5 reasons to visit Linz, Austria

A very Happy New Year from Mumbai! How has 2015 begun for you? I started the New Year by falling ill, but it did give me some time to sort through the photos from my recent visit to Austria. So here’s the first post of 2015 – on the culturally happening and very charming city of Linz. In Austria most people usually end up visiting Vienna (read Where to Eat and Stay in Vienna) and Salzburg (especially fans of Mozart, or Sound of Music), maybe Innsbruck. Another place I highly recommend is Hallstatt, the oldest still-inhabited village in Europe.

Since I had already visited these places in the summer of 2013, I decided to check out a new city this time around. I opened up the map, well Google Maps actually, and Linz caught my eye, as it’s a short train ride from Vienna, which was my base. So I started doing some research online (the Linz Tourism website is full of helpful information in English, and it was my starting point). I spent just one day in the city, which is certainly not enough, but I look at this trip as a recce for another, longer trip in the future! 

So here's my Linz travel guide for you!

1) Location, location, location
Linz is located on a bend in the Danube River, the second longest river in Europe. 

The city’s Celtic and Roman names “Lentos” and “Lentia” derived from the fact that, here, the Danube bends and changes direction. Linz is 185 km from Vienna and there are frequent trains between the cities that bring you in less than 90 minutes. 

Linz is quite literally located in the centre of Europe and can be a great base to explore not just Austria, but also neighbouring Germany, Czech Republic & Hungary.

2) Oldest & Biggest
Linz is home to the oldest church in Austria – St. Martin’s Church, which first finds mentions in records dating back to 799. 

Image courtesy Linz Tourism
The church is preserved in its original state. Inside you can see excavated stones with Roman inscriptions, as well as a kiln from the Roman era. 

But that’s not all; the city also boasts of the largest church in Austria – the Cathedral of St. Mary (Mariendom), simply referred to as Neuer Dom (the New Cathedral). The cathedral's cavernous interiors can accommodate some 20,000 people at a time. The stained glass windows in the cathedral are particularly noteworthy – I haven’t seen such detailing and vibrant colours in any other cathedral. Some parts of the church were bombed during WWII and the windows were restored in a slightly more modern fashion. The church also offers a “Tower Hermit” programme, which was started in 2009 – where one can ascend the 395 steps up the spire and spend a week in the Türmerstube (built during WWII and possibly served as a lookout) hermitage – and ponder on the meaning of Life!

Image courtesy Linz Tourism
3) Soak in the Culture

Image courtesy Linz Tourism 

Linz was the European Cultural Capital in 2009, which did a great deal to give rise to a vibrant and very contemporary cultural scene. Curiously, while the Viennese culture revels in its glorious past, Linz seems more resolutely forward-looking. That is not to say that its history is forgotten. 

The superbly-preserved Old Town, historical churches, the Baroque ambience of the Hauptplatz (main square) and the Renaissance-era vaulting in the inner courtyards of many buildings in the old town, all showcase a city proud of its history. 

Yet one look at the city’s ‘Culture Mile’ along the Danube will have you thinking that you’re in quite another city. 

Image courtesy Linz Tourism
The modern architecture of the Lentos Art Museum reflects its status as one of the most important contemporary art museums in Austria. Linz is home to Europe’s most modern opera house, the Musiktheater at Volksgarten, which offers five stages of varying capacities. 

Image courtesy Linz Tourism
On the other side of the Danube lies the very futuristic looking Ars Electronica Centre, with its façade lit up by ever-changing LED lighting. AEC houses the Museum of the Future, which focuses on new media art using material such as computer animation, 3D, digital music, space pixels etc.

4) Year-round destination
In summer take the Pöstlingbergbahn, the steepest mountain track railway, up the Pöstlingberg hill that overlooks the city, to enjoy the various cultural events in the Rosegarden. The Grottenbahn or grotto train, in a 19th century fortification tower on the hill, takes children (and adults) through an illuminated fairyland of dragons and dwarves. 

Image courtesy Linz Tourism
The 18th century Pöstlingberg church, with its unique double steeples is a pilgrimage centre. The Linz Zoo lies halfway up the hill. 

The more than 100-year-old Pöstlingbergbahn runs throughout the year and I took an afternoon train ride up to the hill. However, since it was a cloudy day, I couldn’t get a very good view over the city; yet, it was a fun ride up and down (one return ticket included in the Linz Card).

 One of Linz’s famous residents was the celebrated composer Anton Bruckner, who was born here and was the organist at the Old Cathedral for three years. The concert hall Brucknerhaus is named after him, as is the annual Brucknerfest held in September-October. 

Image courtesy Linz Tourism
The “Cloud of Sound” joins the Brucknerhaus with the Ars Electronica Centre, converting the entire area into an outdoor multimedia concert.

Image courtesy Linz Tourism 
In December the city transforms into a sea of twinkling lights and Christmas Markets spring up on either end of the Landstrasse, the main shopping street. 

Image courtesy Linz Tourism
The market at Hauptplatz was charming, but small compared to the massive markets I had seen in Vienna (read 5 Best Christmas Markets in Vienna). 

The one at the Volksgarten was much bigger, with the scent of frying sausages and brewing mulled wine in the air. There were big huts offering glühwein and punsch, and there was a warmed-up outdoor area to eat, drink and mingle. A hot käsekrainer (cheese-filled sausage) and a plateful of potato fries was the perfect dinner to end the day! 

While Linz is not a skiing destination, there are several good ski resorts nearby – many of which are great for families and kids (and beginners).

5) Let them eat Cake

Linz’s most famous culinary treat is the Linzer torte, supposedly the oldest cake in the world (first mentioned in 1696), or as Fritz Rath, the fourth generation owner of the bakery k.u.k. Hofbäckerei says, “It’s the oldest of the best-known tarts in the world!” I dropped in for a coffee and a slice of the famed cake. The café itself is quite intimate and quaint, filled with old photographs, and furniture that seems at least 50 years old. 

Image courtesy Cafe Hofbäckerei
Recipes of the cake vary within the city itself, and the one that arrived at my table is baked to the secret recipe of Hofbäckerei. It’s made up of hazelnut flour, nuts and spices and has a thin layer of red currant jam, something that combats the slightly dry texture of the cake. It went perfectly with my coffee & cream, and the sweet and tart taste of the cake explained why it might have been a favourite with Sisi, as the Empress Elisabeth (wife of Franz Joseph I) was fondly known.

Where to stay in Linz, Austria

Accommodations in Linz range from big hotels near the railway station to cute BnBs in the city centre. I had the best of both worlds as I stayed the night at the conveniently located Hotel am Domplatz. The hotel is a short cab ride from the train station and is located right opposite the New Cathedral. Talk about a room with a view! The cathedral view is not available for the Standard room (which I had), but these rooms look out over the city and it’s a pretty nice view too. 

The floor to ceiling windows let in plenty of light. The room is quite spacious and the bathroom+wc+shower was quite large, by European standards. The breakfast buffet was plentiful and delicious.

As with everything else in Linz, the hotel’s glass façade and clean lines stand in stark contrast with the neo-Gothic cathedral opposite it, though without striking a jarring note. The Old Town, Hauptplatz & Lentos are a short walk in one direction, while the Volksgarten and Musiktheater are in the opposite direction, easily reached by foot. Of course you can take the tram from one end of Landstrasse to another.

For lunch, I’d recommend the Lentos Restaurant at the museum. The gastro-bar has a sweeping view of the Danube and a modern ambience. I had a Weiner Schnitzel, which was served with parsley potatoes, rice and a cranberry sauce on the side – quite an unusual combination, one that I had never had before, but the freshness of the sauce cut some of the heaviness of the crumbed & fried schnitzel.

I imagine Linz will be a completely different experience in summer, when all the cultural events are in full swing, and I hope to make it back to explore it better. So will you be adding it to your travel plans for 2015?

Disclosure: My experience in Linz was made possible by Linz Tourism. Views are entirely my own.   

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