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 St. 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 St. 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 St. 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.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 6am-10pm; Sun: 7am-10pm
Malteserkirche (Maltese Church)

2) Malteserkirche (Maltese Church)

The Maltese Church (Malteserkirche) is a Gothic church of the Knights Hospitaller in Vienna, on Kärntner Straße. The first church on this site is mentioned in 1217, as a "House of the Prueder of the Order of Saint John", a commandry to care and support crusaders. The current building was built in the mid 15th century. In the 17th century it was a favored preaching location for Abraham a Sancta Clara.

This building was rebuilt to fit contemporary taste in the Baroque era and in 1806, and the Kommendenhaus (1839) and parts of the church (1857) had stained glass added during the 19th century. The Order ran into financial trouble after the First World War and in 1933 had to sell the church and the Johanneshof, and the church was given over to other uses within a historical preservation order. It was bought back in 1960 and restored in stages, finishing with a general restoration in 1998. The church's high altarpiece was painted in 1730 by Johann Georg Schmidt.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church)

3) Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church)

The Kapuzinerkirche or the Capuchin Church is also a monastery for the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. The building was started in the early 17th century, but was interrupted by the 30 years war. Finished in 1632, the church is best known for the tombs that lay beneath the Church itself. Here one will find the tombs of several of the Habsburg dynasty. The last Habsburg to lie in state at the church was Otto von Habsburg who died in July of 2011.

The Church is aisle-less, and its simplicity lends to its beauty. Although most tourists visit to tour the Imperial Crypt, this historical church is also important. It has survived throughout the centuries with minimal damage from war and other political events.

The Imperial Crypt is the final resting place for 18 Empresses and 12 Emperors. Around 120 other aristocrats also are housed here. Some of the tombs are very lavishly decorated especially those of Marie Antoinette’s mother and father. Tours are available to see the church and the crypt. Additionally, the extraordinary form of the Roman rite is celebrated daily at the church. Although this is not the most spectacular church in Vienna, it is a must for any history buff.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Augustinerkirche (Augustinian Church)

4) Augustinerkirche (Augustinian Church)

The Augustinerkirche or the Augustinian Church was built to serve the royal court of the Habsburg dynasty. Built in 1339, the church was on the palace grounds but over time the palace expanded and the church is now part of the Hofburg. The church does have a rather beautiful steeple to set it apart from the rest of the facility.

The church includes a cloister for Augustinian friars and today six monks tend to the needs of the local flock. As you can imagine this church has played host to lots of royal functions over the centuries, including the wedding of Archduchess Marie-Louis to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810. He however, did not show up for the wedding so the marriage was by proxy.

The inside of the Gothic church is starkly beautiful with its tall narrow windows and incredible chandeliers. The cenotaph for Maria Christina of Austria near the rear entrance is moving and lovely. The memorial was sculpted in 1805 and depicts the entire family going into a temple. There are also several chapels in the facility, two of which are open on a limited basis. The Loreto chapel has 54 silver urns that hold the hearts of departed Habsburg rulers and can be viewed thru a windowed door. The bodies are entombed the Kapuzinerkirche.

The best time to see these chapels are after Sunday mass. In the summer the mass features organ music which is breathtakingly beautiful in this setting. Be sure to arrive by at least 10:15 to find a seat for the 11 am mass as this is extremely popular.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Lutherische Stadtkirche Wien (Lutheran City Church)

5) Lutherische Stadtkirche Wien (Lutheran City Church)

Lutherische Stadtkirche Wien or the Lutheran City Church has been through many changes since it was first built in 1582. At that time it was a Catholic monastery built at the behest of Elisabeth of Austria. She lived here after being widowed and it is speculated that the church was built to atone for the St. 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.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
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 St. 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.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 7am–10pm; Sun & Holidays: 8am–10pm; free admission
Crypt Tours (DE/EN):
Thu-Sat: 11am / 1pm (Apr-Oct), except on church and public holidays
Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)

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

St. Peter’s Church sits atop one of the oldest known religious sites in Vienna. There has been a church on this spot since the early 4th century AD. A much larger version of today's church was reportedly built in 792, founded by none other than Charlemagne himself. Attesting to this is a plaque on the building's facade that tells of the legend of Charlemagne.

In more modern times, St. Peter’s Church takes up much less space, being crunched into what it occupies on St. Peter's Square. The overall architectural design is Baroque. In fact, this is one of the most decorated churches you will find anywhere, for any building designed in that style.

The outer color is white and a very light yellow. There are two towers that made up the classic outside look of the building. The turrets turn inward ever so slightly. It is said that the towers get their shape after the tent poles of the Turks who used to occupy this region in the late 1600s.

You will also want to visit the inside, as it contains some of the best paintings dating to the 1700s. Many of the wood carvings and alter pieces date back to that period. Currently, the structure is owned and operated by the Opus Dei (“Work of God”) part of the Catholic Church.

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.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 7am-8pm; Sat-Sun: 9am-9pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Maria am Gestade (Mary at the Shore)

8) Maria am Gestade (Mary at the Shore)

Maria am Gestade (English: Mary at the Shore) is a Gothic church in Vienna. One of the oldest churches in the city - along with St. Peter's Church and St. Rupert's Church, it also is one of the few surviving examples of Gothic architecture. Located in the Innere Stadt at Salvatorgasse 12, near the Donaukanal, the church was traditionally used by sailors on the Danube river. The name reflects the former location on the Fluvial terrace of an arm of the Danube river, prior to its regulation.

The church's most striking characteristic is the 56 m (180 ft) high open work tower, built in 1419-1428 in Gothic scroll-work. It is recognizable from a great distance and is depicted on the oldest images of the city. The choir, whose construction began in 1330 contains two high Gothic panels. The windows contain surviving fragments of medieval stained glass. The nave due to the limited space, is narrower than the choir. Because of the course of the Danube arm the nave is slightly bent. Construction was started in 1400, and it is said that Duke Albrecht III himself was the builder.

The church has three porticoes that are decorated with reliefs and figures. The choir door shows a Virgin of Mercy and a Coronation of the Virgin, both dating from around 1350, as deduced from during the Middle Portal which has realistic depictions of angels playing musical instruments. On the main portal on the west facade, canopies crown reliefs of the two Saint Johns (Baptist and Evangelist) from about 1410, in a style also seen at Prague's St. Vitus Cathedral and a range of sculptures and mosaic decoration, which date from the 20th century.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Ruprechtskirche (Church of St. Rupert)

9) Ruprechtskirche (Church of St. Rupert)

Ruprechtskirche or the Church of St. Rupert is thought to be the oldest church in Vienna. Although there has recently been some dispute about that fact, it is home to the oldest stained glass window and the oldest bells in Vienna. The church is named for St. Rupert of Salzburg, the patron saint of Viennese salt merchants.

Tradition has the church being built in the early 8th century although even that date is in dispute. The first written record about the church occurs around 1200 and the document calls the church the oldest in Vienna. The church has had an interesting history that includes being a center for the salt trade and also housing prisoners.

The church has seen several renovations, especially after a devastating fire in 1276. The oldest stained-glass window that survives was probably inserted around this time period. It is on the Madonna and Christ child along with the Crucified Christ. As recently as the late 1990s modifications and renovations have taken place.

The church is open to the public and visitors are encouraged to come in and look at the beautiful, old sanctuary. Religious services are not routinely held here, although there are several events held in the venue. Feel free to come in to reflect, wander around, and enjoy this old treasure.

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.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am-6pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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 or Jesuitenkirche is located on Dr. Ignaz Seipel-Platz in Vienna. This church was completed in 1627. It is a marvelous example of Baroque architecture with a few odd twists. The twin towers look a bit out of place at first, but the whole building balances out nicely. The niches on the building with the statues are simply lovely. The Church was dedicated to Saint Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier when first erected. However, in 1703 the church was rededicated to the Assumption of Mary.

The inside of the Jesuitenkirche is beautiful and well worth a visit. Be sure to see the wonderful trompe l’oeil dome that is painted on the barrel ceiling to look like a dome. It commissioned by Emperor Leopold I and is simply spectacular. The artist is Andrea Pozzo and he was also responsible for designing the frescoes in the building.

Vienna in the mid 1400s was very important in European academia. After the constant barrage of war, few students remained in the area by the late 1500s. The university and the Jesuits merged forces in 1623 and this church was the result. The Jesuits as a whole had its ups and downs in Austria, but the building is once again.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Dominikanerkirche (Dominican Church)

12) Dominikanerkirche (Dominican Church)

The Dominican Church (German: Dominikanerkirche), also known as the Church of St. Maria Rotunda, is an early Baroque parish church and minor basilica in the historic center of Vienna, Austria. It is the third church built on the same site in the course of time.

The first church on this site was built in 1237 by the newly arrived Dominicans on a parcel of land allotted in 1225-1226 by the duke Leopold VI. The church was enlarged between 1240–1270 and a new choir was added in 1273. A series of fires caused the construction of a new Gothic church between 1283 and 1302. The nave was extended between 1458 and 1474. This church consisted of a nave with five cross vaults, and two aisles.

This church was heavily damaged during the first siege of Vienna by the Turkish army in 1529. The choir was demolished and the nave was partly taken down. The building became more and more dilapidated during the next period.

The new-found self-awareness of the Counter-Reformation didn’t allow any more such a sorry state for a church. In 1631 the Dominicans started to build a new oblong church with a dome, following the plan of Jacopo Tencala, architect of Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein. The master builders were Jacopo Spacio, Cipriano Biasino and Antonio Canevale. They introduced to Vienna the Baroque style of Italy. The first stone was laid by emperor Ferdinand II on 29 May 1631. The structural work was finished in 1634. The church was consecrated on 1 October 1634. The finishing touch was finally given in 1674. The church was elevated to the status of basilica minor in 1927 under the name “Rosary Basilica ad S. Mariam Rotundam”.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)

13) Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)

Franziskanerkirche is also known as the Church of St. Jerome as well as the Franciscan Church in Vienna. The outside of this beautiful church is Renaissance while the inside is pure Baroque. It is a wonderful mix and an interesting place to visit. The location is not in a high tourist area, and there are wonderful little shops and cafes around to make the visit even more pleasant.

The present church was built in the early 1600s on top of the site of another church that had been destroyed. Both were dedicated to Saint Hieronymus and in fact, his likeness in the form of a statue guards the building entrance. Interestingly, the gate hints at the Baroque flavor that awaits those who venture inside the building.

Inside the church, amidst the gold and marble is the oldest known organ in Vienna, the Wöckherlorgel circa 1640. The high alter is beautiful and was designed by an Italian artist around the same time. While the majority of the church was done prior to the end of the 18th century, the tomb of Fr. Peter Pavlicek is a recent addition. He was an Austrian Franciscan priest who organized a Rosary crusade after WWII. He implored Austrians to pray the Rosary daily until Russian occupation of the country ended. Father Pavlicek died in 1982 and his remains are lying in repose here.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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