The visual image most closely associated with historical Vienna is Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s cathedral), seat of the city’s bishop and an obligatory stop for visitors.
- Gothic cathedral with Baroque fittings and an iconic multicoloured tiled roof
- Various attractions include:
- See part of the interior for free, otherwise you need to pay to access each area
- All-inclusive tickets with Dom Museum also available*
- See also: Vienna churches
Stephansdom accompanied Vienna through much of the city’s history, with the initial foundation stone dating back to 1137.
That original 12th-century church is no more. The current incarnation has its origins in the mid-13th century; the main entrance door, for example, dates back to this time.
Over the years, they added various towers, extensions and other elements to create today’s working Gothic building with its sprinkling of Baroque features.
Amazingly, Stephansdom survived the aerial bombings of WWII only for a fire in nearby buildings to spread to the cathedral in April 1945, destroying parts of the building.
A newspaper report from August that year noted (my translation):
We were filming again in Stephansdom, but the camera needed no spotlight to banish the shadows this time and no battery of Jupiter lamps to light up the mystical darkness of the ceiling. Blazing sunlight filled the nave…
Despite the deprivations of the post-war period, the city and community repaired all the damage within just a few years, though you can still see the skeletal version of the cathedral in the opening frames of the movie, The Third Man.
Stephansdom now peers down benignly on the “young” buildings that surround it, like a towering giant of a great-uncle. Albeit one with a delightfully multi-coloured roof.
And it manages to be tranquil, reverential, and delightful in equal measure.
What’s inside Stephansdom?
(The famous Stephansdom roof)
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 up close to the altar, climb a tower or view the catacombs.
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 great 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 reveals its true delights in close-up.
Other ticketed options are:
- The South Tower: a long climb up 343 steps to an observation chamber with excellent views of Vienna, particularly (obviously) of the surrounding central district
- The North Tower: a lift up to a viewing platform and the famous 21,283 kg Pummerin bell that rings in New Year
- The Cathedral Treasury: an extensive collection of Christian relics and other historical treasures (closed for refurbishment when I last visited)
- The Catacombs: a guided tour among the crypts below ground, including one or two that live up to Hollywoodesque expectations
Tickets & visitor tips
Unless you’re only interested in one or two things, consider the all-inclusive ticket instead of buying separate tickets for each attraction. This cost €16 for an adult at the time of writing.
Both all-inclusive options save you over 30% compared to buying individual tickets for each activity and location.
The cathedral itself opens year round and holds regular services (so you may have to wait to walk around the ticketed cathedral interior if a mass or some other event is currently taking place). The towers etc. may have their own individual opening times.
- 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: 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 a wonderful and relatively cool option
- English guided tours may be available, if you want a human guide, rather than an audio equivalent
- In summer, the cathedral square and surrounds become a nice (if busy) 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
(The cathedral and 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