Hauptplatz, Linz, Austria

Hautplatz, Linz, Austria, Trinity Column

The Trinity Column in the Hauptplatz of Linz, Austria

A city that has been trying to free itself from its Nazi past (it is where Hitler spent his childhood) has elected in the Alt-Right party again in 2017. And yet – it was the first Austrian city to account and make up for its own Nazi past. From renaming streets to erecting monuments to victims and resistance heroes, Linz is still attempting to crawl out from that dismal past. The Trinity Column, a plague column in Linz’s main square – called the Hauptplatz – represents thanksgiving for the ending of the violent plagues that swept through Austria. Though Linz has had a turbulent past, the city founded by the Romans in 799 is now a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and was the 2009 European Capital of Culture. Enjoy strolling its charming (and surprisingly colourful) streets, lounging along the Blue Danube (on a sunny day!) and exploring the birthplace of Mozart. Taste one the of city’s famous Linzer tortes or even take the fin de siecle Pöstlingbergbahn, the steepest mountain rail in the world!


Visit Other Cool Off the Beaten Path European Cities
  1. Riga, Latvia
  2. Lyon, France
  3. Ronda, Spain
  4. Poznan, Poland
  5. Stuttgart, Germany

 

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UFO Taste Restaurant, Bratislava, Slovakia

UFO Taste Restaurant over Danuage River in old town of Bratislava, Slovakia

UFO Taste Restaurant, Bratislava, Slovakia 

Is that…a UFO? Little green men? Is the alien invasion hinted at in the X-Files coming true? No…no…and still no. Though bearing an interesting semblance to a flying saucer, this strange structure is the man-made UFO Taste Restaurant, hovering 85m above Bratislava and the beautiful Danube River, where you can gouge on unique Mediterrasian food and sip colorful cocktails while appreciating how tiny the snow-covered buildings, cars and people look far below your table. The restaurant’s immense windows let you appreciate how beautiful the city looks bathed in fog on the chilly winter’s day. Little-known and little-visited Slovakia  with its capital Bratislava may have their setbacks (it’s a small city and a small country, and not always as elegantly magical as nearby Budapest, Prague or Vienna), but there is no doubt that this a proud nation working to recover after so many challenges facing this part of Europe in the last few decades. Unique quirks such as this UFO restaurant, city centre statues like Cumil, arresting graffiti and restaurants that mix tradition with newness are slowly turning this hidden European capital into a shining gem.

Liberty Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

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Liberty Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

Thick iron beams and sturdy iron bars may seem like an unusual site to behold in a city so well known for its elegance, old world charm, and beautiful architecture. In order to cross the famed Danube, you have a couple of options if you’re looking for famed landmarks: the magnificent Chain Bridge, or, as pictured here, the industrial-age Liberty Bridge. Connecting the beautiful Gellert Hill (location of Gellert Spa and Hotel), and the bustling Fővám Tér, or Great Market Hall, Liberty Bridge is as important as it is famous. As a cantilever truss bridge with a suspended middle span, it is quite different in structure than anything already spanning Budapest’s waters, but was constructed in a (successful) effort to augment the economy by better connecting Buda and Pest. And yes, Budapest is actually a combination of several communes, including Buda and Pest, whose names and boundaries were combined to create a compound city in 1873. We’ll wrap this up with a fun fact: the final piece of the puzzle (or in this case, the bridge) was symbolically added by Emperor Franz Joseph himself.

 

Budapest, Hungary

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Budapest, Hungary

Old world charm, the steam age and the orient express, the turn of century (or more elegantly put, fin du siècle), lavishness, decadence.…yes, you’ve been painted into a canvas of the elegant, sometimes dream-like Hungarian capital. Budapest, in its own way, is an art form. It is a piece of a painting of a forgotten place, a poem putting colour to a lost era, a melody composed on an antique instrument. Budapest could be a place created by the most talented artists of the last few centuries, an enormous canvas on which to create their evolving masterpiece. Surely one of Europe’s greatest cities – then and now – Budapest seems to offer so much: spicy gastronomy, magnificent architecture, friendly locals, the Blue Danube, its own flavour. Much like the unique language spoken by inhabitants – related only to faraway Finnish and Estonian – Budapest seems to protrude from the rest of Eastern Europe. The culture, the food, the people, the city – everything feels somehow different; perhaps a creation by a steampunk fan or an old Polaroid photo. Budapest feels like a fin du siècle painting  breathed into being by Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey, a place where anything could happen, a place where you could become anyone or do anything.

Bratislava, Slovakia

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Hlavné námestie (Main Square), Bratislava, Slovakia

Did you know that Bratislava and Vienna and the closest (geographically-speaking) capital cities in Europe? Just one hour by train, and only 55 miles as the crow flies! Bratislava is also directly between Vienna and Budapest. There are Americans commute that same distance every day! Therefore, there is no excuse not to add Bratislava to your Austrian/Hungarian itinerary. Not only that, but Bratislava is still relatively “undiscovered.” While Vienna and Budapest may be grander and more inherently beautiful, they are also unavoidably touristic. In many ways, this is a good thing (i.e., foreign languages such as English, French, Spanish, Russian, etc, are prevalent), but this does take a way a little from the experience. To really get into the heart of central/Eastern Europe, Bratislava provides an excellent gateway. A smaller, and easily walkable city, Bratislava affords a quaint Old Town, a magnificent and glowing castle on the hilltop, many fine restaurants for very affordable prices, a lovely promenade along the Danube, funky statues and street art (including Cumil), and an overall fun and relaxed scene. During winter, everything is covered in a light layer of snow, pure and white. At Christmastime, Christmas markets abound, full of handmade gifts and trinkets. Meanwhile in the summer, sunny days blanket the city, glistening off the Danube–reminding us that it is, indeed, the Blue Danube.

Budapest, Hungary

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Budapest, Hungary

As is so often the case, the castle offers a fantastic vantage point of the city below. From the castle terrace, one can see all of Budapest: the famous Hungarian Parliament Building, the Chain Bridge, the tower of St. Stephen’s Basilica, and of course, the Blue Danube. And on this clear, sunny Easter day, the Danube is actually blue! Budapest is one of Europe’s best-kept gems. A city with so much to offer, it is often overlooked by mass tourism travellers, though those more adventurous who wander eastward into Budapest are greatly reward for their trouble! Not only is everything a bargain in Budapest, but the city is downright gorgeous and ripe with culture, spice and tradition – especially during spring festivities!

Linz, Austria

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Linz, Austria

Resting on the banks of the famous (though not always blue) Danube, Linz has neither the splendour of Vienna nor the musical reputation of Salzburg. However, what Linz does have is the ability to let visitors truly integrate into Austrian culture while avoiding the crowds of Linz’s two overwhelming neighbours. Situated almost equidistant from both Vienna and Salzburg, a quick stopover in Linz is both easy and logical. A city almost always overlooked because it didn’t manage to produce nearly as many musical genii as Austria’s other cities, it did manage to create the Linzertorte, a type of lattice-topped pastry filled with jam, which one can eat while learning German from cheerful shopkeepers, biking down cobble-stoned lanes, and watching swans float down the Danube. And that, in itself, is reason enough to visit!

Linz, Austria

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Hauptplatz and Pestsäule (Plague Column) in Linz, Austria

Grey and dismal, this is Austria before a storm, and pretty much how the world views Austria. Yet, storms or not, Linz is far from dismal. In fact, the 3rd-largest city in Austria is teeming with life. For a time, it was the most important city in the Holy Roman Empire, as it was here that Habsburg Emperor Friedrich III spent his final years (though it lost its status to Prague and Vienna when he died in 1493).  Its New Cathedral also sports the largest cathedral in the nation (though not the tallest; during construction, the tower had to be limited to 135m to keep it—by only two meters—shorter than St Stephen’s in Vienna). Cafés and shops line the boulevards; joggers and bikers span the river. The Baroque Plague Column rising from the cobblestones designs to protect Linz from plagues, fires and wars. Linz is a gem on the Blue (grey…) Danube.

Kreuzenstein Castle, Austria

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Kreuzenstein Castle, Austria.

Most people who visit Vienna (and it seems like the whole world visits Vienna) don’t go to Kreuzenstein Castle. In fact, most people haven’t even heard of Kreuzenstein Castle.  Only discovering its existence by perusing a list naming Austrian castles, I knew nothing about it this impressive building overlooking Vienna and the Danube. Even after deciding to go, the internet yielded surprisingly little about this magnificent pile of stone only 3o minutes from the Prater station in Vienna. The castle itself was once a 12th-century medieval castle but then destroyed in 1635, at the end of the 30-Years-War.  Finally rebuilt in the 19th century by Count Nepomuk Wilczek, the ambitious Count wanted to make it as authentic as possible. He purchased various pieces of medieval buildings from all over Europe (Romanian cloisters, German wattle-and-daub buildings, bits of other European buildings), making it one-of-a-kind. It has also been used in BBC series, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End.

Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

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The Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

The Fisherman’s Bastion, or Halászbástya, is a terrace overlooking the Danube in Budapest. Built in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style at the turn of the century, to me, it resembles a giant sandcastle. For those not afraid of heights, a climb to the top offers a panoramic view of Budapest, including the House of Parliament, Margaret Island, Gellert Hill, and the Chain Bridge. Its name comes from the fisherman’s guild that was in charge of defending this section of the city walls in the Middle Ages and includes a statue of the infamous Stephen I. Beware though, during tourist season, they will try to make you pay.  To get the view for free, slip up through the café in the far left-hand quarter!


Pro tip: Do you like cake? Of course – who doesn’t!? Visit the Ruazwurm Confectionery just around the corner for delicious treats!


Other Faux Castles in Europe
  1. Sham Castle in Bath, England
  2. Vajahunyad Castle in Budapest, Hungary
  3. Kruzenstein Castle near Vienna, Austria
  4. Albigny-sur-Soane near Lyon, France
  5. Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Belgium

 

Bratislava, Slovakia

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Castle Gates in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Bratislava’s main tourism seems to stem from those travelling from Prague to Vienna to Budapest who just happen to stop in the Slovakian capital along their way down the Danube River. It’s a good thing they do. While Bratislava doesn’t compare to its giant neighbors, it still has unexpected beauty and charm. And in the snow, Bratislava becomes fairy tale-esque. These castles gates, blanketed in snow, seem to lead to a magical, misty land reminiscent of Narnia–seemingly leading nowhere while actually going to a beautiful, other-worldly place. In fact, they’re lucky to be here at all, as the castle was destroyed by a fire in 1811 and left in ruins for nearly 200 years. Yet, with the help of the Slovakian government, the gates once again lead to someplace magical–Bratislava Castle, returned to the splendor of the shinning era of Maria Theresa.

Statue of Cumil, Bratislava, Slovakia

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Statue of Cumil, Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava occasionally manages to makes the Danube travel itinerary, as its comfortably in between Vienna and Budapest. However, it’s still rather undiscovered in a way that Vienna is not. Smaller than Prague, Budapest or Vienna, Bratislava still has plenty of gems.  Walking through the middle of Bratislava’s Old Town, one suddenly comes across this unusual statue peeping out of a manhole. Only dating back to 1995, “Cumil” (as called by the locals) remains a mystery as to why there is a man in a raincoat popping out of a manhole. Regardless of his intentions, he’s amusing for both locals and tourists alike–and always a fun photo-op for all ages!