Austria has a history stretching back thousands of years when Celtic tribes first settled in the land. Many castles, forts and palaces were built, renovated, and left in ruin in the centuries that followed. Some were designed to be military fortresses that could stand strong against an enemy attack, while others were an opulent celebration of architecture, created with luxury and pleasure in mind.
As the centuries rolled by, their halls were visited and lived in by some of Europe’s most influential figures, from the imprisoned King Richard the Lionheart to the powerful and highly intelligent Maria Theresa, the Habsburg Empire’s only female monarch. Today, the castles, fortresses and palaces tell the stories of the past through their architecture, museums, and picture-perfect gardens. Here are 20 of the most intriguing palaces and castles in Austria.
CASTLES IN AUSTRIA
20 FAMOUS AUSTRIAN CASTLES
1- THE HOFBURG
Horse and buggy rides around Hofburg Palace in Vienna is a popular activity and adds to the charm of the royal palace museum. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.
In the heart of Vienna is The Hofburg, a collection of buildings, squares and walkways that were the centre of power for the Habsburg Dynasty. Generations lived in the Hofburg Palace.
The first sections were built in the 13th century and expanded into a sprawling complex in the years that followed.
Today, you can visit the Sisi Museum to learn about Empress Elisabeth (nicknamed Sisi), then view the rooms she and her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph, used.
The Hofburg also houses a Spanish Riding School, The Imperial Treasury, and an impressive range of different museums.
The Leopoldine Wing of the palace is also the home and workplace of the Austrian president.
The Hofburg is at 1010 Vienna.
2- SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE
Schonbrunn is one of the most visited palaces in Austria.
Habsburg rulers would escape the city during summer and head to one of their summer residences, the main one being Schönbrunn Palace.
The imperial family came into possession of the estate in 1569, and by 1700 they had transformed it into a Baroque hunting lodge.
Later that century, Maria Theresa ordered further improvements to create a luxurious summer residence.
At Schönbrunn Palace, you can go on a guided tour, which includes the private rooms of Empress Elisabeth, Emperor Franz Joseph and Maria Theresa.
There is also a Children’s Museum for the kids, a gorgeous and free palace park, ticketed imperial gardens and the Schönbrunn Zoo, which features the adorable Giant Panda.
Schönbrunn Palace is at Schönbrunner Schloßstrasse 47, Vienna.
3- KREUZENSTEIN CASTLE
Another castle in Austria to visit is Kreuzenstein Castle.
The Kreuzenstein Castle that stands today is a merging of two parts of history.
The original castle was built in the 12th century and stood strong until the Thirty Years’ War when the Swedish took control, and Field Marshall Lennart Torstensson blew up multiple sections, leaving it in ruin.
In the late 1800s, the new owner, Count Johann Wilczek, decided to rebuild the castle, using the original Romanesque-Gothic parts that still stood and combining them with a modern style.
Today, you can explore the castle on a guided tour and see the armoury, which houses the most extensive private collection of historical weapons in the whole of Austria.
Kreuzenstein Castle is above the village of Leobendorf between Korneuburg and Stockerau.
4- LIECHTENSTEIN CASTLE
Liechtenstein Castle is an impressive Austrian castle that stands out around the green countryside.
Like Kreuzenstein Castle, Liechtenstein Castle was built in the 12th century, destroyed during wars and rebuilt in the 1800s.
It has featured in different films, including The Fifth Musketeer (1979) and The Three Musketeers (1993).
Liechtenstein Castle (not to be confused with the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna) is still family-owned, and they are happy to share the 900-year-old history of their castle.
There are guided tours, and the annual Nestroy Theater Festival is also held there.
Liechtenstein Castle is at Am Hausberg 2, Maria Enzersdorf.
5- ARTSTETTEN CASTLE
Another famous castle in Austria to see is the lovely Artstetten Castle.
Originally built in the 13th century, Artstetten Castle was the home and burial place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the Habsburg empire) and his wife, Sophie.
Their a.s.s.a.s.s.i.n.a.t.i.o.n.s began a series of events that led to the start of World War I.
Visitors can tour the castle, viewing the couple’s crypts and the church above it.
They can also see the museum, which provides an insight into the kind of person Archduke Franz Ferdinand was.
There are beautiful gardens and parklands to be explored outside the castle, which are protected under Austrian law.
Artstetten Castle is at Schlossplatz 1, Artstetten.
6- AGGSTEIN CASTLE
Aggstein Castle is in a lovely location on top of a hill with mountains and the Danube river in the background.
Standing 300m above the river Danube are the spectacular ruins of Aggstein Castle.
It was built around 1231 and has been damaged and rebuilt by a succession of owners.
The castle tours take visitors through the entire complex, showing off hidden stairways, the towers, dungeon, knights hall and viewing platforms that look over the walls.
You can also see the Rose Garden, an infamous rock ledge where prisoners could make the horrific choice between starving or jumping to their death.
During November, there is also a Christmas market held in the castle.
Aggstein Castle is on the right bank of the Danube near Aggsbach Dorf.
7- RIEGERSBURG CASTLE
A passageway within Riegersburg Castle in Austria.
Sitting atop an extinct volcano, Riegersburg Castle (built 1122) is an impressive fortress with spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
In the mid-1600s, Baroness Katharina Elisabeth von Wechsle improved the castle, ensuring it was one of the biggest, strongest castles in the area.
You can learn more about Elisabeth at the castle museum before moving on to the witch museum, which explains the Styrian witch trials, and the weapons museum, which shows 400 years’ worth of arms history.
Riegersburg Castle also has a vineyard, falconry shows, and you can organise to climb the castle rock.
Riegersburg Castle is at Riegersburg 1, Riegersburg.
8- HOHENSALZBURG FORTRESS
Hohensalzburg Fortress is one of the magical castles in Austria, especially in winter.
Sitting 506m above sea level, Hohensalzburg Fortress towers over the city of Salzburg.
It is 250m long and 150m wide, meaning it is one of the biggest medieval castles in Europe.
Impressively, it has never been conquered by foreign invaders.
On the Panorama Tour, visitors go from the salt magazine underneath, through the dungeons and castle, up to the tower’s viewing platform before walking through the battlements.
You can also see the armoury, Salzburg Bull, and explore the Fortress Museum, Puppet Museum and Rainer Regiment Museum.
Hohensalzburg Fortress is at Mönchsberg 34, Salzburg.
9- HOHENWEFEN CASTLE
Hohenwefen Castle is a fascinating medieval castle, which sits on a 623m tall rock.
To reach it, you can either walk up or use the cable car.
An excellent way to begin exploring this castle is by venturing on the guided tour, which takes you through all areas of the castle, including the dungeons, chapel, and clock tower.
In particular, the views from the archers’ windows and top tower are spectacular, as the castle looks out at the Tennen Mountains.
Afterwards, explore the visiting exhibits displayed at the fortress and sit down outside to enjoy the falconry show, run by the historic falconry centre.
Hohenwefen Castle is at Burgstraße 2, Werfen.
10- MOOSHAM CASTLE
Moosham Castle has a moody atmosphere and is one of the castles in Austria associated with witchcraft.
First mentioned in historical documents in 1191, Moosham Castle was the site of over 140 executions for people accused and convicted of sorcery and witchcraft.
Many took place during the Zaubererjackl Witch Trials.
Today, it is still privately owned by the Wilczek family.
You can tour the castle, visit the museum, and view the private art collection housed there.
Another way to enjoy the castle is to book a self-contained apartment to stay in nearby, with stunning views of the castle.
Moosham Castle is at Moosham 13, Unternberg.
11- MAUTERNDORF CASTLE
Mauterndorf Castle’s angular lines makes it a visually interesting Austrian castle to look at.
The first buildings on the site of Mauterndorf Castle date back to at least 326AD, with it being a strategic spot to protect the nearby Roman mountain road.
In 1894, Dr Hermann Epenstein, who unsuccessfully tried to name Hermann Göring as his heir, bought the castle.
By 1968, the state of Salzburg took ownership and opened it to the public.
Today, you can tour the castle, learn more about Dr Epenstein, see exhibits about life in the Middle Ages and visit the Lungau Museum.
Mauterndorf Castle is at Markt 27, Mauterndorf.
12- ESTERHÁZY PALACE
Esterházy Palace was built in the late 13th century in Eisenstadt, the capital city of Burgenland state.
The first Prince Esterházy of Galántha, Paul I, later converted the palace into a gorgeous baroque-style residence.
You can wander through the stylish rooms, see the magnificent Esterhazy collection, and learn about the historical figures who have lived in the palace, including the composer Joseph Haydn and famed dancer Princess Melinda Esterházy.
Fittingly located in the cellar is a wine museum, the largest of its kind in Austria.
Esterházy Palace is at Esterhazyplatz, Eisenstadt.
13- SCHLAINING CASTLE
Originally built to protect a strategic meeting point of several different trade routes, Schlaining Castle is known as the “Peace Castle”.
Within the stone walls, you can find the European Museum for Peace and the Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.
As well as viewing the Peace Museum and taking a course at the centre, visitors can also see a newer exhibition on the history of Burgenland, walk through the emptied moat and stroll around the castle courtyard.
Schlaining Castle is at Rochuspl. 1, Stadtschlaining.
14- HOCHSTERWITZ CASTLE
Hochsterwitz Castle is a fairytale castle in Austria at the top of a hill.
Hochsterwitz Castle is one of the best medieval castles to visit in Austria.
It sits majestically on top of a large dolomite rock, and the site has been in use since the Bronze Age.
While it was renovated and expanded many times over the years, the current buildings haven’t had any significant changes since the 16th century.
The castle has been owned by the Khevenhüller family since 1571.
It’s open to the public for a few months of the year and its popular Christmas market.
You can visit the museum and explore parts of the castle without the need for a guide.
Hochsterwitz Castle is at Hochosterwitz 1, Launsdorf.
15- AMBRAS CASTLE
Ambras Castle is one of the historic castles in Innsbruck, Austria to put on your to-visit list.
Tucked away in the lovely hills above Innsbruck is the eye-catching 16th-century Ambras Castle.
As well as being a beautifully preserved palace with stunning gardens, Ambras Castle contains items with great historical value.
It houses Europe’s oldest collection of arts, armouries, and books, a collection started by Archduke Ferdinand II in the 1500s.
There is also a gallery with over 200 paintings that depict the reign of the Habsburg Dynasty.
Ambras Castle is at Schloßstraße 20, Innsbruck.
16- EHRENBERG CASTLE
Ehrenberg Castle is one of the castles in Austria with the most stunning location.
Close to the Austria-Bavarian border are the ruins of Ehrenberg Castle.
Built-in 1296, the medieval castle fell into disrepair during the 1700s.
Today you can begin your visit at the Klause Fortifications, found at the bottom of the hill.
After that, hike up to the ruins, which you can explore at your own pace.
On the opposite side of the stunning valley lie the equally impressive remains of Fort Claudia, which was abandoned in the 19th century.
Connecting the two is the largest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, Highline 179, which measures 403m (1322 ft).
Ehrenberg Castle is at Klause 1, Gemeinde Reutte.
17- TRATZBERG CASTLE
Built upon a steep ridge above the municipality of Jenbach is Tratzberg Castle.
It’s currently the family home of the Enzenberg Family, who inherited it in 1847 and chose to open it to the public.
Take a guided tour and experience a virtual reality show, which displays the original buildings being destroyed and rebuilt.
There is a kid’s area where children can touch medieval items and a shop that sells souvenirs.
Combine the castle tour with a ride through the surrounding forest in the Tratzberg Express to enjoy the region’s stunning scenery.
Tratzberg Castle is at Tratzberg 1, Jenbach.
18- FORCHTENSTEIN CASTLE
From above, it’s obvious that Forchtenstein Castle is both a castle and a serious fort.
Forchtenstein Castle is a large fortress in the Burgenland state of Austria.
It was originally a residence, but in the late 17th century, it became a storage space for a range of “marvels” and machines, archives, and chronometers.
The vault was well-protected and undiscovered during the pillaging during the Turkish Wars and World War II.
Today, exhibits share the life of Prince Louis Esterházy, showcase arms used throughout history and share some of the undisturbed treasures of the Esterházy family.
Forchtenstein Castle is at Melinda Esterhazy-Platz 1, Forchtenstein.
19- ORT CASTLE
Ort Castle in Austria is known as the ‘castle on the lake’.
Ort Castle sits in a unique location on Traunsee Lake.
It has beautiful Renaissance architecture with onion-domed towers and is set in a picturesque landscape.
Hartnidus of Ort built the castle in 1080 on the ruins of a Roman fortress.
In 1483, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III, took ownership. The royal family gradually improved Ort Castle over the years.
Today, you can reach it by walking over a 123m (403 ft) long bridge.
It’s often used for weddings and as a filming location and was where the popular Austrian tv show Schlosshotel Ort was shot.
It’s worth joining the guided tour through the castle and see an exhibition about the Gmunden Mountain Rescue Service.
Ort Castle is at Ort 1, Gmunden.
20- DÜRNSTEIN CASTLE
Dürnstein Castle is the famous castle in Melk on the Danube River. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.
If you have ever been on a European River cruise, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Dürnstein Castle.
The ruins of Dürnstein Castle sit up above the city of Dürnstein, with the two connected by a wall.
The castle is famous for being one of the places where Leopard V, the Duke of Austria, imprisoned King Richard the Lionheart as revenge for him destroying the Austrian flag and not sharing spoils from the crusades.
It is free to visit the ruins throughout the year, and from the top, you are rewarded with great views of the stunning Wachau Valley and Danube River.
Dürnstein Castle is in Dürnstein on the Danube River.