Vienna is one of my favorite European cities, but I have to admit, it gets so crowded with tourists that sometimes it’s hard to make your way around and enjoy all it has to offer. Just over an hour away on the train, however, is the Austrian city of Linz. A beautiful place to visit, Linz is a wonderful option for wandering around freely and seeing all the sights in peace.
While Vienna offers traditional charm, historical buildings, and famous connections to musicians and artists, Linz manages to keep its old-town heart while also looking to the future. It seems to perpetually have one foot in tradition and one foot facing forward. It also has some famous art and music connections.
Although it’s hard to compare the two cities, as they are different in many ways, Linz is a great alternative for anyone visiting Austria and looking for a cool, quieter city to explore. It is easily reachable from Vienna and has its own airport.
Here’s why you should visit Linz instead of Vienna.
While it’s true that Vienna has some incredible coffeehouses, the coffeehouse is so much of a tradition in Austria you can find them all over the place. In Linz, you can visit the authentic K.U.K. Hofbackerei, which has been a bakery since 1371 and a coffeehouse since 1570. Coffeehouse culture is an elegant and lazy affair in Austria, and you can spend hours over complimentary newspapers and a vast coffee menu. The cakes and pastries are very much a part of the experience in Linz. You can enjoy your coffee with a slice of Linzertorte, a specialty pie topped with fruit preserves and pastry, named after the city you’re standing in. It’s said to be the oldest cake in the world.
Like Vienna, Linz has mostly Baroque-style architecture. It also has some lovely Renaissance-era buildings, and the city feels more Italian in style than Vienna. In the town square of Linz, you can look around and see the pastel-painted houses that line the streets, creating a pretty vista, as opposed to the more classical scenes in Vienna. The old town hall in Linz is especially beautiful and reflects Linz’s character of being laid back and sunny in its atmosphere. As with all things in Linz, the new sits side by side with the old, and brand-new designs in buildings are always popping up.
3. Museums and Galleries
You’ll find some fascinating museums and galleries in Vienna, with a focus on the history of art and music, but in Linz you’ll find galleries and museums that look forward as well as backward. At the Ars Electronica Center, you can take a walk through the history of the digital revolution and find yourself right up to date as displays ask important questions about AI and the future of technology. While down by the harbor, there’s an open-air street art gallery, Mural Harbor Gallery, where you can tour the murals on show in this semi-working harbor and have a go at spray painting for yourself. The murals are best seen from a boat tour along the Danube, which includes your own spray painting session.
Vienna has an incredible 12 shopping centers spread across the city, plus the high street shops on Graben. There’s no doubt it’s a great place to go shopping, but in Linz it’s a much more local experience. There are a few shopping centers, a couple of them being located out of town, and you can find some upmarket stores and boutiques. There’s also a great market in the square and plenty of specialist shops that are clearly aimed at locals. This makes it a more authentic shopping experience, and you have a better chance of finding something that’s specific to Linz to take home with you.
If you’re looking for Michelin-starred restaurants and a very wide choice, Vienna has it all, but it also has booked up restaurants and long wait times for food. In Linz, you might have slightly fewer choices, but you do have a greater chance of getting a reservation, and you’ll be mostly eating with locals. If you want traditional Austrian food, head to Gelbes Krokodil. The city also has a good selection of Italian, Chinese, and Indian restaurants. Zum Kleinen Griechen is a lovely traditional seafood restaurant offering fine dining seafood dishes. The pavement seating out on the cobbled square is a lovely place to dine.
You might think Vienna would win this one easily, but Linz has some really special attractions. To begin with, there are two cathedrals in the city, one much older than the other. The new cathedral is the largest cathedral in Austria. There’s some rivalry here between Linz and Vienna as, when this cathedral was being built, authorities in Vienna declared no cathedral in Austria could be taller than Vienna’s. So, Linz’s new cathedral is slightly shorter in height, but it’s the largest in capacity. For incredible views of the city, take the trolley bus up the hill to Postlingbergbahn, where the pretty church overlooks the town below.
Austrian people in general are friendly and welcoming. They may have a reputation of being a little stiff, and you might mistake their politeness and formal manner as uptight. Yes, they like punctuality, but Austrians will go out of their way to make you feel welcome by offering you cake and coffee and, in restaurants and bars, helping you with menus. In Vienna, this sometimes gets clouded by the mass tourism element, and you might not come across many true locals. In Linz, you’ll be speaking to owners of coffeehouses whose families have been there for generations and who feel an immense pride in their city.
There is more of a nightlife scene in Vienna, which has champagne bars, the Hard Rock Café, and clubs for after-hours partying. Linz is much quieter on the whole, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good night out. The coffee culture is strong in Linz, and many of the coffeehouses serve alcohol, making them bars in the evening. The atmosphere in these café/bars is laid back and sophisticated, but if you like things a little livelier, head to Hemingway’s Music Bar, and you’ll find cocktails being shaken and beer being poured while modern music plays fairly loudly. It’s not a club, they serve food and it’s very much a bar, but it’s where to go if you want to kick back with a beer and listen to some good music.