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
- Known for its composer graves, including Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Brahms
- Cemetery church is a Jugendstil classic
- Like a beautiful landscaped park in many areas
- Also home to the rare European hamster
- A little away from the centre, but easily reached by car or tram
- See also:
The central cemetery
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.
(The Zentralfriedhof – aerial photo from ca. 1919; produced by the Verlag Luftbild Ges.m.b.H.; Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 306250; excerpt reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
This Zentralfriedhof now occupies about 2.5 million m2, 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 cemetery in Iraq.
As a multi-denominational location, the Zentralfriedhof also has dedicated areas for Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and various Orthodox churches.
(Beethoven’s last resting place)
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. They moved the likes of Beethoven and Schubert from their original burial locations to the Zentralfriedhof.
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 in the Zentralfriedhof are a few famous names you might recognise even as a visitor, particularly in the musical world.
Nature and architecture
The gravestones vary from the extraordinarily large and ornate to the simple. The central architectural feature is the Church of St. Charles Borromeo. Consecrated in 1911, the building remains a classic of Jugendstil design.
Wandering through the cemetery aisles on a sunny day certainly makes for a remarkably tranquil experience, filled as the area is with trees, shrubs, and flowers. The authorities keep it in remarkably good condition.
The Zentralfriedhof has also become a kind of nature reserve with open park areas, wilderness areas, and even bee hives and insect hotels. It provides a home for around 17,000 trees, for example.
Films have even 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.
We met one of these critically endangered animals on our last trip there (apologies for lack of sharpness, but old smartphones weren’t designed for closeups of nimble hamsters):
The location also makes regular appearances in cultural media.
For example, the cemetery played a role in the period detective drama, Vienna Blood and the Oscar-winning thriller, The Third Man. One of the graves even featured in the video and on the original cover for Ultravox’s legendary Vienna single.
Tickets & visitor tips
There’s no charge to enter the Zentralfriedhof, which opens every day.
The main entrance at Tor 2 (Gate 2) has a small shop with the kind of souvenirs you’d expect when a cemetery meets Vienna’s indigenous pessimism and macabre sense of humour. You can also pick up an English-language guide to the Ehrengräber there.
Just next to the shop is a branch of the Konditorei Oberlaa chain. This lovely patisserie and coffee shop proves the old Viennese adage that nothing in life is certain, except, death, taxes, and cake.
A bus service operates inside the cemetery itself, and you can borrow ebikes to get around. We walked.
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. You can pick up the 11 (or 71) from the Simmering subway station, which is the end station of the U3 line that runs through the city centre.
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