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There are several places in Vienna which give you a chance to look at the city from the bird’s perspective. One of them (and definitely the oldest one) is the highest point of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the highest point of medieval Vienna, the South Tower. You can climb the stairs up to the height of over 60 metres, almost half of the tower’s total height.
Be warned, this excursion is not for everybody. Climbing on the South Tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the most physically challenging attractions Vienna can offer, especially on a hot summer day, even though inside the tower the air is considerably colder.
The entrance to the tower is located on the right side (when looking at the cathedral from the front of its main entrance), almost at the back of Stephansdom (hint: just look where the highest tower is, you cannot miss it). The tower is open daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm. Entrance fee (EUR 3.50 for adults) is to be paid at the counter at the door.
Take a few stairs straight up from the counter, enter another door, and now the adventure begins. The vast majority of the 343-stair ascent happens inside a relatively dark spiral. The stairs keep going round and round with no break, only occasionally there is a small window where you can check how the height above the ground increases. The stairs are quite narrow and when two people meet, it is much better when one of them stops and lets the other one pass (usually the people who are ascending gladly stop, as they welcome an excuse for having a rest).
After about three fourths of the ascent you come outside for a while and walk a few metres on a narrow cornice (don’t be afraid, it’s wide enough and the banister is solid). At this point the first reward for your effort comes, as the north-eastern part of Vienna lies below you. When you enter inside the tower again, you come into a relatively roomy space with high ceiling. An information sign says that in the past this was the location of Pummerin, the biggest bell in Stephansdom cast three hundred years ago of captured Turkish cannons. However it is not there now, as you’ll find out at the bottom of this article.
Several dozens of other stairs follow and you finally enter the Türmerstube (Watchman’s Apartment). There is the necessary shop with souvenirs (like postcards or miniature versions of Stephansdom, the same that you can buy down there in the main cathedral shop – and also for the same price). But most importantly there are four windows, one on each side. The renovation works may restrict the view on one side (namely the south in summer 2009), but the other sides are unaffected. Every window is equipped with binoculars, but you will likely see well without them.
You will recognize other Viennese attractions served to you, like the Rathaus, Hofburg, the twin museums, or the Riesenrad in Prater and Donauturm on the other side. But don’t forget to look around inside the room too. There is one of the glazed roof tiles shown on the wall. You can study the roof itself from the windows and even wave at the people on the North Tower. From another window you will also see the busy Stephansplatz with little people all around. You can stay upside as long as you like (within the opening hours) and most people do take time because there is much to see. Good news for some is that descending is much faster than the way up, which was, as you can see in the faces of the people you now meet, a bit challenging.
If you are afraid of all those stairs, you can choose the alternative and make a trip to the (almost) top of the North Tower. It is slightly lower, but has a big advantage: an elevator. And as a bonus, you can see Pummerin in its present location.
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