Looking for a fairytale-esque European summer holiday? No visit to Europe is complete without seeing a few magical Austrian castles and palaces in person. The country is full of magnificent, centuries-old buildings to explore. From grand palaces to enchanting rock-top buildings straight from the pages of a children’s story, you’re never far away from a castle in Austria.
From east to west, Austrian castles and palaces are an integral part of the landscape. Inside their walls, you’ll find stories from bygone eras – from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. Learn about the opulent life of the Habsburgs and follow in the footsteps of emperors, knights and nobility. Read on to discover five of the best Austrian castles and palaces to visit this summer.
Experience imperial heritage at the most famous of Austrian castles
It’s hard to believe that the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage-listed Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna was originally a hunting lodge. The stunning Baroque palace underwent an extensive expansion in the mid-18th century. This resulted in the current 1,441-room and landscaped garden complex you see today. It was the primary summer residence of the Habsburg rulers. Inside, you can see unique touches that each ruler left behind.
The palace is one of the most important cultural buildings in Austria. But the Schönbrunn palace is also an ideal place to keep young visitors entertained. Kids will love the Children’s Museum. Here, they can journey back in time, playing dress-up with historical costumes and toys from the past.
The Palace gardens are also home to the Schönbrunn Zoo. Famous for being the oldest zoo in the world, there are more than 700 different species of animals inside. These include giant pandas, Siberian tigers and elephants.
Visit the world’s first museum at Ambras Castle, Innsbruck
Austrian castles don’t come with a more romantic back story than Ambras Castle, located in the hills above Innsbruck. The fairytale castle was built as a refuge for Philippine Welser – the secret wife of Archduke Ferdinand II. The Archduke was due to marry a Princess from one of Europe’s great royal families. However, he fell in love with Philippine instead – who was the daughter of a mere merchant. When the secret marriage eventually came to light, their children were excluded from the Habsburg line of succession.
Archduke Ferdinand II was a great lover of the arts. As such, Ambras Castle is full of valuable collections of paintings, sculptures and other rarities. It became the first museum in the world when the Archduke opened the lower castle as an exhibition space.
These days, the castle is home to both permanent and temporary exhibitions. These include the Habsburg Portrait Gallery with masterpieces by Velázquez, van Dyck and Rubens.
See the imposing Forchtenstein Castle in Burgenland
Perhaps one of the most striking Austrian castles is Forchtenstein. The castle is located in the foothills of the Rosaliengebirge mountain range. Built in the Middle Ages, Forchtenstein later passed to the powerful Esterházy family by Emperor Ferdinand II. It acted as a treasury for the Princes during the Turkish Wars, when many other castles fell to the invaders.
The Esterházy family treasure is still on show at the castle today. These include Europe’s largest collection of medieval weapons, the biggest collection of ancestral portraits in Austria and a curiosity cabinet – packed with Baroque artefacts from around the world.
The castle is also home to the largest secco murals north of the Alps, as well as a range of visiting and permanent exhibitions.
Explore Salzburg’s iconic Fortress Hohensalzburg
No trip to Salzburg would be complete without a visit to one of the most famous Austrian castles – the impressive Fortress Hohensalzburg. Sitting high above the city on the Festungsberg, Fortress Hohensalzburg is the largest fully preserved castle in Central Europe.
The grandiose fortress was erected by the archbishops of Salzburg in 1077. It was later expanded by a string of the city’s Prince-Archbishops until it became what you see today. The Fortress was also used to house Italian prisoners of war during the First World War. It became a prison again in World War II until the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938.
Today, the Fortress Hohensalzburg is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. Visitors can hop on the funicular railway. The oldest in Austria, it has been transporting people to the castle since 1892. With its elevated position, there’s nowhere better to enjoy the Salzburg skyline than from the Fortress Hohensalzburg.
Step into a fairytale at the magical Hochosterwitz Castle
Sitting on top of a 171-metre high rock in Carinthia, the rock castle of Hochosterwitz wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney movie. One of the most beautiful and romantic of all Austrian castles, Hochosterwitz is believed to date back to around 860. As well as being a family home, it was also used as a refuge during the 11th and 12th-century Turkish invasions.
The castle has been in the hands of the Khevenhüller family for more than 400 years. One of the highlights of a visit to Hochosterwitz is to see the Legacy of George Khevenhüller, which is carved onto a marble plaque in the courtyard.
Visitors can also see the impressive collections of weapons and Renaissance pictures housed within the castle, as well as explore some of the 14 unique castle gates.
Plan your visit to the best Austrian castles and palaces
Whether you want to see romantic buildings dedicated to secret loves, imposing fortresses built to withstand invasions or magical rock-top structures, Austrian castles and palaces are an unmissable part of any trip to the country. Start planning your trip to Austria now by visiting austria.info/en/city-breaks
This article was produced in partnership with The Austrian National Tourist Office.
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