Considering the rich and eventful history of Austria and its territory, it comes as no surprise that the country is scattered with impressive castles, fortresses, and palaces that live to this day to tell the story of the country’s remarkable past.
Ruled by the houses Habsburg and Habsburg-Lorraine, part of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Empire afterwards, the story of Austria’s imperial past cannot be told easily. Affected by the Thirty Years’ War and German Peasants’ War, some Austrian castles suffered more damages than others but luckily many were left impregnable due to their strategic location in the Alpine regions of the country.
From more delicate residential castles the daunting hilltop fortresses, let’s look at 15 most impressive castles in Austria:
1. Schloss Ort
Schloss Ort is picturesquely located on Traunsee lake, surrounded by the most awe-inspiring scenery and majestic peaks of Salzkammergut mountains. Foundations of the castle date back to the late 11th century, however, continuous improvement works were made up until the mid-13th century.
The castle, which is its own island, is connected to the mainland by a 123-meter long footbridge. Schloss Ort is one of the oldest buildings in the region. Over the centuries the ownership has changed several times.
The castle was made famous thanks to Austrian TV series “Schlosshotel Orth”.
2. Riegersburg Castle
The medieval Riegersburg Castle is a grand structure perched 482 meters above the sea level on top of a dramatic cliff-edged dormant volcano in the Austrian state of Styria. Basalt from the hill was used in the building of the castle and that used to be a common practice in the building of hilltop castles to utilize readily available materials.
The construction of the castle began prior to the mid-12th century even though a precise date is unknown. The castle was first mentioned in writing around 1138. It is known that the castle was an impregnable fortress – something that’s not too hard to imagine considering its impressive location.
Nowadays the castle is more picturesque than intimidating. Surrounded by serene vineyards, it graciously overlooks the landscape as visitors are able to visit the castle and the museum within.
3. Burg Kreuzenstein
Burg Kreuzenstein is one of the most picturesque castles in Austria. Located in Lower Austria on a beautiful wooded hill, Burg Kreuzenstein rises 265 meters above the sea level and the current castle was rebuilt on the remains of a previous medieval castle.
Johann Nepomuk Graf Wilczek, polar explorer, philanthropist, and a chamberlain at the court of Emperor Franz Joseph I, was determined to rebuild the castle around 1874. Originally he had only planned to renovate the Chapel of Kreuzenstein as a family tomb, but quickly it evolved into the restoration of the whole castle.
The restoration process together with prominent architects specializing in the rebuilding of historic structures took approximately three decades. The current castle not only features parts of the original medieval structure but also parts of other medieval structures from across Europe that were purchased for the restoration process. Thus the structure includes both original medieval parts as well as neo architecture.
4. Burg Hochosterwitz
The impressive rock castle that is Burg Hochosterwitz, located in the south of the country, is not only a significant example of medieval defensive architecture in Austria, but also one of the country’s major tourist attractions.
As the castle sits atop a winding road on a Dolomite rock, it is protected by an impressive number of 14 fortified gates. The design of the castle has been left unchanged since the 16th century.
5. Hohensalzburg Fortress
Majestically overlooking the picturesque city of Salzburg, Hohensalzburg Fortress is one of the city’s main attractions and an undeniable gem. The history of the fortress spans over 900 years. Dating back to the 11th century, the medieval fortress is one of the largest fully preserved fortress complexes in the whole of Europe.
There was an unsuccessful attempt to besiege the fortress in the 16th century during the German Peasants’ War. In 1800, however, the fortress was surrendered to the French during the Napoleonic War of the Second Coalition.
Originally the fortress was built to protect the area and archbishops from potential attacks.
Franzensburg, located in Lower Austria, is one of the most fairytale-like castles in the whole country and stands out with its rather unique design. Built in the first half of the 19th century, Franzensburg was actually built as a museum. The castle was designed based on medieval elements thus it has been praised for striving for historicism.
The picturesque castle park with the adjacent pond was designed to reflect the style of English landscaped gardens. The castle park covers 250 acres.
7. Kufstein Fortress
Kufstein Fortress in the stupendous region of Tyrol is both impressive and daunting with its grand and impregnable appearance. The fortress towers above the adjoining landscape 507 meters above the sea level.
While the exact date of the building of the fortress is unknown, it was first mentioned in writing around 1205. From as far back as the 14th and 15th centuries the fortress was fought over by Tyrol and Bavaria.
8. Hohenwerfen Castle
When you think you have seen quite a few impressive hilltop fortresses, remarkably preserved, Hohenwerfen Castle emerges from the distance and it’s almost hard to believe its striking appeal. Located at the very heart of Salzach Valley, a mere 40-minute drive from Salzburg, the over 900-year old fortress invites visitors from far and wide as one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the whole country.
The surrounding landscape truly is picture perfect. As River Salzach flows through the valley, the castle sits high above it – 623 meters above the sea level that is. Below the castle sits the Austrian market town of Werfen. Thick forests cover the alpine landscape and the Berchtesgaden Alps as well as Tennen Mountains enclose the scenery.
Both Hohenwerfen and Hohensalzburg share the same page in historic annals as both fortresses were built by the Archbishops of Salzburg in the 11th century, when political unrest defined the climate in the surrounding area thus highlighting the need for defensive fortresses to protect the archdiocese.
9. Ambras Castle
White like the snowy peaks of the Alps, Ambras Castle in Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol, is a beautiful Renaissance castle and palace dating back to 1563. Ambras Castle was built in the same location as an earlier castle that stood there since the 10th century. In the first three decades after the building of the castle, it served as the residence for Archduke Ferdinand II. Since he was a keen collector of art, during the following years the castle saw an immense influx of art pieces which were displayed within the castle museum thus making Ambras Castle one of the oldest museums in Europe.
One of the most impressive rooms in the castle is The Spanish Hall, which was built to accommodate balls and festive occasions. 27 full-figure portraits of Tirolean rulers graciously decorate the walls of The Spanish Hall and it’s hard not to be impressed by the intricately wood-carved coffered ceilings.
The castle complex also features a beautiful English landscape garden with pristine, manicured lawns and neatly-shaped bushes.
10. Burg Freundsberg
Another rather unique Tirolean castle is the Burg Freundsberg – not only is it a beautiful accent in the surrounding Alpine landscape, but it also stands out among other Austrian castles with its architectonic design. The castle consists of a keep and an adjacent chapel. The keep was built in 1150 and the chapel 27 years later in 1177. The complex is perched on a hill 675 meters above the sea level.
The castle used to serve as the seat for Knights of Freundsberg. From the early 19th century the city of Schwaz has been in possession of the castle and nowadays it houses the museum of Schwaz.
11. Heinfels Castle
Heinfels Castle in the Puster Valley in Tyrol was first mentioned in written records in mid-13th century. Its hilltop location defines the positioning and layout of the castle, and it seems to be effortlessly perched on the irregular surface. The castle features both round as well as rectangular towers, a 20-meter high keep, outer ward, and a curtain wall.
In 1526 the castle was besieged during the German Peasants’ War. In 1593 the castle underwent restoration and improvement works that gave the castle its present day appearance. However, in the early 17th century large parts of the castle were destroyed during a fire.
12. Liechtenstein Castle
Not to be mistaken with the Lichtenstein Castle in Germany, Liechtenstein Castle in Lower Austria draws its name from House of Liechtenstein – the ruling house of the small country of Liechtenstein. The family owned the castle from in the 12th and 13th centuries and then again from the 19th century onwards.
The castle was destroyed by Ottomans in the mid-16th century and remained in a ruinous state until the 19th century when it was restored. With its picturesque appearance, the castle has been featured in several films, including the 1993 film The Three Musketeers.
While the castle remains in private possession of the Liechtenstein family, it also features a museum and an annual theater festival.
13. Tratzberg Castle
Tratzberg Castle in Tyrol is an excellent example of Alpine palatial architecture. The castle as it is in its present form was built in 1500 thus featuring late Gothic and early Renaissance elements. The castle remains in private ownership and on top of that is also one of the best-preserved castles in the whole country.
One of the most impressive parts of the castle is the beautifully painted inner courtyard which reflects the fashion of the early Renaissance period. Tratzberg Castle features a vast array of original features.
14. Forchtenstein Castle
The history of Forchtenstein Castle dates back to the late middle ages. Built by the Lords of Mattersdorf, the castle sits approximately 500 meters above the sea level and overlooks the municipality of Forchtenstein. The 50-meter high keep was the first part of the castle to be built.
Unlike many other castles and fortresses in the region, Forchtenstein Castle was the only one that didn’t suffer during the Ottoman Wars. Even though originally the castle was a fortified residence, it was later turned into a treasury safeguarding valuables and precious possessions.
15. Burg Clam
Burg Clam in Upper Austria dates back to 1149 and in its early years it served as a fortress with two 30-meter high towers which survive to modern day. During the Thirty Years’ War there were several attempts to take the castle, however, the defenses were good enough to save it from being besieged. Nevertheless, by the mid-17th century the castle had lost its former glory as it had suffered damages.
The castle underwent renovations in the 18th century, when additional structures including a church and wings housing the administration were built. The ownership of the castle has remained unchanged for over half a century.
The castle is partially open to public and visitors can see the arched three-storey courtyard, the armory, chapel, as well as parts of the living quarters.