Upper Austria, or Oberösterreich in German, is a wonderful destination for active outdoor summer holidays. Its capital city Linz is the ideal starting point to explore it, rich in culture and tradition, but also with efficient services and modern touches. Dedicate a couple of days to it, then set off on the road to explore the entire area.
From the imperial villa in Bad Ischl to the Dachstein caves, from the marvellous Schloss Ort castle to the steepest steam rack railway in the country,Upper Austria will amaze you at every turn. Then don’t miss the Augustinian monastery of St. Florian, with its magnificent frescoed library and baroque style. And of course, don’t miss the town that is perhaps the most representative of the region: the wonderful, hyper-touristic Hallstatt, located on the shores of the lake of the same name.
But Upper Austria, like the whole country, has nature as its strong point. Green valleys and high mountain landscapes, but also the beautiful Attersee lake, which can also be travelled on board one of the many ships that ply its turquoise waters in summer. Finally, it is worth mentioning the 5fingers, or ‘the 5 fingers’ panoramic footbridge, from which you have a wonderful view of Lake Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut region.
Upper Austria is located in the north of the country, bordering Bavaria, Germany, and Bohemia, a region of the Czech Republic. The other regions it borders are Lower Austria in the east, Salzburg in the west and Styria in the south. It is the third most populated Austrian Land with approximately 1.5 million inhabitants, and the fourth largest in terms of surface area, with almost 12,000 square kilometres.
Upper Austria is divided into 15 districts and 442 municipalities, but traditionally it is simply divided into four zones called Viertel, which are:
Upper Austria’s climate is generally oceanic or humid continental, with pleasant summers and rather cold winters. Due to the continental influence, snowfall is frequent from November to March, while rainfall is not uncommon during the summer months.
There are many things to see in Upper Austria, and all of them are very interesting. Mountains, lakes, towns and villages – everyone will find his or her ideal type of holiday.
We start our list of things to see in Upper Austria with what is certainly its most famous tourist attraction, the small town of Hallstatt. The photo taken from the water, immortalising it with its soaring church tower and mountains in the background, is one of the most famous postcards of Austria and the whole of Europe.
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage list along with the Dachstein massif and the Salzkammergut region, Hallstatt is located on the shores of the lake of the same name, and is a village of less than 1,000 inhabitants but which has been literally flooded by tourists, especially Asians, since it was featured in a South Korean TV show in 2006, so much so that a replica was even built in China in 2011.
It is estimated that it is visited by as many as 30,000 people a day, most of whom arrive on organised tours. That is why, if you can, choose to sleep in Hallstatt; when the tourist hordes have returned to their buses, you will have the pleasant feeling of having the town all to yourself, and can enjoy it to the full.
The Salzkammergut is a tourist area that expands east of Salzburg to the Dachstein mountains. Its name translates as‘salt domain‘, where domain is to be understood in its ancient feudal sense, i.e. land owned by the feudal lord for his own use. In this case, the feudal lord coincided with the Habsburgs, while the salt was extracted from mines in the area.
AUNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, the Salzkammergut straddles the river Traun, between glacial lakes, mountains and valleys. As it is not an Austrian administrative region, it has no clearly defined borders, although since 2002 the Tourismusregion Salzkammergut has been established, which includes, among others, Lake Hallstatt, the towns of Bad Goisern, Hallstatt, Obertraun and Gosaun, Lake Traun, Lake Atter, and the towns of Bad Ischl, Attergau and Almtal.
All in all, the Salzkgammerkut is Austria in miniature, to be visited far and wide to be amazed by the wonders of nature and charming villages.
Schloss Ort Castle is located on a small island in Traunsee Lake, connected to the mainland by a wooden platform. Located just a few kilometres from the beautiful town of Gmunden, Schloss Ort was founded in 1080, and century after century it was extended, modernised and renovated until it was purchased in 1876 by the Florentine Archduke John of Habsburg-Lorraine.
Following the fall of the Habsburgs, the castle was left to itself until 1973, when it was restored by the Austrian government. It was then purchased by the town of Gmunden, and from there was used for tourism purposes. Its beauty is such that it was even used as the main setting for the Austrian TV series Schlosshotel Orth!
The Kaiservilla, or imperial villa, is one of Upper Austria’s main tourist attractions. Located in Bad Ischl, it was the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Habsburg and Empress Sissi. Built in the Biedermeier style, it was later modified in the Neoclassical style by inserting large colonnades at the entrance and two additional wings, which give the building an ‘E’ shape.
The villa is surrounded by a magnificent English garden, with flowerbeds, fountains and beautiful lawns. The park is also home to one of the 13 Peace Trees planted around the world, a project by Slovak architect Marek Sobola created in 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.
Near Linz, in the heart of Upper Austria, is the Abbey of St. Florian. This monastery complex dates back to 1701, on the site where, according to legend, the martyr St. Florian was buried. The highlight of the abbey is its huge façade, more than 200 metres long, and the church with eight side chapels.
Don’t miss the abbey’s magnificent frescoes , painted by the German Anton Grump and his pupil Melchior Seindl, while the huge Anton Bruckner organ deserves a separate mention. With no less than 7343 pipes, it is one of the largest in Austria.
Inside the abbey, take some time to visit the courtyard, with a fountain dating from 1757 and a wrought-iron well. From the courtyard you can get an overview of the entire complex. Finally, the library: with over 150,000 volumes and a magnificent frescoed ceiling, it is one of the most important in the country.
Last but certainly not least among the things to see in Upper Austria is its capital Linz. Austria’s third largest city by population, it was the European Capital of Culture in 2009 and was the birthplace of, among others, Johannes Kepler. Its main street, Landstraße, starts at Blumauerplatz and leads to Taubenmarkt, near the main square or Hauptplatz, dating back to 1240 and today one of the largest squares in Europe, with a surface area of over 12,000 square metres.
Then pay a visit to St. Martins Church, the oldest in Austria, and St. Mary’s Cathedral, in Gothic style; with a height of 135 metres, it is the highest church in the country. Then visit the Mozarthaus, the house where the famous composer created the Linz Symphony and Linz Sonata.
Finally, take a ride on the Pöstlingbergbahn, an electric train that runs from Hauptplatz to Pöstlingberg, located on a hilltop north of the city. With a maximum gradient of 11.6%, it is one of the steepest railways in the world.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article