Port of Linz (Salzburg)
For river cruise operators, Linz is used mainly as a waypoint from which shore excursions set off to other, grander locales like Salzburg, Austria or Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic. And while the city is more of a place of work than a place to visit, it is a counterpoint to many other stops on a typical Danube River cruise itinerary. A quick tour through town (there really doesn't need to be any other kind) can provide relief for anyone suffering from "quaint European village fatigue syndrome."
Linz is the third-largest city in Austria, with a population of 190,000 inhabitants; it's also the capital to the state of Upper Austria. Once known as the country's center of industry (and hometown of Hitler), Linz is making a name for itself in the world of computer art and digital design. When you dock there, you will likely notice sculptures along the water's edge and a modern building with glowing LED lights, which is the Ars Electronica Center, a museum and development facility for new media arts. Also directly across from your ship will be Brucknerhaus -- named after composer Anton Bruckner -- a famous concert hall and home to the Bruckner Orchestra. The rising fortunes of Linz were officially recognized when the city was made a European Capital of Culture in 2009.
Many cruise lines dock in Linz and offer shore excursions to nearby Salzburg, a couple hours away by bus. Salzburg is set in the forested foothills north of the Alps mountain range, and the Salzach River divides the city. The northeastern half of the city is the new town -- mostly businesses and transport links -- and the southwestern bank of the river is home to the charming Altstadt (Old Town) with its baroque churches and one of Europe's oldest medieval fortresses. Salzburg's Old Town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
Home to Mozart, Haydn and setting of "The Sound of Music," Salzburg is a wildly popular stop for music-lovers of all kinds and tourists of all ages. In fact, the city gets 8 million visitors a year, an estimated 300,000 of which visit Salzburg each year simply because it's so prominently featured in the film musical "The Sound of Music."
So soak it all in and sing it out loud while you're in town. Walk the Getreidegasse, a busy shopping street, and happen upon the house at number 9, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born. Pace the gardens of Mirabell Palace; "Do-Re-Mi" was sung on its steps. During the holiday season, enjoy the festivities and decorations of Salzburg's impressive Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), and if you feel like singing a carol, the lyrics to "Silent Night" were written here, as well.
About Linz (Salzburg)
Linz's architectural draws include Linz Castle and Neuer Dom, Austria's biggest church
There's not much to see in Linz compared to nearby must-visit destinations of Salzburg (a two-hour drive)
Linz is a great base for excursions to Salzburg or the Austrian Lake District
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Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock alongside a riverside park in Linz called Donaupark, just a short walk or cycle ride from the Hauptplatz (city center).
There is no cruise terminal, but downtown Linz is easily walkable (or cyclable) from the Donaupark where you're docked. It's a gentle 10-minute walk into the Hauptplatz (main square), where there are banks and ATMs. The tourist information center is here, as well. (Hauptplatz 1, 4020 Linz, Austria; +43 732 7070 2009; open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) Many river cruise ships offer free Wi-Fi onboard as do many cafes in Linz.
If you decide to stick around in Linz and want to see some of the sights, a Linz Card (www.linztourismus.at/linzcard/) is available from the tourist information center on the Hauptplatz. The City Ticket will gain you access to several of the city's attractions for one price (about EUR20 per person), and you'll get a restaurant voucher, to boot. On the "for free" list are a number of museums, and there are discounted entries to a number of other spots including the Botanical Gardens. (Roseggerstrasse 20-22, Linz; open 8 a.m. to dusk, daily, closed from December 24 through January 6) A sightseeing tour of the city on the Linz City Express Train is also included.
One of the top two architectural stops in Linz is Linz Castle and its museum. (Schlossberg 1, Linz; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, until 9 p.m. Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday) A castle was first documented on the site as early as the eighth century. The current castle was built in 1477 by Emperor Friedrich III, went through various redesigns and expansions, and was restored following World War II. It contains permanent art exhibitions, showcasing the region's art from the Middle Ages to the present day as well as weaponry and other collections.
The other architectural draw is the Mariendom, also known as the Neuer Dom (New Cathedral), the biggest church in Austria. (Herrenstrasse 26, Linz; open Monday to Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.) Construction on the New Cathedral began in the mid-19th century and the church was completed in 1924. In addition to a stadium-like capacity of 20,000, the church is a neo-Gothic wonder of soaring spires, buttresses and stained-glass windows.
Good to Know
Linz is very safe, particularly in the main tourist areas, but as you would in any sizable city, beware of pickpockets, and always keep your belongings safe. Taking a few common sense precautions should be all you need to do to stay safe. Avoid carrying around large amounts of money or wearing flashy jewelry. Keep a close eye on valuables in crowded, public areas, as these are the places where pickpockets generally operate.
Emergency phone numbers in Linz (or anywhere in Austria) are: 133 for the police, 122 for the fire department and 144 for an ambulance. The European Mobile Emergency number is 112 from any mobile phone.
On foot: It's a short, approximately 10-minute stroll up a green, rolling bank into Linz's Hauptplatz, or Main Square.
By bike: The commute into Linz is even shorter if your river cruise ship offers bicycles for use. You can easily get around and see the town's sights in an hour or so.
Taxi: As ships dock alongside a public park, if you'd like to take a taxi, it's best to have the ship's front desk make the arrangements for you.
Bus: Shore excursion options from Linz to Salzburg or the Austrian Lake District will be via bus transfer, in most cases. It's about two hours to Salzburg; the Lake District is slightly shorter.
Train: Linz does have a train station, and there are trains to Salzburg from Linz. The trip takes about an hour, but with the location of the station in Linz being a 20 to 30 minute walk from the docking spot, and the station in Salzburg being in the new town rather than the tourist draw of the old town, you're probably better off taking the bus tour provided by the cruise line.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
As a part of the European Union, Austria uses the euro. Visit oanda.com for up-to-the-minute exchange rates. Oanda also has a nice "cheat sheet" conversion chart that fits neatly into a wallet.
ATMs, readily available throughout Linz and Salzburg, tend to be the least expensive way to obtain local currency as well as the easiest, given that many are open 24 hours. Banking hours vary, but most banks in Austria will be open between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and between 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays, with some staying open later. As in any city, there are currency exchange offices that charge a commission for transactions. All major credit cards are accepted.
German is the local language, but English is widely understood and spoken in much of Austria. A few handy phrases in German will always enamor you to the locals, though, so try these:
Hello: Hallo (HAL-oh) or Gruss Gott (GROOS got)
Good afternoon: Guten Tag (GOO-ten tahg)
Please / Thank you: Bitte / Danke (BIT-tuh / DAHN-kuh)
Yes / No: Ja / Nein (yah / nine)
Excuse me: Entschuldigen Sie (ent-SHOOL-de-gen zee)
Beer: Bier (beer)
Food and Drink
Austrian food is a varied affair, having been shaped over several centuries with a multitude of cultural influences. The Bavarian influence is heavily felt in Upper Austria, where dumplings, krauts (pickled vegetables), meat, potatoes, salads and fish dishes are the tradition. Linzertorte is a famous dessert cake from Linz, and Salzburg is known for its Kasnocken (cheese dumplings) and Salzburger nockerl (a meringue-like dessert). Other well-known traditional Viennese-Austrian offerings include wiener schnitzel (breaded veal) and apfelstrudel (apple strudel pastry). And of course, the national drinks are very much beer, schnapps and the Wachau Valley white wines. In Upper Austria, there is also an uncarbonated cider known as Most (or apfelwein).
Salzburg has no shortage of lovely cafes, and you won't struggle to find good food here, but here are a few of our top recommendations.
Augustiner Braustubl: The Augustine Brewery at Mulln has been Salzburg's home for gemutlichkeit (warmth, friendliness, and good cheer) for ages. Founded by monks in 1621, the brewery continues to brew craft beer in wooden barrels and serve it up to patrons in large (and larger) ceramic steins. On nice days, the beer garden is a great place to sit under the chestnut trees and enjoy a range of food from the onsite food stalls offering meats, salads, pickled vegetables and fish dishes. The food is inexpensive and the beer is tasty. It's all self-service, and the picnic tables are shared, so you'll be sure to make new friends while you're here. (Lindhofstrasse 7, 5020 Salzburg; +43 662 431246; open daily from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays, Sundays and holidays: 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; hot meals served until 10 p.m.)
Magazin: Not far from the easygoing brewery is a far more chic and refined affair called Magazin. If you're looking for gourmet, go there. The menus and the ingredients are seasonal, and the restaurant has an enormous selection of wines on hand. You can eat indoors in the modern, industrial space or outside in a courtyard at the foot of Monchsberg's sheer rock wall. Menus are a la carte, but there are also tasting menus available. (Auginergasse 13a, Salzburg; +43 662 84 15 84; open 10 a.m. until midnight, Monday through Saturday)
M32: Another chic affair, this modern fusion restaurant and coffee bar offers some of the best views in the city. Another perk? You can get a two-course lunch for around 15 euros -- a bargain compared to the price of the mains or five-course dinners. Menus are seasonal and ingredients are local and organic when available. The restaurant is all glass walls leading out to a terrace that looks out over Salzburg and Alpine peaks beyond. (Monchsberg 32, Salzburg; +43 662 84 10 00; open 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday).
As the more frequented tourist destination, Salzburg offers more in the way of souvenirs than Linz, though there is shopping to be found in Linz, including jewelry and Austrian porcelain. Linz's best-known food product may be its eponymously named torte. The Linzertorte is a delicious, crumbly, latticework pastry with ground hazelnuts in the base and filled with fruit jam. It's often served during the Christmas holiday season.
Speaking of sweets, one of Salzburg's best known is Mozartkugeln: small chocolate and pistachio marzipan balls originally made in Salzburg in 1890 by the Furst company. Mozartkugeln sold from market stalls or in souvenir shops are often overpriced and you can usually find them for a better price in supermarkets.
Other non-Mozart souvenirs from Salzburg include hand-painted Christmas egg ornaments and other Christmas decorations from a unique (and much-loved) shop called Christmas in Salzburg. (Judengasse 11, Salzburg 5020, Austria; +43 662 846784)
You'll find no shortage of beer in Austria, and the white wines -- particularly the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling varietals of the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria -- are good, too. In Upper Austria, where Linz and Salzburg are located, the regional classic is called Most, a non-carbonated cider. Austria is also known for its schnapps -- distilled fruit liquor. Schnapps is often drunk after a meal as a digestif. Be careful, it's strong.