What’s so special about St. Stephen’s Cathedral?St. Stephen’s Cathedral is at the geographical heart of Vienna, with the districts of the city radiating out from its location in the first district. Its spires are symbols of the city as iconic as the Prater’s Riesenrad, and far older! The original church was built between 1137 and 1147 outside Vienna’s original city wall, but was constantly being expanded and restored - even today parts of the building are always under construction or restoration. The building was originally intended to be just a parish church, but despite the impressive architecture and lobbying from the city’s great and good, it was only made a bishop’s seat in 1469, then raised further to be the seat of an archbishop in 1722. The cathedral nearly survived World War II intact, after a German captain ignored orders to leave it in ashes before retreating, but was damaged in 1945 by fires set nearby by looters. Many of the cathedral’s artworks survived, but the famously beautiful roof collapsed and the ancient choir stalls were also lost. The rebuilding of the cathedral began almost immediately after the war ended and it was fully reopened to the public in 1952. Since the founding of the Second Republic after the war, the cathedral has also been used for the funerals of Austrian politicians and notable figures, including Kurt Waldheim and Niki Lauda.
What can you see inside the cathedral?Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral there are 18 altars of varying sizes and importance, with the High Altar and the Wiener Neustädter Altar in the north nave being the most significant. Visitors will also be able to see the Gothic pulpit, the burial place of Prince Eugene of Savoy, and relics of St. Valentine. There’s also an impressive organ, currently being restored. Visitors can also buy tickets to other areas of the church, including the catacombs and crypts, where visitors will see the ducal sarcophagi of the Habsburg family as well as bones from ordinary Viennese people which were moved to the catacombs in the 18th century. It’s also possible to visit both the north and south towers for amazing views, although only the North Tower has an elevator.
Can we attend services at the cathedral?Yes! The cathedral is also an ordinary parish church, with several masses everyday. Masses are said from 6.30 am on weekdays and 7.30 am on Sundays and holidays, with a Latin mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation at 11 am, and an English-language mass every Saturday evening at 7 pm. Confession is also available from 7 am to 9.45 pm, though times may vary during summer, on Sundays, and on holidays.
How long should I plan to spend inside St. Stephen’s?If you’re only intending to see the free areas of the cathedral then you can see everything inside in less than an hour. A visit to the South Tower takes about 20 to 25 minutes and the catacomb tour takes about 30 minutes, so it’s estimated that it will take up to 3 hours to see all of the open areas of the cathedral.
Do the towers have elevators or do we have to climb the stairs?There is an elevator to the top of the North Tower, also known as the Eagle Tower. This tower was never completed and was finished with a rounded roof rather than carry through the original plans. The north tower is 223 feet (68 meters) tall. There isn’t an elevator in the South Tower, so visitors will have to climb 343 steps to the top, 446 feet (136 meters) above the ground. There you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view. It’s not accessible to visitors with mobility problems and might also be too difficult for parents with small children to climb.