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Stephansdom: St. Stephen's Cathedral

Stephansdom: St. Stephen’s Cathedral From Catacombs To Concerts

Stephansdom: side detailActually, the story of Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) tells the story of Vienna. Not least because it has been around for 900 years and is a key local landmark.

To be honest with you, 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. 

Why Is St. Stephen’s So Significant?

In general, Stephansdom has played a key role in local history and has earned a reputation as a local symbol of strength and national identity. Throughout the centuries, Stephansdom has weathered storms such as the Battle of Vienna, the Siege of Vienna, the French Wars as well as numerous fires. In the last days of the Second World War ‘Steffl’, as we call it, nearly collapsed.

Stephansdom: interior with iron gate

Each year, thousands of Viennese school children raise funds for the continuing restauration of the Stephansdom. Significantly, the cathedral has its own classic/religious radio station. 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.

To sum it up: 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.

Cathedral Concerts

Stephansdom: Mozart concertSince Stephansdom is so grand I personally like the cathedral best when music elevates it even further. Throughout the year Steffl hosts many wonderful classical concerts, such as the Mozart Requiem or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Specifically the rooftop concerts, which take place irregularly, are not to be missed.

To find out about concerts performed during your trip access the concert calendar of St Stephens Cathedral . If you travel to Vienna just before Christmas check out the Advent Concerts and Christmas Carols there.

The Catacombs

Stephansdom: entrance to CatacombsWhen 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. The entrance is at the church’s left side aisle through a staircase. 

Stephansdom Towers And Roof

Stephansdom's tiled roof

To discover the beautiful tiled and ornamented roof and for perfect city vistas you can ascend both the tall South Tower and the lower North Tower. While the North Tower is unfinished and a little lower, it does have an elevator. If you want to work out, consider climbing up the 343 stairs of the South Tower for more spectacular views.

Signficantly, the North Tower houses the ‘Pummerin’ bell, the third largest bell in West and Central Europe, and the largest in Austria. In fact, this and the presence of an elevator are the main reasons for visitors to ascend the North Tower.

Stephansdom: North TowerThe first time, I made the same choise – it was wonderful but nothing for the faint-hearted. Its transparent metal staircase was stuck to the tower like a swallow’s nest. Gazing through the metal grid under my feet made me really feel the dizzying heights. 

From the North Tower you could see downward to Stephansplatz and then further on to the dome of nearby church St. Peter’s and across a few nice rooftop terraces.

However, viewing the beautiful tiled roof from up there was worth it. The roof’s colourful patterns and the Imperial Eagle are made of 230,000 glazed roof tiles which created a breathtaking mosaic.

Stephansdom: vista from South TowerThe second time, in the summer of 2018, I felt brave enough to climb the South Tower, along with many other visitors. All strangers, we encouraged each other on the way up, followed by hearty congratulations to whoever finally arrived up at the main observation deck.

From the South Tower, the vistas down to the pedestrian area and across Vienna were slightly better. I could see the romantic Pawlatschen courtyard of Deutschordenshaus in Singerstrasse, the church of St. Charles Borromeo and even Belvedere Palace and Gardens in the back!

Tour St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Stephansdom: KolomanisteinSince the art and architecture at Stephansdom is packed with hidden references you will fully understand this building by getting some background. I found the stories behind the references were a real opener into the mindset of the Viennese of the past centuries. (See that much touched stone in the photo that hangs in a hidden corner of Steffl?)

At the most basic, wander around the building with some audio phones, visit the Catacombs, and then climb up the North and South Towers. Find out about tour tickets.


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Hotels Nearby

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.

visit Vienna city Centre – Old Town Vienna Routes And Map
go to Vienna Attractions – Native Advice of Tourist Attractions
explore more Vienna Concerts – Quality Music Events In My Hometown
find out about the best way of booking Vienna Opera tickets – A Native’s Guide
go to Spanish Riding School Vienna – Video, Shows and Tickets

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