Between plains, hills, rivers and a marshy lake, Burgenland seems light years away from Austria‘s typical scenery of snow-capped peaks and Alpine valleys. But a visit to this region on the border with Hungary, to which it is very close both scenically and culturally, will reveal a wide range of sights, including splendid castles, sumptuous palaces and, of course, a series of medieval villages and fortresses: Burgenland in fact means ‘land of fortresses’.
Its compact size makes it possible to visit the whole of Burgenland in just a few days. The castles include Gussing, dating back to 1157, Lockenhaus, the abandoned fortress of Landsee and, above all, Forchtenstein. A visit to the main town of Eisenstadt, with its beautiful Esterházy Palace , where the composer Joseph Haydn lived for a long time, is also worthwhile. Two open-air museums are worth mentioning: Gerersdorf and Bad Tatzmannsdorf, where you can admire the typical farmhouses of the past.
Finally, nature deserves a special mention. Burgenland represents the western border of the Pannonian plain, with which it shares the flat landscape. But it is well worth exploring the wine-growing area and stopping to taste wine in the numerous wine cellars, and then setting off towards Lake Neusiedler, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, at the centre of a perfect ecosystem for migratory birds.
Burgenland is a narrow strip of land that runs along the entire border between Austria and Hungary, representing, in fact, the easternmost region of the country. At the northern end it borders Slovakia for a few kilometres, at the southern end for a few kilometres with Slovenia.
In the east, Burgenland borders two Austrian provinces, Lower Austria and Styria. The region is newly established, so much so that in the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire it belonged to the Hungarian crown.
Geographically, the similarities withHungary are not lacking either. In the northern part there is a large plain and the marshy lake Neusiedler, while the mountains are few and not very high: the highest elevation is the Geschriebenstein, at only 884 metres.
The small Burgenland hides within it a number of really interesting sights, including nature, palaces and towns. Here are the best ones, so you don’t miss a single one.
Pretty Eisenstadt is the capital of Burgenland, and with its 14,000 inhabitants it is also its most populous town. It is very pleasant to visit, with its beautiful late-Gothic cathedral, Jewish quarter and a number of interesting civic buildings and museums. Also visit the Bergkirche, inside which is the tomb of composer Joseph Haydn, who lived part of his life here.
But the main attraction in Eisenstadt is the Esterházy Palace, dating back to the late 13th century and converted into a Baroque castle at the turn of the 18th century. It is a magnificent residence with a huge garden surrounding it, and during the tour you can enter several rooms, in which antique furniture and various works of art are on display. The highlight of the Esterházy Palace tour is the Haydnsaal, a large, beautifully frescoed concert hall, dedicated to the composer Joseph Haydn, who worked for more than 40 years in the service of the Esterházy family, who owned the palace.
Güssing is the oldest castle in Burgenland, dating back to 1157. Over the centuries it was expanded several times, and in the 17th century it became a walled fortress. Situated on the top of a hill, it can also be reached by a modern funicular railway, which reaches the top in just two minutes.
Inside Gussing Castle is an exhibition displaying over 5,000 magnificent art treasures in 20 exhibition rooms. A lot of space is given to the Batthyány family, the historical owners of the castle: you can admire porcelain plates and trays, Baroque art collections and a large section devoted to sacred art, which the Batthyàny loved to surround themselves with. Also remarkable is the collection of iron objects, the largest of its kind in Austria with over 800 exhibits.
The open-air museum in Gerersdorf is one of the most interesting sights in Burgenland. It faithfully reproduces more than 30 dwellings from past centuries, as well as workshops and workshops. You will be amazed by the special architecture of the buildings, with their typical thatched roofs. Inside, numerous everyday objects and working tools can still be seen, so that you can get a closer look at what life was like on the Pannonian plain in the past. The museum also organises regular events and handicraft courses. It is worth a visit for these alone!
At the foot of the Rosaliengebirge mountain range stands the Forchtenstein Castle, one of the most beautiful in the whole of Burgenland. It can boast being the only fortress in the region that was never conquered during the wars against the Ottoman Turks. For this reason, the castle was the‘treasure room‘ of the Esterházy family, in which all the family’s valuables were secured.
Even today, the highlight of the Forchtenstein castle are the collections and treasures of the rich family. Not to be missed is the Arms Hall, one of the largest private collections of rifles, pistols and armaments in Europe, which bears witness to the military tradition of the family, a loyal ally of the Habsburgs. Also not to be missed are the treasure room, and the‘gallery of ancestors‘, in which a rich series of Baroque portraits from the 17th century can be admired.
Lake Neusiedler is one of the most attractive nature destinations in Burgenland and beyond. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, this large body of marshy water lies within the Neusiedler See – Seewinkel National Park, established in 1993. Unique flora and fauna can be admired here: reed beds, brackish ponds and small beaches provide habitats for migratory birds and large mammals.
The lake is located on the Hungarian border and has an area of 380 square kilometres, 180 of which are reed beds. It is 36 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide; its maximum depth is only 1.8 metres. It is possible to take part in guided tours and excursions of about 3 hours, which take place at fixed dates and times, walking along safe paths that start from the information centre, which can also be accessed to visit temporary exhibitions or video installations.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article