If you had asked me a year ago about my relationship with Austria’s third biggest city, Linz, I would have answered, without a doubt: “It’s complicated.” Being born in the neighboring Salzburg, famous for its Baroque architecture and sophisticated culture, I haven’t always held the best views about Linz, which in the past was mostly known for its large industrial complexes.
Now, the story is a different one. After spending a summer in the city for work last year, I decided this year to come back. For good. I packed up my things, found myself a cute little apartment, and moved to the capital of Upper Austria. Why the sudden change of mind, you might wonder? I found out that Linz is actually a vibrant city, full of young creatives who are breaking free from the industrial image, the Austrian Alps are close by and easily reached, and the surrounding regions of Upper Austria offer the most beautiful opportunities for adventure. Basically, I just totally, completely, utterly, and most of all unexpectedly fell in love – with Upper Austria.
Enough talk, let me just show you instead. Here is an (incomplete) list of things to do in and around Linz – reason enough to include the federal state on your next trip to Austria.
1 – The old city center of Linz
While the city center in Linz basically looks like any other mid-European town that was once in the hands of the Habsburgs, it’s the independent shops and cafés that make me love it so much. After you’re done having a look at the biggest attractions – the Danube, Hauptplatz (main square), the old castle and the Landstraße (main street) -, I suggest you head over to Altstadt street and make your way up to the Herrenstraße. Shop local at the A/T store, discover beautiful and specially selected books at the small shop just next to it, buy local produce and specialties at Markthalle Eins Zwo or Mein Müli, or check out the sustainable clothing at Zerum. Stop for a smoothie bowl at Nom Nom, taste the most delicious cakes at Friedlieb & Töchter, sit outside in the sun and have a coffee at Gerberei, or go for dinner at Stadtliebe.
While you’re out strolling, look out for the pink Linz Labyrinth Urban Guide – even though it is basically an entire guide book, it is free of charge and leads you to the best spots in town (in German and English). Also have a look at our Travelettes Guide to Linz to find out even more about the city.
2 – Enjoying the view from Pöstlingberg
No visit to Linz is complete without having seen the entire city from above. There is no better (or more popular) place to do this than from top of Pöstlingberg, a mini-mountain to the North of the city center. You can either take the electric railway to the top (it starts at the main square), follow the city hiking trail through the charming Urfahr and back down on the Kreuzweg, or go on a Segway tour. I’ve personally tried all of these options, some more than others, and besides the hiking one (which I always, always recommend), I’d definitely go for the Segway tour – who doesn’t want to reach the top of the prettiest viewpoint in town without even breaking a sweat? Exactly. Also, riding a Segway is an insane amount of fun, so if you’ve never tried it, I’d say go for it.
From up here, you can not only see the old city center, but also the vast industrial complexes just outside the center. It came as a big surprise to me that I actually found the giant structures charming. I think they add something special to the city that you cannot find elsewhere in Austria. Next to romantic places like Vienna, Bad Ischl or Salzburg, Linz, with the tall chimneys of one of the largest steel factories in Europe, is definitely the underdog, but one I’m more than happy to root for.
The second thing that is remarkable is the amount of trees and greenery that you see from Pöstlingberg. Linz is the Austrian city with the most amount of green space in Austria – so grab a coffee and a bite of the famous Linzer Torte at café Jindrak, just next to the viewpoint, and enjoy the view.
3 – Mural Harbor
The thing I probably love most about Linz is that out of this initially industrial, worker-dominated space, a lot of art, creativity, and uniqueness has emerged over the past few years. To me, it feels like the citizens of Linz are defying the image of steel and iron that has built up around the city. The Mural Harbor is just one example – graffiti artists from all over the world come here to paint the giant walls with huge murals. Some can be seen from the street, others are only visible from a boat. You can take a tour and see for yourself which one you like best – my favorite is the one with the foxes and the bird. You’ll know it when you see it.
4 – Cycling and Hiking in the Natural Region Danube
Linz is situated right at the Danube, which connects Germany with the Black Sea and passes many European countries on the way. There are many ways to explore the river, one of them being by boat, but by far my favorite is by bike. So far, I’ve covered almost the entire way between Passau (on the German-Austrian border) and Ybbs, which is already in the neighboring federal state. My goal is to cycle all the way to Bratislava. You can do this in around four days if you want to, or spread it out like me and come back for different parts whenever you wish to.
Besides the Cycle Path (Donauradweg), there are also plenty of hiking opportunities. You can either walk the Donausteig, which follows the river, or try little hikes along the way. One particularly beautiful spot along the Upper Austrian Danube is the Donauschlinge, where the Danube bends in a very peculiar way and almost starts flowing back to where it came from. It’s only a short hike, but if you go up there in the evening, you will be met with one of the prettiest sunset scenes there is.
5 – The Upper Austrian Salzkammergut
We’ve mentioned before that the Salzkammergut is one of the prettiest regions in all of Austria – read all about it here. Three federal states (Salzburg, Styria and Upper Austria) are sharing the region, full of mountains, meadows, and lakes. My favorite out of all of them is the Upper Austrian part: this is where I usually go hiking. If you are more into chilling at the beach, don’t worry – lake Traunsee is the freshest there is, while lake Attersee looks like straight out of the Caribbean with its turquoise waters. Best of all: huge parts of the region are accessible by a direct train from Linz (look for the regional train that goes to Stainach/Irding). You don’t even need a rental car to get there and you are contributing to saving the environment at the same time – if you ask me, that’s a sweet deal.
6 – Freistadt
It’s hard to really get off the beaten path in Austria, where tourism is a huge industry and generates much of the country’s GDP. You can get close to it, though, by heading up to Freistadt in the Mühlviertel. Upper Austria is divided in four parts, one of them being said Mühlviertel, and Freistadt is its biggest city. Don’t let this fool you into thinking you’ll encounter much traffic or tons of people: Freistadt is small, quaint, and relaxed. It is mostly known for its excellent beer and the famous Freistädter Brewery. To illustrate just how important beer really is here, let me just tell you this: when you buy a house in Freistadt, you automatically purchase shares of the local brewery, literally measured in buckets of beer. The soft water and the locally grown hops make it so special – visit the brewery and find out all about it. They also offer tours where you get to taste (craft) beers from around the world and learn about how much difference you can get out of just four simple ingredients.
7 – Hiking the Johannesweg
The other thing the Mühlviertel is known for is its granite. Large portions of the rolling hills are covered with giant granite rocks, covered in moss, strewn across the forest floors. To really get a sense of just how beautiful (and mystical) these huge boulders are, hiking the Johannesweg is a good starting point. The long-distance hike covers more than 80 km (around 50 miles) and takes you up and down the Mühlviertler landscape. It was created to remind people to be mindful and keep their body and soul in balance.
If walking is not your thing, you could also try the Tour de Alm, a mountain bike tour that follows a similar route, but stays out of the way of the hikers. You can rent bikes in any of the participating towns, or even go for an e-bike if you want to relax a little more but still see the landscape. Just be careful – even though we are not in the Alps here anymore, there is quite an elevation gain to be made, so hiking as well as cycling can be strenuous.
(P.S.: Fun fact: I think the granite boulders in the area look exactly like the little trolls in Frozen. But maybe that’s just me.)
8 – Up and coming arts and culture
Wherever you are in Upper Austria, make sure you don’t miss out on the young and innovative cultural centers and initiatives throughout the state. Of course, Linz has a lot to offer – try the Höhenrausch, an exhibition that changes its theme each year and takes you above the roofs of the town; the Ars Electronica Festival, where media artists from the whole world come together once a year to make the city explode in creativity; the Posthof, where you find the finest concerts, cabaret shows and book readings; or the Tabakfabrik, an old tobacco factory which now houses events, a co-working space, and concept stores. The many museums are well worth a visit, as well, as is the old Salzhof in Freistadt. The cultural center was once a city fortress and has now been turned into a place for events, incorporating the ancient elements and walls beautifully into the new design.
Linz and Upper Austria are often left out of the itinerary of travelers who visit Austria, but if you ask me, they should definitely be on there. I for one could write a book on all the things to visit, so if you’re travelling in the region, just drop me a line, I’ll be happy to give some more recommendations.
If you’ve been already, where did you go? And if you haven’t, is it on your list? Let us know in the comments!
I was invited by the Tourism Board of Upper Austria and Intersport to discover the region – this article includes some activities from that trip, some from previous experience. All opinions are my own. Thank you for the invite!!