Vienna’s Stephansdom cathedral contains altars, statues, and all the other accumulated treasures of an ancient cathedral. It also houses the remains of around 11,000 people in its catacombs: you can visit them on a tour.
- Intriguing visit to the cathedral crypts
- Expect coffins. Urns. And (lots of) bones
- Mix of airy vaults and darker catacombs
- My tour was in German & English
- Tour tickets available from the guide (cash only)
- …consider an all-inclusive option
- Book full cathedral tickets* (with Dom Museum) online
- But check the cathedral calendar for days when entry times may be restricted
- See also:
(The exit from the catacombs photographed in the early 1920s; Wiener Kunstverlag E. Schreier (Producer); Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 106259/3, Excerpt reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
So here’s my experience with a visit below the cathedral…
We first followed the guide down the steps leading into the crypts, mentally preparing for a scene out of some horror movie, only to find ourselves in an airy, well-lit chapel that’s regularly used for mass.
The tour proper began just beyond the chapel in the old parts of the catacombs that date back to the 14th century.
Although over 650 years old, renovations some 50 years ago give this part a clean, modern look. Indeed, bishops and other church personages are still laid to rest there today.
This area of the catacombs includes the Ducal Chamber right under the cathedral’s High Altar and holds the coffins of Rudolf IV (1339-1365) and his family.
(As Duke of Austria, Rudolf proved a pivotal figure in the construction of the cathedral.)
Urns containing the organs of many high-ranking Habsburgs share much of the same space as Rudolf. 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
- Stephansdom got the remaining internal organs
The tour continued into 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 served 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.
We peeked into rooms filled with scattered bones, including a mass grave for plague victims. All looked like something a plucky heroine might discover halfway through a dystopian novel.
The stacks of bones (a space-saving measure) piled high like firewood drew inevitable shudders; an occasional skull peered out, eye sockets forlorn and accusing…cue an urgent desire to look over your shoulder.
Don’t be the last in line as you exit this area.
We actually ended the tour outside the cathedral, the bright light and bustling square a contrast to the still, darker, bone-filled rooms we emerged from.
Tickets & visitor tips
The guide sold/checked tickets at the end of my tour. So don’t follow them down without a ticket or the cash to pay for one (€6.00 for an adult at the time of writing).
If you’re doing more than a couple of paid activities in Stephansdom, it makes sense to get an all-inclusive ticket: available for cash on site.
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
(NB: Check the cathedral calendar for occasional service-related limits on visiting times)
Tours run every 30 minutes to two hours most days: a notice outside the catacombs entrance announces the next tour time. You don’t book a time unless you’re a large group: just join a tour.
- My tour was bilingual: the tour guide said 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 most of the time. So set aside a little longer otherwise
- Most of the tour route took us through fairly wide, bright rooms and corridors, but expect one or two uneven floors, darker areas and steps, too
Should you wish to tick off a couple more boxes on your list of Vienna crypts, then consider:
- The Imperial Crypt (mentioned above) contains dozens of Emperors, Empresses and similar. Full of spectacular coffins
- The equally Gothic Michaelerkirche church often offers tours of its crypts (but check language availability)
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: Stephansplatz, 1010 Vienna