Austrian cities are always good for a surprise, even if one visits them regularly. A tour of the country’s cultural sights promises an astounding variety of experiences, impressions and pleasures that could scarcely be more different from each other.
Vienna can boast two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the historic city centre and the Baroque ensemble of Schönbrunn Palace and its grounds. One can find art treasures and magnificent buildings all over the former imperial capital. The most important “cabinet of art” in the world, the Kunstkammer in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, takes visitors back in time to the Renaissance and Baroque "Kunst- und Wunderkammer" (chambers of arts and natural wonders) of the Habsburgs.
Austria’s youngest provincial capital, St. Pölten, can look back on a long history, with its town charter dating back to the twelfth century. One of the most striking features of the capital of Lower Austria today is its hypermodern government district, and directly adjacent is the equally modern cultural district with its futuristic Festspielhaus, where world-renowned musicians and dance companies perform regularly.
Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, is remarkable for the coexistence of traditional and contemporary architecture. This city, situated directly on the banks of the Danube, succeeds in blending art, science and technology to create an impressive synthesis. A host of modern buildings, such as the Ars Electronica Center, provide a stimulating contrast to the Baroque city centre. The Lentos Kunstmuseum and the new music theatre are two other outstanding modern buildings and popular attractions for visitors to the city.
The Baroque city centre of Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace and home to the famous Salzburg Festival, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The cityscape is marked by numerous churches and palaces as well as the Baroque palaces of Mirabell and Hellbrunn. Salzburg Cathedral and the medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress are other architectural highlights. And visitors to Salzburg should not leave without taking some of the city’s sweetest souvenirs with them: the original Salzburg Mozartkugel.
What makes Innsbruck unique is not just its extraordinary location, surrounded by towering Alpine peaks. The Tirolean capital also features such world-famous sights as the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), the art treasures in the Renaissance Ambras Castle, and the Court Church (Hofkirche). The city has its share of modern structures too, including the Hungerburgbahn funicular railway and Bergisel Ski Jump, both designed by the famous architect Zaha Hadid.
The history of Bregenz began as early as two thousand years ago, when a Roman settlement was located here. Today the main feature of the town centre is the medieval St. Martin’s Tower, crowned by a sixteenth-century onion-shaped dome. The shoreline of Lake Constance is dotted with impressive modern buildings that represent a harmonious addition to the townscape: the Festspielhaus, the Kunsthaus and the new “vorarlberg museum”, which opened its doors in 2013.
It is the Carinthian capital’s Baroque and Jugendstil façades, lovely arcaded courtyards and narrow passageways that lend the picturesque historic district of Klagenfurt its Mediterranean charm. The Jugendstil-era Stadttheater is not only the southernmost theatre in the German-speaking world, but also an architectural gem of extraordinary elegance.
Graz, Austria’s second-largest city, is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the old town, as the largest medieval historic district in all of Europe, and Eggenberg Palace. In 2011 the Styrian capital was also designated as a “UNESCO City of Design”, placing it among the world’s most creative and future-oriented cities. Architectural examples of this are the Kunsthaus Graz and the Murinsel.
In Eisenstadt, the capital of Burgenland, the visitor will encounter one name again and again: Joseph Haydn. The composer spent over forty years as music director in the service of the Esterházy Princes. Esterházy Palace, the city’s landmark, is the venue for concerts by world-class artists throughout the year. The scenic area surrounding the city is also well worth exploring: it is marked by extensive vineyards and features numerous wineries.