Gothic treasures of Central Europe

A Train Ride to Gothic Cathedrals from Vienna to Košice

When it comes to visiting architectural masterpieces of Europe, many travellers immediately think about the majestic ecclesiastical buildings of Paris, Barcelona or London. However, Europe is full of hidden treasures. If you are an enthusiast of gothic architecture, begin your tour in Vienna and continue east.

Stephansdom in Vienna

The most famous Viennese cathedral witnessed numerous important moments in Austrian history. The cornerstone of the majestic Romanesque and Gothic church was laid on the ruins of two earlier chapels in the middle of the 14th century.

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Although Vienna was an important centre in the Holy Roman Empire, it didn’t have an own bishop. Thus, it religiously and politically depended on Bishops of Passau, a town about 300 kilometres far away.

With the construction of a cathedral, the first step towards a religiously independent Vienna was made. The Diocese of Vienna was established in 1469 with St. Stephen’s Cathedral as its mother church. Today Stephansdom attracts visitors from all over the world.

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During your visit, don’t miss the opportunity to get a fabulous view over Vienna from one of the towers. You can either climb more than 300 stairs of the south tower (Südturm) or get an elevator to the top of the north tower (Nordturm). If you want to admire the cathedral’s famous mosaic roof, get a drink at Lameé Rooftop bar.

Katedrála svätého Martina in Bratislava

From Vienna, take a train to Bratislava, the Capital of Slovakia. Saint Martin’s Cathedral, the mother dome of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bratislava dates back to the beginning of the 13th century.

Like Vienna’s St. Stephan, the construction began on the site of an earlier Romanesque style church. For centuries, Slovakia belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary. Between the 16th and 19th century, St. Martin’s Cathedral was the coronation church of its Habsburg queens and kings. They held the Hungarian crown until 1918. Maria Theresa probably remains the most famous Habsburg monarch coronated in Bratislava.

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During the second half of the 20th century, the historical surroundings of Bratislava Castle were brutally damaged by road construction. A traffic vein cut the historical city centre in half. This barbaric urban planning of the communist era can be observed from the viewing platform called UFO on one of the bridges over the Danube (Most SNP). The platform also offers a fantastic view of the river and the Bratislava Castle.

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Good to know: Bratislava is well connected with Vienna. There are trains almost every hour. You can walk to the city centre from the central station (15 min.). If somehow possible, avoid taxis. They have a horrible reputation in Bratislava. If you have to use one, ask your accommodation to book a car for you and ask for a price in advance. Don’t get a taxi on the street, where the probability of overcharging is high.

Poprad and Spiš Region

After St. Martin’s Cathedral there is more to explore on the route to the east. The train trucks pass through the town of Poprad in the Spiš region of Northern Slovakia. There, you can find exquisite examples of smaller gothic sacral buildings.

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Especially wooden carvings and statues inside have a unique status among European heritage. The highlight is Kostol svätého Juraja (St. George Church) in Poprad’s suburb, Spišská Sobota.

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If you are a real enthusiast, make a detour from Poprad to Levoča and visit the Bazilika svätého Jakuba (Basilica of St. James), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church houses the world’s tallest wooden altar, which dates back to the 16th century.

Tip: The most convenient way to get to Levoča from Poprad is by car. Ask at your accommodation to arrange a taxi and check the price in advance. It shouldn’t cost more than 40 €.

Dóm svätej Alžbety in Košice

The Cathedral of St. Elisabeth in Košice, the metropole of Eastern Slovakia is the biggest cathedral in the country.

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Some sources describe the dome as the most eastern Gothic cathedral in Europe. The building stands on the remains of a smaller Romanesque style church, and it is too a mother church of an archdiocese.

If you visit the church, look for a couple of similarities with Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The major reconstruction at the end of the 18th century was supervised by the same Austrian architect, Friedrich von Schmidt.

The main attraction of the church is the altar of St. Elisabeth. It’s a construction of 48 Gothic paintings, which is remarkable on a European scale.

Train from Vienna to Košice

From Vienna central station, there is a daily direct InterCity train service to Košice central station. The whole journey takes a little more than 6 hours. The comfortable train stops in every mentioned city. You can disembark in Bratislava, Poprad or Košice. From each station, there are regional train connections to smaller towns in the area, if you want to explore the surroundings.

If you decide to stop on the route and take another train to Košice, pay attention and don’t book regional trains (osobný vlak) for longer rides. Between main stations on the InterCity train route, always use the comfortable InterCity trains.

Don’t hesitate, book a train ticket and from Vienna head eastwards!

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