Going underground in Vienna

Exploring Vienna’s underground will introduce you to this dynamic city’s historical side and also its modern face of restaurants and clubs. Here are our must-see underground sites in Vienna.

The cathedral
Take the guided tour below ground, and you'll see the usual assortment of sarcophagi holding the bones of dead rulers, archbishops, and other personages.

Somewhat stranger are the bronze containers where kidneys, livers, etc. of Habsburg emperors were interred in what might be called an undertaker's waste dump. Finally, you'll explore the catacombs where the bones of more than 15,000 Viennese have been stacked like kindling since the 1700s. The remains of over 11,000 persons are in the catacombs (which may be toured).

Underneath the cathedral, six or seven hundred years old dead priests, cardinals, and other various important people are buried. But that's not the cool part. Bodies of the people who died in the black plague are here also. You can see all their bones piled up, and you literally walk on and around them during the tour.

There is a well that you look down, and you can see all of the bones and skulls piled up. We weren’t allowed to take photos. It was chilling.

The sewers
Cue the zither music: Vienna’s sewer system may go back several millennia, but nowadays it’s perhaps most famous for its association with the Carol Reed film adaptation of the Graham Greene novel "The Third Man".

Harry Lime, Orson Welles at his most roguishm, flees from the police through the sewers and is one of the film’s greatest sequences. It's a mingling of pathos and drama amidst the subterranean claustrophobia of the city’s cholera canals, built in the 1830s.

From the Ferris wheel to the city cemetery, you could base an entire visit to Vienna around the movie’s locations (and many do), but it’s below ground that is a must – and as a bonus, venturing below ground gives a unique perspective on the Wien River. For much of Vienna, this flows below street level, disappearing under a massive arched vault below the Naschmarkt.

The Imperial Crypt
The final resting place of the Hapsburg royalty. Or at least parts of them. When they died, they separated their hearts, bodies and innards into three different churches. Their bodies were placed in Church of St Mary of the Angels (Kapuzinergruft), their innards are at St Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) and their hearts are in the Augustinian Friars’ Church (Augustinerkirche – Herzgruft).

Cellar dwellings
In the Middle Ages, many of Vienna’s houses consisted of as many storeys below ground as they had above ground. These underground levels were used to store wine, vegetables and were sometimes used as stables. In war times Viennese people often had to use their cellars as shelters.

Tunnels often connected the extensive underground levels. Many of the cellars were destroyed when the metro system and several underground car parks were constructed. Some cellars still remain as ‘keller’ (cellar) restaurants, such as Rathauskeller and Esterhazykeller.

Club Fledermaus
Named after the past inhabitants of Vienna’s cellars, the bats (Fledermaus), Club Fledermaus is now one of the biggest party spots in town. A long staircase leads down to the club where events are held Wednesday to Sunday.

Have you explored Vienna’s underground and want to share your must-see sites and experiences? Drop us a comment below or head to Twitter or Facebook.

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