Whilst there are many beautiful sites in Vienna, there is one that is centrally located and will draw you in like a magnet: it is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, located at 3 Stephansplatz, 1010 Vienna, Austria. It is a moving place of worship with a rich history and majestic exterior that will allow you to see the greatest of views of central Vienna. The equally grand interior makes this historical site a popular place for locals who are coming to worship and for tourists who want to learn more about one of the most important sites in Vienna.
Magnanimous architecture with stunning detail
In awe of how magnanimous the exterior structure of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is, you will immediately know that you have made the best decision to visit it. As you can vaguely see from the photograph, however, parts of the Cathedral are quite dark and this is because over the centuries, soot and other forms of pollution have covered the Cathedral and given it this colour. Nevertheless, recent restoration projects are in the process of returning the building into its original white form.
The architecture of the Cathedral is reminiscent of the Habsburg era, which was a time when the Catholic Church and the Archbishops were extremely powerful and the key decision makers for Austria. As you stand beneath St. Stephen’s Cathedral, you will feel amazed by the sheer size of the exterior and the stunning and intricate details of each part of it. It is truly unbelievable, in the best of ways, how individuals were able to make such great architecture in history. The Cathedral is 107.2 metres long (3,517.2 feet) and 34.2 metres wide (112.2 feet).
Famous throughout history for royalty and musicians
The Cathedral is built in a Romanesque and Gothic form and was initiated by Habsburg Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) and actually stands in place of the ruins of two previous churches. The first church in the spot where the Cathedral stands was built in 1147. St. Stephen’s Cathedral took a number of years to build, with times where no work was completed due to various factors. During World War II, the Cathedral was damaged and had to be rebuilt and it was only fully open again in 1952.
The Cathedral is extremely famous and well known throughout history. It is the site of royal weddings, including that of Louis II of Hungary and Maria of Austria in 1515. It is also the establishment that married Joseph Haydn and Maria Anna Theresia Keller in 1760 and subsequently Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Constanze Weber in 1782. Joseph Haydn, when he was an eight year old child, sang as a choir boy in this very Cathedral. The Cathedral is also a resting place for Emperor Friedrich III, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Habsburg Duke Rudolph IV and other members of the Habsburg family. It is home to the graves of Vienna’s cardinals and archbishops, which can be found in the catacombs beneath the Cathedral.
Beautiful and incredible views from the Towers
As you enter the Cathedral, you will immediately see the beautifully stained glass windows, the elaborate altars and the magnificent statues. There are 18 altars in the Cathedral. Everything within the Cathedral is so well crafted. In the west gallery of the Cathedral is the Cathedral Treasury, which houses the most precious objects and includes valuable pieces of art such as sculptures, manuscripts and paintings. There are two towers within the Cathedral, which can offer you the most incredible views of Vienna.
The North Tower which is 68.3 meters tall (224 feet) can be reached by taking an express elevator to the observation deck at the top. From here, you can see St. Mary’s Pummerin Bell, which is the second biggest free swinging chimed church bell in Europe. Whilst, the Cathedral has 22 bells in total, St. Mary’s Pummerin is the heaviest and weighs around 21,110 kilograms (46,539 pounds) and has a diameter of over 2.74 metres (9 feet). St. Mary’s Pummerin only rings on religious and special occasions including on New Year’s Day. The view from the North Tower is beautiful as you can also see the colourful tiled roof, which has been designed to show the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the City of Vienna.
The South Tower is 136.4 metres tall (447.5 feet) and can be reached by climbing a spiral staircase, which has 343 steps to see the tower keeper’s room and enjoy the incredible view. If you have the strength to climb these steps, you will be 245 feet (74.6 metres) above street level and will have an incredible view of the rooftops of Vienna. The South Tower holds the electrical operated bells that are used during prayers and funerals at the Cathedral. The bells in the South Tower have either religious or imperial names to celebrate Austria’s religion and rich culture.
Access, tours, timings and costs
Access to enter the Cathedral is entirely free. This includes being able to peruse parts of the interior of the Cathedral as well as possibly see a mass being held. If you are fortunate enough to see the mass, whether Christian or not, you will certainly enjoy the atmosphere of the religious vibe; it is a very humbling experience. The chance to experience the spirituality of such an exquisite and ancient Cathedral in Vienna is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Mass occurs daily and tends to be held in German with the exception of once a week, when it is in English. In order to find out of the date in which it is held in English, I would advise you to ask at the Cathedral Shop as it will be best able to advise you.
If you would like to enjoy the Cathedral, albeit not necessarily for the mass, then you may be pleased to hear that the Cathedral is also the location for a number of unforgettable concerts that are known for being magical and artistic. For further information on the concerts available, please check the St. Stephen’s Cathedral’s website.
The Cathedral is open from 6.00 am to 10.00 pm from Monday to Saturday. On Sunday and public holidays it is open from 7.00 am to 10.00 pm. If you would like to access the Cathedral’s Treasury, Catacombs, North or/and South Towers, then you will need to pay a fee. As you can see from the photographs, seeing the North or South Towers should definitely be on your agenda as the sights that you can see are sensational.
Proud of religion and its historic site, there are a number of tour options available at the Cathedral. There is the option of paying a fee for a physical guide or an audio guide to share the magnificent history of the Cathedral with you. The times of such tours, what is included and the amount varies. For example, if you are an adult and would like an audio guide and access to the Treasury, Catacombs, North and South Towers then you will need to pay 17.90 EUR (19 USD). If you would simply like to access a part of the Cathedral, such as the North or South Towers, then you will have to pay a lower amount. In order to find out the fee amounts, please check St. Stephen’s Cathedral website.
Magical and memorable fiaker ride from the Cathedral
Whether you decide to enjoy the Cathedral with or without a guide, you will certainly be stunned by how fascinating and marvellous both the exterior and interior of it is and how it has been maintained. As you leave the Cathedral, you will definitely find that it has made an impression on you.
Parked outside St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a further treat for you — the fiaker stand. Fiaker is the name given to a traditional horse-drawn carriage in Austria and there is a stand directly next to the Cathedral. It is estimated that there are approximately 100 fiakers in Vienna that are adored and enjoyed by locals and tourists. Other fiaker stands in Vienna are based at Heldenplatz, Michaelerplatz, Albertinaplatz, Petersplatz and Burgtheater. In addition, it is also possible to enjoy a fiaker ride of the extensive grounds of Schönbrunn Palace.
A fiaker can carry a maximum of 4 persons and the cost is contingent on the duration of the ride. A fiaker ride for 20 minutes costs approximately 55 EUR (58 USD) and would cover the narrow streets of the Old Town from St. Stephen’s Cathedral. A 40 minute ride costs approximately 80 EUR (84 USD) and would cover the Old Town and also the Ringstrasse, which is known as the Ring Boulevard of Vienna. I would recommend that you enjoy a fiaker ride, even if only for 20 minutes as it definitely is a magical and memorable experience.
Sunrise or sunset from the Towers is recommended
Visiting St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a memorable experience and I would recommend that you enjoy the Cathedral either in the early morning or the early evening so that you can see the breath-taking views at sunrise or sunset from the North Tower and/or South Tower. Enjoy and embrace the interior of the Cathedral and take a moment to light a candle in memory of your loved ones; write a wish on one of the cards and ask the spiritual world to provide you with what you seek. Follow this by taking a wonderful fiaker ride of the Old Town where you can sit back, relax and enjoy the busy area in comfort and decide which parts you would like to return to in order to have a delicious meal afterwards.