10 Beautiful Churches in Vienna
Vienna, Austria frequently ranks very high among many traveler lists. Not only is Vienna home to world-class museums, such as the Kunsthistoriche, palaces like Schönbrunn, and historic sites, the city is also home to some of the most beautiful churches in Europe that easily rival places like Rome and Naples.
The wonderful thing about all of these churches is that they are (almost all) completely free to enter. While Vienna is by no means a cheap city, the majority of churches included this list are wonderful ways to get a nice dose of art and history for free. Plus, even though the museums of Vienna keep very well-maintained collections, the artworks in the churches allow a visitor an excellent way to see some amazing works of art in its original context.
Here are 10 beautiful churches that every visitor must see during their time in Vienna.
1) St. Stephen’s Cathedral
One of the most famous buildings in all of Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), which is located in the Stephansplatz. Not only is the Cathedral located in the city center with very easy access, it is easily recognizable by its multi-colored roof and the eighteenth-century Capistran Chancel on the exterior.
Unlike the other churches in this list, there are some areas of the Cathedral where you will need to pay if you want to see it, such as the catacombs and the towers. However, if you only want to enter the Cathedral and are not interested in walking around, it is possible to enter the building for free. Please note though, that in order to get close up shots of the different altars, you will need to pay the entrance fee.
All-Inclusive Ticket (includes audio guide, catacombs tour, and north and south tower)
Adults with Vienna Pass: €9.90
The Karlskirche (St. Charles Church) is a very well-known and large church in Vienna that is almost impossible to miss be because of its two spiraling columns that are reminiscent of Trajan’s Column in Rome.
The richly-decorated interior features an amazing high altar that shows St. Charles Borromeo (the church’s namsake) ascending on a cloud to Heaven, where the name of God, written in Hebrew, is emanating sunbeams outward in a baroque gloria.
Because of the church’s large size, it is possible to do something relatively unique. A visitor can travel up to the dome via a lift to see the eighteenth-century ceiling paintings by Johann Michael Rottmayr up close. This was my favorite part of the church since it is possible to see how the artist changed the perspective in such a way to make the figures more accurate and realistic when looked at from the ground.
Entry Fee: Free
Of all the churches in Vienna, the Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church) is one of my personal favorites. Even though the area has a long history dating from the medieval period, the current church dates from the early 18th century. Despite the church’s impressive size, it is actually squeezed into a rather confined and tight position. Therefore, it is entirely possible to walk right by it without realizing since the surrounding buildings tend to overshadow it.
However, upon walking in, a visitor will be treated to a veritable feast for the eyes. In my opinion, the interior is probably one of the most richly-decorated in all of Vienna. In fact, I personally think this church has the most beautiful decorations of the all the churches of Vienna in this list. It is extremely easy to spend a significant amount of time in here taking in all of the details. My personal favorite artwork in the church is the sculptural group showing the martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk (see the title page).
Entry Fee: Free
Even though the exterior of St. Michael’s Church, which is located in Michaelerplatz, is relatively stark on the exterior, the Michaelerkirche is a church that should not be skipped over.
Although it is not as intricately-decorated as some of the other churches on this list, in my opinion, the main attraction of this church is the decoration surrounding the high altar. The whole apse is covered from top to bottom. The center features a baroque gloria with the Eye of Providence in the center with sunbeams, clouds, and cherubim emanating outward. Just below the baroque gloria featuring the Eye of Providence, Michael the Archangel is casting the fallen angels out of Heaven.
While the high altar is certainly worth seeing, it is also possible to visit the crypt of the church on a guided tour. However, please note that photos are not permitted in the crypt.
Entry Fee: Free
The Jesuit Church, also known as the University Church, is located next to the old University of Vienna buildings. It is a church that the Jesuits have administered since the 17th century.
Like many other churches in Vienna, the exterior of the building is relatively spartan. However, when one enters, the interior is heavily decorated in an eighteenth-century style with a lot of gilding and marble. In my opinion, aside from the heavily ornate pulpit, the ceiling paintings are quite beautiful with wonderful trompe l’oeil effects.
Entry Fee: Free
6) Servite Church
The Servite Order is a Catholic religious order that traces its history back to the 13th century. While the religious order has members throughout the world along with many churches, the Servite Church in Vienna is a beautiful site to behold when you first come upon it.
In fact, when I visited Vienna, this was actually one of the very first churches that I found. I didn’t know it at the time, but during my research, I found that the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand III, allowed the Servites to found a monastery in Vienna on my birthday in 1638. However, this church does not date from that time. Instead, it actually dates from the mid to late 18th century.
During my visit to the Servite Church in Vienna, I found the door opened, but I was a little bit disappointed since there was a gate inside that barred further access into the church. However, it was still possible to see the rich interior with intricate stuccowork. The only problem was that I could not get the types of shots and angles that I wanted because of the bars of the gate.
Entry Fee: Free
7) The Church of Mariahilf
The Church of Mariahilf is a church that dates from the 18th century even though it was first designed in the 17th century. While not as intricately decorated as some of the other churches on this list, there are many beautiful artworks in each of the side chapels in the church, and the statue of Joseph Haydn, the famous baroque-era composer, just outside of the church presents many beautiful photo ops.
The Dominican Church of Vienna is an old building that dates from the 13th century, but which was rebuilt in the 17th century. In fact, it is actually the third church to be built on the current site. Of all the churches in Vienna, the Dominican Church looks the most similar to baroque churches found in Rome and other parts of Europe since it has a heavier and bulkier facade unlike some of the eighteenth-century churches which are more brightly colored and lighter.
This is a wonderful church to wander around in since the many different artworks and intricately detailed side altars can keep a visitor busy and provide many beautiful opportunities for photos.
Entry Fee: Free
The Augustinian Church’s exterior is remarkably simple. In fact, it can be quite easy to walk past it if you don’t have a map or bother to look for the tower that kind of juts out in a rather odd manner.
Even though the exterior is very simple and does not lend itself to expect one to be surprised, the interior is quite lovely. Unlike other churches in Vienna, the Augustinian Church is a Gothic church that is reminiscent of many other Gothic churches seen throughout Europe since there is a big emphasis on verticality.
However, while the church itself is lovely albeit relatively spartan with a unique early nineteenth-century cenotaph of Archduchess Maria Christina showing her entering into a dark pyramidal tomb with a bunch of sorrowful figures, the most interesting use of this church is the fact that it is home to the Herzgruft, the hearts crypt. It is in this crypt that urns containing the hearts of 54 Hapsburg family members are interred. The earliest heart dates from 1618 while the latest is from 1878. Unfortunately, on the day I went, the Herzgruft was closed, but it should be an interesting site to see if you can get in.
Entry Fee: Free
10) The Imperial Crypt
The Imperial Crypt is not a church per se, but it is part of the Capuchin Church in Vienna. While the Capuchin Church is relatively simple in terms of its exterior and interior, it holds probably the most interesting site in all of Vienna.
The Imperial Crypt (Kaisergruft) holds the mortal remains of the members of the Hapsburg family. The earliest interments date from 1632, and the last time it was used was in 2011 when Otto von Hapsburg and his wife, Regina von Hapsburg were entombed.
While there are many different sarcophagi of different sizes and styles reflecting its long history, a lot of the older tombs are often very intricately decorated in over-the-top rococo decorations while newer ones are far more simple and minimalist. In addition to the many adults buried here, there are also the tombs and urns of many Hapsburg children who died under the age of five years of age.
In my personal opinion, this is probably the most fascinating site in all of Vienna, and it is certainly a must-see attraction while in Austria. Anyone who has an interest in art, history, monuments, the macabre, and unique sites will enjoy this place.
Capuchin Church Entry Fee: Free
Children and Students: €4.50
Vienna Pass Holders: Free