Alpine passes, mountains, rivers, lakes and many caves, but also medieval towns, castles and Habsburg palaces: this is what a visitor to Lower Austria, or Niederösterreich, the north-eastern region of the country, which surrounds the Land of Vienna like an embrace and contains part of its periphery, should expect.
Its capital city is St. Pölten, while other important cities worth visiting are Amstetten, Krems an der Donau and Wiener Neustadt. But Lower Austria is full of monasteries, castles and palaces, and of course beautiful landscapes, a constant throughout the country. Visit it with a rental car for a complete on-the-road tour, but also take the Semmering Railway, which runs from Vienna to the southern part of the region through magical landscapes with 16 viaducts, 100 bridges and 15 tunnels: this 20th century engineering marvel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can study an itinerary to discover the baroque monasteries of Melk and Göttweig, be inspired by the castles of Rosenburg, Schallaburg, and Aggstein, or the dreamy atmosphere of Schloss Hof, former residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. A visit to Carnuntum, an ancient Roman city with a population of 50,000 during the 1st century AD, is also interesting. And of course, the wine landscapes, gentle hills dotted with wine cellars and farms, are not to be missed.
Despite its name, Lower Austria is located in the north-east of the country: it entirely surrounds Vienna (but does not include it, as the Austrian capital is part of its own region) and borders Slovakia to the east and the Czech Republic to the north. The other neighbouring Austrian regions, apart from the Land of Vienna, are Upper Austria, Styria and Burgenland.
With an area of more than 19,000 square kilometres, Lower Austria is the largest region in the country and is divided into four zones with distinct geographical characteristics: the Weinviertel, the Waldviertel , the Mostviertel and theIndustrievertel, whose names curiously translate as ‘wine district’, ‘forest district’, ‘must district’ and ‘industry district’.
Lower Austria’s climate is oceanic, with warm summers and cold winters. Precipitation follows that of Vienna, with snowfall in the winter months and rainfall never too rare throughout the year.
It may not be the most popular region for tourists, but Lower Austria can satisfy the needs of any visitor. From historical towns to medieval fortresses, from enchanting landscapes to rural villages, here are the most beautiful things to see in the region.
One of the most beautiful things to see in Lower Austria is the Benedictine Abbey of Melk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dating back to the year 1000, and later renovated in Baroque style, it is located along the Danube on a rocky outcrop, just a stone’s throw from what is now the lively town of Melk.
A visit from the outside as well as from the inside is a must: famous is its library, according to some used by Umberto Eco as inspiration for his ‘The Name of the Rose’. With over 100,000 volumes and splendid frescoes by Paul Troger, it was one of the most important and famous libraries of the Middle Ages. From the library, a spiral staircase leads up to the Stifskirche, a beautiful frescoed church. There is also a museum within the complex, with modern installations.
The town of Krems an der Donau has about 25,000 inhabitants, making it the fifth most populous town in Lower Austria. Located at the confluence of the Danube and the Krems River in the Waldviertel region, Krems was as large as Vienna in the 11th century.
Today it is a pleasant tourist destination in Lower Austria, well worth a visit. In the old town , don’t miss the Steiner Tor, an old city gate dating back to 1480, the magnificent columned statue of the Dreifaltigkeitssäule and the Rathaus, the town hall.
The Schlosspark Laxenburg is a huge park surrounding the Franzensburg, a magnificent medieval-inspired castle built on an artificial island so that it looks as if it were surrounded by a moat. When visiting Schlosspark Laxenburg, you will be immersed in nature and culture, in a truly unique mix.
The entire site is located about 15 kilometres south of Vienna, near the village of Laxenburg. The park, which dates back to the 18th century, covers an area of 280 hectares and is landscaped down to the last detail, thanks to the efforts of the Habsburgs, in particular Empress Maria Theresia and her grandson, Emperor Franz.
Franzensburg, which literally means ‘Franz’s Castle’, was completed in 1835, and today its rooms are part of the castle museum, while in Sissi’s time it was the place where the famous empress spent her honeymoon.
On the Marchfeld plain, bordered by the two rivers Danube and Morava, stands Schloss Hof, a splendid palace dating from 1720, the former hunting lodge of Prince Eugene of Savoy. The entire complex includes the palace, the huge garden surrounding it and the farm, all designed by the same architect who built the Belvedere in Vienna, Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt.
Schloss Hof reached the pinnacle of its history when it was purchased by the Habsburgs in the late 1700s and became a venue for celebrations and festivities. Recently renovated, it is well worth a visit to relive court life inside the flats, but above all to get lost wandering around the large garden with its terraces and flowerbeds.
Grafenegg Castle is one of the most important exponents of Romanticism in Austria. Built in the 14th century and extended in the 19th century, it possesses Gothic, Baroque, Biedermeier and Neo-Gothic influences in a truly interesting mix of styles: towers, facades, staircases, arches and chapels can be admired in a single structure; a true symbol of Lower Austria and certainly one of the country’s most beautiful castles.
The 32-hectare castle park, dating back to the 18th century, deserves a special mention. An oasis of peace and tranquillity, interspersed with a series of modern works of art and a large pavilion dating back to the mid-18th century, now completely renovated, where events of all kinds are held, as well as weddings and private parties.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article