The story of Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) almost tells the story of Vienna. It has been around for 900 years and is a key local landmark. As a native, I associate it with mundane things like cream wafers, radio and school kids rattling charity moneyboxes in the streets; but you will get the whole story and Cathedral concert tips here.
Thousands of Viennese school children raise funds for the continuing restauration of the Stephansdom every year. The cathedral has its own classic/religious radio, Radio Stephansdom. A cathedral visual dominates the brand of Austria’s most traditional and hugely popular Manner cream wafers. Its legendary bell Pummerin traditionally rings in the New Year, which is broadcast across Austria.
Stephansdom has played a key role in local history and has earned a reputation as a local symbol of strength and national identity. The Stephansdom has weathered storms such as the Battle of Vienna, the Siege of Vienna, the French Wars as well as numerous fires, and nearly collapsed in the last days of the Second World War.
The main attractions of St. Stephen’s Cathedral are the interior including the Albertinian Choir, the South Tower, the North Tower, the beautiful tiled roof, the Cathedral’s Treasure, and not least the Catacombs.
When inside Stephansdom most visitors have little idea that they stand on top of Vienna’s oldest Necropolis, counting 30 burial chambers and 10,000 souls. What keeps fascinating me about the Stephansdom’s catacombs is the Habsburg Emperors’ bizarre burial rites. Over the past centuries it was customary for Viennese noblemen and the Habsburgs to be disemboweled after they died. They had their intestines separated from their bodies and placed into finely decorated metal vessels filled with a preserving alcoholic solution. You can see the urns at St. Stephen’s crypt. (Visit the bodies at the Imperial Vault at Capucin Church.)
The main catacombs are next to the Habsburgs and auxiliary bishops’ burial chambers. You can visit only a small part of that medieval to baroque cemetery. Neatly stacked up bones packed to the ceilings fill room after room. If one room was full with bones, it was just bricked up and the next burial chamber was opened.
You can visit the catacombs only as part of a guided tour for a couple of Euros. The entrance is at the church’s left side aisle through a staircase. Guided tours: Mondays to Saturdays 10am to 11.30am and 1.30pm to 4.30pm; Sundays and public holidays: 1.30pm to 4.30pm
Stephansdom Towers And Roof
The North Tower houses the ‘Pummerin’ bell, the third largest bell in West and Central Europe, and the largest in Austria.
You can ascend both the tall South Tower and the lower North Tower to enjoy the magnificent view, and to discover the beautiful tiled and ornamented roof. You can choose between ascending the unfinished North Tower by elevator and by climbing up the 343 stairs of the South Tower.
I chose the North Tower – great choice but nothing for the faint-hearted. Its transparent metal staircase is stuck to the tower like a swallow’s nest. Gaze through the metal grid under your feet and you will feel the dizzying heights! However, viewing the beautiful tiled roof from up there is worth it. The roof’s colourful patterns and the Imperial Eagle are made of 230,000 glazed roof tiles. There are daily guided tours through Stephansdom in English between April and October (3.45pm).
I personally like the cathedral best when it is filled with music during the many concerts taking place there, such as the Mozart Requiem or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The rooftop concerts are something very special. Access concert calendar of St Stephens Cathedral and find out about concerts performed during your trip. If you travel to Vienna just before Christmas check out the Advent Concerts and Christmas Carols there.
On his last trip to Vienna, my husband stayed at Do und Co Hotel right next to St Stephens Cathedral – it was his best stay ever in town. If you pick a hotel near Stephansdom you will live right in the historic city centre, either in or very close to the pedestrian area with its many coffeehouses and luxury shops.
The area is packed with three, four and five star hotels, and with a few excellent Bed and Breakfasts. Except for venturing out to Schonbrunn Palace, you are unlikely to be in need of public transport, as all major sites are within walking distance. Get customer reviews and best deals for hotels and BandB’s near St Stephens Cathedral.