Welcome to Linz, Austria’s third largest city, the administrative capital of Upper Austria and one of the most important cities sitting along the Danube approximately halfway on its course to Budapest. The river is an essential part of Linz and indeed it’s believed to be the source of the city’s name, with the Roman word “Lentia” meaning “knee”, a direct reference to the bend in the Danube that Linz is built around.
Linz popped up on my radar when I was invited to attend the NEXTCOMIC festival as part of a collaborative project I’m involved with called Must Love Festivals. In many ways this small but vibrant six-year old festival celebrating comic art was the perfect introduction to a city that has much to offer the city-break-loving traveller, complete with old and new cultural hotspots, a vibrant collection of independent boutiques and creative businesses and a calendar of arts, theatre and music events that I can very confidently call “edgy”.
Until my visit I was aware that Linz was a city in Austria, but unlike the country’s most popular destinations, Vienna and Salzburg, I didn’t really have a pre-conceived idea of what the city looked like. Let’s just say there weren’t that many pictures of Linz on Pinterest (apart from its very impressive new Opera House). This turned out to be a very good thing as my my blank page was gradually filled with lots of fascinating history, culture and colour, despite the persistent grey and wet weather.
While you could also stop reading this guide and just get yourself to Linz for the same experience, that would make me a lesser Travelette, so here’s what I learned about Linz and what I think will help make your visit there a great one.
Why visit Linz now?
When the city was named European Capital of Culture in 2009 the hotels sighed, not because of the influx of new visitors – of which there were thousands – but because they were already fully booked most week nights, a nod to the city’s long-standing reputation as a hub of industry, business and trade. While many European Capitals of Culture and Design have struggled to maintain the momentum of their chosen year, Linz has managed to keep quietly innovating and encouraging new visitors to explore its unusual-for-Austria approach to mixing old with new, tradition with innovation and the quirky with the cool.
While the tourist board’s caption is “Linz verändert”, meaning Linz is changing – and I wholeheartedly agree that it is a city not afraid of change or the new – I do very much like the unofficial saying of those who live in the city; “In Linz Beginnts…”
Well-connected to most of east and western Europe by train, there are also direct flights from London Stansted, Frankfurt and Vienna. Coming soon there will also be Etihad flights to and from Zurich. Or of course you can hop off one of the many boats that are cruising along the Danube. In fact, the river can even take you as far east as the Black Sea.
Two thirds of Linz is made up of parklands and green spaces and the best way to see this is from the top of Pöstlingberg, the 550m hill that overlooks the city from behind the castle. You can get the electric tram (from Hauptplatz) all the way up or set off on a 1-2 hours hike and the views will reward your efforts, especially for sunrises as was recommended to me by one local though I have to admit I didn’t take them up on that offer!
If you’d rather see the lay of the land without the extreme height or activity pop into the Old Townhall on Hauptplatz where you’ll find the whole city at your feet, literally. Aerial photographs taken as part of a street planning exercise have now been used to cover the floor of the room so you can appreciate the city’s size, shape and yes, greenery.
On this you can also see how much of the city is industrial lands, the chimneys of which can also be seen above the rooftops. Steel is the number one industry and employer of Linz and though those plumes of smoke may look a little sinister they are pretty much completely steam and non-damaging to the environment. A feat achieved by the forward-thinking company behind the steel industry in Linz who not only kept the jobs in the city but also turned Linz’s reputation around from being one of the most polluted cities in the country to now being one of the least.
Now you’ve got the lay of the land, it’s time to explore it on foot, which is easy to do due to Linz’s compact size. My best advice is to find Landstrasse, Linz’s main walking street (and the second busiest shopping district in Austria!) and then deliberatlely get off it again. This is because some of Linz’s main sights and more interesting spots are found just off either side of this street, including the Cathedral (Austria’s largest), the Linz Landhaus and the winding medieval alleyways that take you up to the Castle.
To the left of Landstrasse you’ll find the OÖ Kulturquartier and the Offenes-Kulturhaus or “OK”, the “public culture centre”, both of which host regularly changing rotations of cultural and artistic exhibits and festivals, and it was inside the OÖ Kulturquartier that NEXTCOMIC festival was held.
I really hope that the below impressive piece of street art that was created by famous Vienna-based Nychos sticks around for your visit. Can you spot the Disney character?
If you then turn back on yourself and cross the bridge over the wide stretch of Danube, you’ll see a very modern looking glass structure emerge like a ship docking on the river banks. This is exactly the effect the architects were going for. Inside is ARS Electronica Centre, a multi-layered and multi-faceted interactive museum aimed at connecting the dots between science, art, design and technology. With features on modern technological achievements like robots and life-altering medical procedures, it’s a great place to spend a few hours learning something without actually realising that’s what you’re doing.
In the summer evenings at ARS they have light show on the glass front and there’s even the opportunity to plug your Smartphone in, play your own music and watch the lights change in tune to your favourite song.
For two very unique experiences in Linz seek out the HÖHENRAUSCH (which loosely translates as “the high experience or inebriation! German speakers, please correct me!), an experience accessible form the top of OÖ Kulturquartier. It includes a Bamboo Tower and and a tall tower made from local fir trees all connected by a artistic wooden walkway, which you can explore, climb and seek sanctuary in, offering visitors a new view of the city, though do note that they’re only open in summer from 27th June until 19th October 2014.
The Schloss Museum is also worth a visit for its richly historic exhibitions and insight into local history and for a coffee and cake stop with a view as a sunny terrace looks out over the gothic, baroque and medieval roofs of the city.
It may also be interesting to know that Linz is only 70km away from Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, a beautifully preserved and colourful medieval town that whisks you back in time or into a Game of Thrones episode.
One of Linz’s biggest surprises for me was the quality and variety of independent shops and boutiques lining its streets, again most of them on the side roads off Landstrasse. Parallel with Landstrasse on Altstadt you’ll find NØRD a boutique showcasing the best in Scandinavian design and then further up the same road which turns into Bischoffstrasse you’ll find Living a shop which simply promises “Schoene Dinge” or “Lovely Things” for working, playing and cooking. Of course, my best advice is to discover the shops by yourself which I gladly did and found more than a few vintage shops and second hand shops like this pretty jewellery store on Altstadt.
Speaking of vintage, there’s a flea market on the Hauptplatz every Saturday morning!
Hotels in Linz are mostly set up to cater for the business market and so you may have to do a bit of research to stay in somewhere special, but that said the room rates are very reasonable.
My recommendations are the slick looking Spitz Hotel, a design hotel walking distance from most of the key sights, the classy Pixel Hotel for a luxurious and cultural experience for under 150 Euros a night or for good value for money and a central location (not to mention a great breakfast!) you can stay in Austria Trend Hotel Schillerpark, where I was based (room prices start at 55 Euros). Alternatively, if you’d like to go self-catering there are plenty of apartments listed on HouseTrip and Airbnb and many of them are much cheaper than hotels.
Or, if you’d like to do something completely different, consider becoming the “Hermit in the Tower“, a special proposition for anyone brave enough to spend a week sleeping in the tower of Linz’s Cathedral.
You’ll need to climb up 400 steps every day to your bed, but you’re in a great location to access the city’s restaurants, shops and sights. What initially began as part of the 2009 Capital of Culture projects is still incredibly popular and if you’re looking for solitude and silence this could be ideal!
Eat + Drink
Another surprise in Linz was how lively the city was at night with many bustling bars and restaurants. I enjoyed a rich gnocchi and gorgonzola feast at the U.Hof (which is just at the foot of the OK) and I loved the Austrian tapas menu on offer at Josef – including “mini-schnitzel” – in a late night restaurant and bar that was full to bursting on a Monday night.
I also enjoyed lunch with a view in Cubus the restaurant at the top of ARS Electronica. You can also eat well on a budget in Linz with Tokyo Running Sushi offering a full sushi box for around 10 Euros or try a two-course Upper Austrian feast for under 20 Euros at Wirt am Graben. When I asked for recommendations for restaurants for our vegetarian and vegan Travelettes’ readers, a local pointed me to Paa, though I didn’t try it myself.
For something sweet – because there’s always time for that! – pop into Plain Vanilla on Hessenplatz for a cupcake (or two) although locals will insist if you’re going to have any cake it should be the Linzer Torte, which I do recommend!
Although I didn’t get to experience the nightlife as much as I would like – too busy eating too much mini-schnitzel!! – Solaris bar at the fantastically named Gelbes Krokodil (the yellow crocodile) was recommended to me for cocktails and Exxtrablatt was mentioned as a cosy spot to drink beer and eat burgers… man, why didn’t I do that!?!
One small tip, Austria doesn’t quite have the same non-smoking laws as most of the other European countries, so if you’re a non-smoker and you want to eat in a non-smoking area be sure to ask for this and be prepared for smoking in bars.
As I mentioned, I was in Linz for NEXTCOMIC Festival, a leading German-speaking festival for comic, cartoon and illustration art. (That said, many of the artists there were English speaking.) There are many other events held in Linz throughout the year and a few have caught my eye including CROSSING EUROPE Linz Film Festival and Bubble Days, a summer festival held around a wakeboarding competition – The Wake of Steel – sponsored by Red Bull.
I always think it’s hardest to like a city when the weather does everything it can to keep you inside or keep you wet, cold and miserable while you’re outside. It rained virtually the whole time I was in Linz and I didn’t see a scrap of blue sky until I left… and yet, I found myself really, really warming to Linz and by the time I left I felt like I had discovered Austria’s best kept secret.
Though, of course, I’ve let the cat out the bag now with this guide… Ah well! It doesn’t matter because I think when I do get to go back I’ll experience something else because as they say Linz verändert…
So, have you been to Linz before? Or maybe, you’re from Linz? I’d love to hear your recommendations!Tweet