Vienna’s Stephansdom Cathedral is home to altars, organs, statues, relics, and all the other accumulated treasures of an ancient cathedral.
It also houses around 11,000 “bodies”, all sleeping the endless sleep below the building. Luckily (?) for us, you can see quite a few of them on the catacombs tour.
- Interesting little tour around the cathedral crypts
- Expect coffins. Urns. And bones (lots of them)
- The guide talks in German & English
- €6 for an adult (or buy, for example, the all-inclusive museum plus Stephansdom ticket*)
- See also: Stephansdom overview
You follow the guide down the steps leading into the crypts, mentally preparing for a scene out of some horror movie, only to find yourself in an airy, well-lit chapel that’s regularly used for mass.
The tour proper begins just beyond the chapel in the old parts of the catacombs that date back to the 14th century. Although over 650 years old, they don’t look it. Renovations some 50 years ago give it all a clean, modern look. Indeed, bishops and other church personages are still put to rest here today.
The highlight for me was the Ducal Chamber, right under the High Altar. It holds the coffins of Rudolf IV (who died in 1365) and his family, as well as urns containing the Imperial organs of many high-ranking Habsburgs.
For many years, apparently, the remnants of emperors and their ilk got split between three churches: the Capuchin Church got the body for the Imperial Crypt, the Augustinian Church got the heart, and Stephansdom got the remaining internal organs.
The tour ends in the “new” parts, built in the 18th century and extending out beyond the limits of the cathedral building above. These are the catacombs Hollywood would have designed: darker, damper, and filled with skulls and other corporeal remains.
Some 30 rooms were used for burials between 1745 and 1783, with around 11,000 people finding their last resting place within. Space issues (and the smell) forced their closure.
You peek into rooms filled with scattered bones, including a mass grave for plague victims, all looking like something a plucky heroine might discover halfway through a dystopian novel.
The stacks of bones (a space-saving measure) piled high like firewood are impressive, with the occasional skull peering out, eye sockets forlorn and accusing…cue ominous music and an urgent desire to look over your shoulder.
You actually exit the tour outside the cathedral, the bright light and bustling square a contrast to the still, dark, bone-filled rooms you emerge from.
Tickets & visitor information
The guide sold/checked tickets at the end of the tour. So don’t follow them down without a ticket or the means to pay for one (€6 for an adult at the time of writing).
If you’re doing more than a couple of things in Stephansdom, it makes sense to get the all-inclusive ticket…see the main article for more info.
Tours run continuously through the opening hours, every 30 minutes or so. The notice outside the catacombs entrance announces the next tour time. You don’t have to book ahead – just join a tour.
- At the time of writing, tours operate daily from 10am to 11.30am and from 1.30pm to 4.30pm (no morning tours on Sundays and public holidays, though)
- The tour is bilingual – the tour guide says everything in German and English
- We went round in about 20 minutes, but it was a small group and the guide only needed to use English. So set aside half an hour for the tour
- Most of the tour route is through fairly wide, bright rooms and corridors, but there are one or two uneven floors, darker areas and steps
How to get to the catacombs
See the main Stephansdom article for travel tips. Once inside, head up the north side of the cathedral, where there is public access. Keep going past the entrance to the North Tower and you’ll see steps down and the Meeting Point notice, on the left just before the end barrier. Wait there for the guide.
Address: Stephansdom, Stephansplatz, 1010 Vienna