Wiener Zentralfriedhof – Vienna Central Cemetery

Five miles southeast of Vienna, Austria, lies the unique Wiener Zentralfriedhof (also called Vienna Central Cemetery). At over 600 acres and 3 million interments, Zentralfriedhof is not only Austria’s largest cemetery, but one of the largest cemeteries in the world. 

“Zentralfriedhof just beyond the front gates during a rainstorm, September, 1999”
 credit: Bill Ecker, Harmonie Autographs and Music, Inc.

It was planned quite purposefully in the late 1800s; the distance from the city allowed for Vienna’s expanding population, and the size would provide burial space for decades to come. The cemetery opened on All Saints’ Day (November 1) in 1874.

Zentralfriedhof’s distance from the city center left city authorities scrambling for a way to make it more appealing to an unconvinced public. This led to the introduction of Ehrengräber—the famous honorary graves that, combined with park-like gardens and wilderness areas, made what was once an out-of-the-way annoyance into a peaceful and inspiring attraction.

Notable among these are the classical composers, many of whom are found in the same section of the cemetery close to the main entrance at Tor 2. Perhaps the most famous is none other than Ludwig van Beethoven, composer extraordinaire. Having already been buried twice before—first in Währinger Ortsfriedhof after his death in 1827, then again in the same spot with an upgraded coffin—he was moved to Zentralfriedhof in 1888. 

Grave of Beethoven / credit: Mätes II, Wikipedia 2004 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

His grave is marked by a replica of his original monument (designed by fellow composer Ferdinand Schubert, brother to Franz Schubert), and it has remained here ever since as a tranquil spot to pause and reflect. Mark Brownlow of Visiting Vienna puts it beautifully: “In spring or summer, bask in the sunlight, close your eyes, and you might almost hear the opening bars of Für Elise drifting through the air.”

Mere steps away, you’ll find Franz Schubert’s gravesite. Schubert admired and respected Beethoven, and though they’d have known each other more by reputation than through interaction, he was in many ways a successor to his celebrated compatriot. Despite a nearly 30-year age difference between them, illness took Schubert’s life just one year later in November of 1828. Comments he made in his final, delirious moments indicated he thought he’d be buried near Beethoven. This was taken as a deathbed request, one that was granted with his original plot in Währinger Ortsfriedhof. 

Grave of Franz Schubert / credit: Fiona Plowman

Schubert left behind a remarkable body of work for his 31 short years, most of which was only discovered and appreciated in the decades after his death. In fact, later composers like Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Brahms played a major role in bringing his musical contributions to light. 

From his burial in 1828, the story of Schubert’s resting place follows a familiar path. He was reinterred in a more robust coffin in 1863; then, in 1888, his remains were relocated to the new “Central Cemetery”—in the plot next to Beethoven once more. When Währinger Ortsfriedhof eventually became a park, it was renamed Schubertpark in honor of his historical influence. Both composers’ original gravesites can still be visited there today.

Many other familiar names in classical music rest nearby. The aforementioned Johannes Brahms, another famed composer thought of as “Beethoven’s heir,” was buried here after his death in 1897. His gravestone features a bust of himself deep in thought, while musical muses dance in relief behind him. At the next grave, Johann Strauss and his wife, Adele, are memorialized with a marvelously detailed sculpture of a beautiful harpist, waltzing cherubs, and a portrait of Strauss at the center. There’s even a monument to honor Mozart, whose (disputed) gravesite location is somewhere in Sankt Marxer Friedhof.

And of course, there are more than just musicians here—this vast cemetery is a final resting place for artists, scientists, inventors, politicians, socialites, architects, and more. Spaces dedicated to the various faiths offer somber sanctuary in a busy world. Stunning family tombs, artistic gravestones, and the centrally located Church of St. Charles Borromeo are a visual feast among the lush greenery. And not least among the rest is the wide variety of wildlife that wander the grounds, including the elusive (and endangered) wild European hamster. A visit here would bring new discoveries at every turn, and they would surely be worth the walk.

Church of St. Charles Borromeo in Wiener Zentralfriedhof, Austria / credit: Marina

Have you visited this incredible cemetery? Where would you go first? Let us know! 

54 comments

  1. Thank you very much. At 91 this is the only means I have to see and marvel at these wonderful works of art, the world over.

    • I first visited this cemetery in 1978 on a college (of music) tour. We stopped at the composers’ graves and were deeply in awe as we had pieces prepared by nearly all of the composers to be performed at churches associated with each of them. We even sang a piece by Brahms about death there in the cemetery. It was a chilling memory. (I have revisited Vienna many times and I come back to this corner each time, remembering to go behind the masters to say hello and thank you to Hugo Wolf. It was such a wonderful way to honor them.)

      Now when I travel to great cities in Eastern or Western Europe, I try to visit graves of composers to say thank you. (Moscow, Munich, Venice) I even uncovered a grave myself in London of composer Madeleine Dring. The stone was under several inches of sod and we had the stone cleaned and the lettering restored. She had been dead 40 years. It does not take long for someone to be ignored into anonymity. I have learned to carry a cleaning kit… spray bottles of vinegar and water and a soft brush, mask, and gloves, and gardening tools to pull out weeds.

  2. Thank you for posting this wonderfully informative story. It has added a page to my desire to learn something new each day.

  3. What a wonderfully written and entertaining and yes, historical, report…!….. Thank you for sharing…

  4. YES, I would love to visit this beautiful gravesite with all of these great people.

  5. Would love to visit and take a few days to take it all in. It would be a visit of a lifetime!

  6. Would love to visit this stunning cemetery. It’s a work of art to honor those interned there.

  7. I enjoyed very much fhis well written article. I have vision problems, though, and cannot make out what you wrote in blue. Is that necessary? Any suggestions of how I should try again?

    • Hi Sandra, thanks for writing in about this. We made some improvements to the article, did these help to better view the clickable blue hyperlinks that lead to Find a Grave memorials or cemetery pages?

  8. What a beautiful park-like cemetery and informative article. Would love to visit the graves of those wonderful composers. My parish church in Toluca Lake, Calif. is also St. Charles Borromeo, so what a surprise to see same-named church in the midst of the historic Vienna Central Cemetery

  9. I visited Vienna in 2017, and one of the places I made time to visit was the Zentralfriedhof. It’s an imposing, but beautiful place. I only had a few hours, so I was only able to visit the Ehrengräber section and a few other close-by areas. I also went to the Währinger Ostfriedhof – the Beethoven and Schubert markers are still there, side by side and easily accessible. Unfortunately, the remaining cemetery portion was locked and off limits to visitors.

  10. We visited this cemetery c1998/99. What was shocking was the total neglect of the Jewish section. Why would this be so?

    • Many of the graves in this section were desecrated by the Nazi regime during WW II. Also, the graves are tended by relatives in Viennese graveyards and sadly many of the relatives of these people were deported to the camps or left Vienna for a safer place. Perhaps the state of this section is a historical lesson to the evil of many during that generation.

      • But would it not be something akin to the work of The War Graves Commission if the Local Authority were to undertake a grass cut etc occasionally; or is that too great a token for them?

      • That is a good question and from my experience the authorities take care of the walkways, etc, but the gravesites themselves are up to the family or to a firm that the family hires. Our daughters grave must be taken care of by us or the grass grows over it. Of course, many graves have a granite deck over the grave and that is not an issue. As you probably know the graves contain several family members and if they are not taken care of the site is cleaned and reused. We have to pay a minimal amount every 10 years to keep the grave. She is in a reused grave of someone who had no one to take care of it. To her right is a pilot from WWII and the left a young woman, but with no death date on it. This may seem a bit macabre to an American, but with little space it is necessary. Also, if they were to take care of the Jewish area, they would also have to take care of the rest and that would be an unbelievable and very expensive task. The honor graves of the composers, etc are taken care of by the cemetery personnel.

      • Hi Steve, I am English and not American. Here the Councils keep graveyards clean and the grass cut whoever the deceased. There are a few exceptions which are usually very very old graves with no living relatives: when brought to the authorities attention they are taken care of. My grandparents and several of their children are buried next to wartime enemies whose descendants are now friends. I am happy to contribute to the upkeep of all their resting places. I guess that I must respect your different perspective.

      • Hi Derek, sorry for the assumption about your citizenship-no slight intended. I like what they do in the UK and it is certainly honorable, especially to the ones who have no one to care for the graves. As an American (we lived in Vienna for about 30 years and also spent two in Brighton) many, if not most, here have perpetual care as they are private. Also, some of the old and forgotten ones have care through concerned people or organizations. In Vienna it was just different, but then again many of the graves have, as I wrote before, a granite deck and frame around the grave, so there is really no care needed. Our daughter does not and so when I return twice a year I try and get out and take care of it. Best to you.

      • Apologies should my comments have left the wrong impression. They were originally made to follow someones entry about the Jewish section of graves being unattended and very overgrown. Take care, Derek

    • I work in the cemetery. the old jewish department at gate 1 has been restored by the municipality of vienna for years. Due to the size of the facility, completion is not foreseeable.

      • I would think that having personnel assigned with daily upkeep would be a daunting task. I live in the states. My parents are buried at a cemetery for those who served in the military and their spouses/partners. My dad served in WWII. My father in law is also buried there as he served in the Korean War. It is a large cemetery and is constantly being expanded. They have personnel there to mow the lawns and keep it a place for all to access easily.

  11. A trip to the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna in 1978 was a major highlight of our time in Vienna. I have no relatives buried there but we visited all the musicians, went to the Opern Haus, and heard an organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Vienna is a musical Mecca.

  12. BEAUTIFUL. I would Love to visit and walk about the place, imagine and learn. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Our daughter Rebekah is buried here and therefore Vienna will always be a part of our family. It is a special place and historically very interesting and somber also. Well worth a visit for anyone coming to Vienna.

  14. Several years ago, my husband and I visited Vienna for several days and two places we had near the top of our to-do list were this cemetery and a large statue of Brahms we had read about. We stood on the Ring-strasse and pulled out our map to get our bearings. Leaning on a wall we wondered where we would find the statue. We heard voices nearby, and turning around we realized that the wall behind us was the base of the huge tribute to the great composer! it was like he was inviting us to go find his burial place and spend some time with him! We took a local trolley to the cemetery and spent a long time basking in the presence of the great masters who reside there. A truly spiritual moment!

  15. My grandfather was one of nearly 200 American airmen buried in the Zentralfriedhof when their planes were shot down over Vienna during World War II. The bodies were removed after the war and reinterred in a U.S. military cemetery France. I visited Vienna in 2019 and was able to locate the area where the men were initially buried. The cemetery is absolutely stunning.

  16. This is just absolutely breath taking…thank you for the wonderful story and photos..and the many comments made me realize how much we owe to all of these composers for the gift of music that they left behind, and that now lives on when we listen to it!

  17. Visited Vienna in the early 2000’s with no knowledge of this Cemetery, wish I would have known! Very interesting!

  18. Yes, I made a special trip to this cemetery in November 2019. I was on a riverboat cruise and was scheduled to tour Schönbrunn Palace but instead called a taxi to take me there. The driver only spoke German and Turkish but we managed to communicate and I’m glad I got to visit.

  19. People forget how much art one can find in an old cemetery. Thank you for writing the article.

  20. Visited in 2018 to see ancestors graves. We had exact locations, thanks to the cemetery record book. However, none were still our ancestors plots. They were all being reused, with our ancestors markers gone. We found the same issue in the Czech cemeteries. I am guessing a lot of Europe is like that.This was quite shocking to us……

    • Our daughter is also in a reused grave at the Zentralfriedhof. We have to pay a fee every 10 years to keep the grave. I am assuming that is what happened to your ancestors.

  21. This was a fascinating article! The gravestones are breathtaking and I appreciated the history on the composers. Hope I get to visit someday.

  22. Leave us not forget to mention the almost equally famous (and unique) Tierfriedhof Wien (Vienna Pet Cemetery, https://www.haraldkreuzer.net/en/news/grave-rocky-pet-cemetery-vienna) that is adjacent to and just across the street from the Zentralfriedhof. This beautiful site of eternal repose for beloved pets contains the earthly remains of a great many of Vienna’s citizen’s valued pets and loved animal companions, for the Viennese are very sentimental about their four-pawed, departed family members. Although legend has it that all dogs and cats cross the Rainbow Bridge when they leave us, this beautiful place provides pause (paws?) for reflection and remembrance by their two-legged companions. There are a great many quotes from various famous people about their beloved pets, but perhaps American humorist and wry social observer Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) said it best when he remarked, “If dogs don’t go to Heaven, I want to go where THEY go when I die!” It is said that the spirit of ‘Laika’, the famed space-dog sent into orbit (and the very first Earthly space pioneer) by the Russians on 3 November 1957, keeps celestial watch over all the pets that today rest in the Tierfriedhof Wien. Segne die Tiere, denn sie sind die einzig wahrhaft tadellosen Geschöpfe Gottes!

    • Above sentence in German “Segne die Tiere, denn sie sind die einzig wahrhaft tadellosen Geschöpfe Gottes!”
      Translates in English, to:
      Bless the animals, for they are the only truly blameless creatures of God!

  23. I last visited in 1987. An Austria. Friend had committed suicide and I went to his funeral. There was a lovely service in the chapel and then we all walked in a procession behind the coffin carriage. I recall the coffin had a viewing window to see the deceased face. He was buried in a communal family crypt and it was my understanding that the bones of several family members were interred below his coffin. The ceremony was beautiful and somber. The cemetery is beautiful, much as all cemeteries in Austria. I actually wrote my senior thesis for the university on Austrian cemetery customs. That was nearly 40 years ago.

  24. I visited the cemetary in 2004 during my trip to Europe. I was in a tour group which the tour director didn’t even mention the cemetary. Instead of paying for a side trip one afternoon, I took some time to go to the cemetary. It was easy to get to. One of the city street cars stopped in front of the cemetary.
    The size of some of the mausoleums was unbelievable. Some were as big as a small house. Each section of the cemetary was dedicated to various professions. There was a music section where composers were interred. There was an engineering section, a writers section, and so forth.
    The saddest part was the Jewish section. Hitler’s goons dug up the corpses of the Jews and disposed of them, although I can’t remember what the brochure stated what happened to the corpses. Then the goons broke the headstones in pieces to use in repairing various streets. After the war, whatever was left of Jewish families returned to the cemetary to identify the plots where their relatives were originally buried. Unfortunately there were many, many graves of people whose families all perished in the Concentration Camps, so more than just a handful of graves remain unidentified.

    • Thanks Albert. I have tried to find more detail on the fate of this section and why it was not/could not be (aside from the obvious hitler goons did) kept neat & tidy. You have answered these things for me. Thank you.

  25. Gibt es eine alphabetische Liste der auf diesem wunderschönen Friedhof begrabenen Personen? Meine Vorfahren stammen aus Pressbaum und ich suche einen Ort, an dem meine Familienmitglieder aus dem 17. Jahrhundert begraben werden könnten.

    • I wish you the best of luck in locating your ancestors’ graves. You may wish to run a search under findagrave.com if you have any information about your ancestors. And you may wish to construct a family tree under ancestry.com. Both services have no cost options. I even found a distant cousin who contacted me to provide him with information he was lacking.
      If you know which Church your ancestors attended you may want to talk to their keeper of records. For the most part, Churches have kept and retained better records than Government Officials.

  26. July 2017- Searching for my roots. My son and I found our way to the ZENTRALFRIEDHOF. I had a few section/row/plot bits of info about my family. The cemetery is enormous- the Jewish section is wild, overgrown, with many broken headstones, huge patches of stinging nettles, really something. We searched for about an hour, and had gotten separated from each other. I encountered a gentleman, and we exchanged “hellos”. I mentioned how hard it was to find a grave. He spoke a little english, and wanted to know who I was looking for. I told him my grandmother Olga Weiss. He said he would look too. About a half hour later he came running to us saying he found it. And so he did. Led us there. I cried. My husband said maybe he was an angel, and I think that’s true. We cleaned off the stone – my great grandfather Sandor Apsel, and my grandmother (my mom’s mother), Olga Weiss. Then we went in search of my Grandfather Heinrich Baar. My son found that one, pretty quickly. It was quite covered in vines and we cleared it as best we could. I was surprised to see my Grandmother Karoline’s name on it too. She was deported to Riga which is where they sent many of the Vienna Jews. None survived. Her name is listed on the headstone, with thanksgiving from my Dad and my 2 Uncles. I hope to return someday soon with a brush and a bucket to do a little cleaning. Because it’s a mess.

  27. I have visited this cemetery twice during my travels to Austria. It is in a beautiful position, well maintained and minefield of history and stories from the epitaphs. I could have spent many more days exploring.

  28. How can we search “ on line” for ancestors buried in this cemetery? I would also love to visit but the likelihood is slight. I hope it’s possible to search on line.. I am a member/contributor of FIND A GRAVE. Very helpful in my search for family in USA. Thank you for this article . Very well written.

  29. If I ever get to visit Wien, I’ll definitely have to see the Zentralfriedhof. Meanwhile, I’ll do what I can to help keep historic cemeteries in my locality from being neglected and vandalized.

  30. Sollie L Jordan and Nellie Isador Richardson buried at JUNIPER BAY BAPTIST CHURCH
    Cemetery lost their triplets and one more. They are all buried at Juniper Bay Baptist Church Cemetery in Conway, S C,This Church is located on Juniper Bay Hwy

  31. I would like to visit the Zentralfriedhof in Wien,love visiting old Cemetery here in Ontario Canada

Comments are closed.