Beyond Vienna’s City Walls
A look at some of Austria’s most impressive forts and castles
The opulence of imperial life draws millions of tourists to Vienna every year. The Schönbrunn Castle, Belvedere Palace and Hofburg imperial palace are the highlights of any guided tour.
Yet, architectural beauty and noble family histories can be found beyond the city’s borders and off the tourist beaten track. Within two hours of Vienna, medieval and renaissance castles and forts speckle the land, charged with historical anecdotes and breathtaking views.
One of the best-known sites beyond Vienna is the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO world heritage site. Driving along the Danube or taking the train from Vienna to Melk, one is overwhelmed by the plethora of stunning architectural and historical treasures that sit upon the crags and hills that line the valley. Slightly less celebrated are the Vienna Woods and the Burgenland region where castles and forts crown the valleys.
Getting away from the city bustle by visiting sites in the countryside outside Vienna is an excellent option. Here are a few recommendations:
Built during the 11th century, the ruins of the Dürnstein Castle are a relic of the times of Richard the Lionheart who was held captive and for ransom within its walls.
Those who want to relive historical times can find comfortable five-star accomodation in Durnstein.
Further along the river from Dürnstein are the Aggstein Ruins, founded in 1231, then destroyed and rebuilt. Today, the Aggstein Castle remains an impressive structure offering a panoramic view over the Danube and Wachau Valley. Once home to the Künringer, robber barons, who waylaid and robbed passing itinerant merchants, Aggstein is open to the public throughout the year.
Only 5km from the city of Melk in Lower Austria, the Schallaburg is one of the most striking Rennaissance castles in the region. Built in the late 11th century, the charms of the Schallaburg castle and its beautiful park are available to visitors though all the seasons. Guided tours are held from May to November.
The home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his family in the Wachau is a perennial site for tourists. The guided tour "For Heart and Crown" reveals the story of one of the most influential families, the rise and fall of their power which ended in their final resting place: the tomb of Artstetten castle.
Located in the Waldviertel, this renaissance castle was built in the 12th century. In pristine condition, visitors can wander through the library, its marble hall, the castle chapel and innumerable rooms filled with original furniture!
Named after the Hungarian noble family, this Baroque castle is located in Burgenland’s capital, Eisenstadt, which was also the birthplace of Haydn.
Its extravagance and namesake have ensured it the title of "the Hungarian Versailles." This palace offers a wine cellar, old art treasures and the famous Haydn-Hall, where classical concerts are often performed.