my insight into its various attractions and how best to enjoy them.
- Iconic gothic cathedral with baroque fittings
- Various attractions include:
- You can see part of the interior for free, otherwise you need tickets for each area
The cathedral accompanied Vienna through much of its history, with the initial foundation stone dating back to 1137.
The original church is no more, but the current incarnation has its origins in 1263. The main entrance door, for example, dates back to this time.
Over the centuries, various towers, extensions and other features were added. The end result is a gothic building with a sprinkling of baroque features; it manages to be tranquil, reverential, and delightful in equal measure.
Amazingly, Stephansdom survived the aerial bombings of WWII, only to suffer from mindless vandalism when looters set fire to nearby buildings in April 1945. The fire spread to the cathedral, destroying parts of the building.
Despite the deprivations of the post-war period, the city and community repaired all the damage within just a few years.
If you just want to get a quick taste of Stephansdom’s atmosphere and architecture, you can: the front of the nave and part of the northern side are open access. Everything else requires a ticket.
So you’ll need to pay (see below) to get close to the altar, climb a tower or view the relics.
The “free” public area gives you views down the length of the cathedral. You can also visit several small altars with pews for prayer and reflection, light a votive candle, or visit the cathedral shop. The latter is an incongruous mix of secular and ecclesiastical “souvenirs”, where crucifixes, rosary beads and Cathedral wine rub shoulders with Mozart drink coasters.
You won’t get a close view of the main altar or giant sarcophagus of Frederick III, for example, but you get reasonably close to the 1447 altar with its decorated panels. Nevertheless, I’d recommend at least taking the self-guided tour of the rest of the interior, because Stephansdom’s true delights are revealed only in close-up.
Other ticketed options are:
- Cathedral Treasury: an extensive collection of relics and other historical treasures
- The South Tower: a long climb up 343 steps to an observation chamber with great views of Vienna
- The North Tower: a lift up to a viewing platform and the 21,283 kg Pummerin bell
- The Catacombs: a guided tour among the crypts and corpses below ground
Tickets & visitor information
Unless you’re only interested in one or two things, consider the all-inclusive tickets, which you can get on site or in advance*, and which save buying separate tickets for each attraction. These cost €14.90 for an adult when I visited, saving almost 50% compared to individual tickets.
You can also upgrade your all-inclusive ticket to include a visit to the Cathedral Museum (Dom Museum) just across the square from Stephansdom.
The cathedral is open year round, from 6 am to 10 pm (from 7 am on Sundays and holidays). However, there are numerous services held every day, including a mass in English. So one or two of the ticketed options may be temporarily unavailable (check my articles or the official website for details).
- Don’t forget to walk around the outside of the cathedral, too. The most striking parts are the main tower, which rises over 136m, and the roof’s 230,000 coloured tiles
- As a working cathedral, respectful behaviour is expected. For example, remove hats, don’t eat or drink, don’t make phone calls, etc.
- If you need a little quiet time on a hot day, Stephansdom is lovely and cool inside
- Guided tours are also available at 10.30 am in English, Monday to Saturday (at the time of writing)
- In summer, the cathedral square and surrounds are a nice place to hang out in a street cafe or with an ice cream and watch the world go by. In winter, the square hosts the Stephansplatz Christmas market
How to get to Stephansdom
Since it’s right in the centre, you’ll probably wander past on your first stroll through town. Otherwise:
- Use the U1 or U3 subway lines, getting out at the Stephansplatz station
- Take a 1A, 2A or 3A bus (the stop is also called Stephansplatz)
Once you get off the bus or leave the subway station, you can’t miss the cathedral. It’s rather obvious – just look up.
Address: Stephansdom, Stephansplatz, 1010 Vienna | Website