If you feel like standing stand next to dozens of Habsburg personalities, including the likes of Empress Elisabeth and Napoleon’s wife, then the Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt) should be on your Vienna itinerary.
- Last resting place of numerous Habsburg monarchs and others associated with the dynasty
- Coffins vary from the ornate to the ordinary
- Plenty of bronze skulls and similar for those of a Gothic bent
- Chambers are well-lit and airy
- Adult ticket is €8 (or free one-time entry with a Vienna Pass)
- See also: Stephansdom catacombs tour | The Habsburgs
Inside the crypt
Those who like to experience raw history should take the time to find the Capuchin Monastery (Kapuzinerkloster) in the very center of Vienna.
The building houses the Imperial Crypt, known locally as the Kaisergruft or Kapuzinergruft. This is the last resting place of dozens of Habsburg Emperors, Empresses, Archdukes, Archduchesses, and their spouses and offspring; an accumulation of corpses from one of the most famous dynasties in world history.
Inside the crypt, you stand within touching distance of Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico.
Or Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Franz Stephan, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Or Emperor Francis II/I, founder of the Austrian Empire.
Or Empress Elisabeth — Sisi — the 19th century’s answer to Princess Diana, who still enjoys cult status today.
…and many (many) more.
Be aware, though, that this is no virtual reality tourist attraction, but the actual family crypt of the imperial line: an underground graveyard, albeit one with a rich history attached.
As such, the Kasiergruft is a place of strange contrasts. Prepare for disappointment if you expect a musty, dank, dark experience: the crypt contains large, well-lit and airy chambers.
The bright, clean surroundings do little, however, to counter the starkness of the place, with its bare walls and row upon row of large ornate sarcophagi.
(If you want a more traditional crypt experience, try the Stephansdom cathedral catacombs, which includes a mass grave for plague victims.)
A sense of sadness certainly hangs over everything in the Kaisergruft. Death as the ultimate leveller. That despite the wealth, fame, power (and expensive coffin), all that’s left is a body in a box to be stared at by visitors taking hurried snapshots before moving on to coffee and cake.
If you don’t linger, you’ll be finished in no more than 30 minutes. But take the time to look closely at the intricate decoration on some of the coffins. The materials are mostly lead, pewter, bronze or copper. They used silver and gold sparingly, not least because visitors would steal bits (ah, humanity never ceases to disappoint.)
(A woodcut of part of the crypt from 1878; Alois Greil (Artist); Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. W 2650; excerpt reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
Emperor Karl VI (1685-1740) probably has the most impressive sarcophagus, only because of the quite wonderful crowned skulls and similar decorative motifs.
The most impressive section is the Maria-Theresien-Gruft, a domed chamber dominated by a huge, complex sarcophagus for the Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) and Emperor Franz Stephan (1708-1765). The same location houses many of her 16 children.
One of those children is the Empress’s eldest son, who became Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790). With its nondescript copper design, his coffin contrasts remarkably with that of his parents. But then Joseph II was famous for his rationalist approach and distaste for ceremony.
Another must-see is the Franz-Josephs-Gruft, the chamber that’s home to Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830-1916), Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898), and their son, Crown Prince Rudolph (1858-1889).
Elisabeth was famously assassinated by an anarchist in Switzerland, while Rudolph’s suicide saw the succession pass to Franz Joseph’s nephew, Franz Ferdinand (whose own assassination in Sarajevo sparked the first World War).
No excessive ornamentation graces the last resting place of Franz Joseph and his family, but you’ll probably find flowers left by well-wishers. Curiously, flowers were also left at another coffin on my visit: Marie Louise, second wife of Napoleon.
Tickets & visitor tips
At the time of writing, an adult ticket to the Kaisergruft costs €8, though you can, for example, enter once for free with a Vienna Pass (see a review).
As well as a ticket, you’ll want to buy an English guide and map, too. The crypt has no significant information displays inside (though it’s been a while since I visited), just the names of the dead inscribed next to their coffin or on a stone board on a wall. This is after all, as mentioned earlier, not a tourist attraction as such, but a burial place.
How to find the crypt
Wait for a moonless night. You’ll need wolfsbane and phoenix eggs to complete the opening spell. Or…
The Kaisergruft sits among the many historical sights that make up the very centre of Vienna. It’s within shouting (singing?) distance of the State Opera House and close to numerous public transport lines…
Subway: take the U1 and U3 to Stephansplatz or U1, U2 and U4 to Karlsplatz (look for the Oper exit)
Tram/bus: use the the 2A city centre bus and get off at Albertinaplatz
Address: Tegetthoffstraße 2, 1010 Vienna | Website