Old Town Churches Walking Tour, Vienna

Old Town Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Vienna

"Vienna is the city of miracles and music" – Whoever said that must have emphasized Vienna's close association with the Christian faith. The intertwining of Christian heritage and artistry in the Austrian capital finds expression primarily in its magnificent churches.

Sitting at "the crossroads of Christian traditions", Vienna is home to various Christian denominations: Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and others. The majority of local Christians are Catholics, which explains the strong influence of Roman Catholicism in the local architecture.

Indeed, the city is dotted with numerous Catholic churches and monasteries, many of which are true architectural marvels. The majestic Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral), a Gothic masterpiece with its distinctive diamond-patterned roof tiles, is by far the main "jewel of Vienna's skyline". Located nearby is another masterpiece – of Baroque style – the charming Peterskirche (St Peter's Church), whose ornate interiors are said to be able to "transport you to another era".

Protestant denominations, including Lutheranism, presented in the form of the Lutherische Stadtkirche Wien (Lutheran City Church), also have a significant presence in Vienna.

These and other sanctuaries of art and spirituality, "where beauty meets devotion," never fail to impress visitors with their historic appeal and magnificent looks. A visit to Vienna is incomplete without marveling at the grandeur of local churches. To capture the spirit of the city's Christian tradition and, perhaps, experience the awe and reverence associated with its temples, you may wish to take this self-guided voyage.
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Old Town Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Old Town Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Austria » Vienna (See other walking tours in Vienna)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral)
  • Malteserkirche (Maltese Church)
  • Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church)
  • Augustinerkirche (Augustinian Church)
  • Lutherische Stadtkirche Wien (Lutheran City Church)
  • Michaelerkirche (St. Michael's Church)
  • Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)
  • Maria am Gestade (Mary at the Shore)
  • Ruprechtskirche (Church of St. Rupert)
  • Heiligenkreuzerhof
  • Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church)
  • Dominikanerkirche (Dominican Church)
  • Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)
Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral)

1) Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral) (must see)

With its intricately patterned tiled roof, the imposing Gothic cathedral of Saint Stephen's (Stephansdom) is a prime landmark inside Vienna's old city center, having stood watch over the place for nearly 700 years. Its distinctive south tower rises to an impressive 445 feet and previously has served as the main observation and command post for the city's walled defense, for which purpose it even contained an apartment for watchmen who, until 1955, manned the tower at night and rang the bells if a fire was spotted. There was to be a twin north tower, but for several reasons, it ended up being just half the size and of a different design.

The views from the Watch Room, at the top, are surely worth climbing the 343 steps, otherwise you can take a lift up to a viewing platform on the shorter tower, home to the massive Pummerin ("Boomer") Bell – the largest in Austria, originally cast from melted-down cannons abandoned by the Turks while fleeing Vienna in 1683.

High points of the interior are the gorgeous vaulting of the Albertine Chapel, the stone pulpit (a masterwork of late Gothic sculpture), canopies or baldachins over many of the side altars, and a most spectacular Renaissance work – Friedrich III's tomb. You also won't want to miss the 14th century catacombs and the treasury where some of the cathedral's most valuable objects are displayed. Some of them can only be seen on a guided tour, such as a red marble sepulcher sculpted in 1467-1513, the 16th-century pulpit, a Gothic winged altar from the 1440s, and the tomb of Prince Eugene of Savoy dated 1754.

Visit Saint Stephen's Cathedral and you'll be standing in the same church in which Joseph Haydn once sang as a choir boy until his voice broke, and where Johann Strauss married both of his wives, Henrietta Treffz and Angelika Dittrich. A memorial tablet gives a detailed account of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's relationship with the cathedral, including that of him being appointed an adjunct music director here shortly before his death. This was his parish church when he lived at the Figaro House and he was married here; two of his children were also baptized at Saint Stephen's, and his funeral was held in the Chapel of the Cross inside.

Why You Should Visit:
While incredible architecture is rather commonplace in Vienna, this majestic Roman-Gothic masterpiece is absolutely unmistakable and not to be missed.

Be sure to make a loop around the structure as there are many interesting details still visible on the outside walls.
Malteserkirche (Maltese Church)

2) Malteserkirche (Maltese Church)

The Maltese Church, also known as the Malteserkirche, is a Gothic church located on Kärntner Straße in Vienna. It has historical ties to the Knights Hospitaller. The earliest reference to a church at this location dates back to 1217 when it was referred to as a "House of the Prueder of the Order of Saint John." This establishment served as a commandry to provide care and support for crusaders.

The existing church building was constructed during the mid-15th century. In the 17th century, it gained popularity as a favored preaching location for Abraham a Sancta Clara.

During the Baroque era, the church underwent renovations to align with contemporary architectural preferences. Further alterations took place in 1806. In the 19th century, stained glass windows were added to the Kommendenhaus in 1839 and various parts of the church in 1857.

Following financial difficulties faced by the Order after the First World War, the church had to be sold in 1933, along with the Johanneshof. Subsequently, the church was repurposed while maintaining its historical significance through preservation orders. In 1960, it was reacquired and underwent a phased restoration process, culminating in a comprehensive restoration in 1998.

One notable feature of the church is its high altarpiece, which was painted by Johann Georg Schmidt in 1730.
Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church)

3) Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church)

The Kapuzinerkirche, commonly known as the Capuchin Church, serves as both a religious site and a monastery for the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. Its construction commenced in the early 17th century, yet it faced a halt due to the disruptions caused by the 30 Years War. Eventually completed in 1632, this church is renowned for housing a series of tombs beneath its structure, most notably those belonging to members of the Habsburg dynasty. Notably, Otto von Habsburg, the last Habsburg to be laid to rest here, passed away in July 2011.

This church possesses a unique architectural feature, lacking aisles, which adds to its overall charm through its simplicity. Although the majority of tourists visit primarily to explore the Imperial Crypt, it's essential to recognize the historical significance of the church itself. It has endured the test of time, with minimal damage incurred from wars and other political upheavals.

The Imperial Crypt serves as the final resting place for 18 Empresses and 12 Emperors, with approximately 120 other aristocrats also finding their eternal abode here. Some of the tombs are particularly opulent, especially those dedicated to the parents of Marie Antoinette. Guided tours are available to allow visitors to explore both the church and the crypt. Moreover, the church hosts the extraordinary form of the Roman rite daily. While it may not be the most extravagant church in Vienna, it is an absolute must-visit for anyone with an interest in history.
Augustinerkirche (Augustinian Church)

4) Augustinerkirche (Augustinian Church)

The Augustinerkirche, also known as the Augustinian Church, was originally constructed to serve the royal court of the Habsburg dynasty. It was built in 1339, initially situated within the palace grounds. Over time, as the palace expanded, the church became integrated into the Hofburg complex. Notably, the church boasts an exquisite steeple that distinguishes it from the rest of the Hofburg.

This church also includes a cloister intended for Augustinian friars. Presently, it is tended to by six monks who cater to the spiritual needs of the local congregation. Throughout its history, this church has been the venue for numerous royal events, including the marriage of Archduchess Marie-Louise to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810. Interestingly, Napoleon himself did not attend the wedding, and it was conducted by proxy.

Upon entering the Gothic church, one is immediately struck by its austere yet captivating beauty. It features tall, slender windows and magnificent chandeliers. Of particular note is the cenotaph dedicated to Maria Christina of Austria, located near the rear entrance. This poignant memorial, sculpted in 1805, portrays the entire family entering a temple.

The church also houses several chapels, with two of them open to visitors on a limited basis. The Loreto chapel is notable for its collection of 54 silver urns containing the hearts of departed Habsburg rulers, which can be glimpsed through a windowed door. The physical remains of these rulers are entombed in the Kapuzinerkirche.

For those interested in visiting these chapels, the optimal time is after the Sunday mass. During the summer, the mass includes awe-inspiring organ music that resonates beautifully within this setting. It's advisable to arrive no later than 10:15 to secure a seat for the 11 am mass, as it tends to be very popular.
Lutherische Stadtkirche Wien (Lutheran City Church)

5) Lutherische Stadtkirche Wien (Lutheran City Church)

The Lutheran City Church, also known as Lutherische Stadtkirche Wien, has undergone significant transformations since its initial construction in 1582. Back then, it served as a Catholic monastery commissioned by Elisabeth of Austria. Following her widowhood, she resided in this monastery, and there is speculation that the church was constructed as an act of penance, possibly in response to the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre.

During the religious turbulence of the 18th century, the church was abandoned. In 1783 the monastery was purchased and divided among the three new owners, the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Church and a private investor who used his portion to build a palace. At this time in Vienna’s history, Protestant churches were not allowed to have steeples or any exterior adornments that would denote that a church was there. The building was significantly altered during this time.

In 1876 the winds of religious fortunes again changed and Protestant churches could now look like a church. Significant modifications were again made to the building. WWII bombing caused significant damage to the Church and the building was again rebuilt with a new face. The latest renovations to the building occurred in the late 1980s with a return to the 1907 look.

Several features have survived all the remodeling and damage. Christ on the Cross is a copy of the van Dyke painting that is the altar piece. There are also marble plates that are relics from when the hearts of several leaders were buried here. The church has no aisles which makes it rather unique too. Located at Dorotheergasse 18, there are also other churches and sights to see within just a short walk.
Michaelerkirche (St. Michael's Church)

6) Michaelerkirche (St. Michael's Church)

The oldest building on Michaelerplatz, and the source of its name, Michaelerkirche was first built in the 13th century, though the Neoclassical facade, added in 1792, somewhat obscures this fact. The high polygonal Gothic bell tower from the 16th century may be seen from far away, having become one of the Inner City's symbols. Above the entrance, on top of the pediment, resting on Doric columns, stands a group with winged angels and Saint Michael slaying Lucifer (1725). These sculptural figures were executed by the Italian sculptor Lorenzo Mattielli, who also sculpted the Hercules figures at the Hofburg entrance, just opposite the church.

Inside, the church retains its plain Gothic origins, but sculptor sculptor Karl Georg Merville's "Fall of Angels" steals the show: a monumental stucco alabaster Rococo sculpture, tumbling from the ceiling above the high altar. The gilded pipe organ (1714) – Vienna's largest Baroque organ – is very fine; it was once played by the 17-year-old Joseph Haydn, who lived next door in a small attic room. The very first playing of Mozart's unfinished "Requiem" first took place here on December 10, 1791, in a requiem service for the composer. Just to the right of the church's entrance, you will find two dark reliefs commemorating said performance.

Off the north choir is the entrance to a huge crypt, discovered by U.S. soldiers in 1945, when they forced open its doors, which had been sealed for 150 years. Found lying undisturbed for centuries were hundreds of mummified former wealthy parishioners, clothed in their burial finery that was perfectly preserved by the rarefied air within.
Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)

7) Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church) (must see)

Saint Peter's Church stands on one of Vienna's oldest known religious sites, with a history dating back to the early 4th century AD. It's a spot that has hosted a church for centuries. The church we see today is a smaller version of a grander one built in 792, and the interesting tidbit is that it was founded by none other than Charlemagne himself. There's a plaque on the facade of the building that tells the tale of Charlemagne's involvement, adding a touch of historical significance.

In its current form, Saint Peter's Church occupies a relatively modest space, nestled in Saint Peter's Square. Its architectural style is predominantly Baroque, and it's worth noting that it ranks among the most intricately adorned churches designed in this fashion.

The exterior boasts a predominantly white and very light yellow color scheme. Two towers grace the building, defining its classic exterior appearance. These towers exhibit a slight inward curve, a design said to be inspired by the tent poles used by the Turks who once inhabited this region in the late 1600s.

Venturing inside is a must, as the church houses a splendid collection of paintings dating back to the 1700s. Many of the wooden carvings and altar pieces also hail from this period. Presently, Saint Peter's Church is under the ownership and management of Opus Dei, a branch of the Catholic Church known as the "Work of God."

Why You Should Visit:
Definitely a good place to marvel at sumptuous Baroque architecture. Full of gold, marble, and finery!

Each day from 3 till 3:30pm you can listen to live organ music here for free (donation only). An impressive way to admire this church!
Choir performances are also frequent, with for-fee events in the underground vaults.
Maria am Gestade (Mary at the Shore)

8) Maria am Gestade (Mary at the Shore)

Maria am Gestade (Mary at the Shore) stands as a venerable Gothic church within Vienna. It ranks among the city's oldest religious edifices, sharing this distinction with Saint Peter's Church and Saint Rupert's Church. Additionally, it represents a rare surviving specimen of Gothic architectural style. Situated in Vienna's Innere Stadt, specifically at Salvatorgasse 12, in proximity to the Donaukanal, this church traditionally served the needs of Danube river sailors. Its name harkens back to its original location on the Fluvial terrace of a Danube river branch prior to regulation efforts.

The church's most prominent feature is its towering open-work structure, rising to a height of 56 meters (about 180 feet). This Gothic marvel was constructed between 1419 and 1428, featuring intricate scroll-work. Its distinct appearance can be discerned from afar and is depicted in the earliest depictions of the city. The choir, whose construction commenced in 1330, contains two splendid examples of high Gothic panels. The church's medieval stained glass windows remain, with the nave's narrower design influenced by the Danube's course. Construction began in 1400, attributed to Duke Albrecht III.

Maria am Gestade boasts three porticoes adorned with reliefs and sculptures. The choir door exhibits depictions of the Virgin of Mercy and the Coronation of the Virgin, both dating back to around 1350. These can be observed on the Middle Portal, which features realistic representations of angels playing musical instruments. The main portal on the west facade features canopies with reliefs of Saint Johns (Baptist and Evangelist) from around 1410, reminiscent of Prague's Saint Vitus Cathedral. Additionally, the church has 20th-century sculptures and mosaic decorations.
Ruprechtskirche (Church of St. Rupert)

9) Ruprechtskirche (Church of St. Rupert)

Ruprechtskirche, also known as the Church of Saint Rupert, is believed to hold the distinction of being the oldest church in Vienna. While some recent debates have arisen challenging this claim, it is noteworthy for housing Vienna's most ancient stained glass window and the oldest set of bells. The church is dedicated to Saint Rupert of Salzburg, who is the patron saint of salt merchants in Vienna.

Traditionally, the church's origins date back to the early 8th century, though even this timeline has faced disputes. The earliest written mention of the church can be traced to around 1200, and in this document, it is described as Vienna's oldest church. Over the centuries, Ruprechtskirche has had a fascinating history, serving as a hub for the salt trade and even functioning as a place of confinement for prisoners.

The church has undergone several renovations, particularly following a devastating fire in 1276, during which the oldest surviving stained glass window was likely added. This window depicts the Madonna and Child alongside the Crucified Christ. As recently as the late 1990s, modifications and restorations have been carried out.

Ruprechtskirche is open to the public, welcoming visitors to explore its beautiful and historic sanctuary. While regular religious services are not held here, the venue hosts various events. Visitors are encouraged to enter, take a moment for reflection, wander through its corridors, and appreciate this valuable piece of history.

Why You Should Visit:
The stained-glass windows are stunning and the simplicity is a change from the baroque seen elsewhere.

Don't miss the 'Alte Musik in Ruprecht' concerts that the church offers, featuring music from the Medieval to early Romantic periods played on original instruments by world-class artists.

10) Heiligenkreuzerhof

The Heiligenkreuaerhof and Bernardikapelle is a collection of shops, apartment’s courtyards and one beautiful old church. This area may be a bit difficult to find, but it is worth the effort. This area was once home to merchants and the shops were outside of the protective city walls. Some of the basements date back to the 12th century although most of the visible parts of the buildings there now are considerably newer. The buildings were generally built in the mid 17th to mid 18th centuries.

Although the Bernadikapelle may be a bit understated from the outside, this little chapel is beautiful on the inside and is a very popular spot to have a wedding. The chapel is not open for public display, but tours are regularly given. Be sure to sign up for the tour as the chapel is an excellent example of Baroque furnishings at its best.

The area is sometimes called “Vienna’s oldest apartment block” and the name may make one disinclined to make the effort on a busy vacation to visit this spot. However, the small shops here and the lovely chapel will not disappoint. It may well be one of the highlights of any trip.
Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church)

11) Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church)

The Jesuit Church, known as Jesuitenkirche, stands proudly on Dr. Ignaz Seipel-Platz in Vienna. This architectural gem was completed back in 1627 and stands as a remarkable example of Baroque design, albeit with a few unique features. Initially, the twin towers might strike you as somewhat unusual, but the overall structure comes together harmoniously. The ornate niches adorned with statues on the building are simply exquisite. Originally, the church was dedicated to Saint Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier upon its construction. However, in 1703, it underwent a rededication ceremony in honor of the Assumption of Mary.

Stepping inside the Jesuitenkirche is a treat for the eyes and certainly worth a visit. Make sure not to miss the breathtaking trompe l’oeil dome painted on the barrel ceiling, skillfully designed to mimic a true dome. Emperor Leopold I commissioned this masterpiece, which was executed by the talented artist Andrea Pozzo, responsible for the frescoes throughout the building.

In the mid-1400s, Vienna played a significant role in European academia, but by the late 1500s, the area had seen a decline in student population due to ongoing conflicts. The university joined forces with the Jesuits in 1623, leading to the creation of this magnificent church. The history of the Jesuits in Austria has had its ups and downs, but their architectural legacy endures once more in this splendid structure.
Dominikanerkirche (Dominican Church)

12) Dominikanerkirche (Dominican Church)

The Dominican Church, also known as the Church of Saint Maria Rotunda in German (Dominikanerkirche), stands as an early Baroque parish church and minor basilica located in Vienna, Austria's historic center. It's worth noting that this is the third church constructed on this very site over time.

The initial church was established in 1237 by the newly arrived Dominicans, following the land allocation in 1225-1226 by Duke Leopold VI. Between 1240 and 1270, the church underwent enlargement, including the addition of a new choir in 1273. Subsequently, a series of fires led to the construction of a new Gothic church between 1283 and 1302. Further expansion occurred between 1458 and 1474, resulting in a church with a nave consisting of five cross vaults and two aisles.

Unfortunately, the church endured significant damage during the first siege of Vienna by the Turkish army in 1529, resulting in the demolition of the choir and partial dismantling of the nave. Over the following years, the building gradually fell into disrepair.

Due to the Counter-Reformation's influence, a new church was built in Vienna in 1631, following a design by Jacopo Tencala. Master builders Spacio, Biasino, and Canevale introduced Italian Baroque style. Emperor Ferdinand II laid the first stone on May 29, 1631, and the church was consecrated on October 1, 1634, with final touches added in 1674. It became a minor basilica in 1927, known as "Rosary Basilica ad S. Mariam Rotundam."
Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)

13) Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)

The Franziskanerkirche, also referred to as the Church of Saint Jerome or the Franciscan Church in Vienna, boasts an intriguing blend of architectural styles. The exterior of this splendid church showcases Renaissance design, while the interior is a splendid example of pure Baroque aesthetics. This unique combination makes it a captivating destination for visitors. Unlike many tourist-heavy areas, the church is located in a quieter locale, surrounded by charming small shops and cozy cafes that enhance the overall experience.

The current church was constructed in the early 1600s, replacing a previous church that had been demolished. Both places of worship were dedicated to Saint Hieronymus, and an interesting statue of him adorns the entrance, giving visitors a glimpse of the Baroque opulence that awaits inside.

Once inside, amid the opulent golden and marble decor, you'll find Vienna's oldest known organ, the Wöckherlorgel, dating back to around 1640. The church's magnificent high altar, crafted by an Italian artist during the same period, adds to its grandeur. Although the majority of the church's construction predates the late 18th century, the tomb of Father Peter Pavlicek is a more recent addition. Father Pavlicek, an Austrian Franciscan priest, organized a Rosary crusade following World War II, urging Austrians to daily recite the Rosary until the Russian occupation of the country ended. He passed away in 1982, and his final resting place can be found within the church.

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