Ah, the Danube. How could any city be on the Danube and not have something special about it. As I exited the last clump of buildings before this enormous river, the vista opened up onto a busy esplanade drawn along the side of this famous river. The Danube is the second biggest river in Europe, dwarfing the Thames, and in Linz I swear it is wider than both that river as it reaches the estuary and the Seine in Paris. It was when I got to the Danube that I suddenly saw the hills I'd been glimpsing through the buildings in all their glory. It was a sight to behold.
Walking along the banks of the Danube it is hard not to be in awe of the view, finding yourself nestled in the green foothills of the Alps. All around you are different shades of verdant green; green Alpine forests and lush green grassy knolls. I soon found myself in a park listening to the sounds of an oom-pah-pah band playing raucously to a small audience of ferocious clappers. The event was free, and there were many gathering around to listen indirectly to them playing a number of classical greats in the up-tempo feet-tapping style of a German brass orchestra. It's one of the things I love about continental Europe - the way they put on civic events that make so many people smile for such a small cost.
I don't know my classical music all that well, and I don't speak German, but I could pick out some of the tracks they were playing. Of course they had to play some of Strauss's the Blue Danube Waltz. It was just sublime to sit on the grass, overlooking the Danube, on a hot summer's evening, listening to an Austrian orchestra play the river's theme song. Everyone who walked or cycled past me was smiling contentedly. It was wonderful, and an experience that will not be forgotten fast. The orchestra moved onto a medley of Gershwin numbers, just as the sun set behind the grand schloss perched on the tallest hill, and I was feeling very pleased with myself for deciding to spend the night in Linz.
The new steel and glass wing is partly a bridge, with an open terrace underneath. This terrace offers a fine view of the old town and its towers. The steeples and spires are higher than the terrace and they are rather close, in other words, have the camera ready.
The architecture also provides options for some photo tricks like photo 5 or the start photo in my intro page.
There is a café on the terrace with open seating in the warmer seasons, which should be a pleasant place to rest and enjoy the view and a coffee. And there is a 3D model of the old town before 1800, which gives an idea what it looked like before the big fire that destroyed the Southern wing of the palace as well as a large part of the city.
The castle, or better palace, of Linz dates back to the early middle ages. What you see now, however, derives mostly from the times around 1600 when Emperor Rudolf II had it enlarged and refurbished.
The Schloss is located on a rock close to the river bank in the Northwestern corner of the old town. The way up on foot involves, no matter from which direction, a short but steep stairway.
The four wings enclose a wide courtyard. A fire in 1800 destroyed the Southern wing, the one towards the city. The gap stayed open for 200 years. Only in 2006 plannings started to build a new wing. The winners of the architects’ competition, the studio HoG architektur from Graz, designed it as a modern steel and glass construction that looks a bit alien side by side with the old building.
The building complex is the seat of the Schlossmuseum, a museum of history, folk art and culture – which I unfortunately could not visit because I ran out of time.
Access to the grounds and courtyard is free; for the museum check the website.
To get an idea of the place and the surrounding landscape, there is a walking trail that leads all around the summit. The walk is more or less flat and takes about 15 minutes. It is best in the winter half of the year when the trees are bare, otherwise the leaves will obscure most of the view. The trail is marked as “Rundgang" – simply follow the signs. It leads past everything which is of interest on the hilltop.
On the ‘back’ side the trail leads along the ramparts of 19th century fortifications, with views into the moat and towards the bulwarks. This mountain, despite its prominent topographical situation, had not had any military significance until the Napoleonic wars around 1800 when some fights took place on its slopes. Only afterwards the summit was turned into a fortress.
The church on the summit of Pöstlingberg is a sanctuary of the Virgin Mary and a pilgrimage centre. It was founded in the early 18th century. Pilgrimages take place only on certain dates. The church, though, is always open for visitors during daytime hours.
The baroque church suffered damage from fire twice in the last century but was repaired and restored to its former shape.
There are two stairways leading up to the church from the viewing platform. In winter, only one of them is cleared from snow and ice – take this one, don’t try the other one because in wintery conditions it’s dangerous. There is a chain that closes its top but not the bottom.
The large terrace below the church offers the widest view of the city, the Danube valley and the surrounding hilly landscape.
There is a board with explanations of the cityscape and sights, and some coin-operated telescopes if you want a closer look at the things down there.
Pöstlingberg is the house mountain of Linz, North of the city centre. From the banks of the Danube it is impossible to overlook. Its summit reaches an altitude of 539 metres above sea level (the city centre is at about 150 metres). It has been a pilgrimage centre since the 18th century. The baroque pilgrimage church with its two spires is overlooking the city and the Danube valley. The slopes face South and offer a fine view and sunshine – they have become the most upscale residential quarters of the city.
The mountain top is a popular destination among locals and visitors. In addition to the view and the church, it has a restaurant and beer garden and an attraction for small kids and big kids;-), the Grottenbahn, a little train inside one of the bulwarks that takes its passengers through fairytale scenes and the kingdom of gnomes – unfortunately it wasn’t running on weekdays in winter so I could not go…
Getting there is easy: Take the Pöstlingberg tram from Hauptplatz which takes you to the top in some 20 minutes.
The old town of Linz is the area around Hauptplatz, especially towards the castle. The origins are medieval, though the city has been rebuilt, refurbished, repaired again and again after fires and such – the architecture is quite a mix. Most facades show 18th and 19th century styles, although much older structures can be behind them. The general appearance reminded me a lot of Vienna’s centre. Many historical buildings have plaques with some basic information – in German, obviously.
Explore the side streets, the arcades, passages and alleyways. If you like photography, look for details of the facades. The photos in here are just a random selection.
The “old” cathedral is actually the former convent church of the Jesuit order. The huge main altar which fills the entire back wall is typical for Jesuit churches. It is named the old cathedral because there is a “new” one: the much larger “Neuer Dom”, or Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This enormous neogothic church (1862-1935) is located outside the old town but impossible to overlook in the cityscape.
Alter Dom, though, is probably the more interesting one. The baroque church dates from the late 17th century. After the Jesuit order was closed down in 1773, the church stood empty until it was selected as cathedral for the newly founded Diocese of Linz in 1785.
The most famous employee of this church was Anton Bruckner, who worked here as organist and choir conductor from 1856 to 1868. A small stone plaque on the façade recalls the composer’s workplace.
Hauptplatz, the central square close to the river, is the heart of the town. The rectangular square (?!) ist he location of events like the Christmas market. It is the best starting point to walk the lanes of the old town, easy to reach by tram from about anywhere in the city. It is also the starting point of the Pöstlingberg tram.
The baroque Holy Trinity Column in the middle of the square was put up around 1720. Many Austrian cities have these columns; they are religious monuments that were meant as thanksgiving for the end of the plague or other severe threats but also as symbol of the Habsburg monastery and the victory of Catholicism against the reformation.
The square is surrounded by palace-like buildings. The facades are mostly 18th/19th century due to the various fires that devastated the city in its history. The buildings behind them have older origins, though, like the 16th century town hall (the pink building with the small tower on the street corner). The cathedral, the former Jesuit abbey church, is located in a corner of the square.
We had a great time at the LENTOS Art Museum. The temporary exhibition we visited (Gilbert & George) will probably no longer be there when you arrive in town, but there may be other exhibitions that are equally interesting! And the museum also houses an excellent permanent collection. No photography allowed in that section, though....
But don’t sweat it … Linz also has hundreds of years of history; and nowhere is this more evident than at the city center and its alleys and narrow streets. The compact town of Linz is easy to get around, and the ideal place to explore on foot. Linz is Austria, and yet it is a culture unto itself. The area of Linz shows signs of a dwelling since the 4th millennium B.C., the Romans built a fortification at that time. The name Linz is first documented in a deed from the year 799. Its beautiful legacy of monuments can be admired in the streets to this day. Time to explore it!
We can honestly state that the best way to explore Linz is by foot and the second best way is also by foot! Besides giving you the opportunity to roam the narrow streets and the cozy squares, it is the quickest way too. If you really want to, you can cross the city in approximately 40 minutes. Remember that sometimes it might be quicker (and nicer!) to take a few short-cuts into picturesque alleys and see some amazing arcades, instead of following the masses of tourists. Maybe this is easy for us to say as we stayed for a longer period of time and not like most of the tourists only for one day. But even when your stay is rather short, do try to get away from the crowds and just have a 'look around'. The Altstadt of Linz is simply a perfect place to walk for a few hours and pretending to know where you are.
Most people try to rush Linz on a budget so they end up missing some of the highlights in a whirlwind. The key to seeing Linz properly is a game plan, you must know what you want to see before getting out. Before we visited Linz we saw on a city map that the huge city of Linz is divided into three areas - the historical Hauptplatz, the area in and around the Altstadt and the more residential area in the alleys and winding streets. After that we visited the city and we hiked our way through all three of the areas.
Our hikes were beautiful in the Altstadt, where the village is one huge ancient site in which we could walk for quite some time. It was quite strenuous sometimes, but definitely worth while! For example we started at the Promenade across the Landhaus where we parked the car, made our way to Kremsmünserer Haus and finally hiked way into the old town and it ended at the Linzer Schloss at the city of the Altstadt. While most tour guides don't recommend getting lost in the alley´s, this part of Linz is the place to get hopelessly lost for some time. We wondered off through mysterious and steep alleyways leading us away from the crowds. We ended up at the AtelierHaus Salzamt (old and beautiful building with amazing views at the river Donau), the Hauptplatz (old central square with beautiful old houses of the merchants), mazes of hilly backstreets and deserted gardens. The real Linz?
Take time to meander - losing yourself in the maze of alleys, streets and lanes is one of Linz old town´s principal pleasures. The streets wind and wander with no discernible order or object. After our stroll we rewarded ourselves with a cool glass of beer or wine for our effort! We learned that you won´t do justice to the entire city of Linz whenever you won´t visit other parts than just the main sights. So ... do meander, because the cluster of sights around the Hauptplatz (main square) are truly beautiful, but the more secret pleasures of the hushed backstreets are just entrancing.
When strolling through the heart of the city, one can literally sense its history. The lanes of the Altstadt (old town), which lies directly at the foot of the castle, communicate the feeling of past ages. Splendid town residences and chapter houses are worthy of closer scrutiny, as are the many inner courtyards hidden discretely behind arched gates. Moreover, the spacious, baroque main square with its lively hustle and bustle is never far away. All this may seem very though as finding your way in Linz might be difficult, but in really distances are short and the signs will help you in getting around. Enjoy!
Standing on the outside of the church you can’t miss noticing that this Alter Dom has a fairly simple exterior with onion-dome-topped twin towers. On the other hand the interior has the usual Baroque rich excesses - pink marble columns, intricately carved pulpit and lots of beautiful statues. We headed for the high altar which is over flown with marble sculptures and a huge the altar painting. But to me the main focal point were the amazing carved choir stalls.
We walked around in this single-nave Baroque church with several lateral chapels and galleries. Also having a look at the closed choir and the marble high altar. We read that some of the interior originates from a former monastery church in Garsten, while the organ derives from Engelzell monastery. Finally the organ was built according to plans by Anton Brucker and is still in its original state. Truly a great church and also a must visit!