Vienna’s main cemetery – the Zentralfriedhof – is a curious place. Although a working cemetery and home to some particularly famous graves, it’s almost as well-known for its flora and fauna.
- Vienna’s largest cemetery
- Like a beautiful landscaped park in many areas
- Known particularly for its composer graves, including Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Brahms
- A little away from the centre, but easily reached by car or tram
- See also: Famous graves
The central cemetery
(Beethoven’s last resting place)
One of the problems for a growing city is where to put all the people – and not just the living ones. As Vienna neared the end of the 19th century, it became clear the existing cemeteries weren’t up to the long-term storage job.
So the authorities raided the savings account and bought up a large plot of land to the southeast of the city, which they turned into a new cemetery. It opened officially on November 1st, 1874 with the burial of a certain Anton Seifert.
This Zentralfriedhof now occupies about 2.5 million square meters, with over 300,000 graves and crypts, and more than 3 million “inhabitants.” This makes it one of the biggest cemeteries in the world, perhaps second only to the Wadi-us-Salaam (Valley of Peace) cemetery in Iraq.
(The memorial to Mozart)
The Zentralfriedhof is so large that it has its own railway station and a bus service inside the cemetery itself. It’s also multi-denominational, with dedicated areas for devotees of such religions as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and various Orthodox churches.
In its early incarnations, the Zentralfriedhof found little public approval (thanks to the distance from the centre). So little, in fact, that the authorities had to think of ways to make it more attractive.
One tactic involved ensuring a few famous people were buried there in so-called Ehrengräber, moving the likes of Beethoven and Straus from their original burial locations.
(Salieri gets a grave, too)
Today, Ehrengräber are a way for Vienna and Austria to honour particular citizens. If you get such an “honorary grave”, the city also looks after it.
Among the hundreds of these Ehrengräber are a few famous names you might recognise, particularly in the musical world. Alongside Beethoven and Schubert, for example, you’ll find various members of the Strauss family, Brahms, Salieri, Schoenberg, and Loos.
Architecturally, the key elements are the often large and ornate gravestones, the gateposts at the main entrance, and the Jugendstil Church of St. Charles Borromeo at the centre (next to the area reserved for Austria’s presidents).
Equally, the Zentralfriedhof has become a kind of nature reserve (it provides a home for around 17000 trees, for example).
Films have been made on the cemetery’s animal population. For example, parts of the wild hamster section in the BBC Seven Worlds, One Planet documentary seem to come from the Zentralfriedhof. The location also plays a role in the period detective drama, Vienna Blood and the famous thriller, The Third Man.
Wandering through the cemetery aisles on a sunny day is certainly a remarkably tranquil experience, filled as the area is with trees, shrubs, and flowers. The authorities keep it in remarkably good condition.
Tickets & visitor tips
There’s no charge to enter the Zentralfriedhof, which opens every day.
How to get to the Zentralfriedhof
The literal translation of Zentralfriedhof is “central cemetery,” but there’s nothing remotely central about it. Even today, it’s a 20-minute tram ride from the edge of the city centre.
Train: The S7 city train service (which goes out to the airport) stops at the Zentralfriedhof station.
Tram: take line 71 or 11 to Zentralfriedhof 2.Tor. The 71 leaves from several central stops, such as Schottentor, Ring/Volkstheater, Oper/Karlsplatz or Schwarzenbergplatz.
There’s plenty of parking and you can even take your car inside (for a fee).
Address: Main entrance (Tor 2), Simmeringer Hauptstraße 234 , 1110 Vienna | Website