St. Stephan’s Cathedral, aka Stephansdom, is the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese of Vienna and an important historical landmark. The cathedral is open for visitation throughout the day, but guided tours are only offered between services. The visitor can choose an all-inclusive tour (warning: the only English-language cathedral tour is Monday-Saturday at 10:3o), or can pick and choose which parts of the cathedral they want to see a la carte.
We visited the cathedral today and chose to do the tour of the catacombs (Euro 5 per adult) and climb to the top of the south tower (Euro 5 per adult). The catacomb tour was in both English and German, and handouts in additional languages were available at the beginning of the tour. The tour lasted about 30 minutes and shed some light on the more macabre parts of Vienna’s history: for example, visitors view a room where the walls are made of skeletal remains that were cleaned and stacked by inmates as part of their prison sentence.
Photography was not allowed during this tour, as the catacombs continue to be used primarily as a cemetery. The tour guide was very enthusiastic about the topic and was willing to answer any questions, so if you are shameless about asking questions (as I am) you can learn a lot beyond the canned spiel. The tour was well worth the price.
Next for us was the 343-stair climb to the top of the cathedral’s south tower. The staircase was very narrow (and two-way), made of stone, and spiraled the entire way to the top. I personally would not have attempted to do this climb with either my young children or parents, and it is definitely not handicap-accessible. (There is an elevator to the top of the bell tower, though, so stroller- or wheelchair-bound people can still get to the top of the cathedral.)
When you get to the top of the tower, you are rewarded with amazing panorama views of the city. There are signs over the windows orienting you to the compass points, and each window has a telescope to enhance viewing (Euro 0,50). There are also German-language signs that give additional history of the tower itself, as well as a somewhat tacky souvenir stand. Again, I thought this experience was well worth the price.
- Visit the cathedral’s website for complete details of the guided tours.
- Read the Wikipedia article on the cathedral for additional background on the building and its history.