It’s Austria. The mountains are filled with the sights of castles! They’re imposing, impressive, usually undefeatable and impregnable. Indeed, some of the castles were so solidly build, invaders could only take possession of them by starving the occupants into surrender.
The castles also are outstanding and look as if they are taken from a fairy tale. They usually sat on the highest hills in the area, allowing soldiers to look out over the valleys to see if invaders were approaching. The castles stand out, nestled in a forest of green trees. Because the castles are so huge and made of white or light-colored stone, they can be seen from miles away.
Austria has dozens and dozens of castles located throughout the country. While many are located in Lower Austria, visitors are likely to run into one wherever they travel in this Alpine country, from Vienna to Salzburg and beyond.
Many of the castles were ordered built by Catholic archbishops in medieval times as a defense mechanism against invaders, making them appear more like fortresses than castles. Many changed ownership several times, depending on the invader of the month, before settling into state ownership; some castles are privately owned today.
Visiting the castles, with the majestic Alps in the background, will soon have one humming “Edelweiss” or “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” songs from The Sound of Music, the most famous movie ever filmed in Austria.
1. Burg Rappottenstein
Serving to protect the area from invasions by Bohemians, Burg Rappottenstein is a most imposing fortress that sits on a rock above the Little Kamp Valley in Lower Austria. This Romanesque castle features complex fortifications with five towers and six gateways; Gothic and Renaissance structures were added to the castle, which is built on several levels. Sixteenth century frescoes about court life can be found in the great hall and archive.
2. Hochosterwitz Castle
Hochosterwitz Castle is a place to see and be seen. Sitting atop a limestone rock in the state of Carinthia, the castle offers 360-degree views of the terrain below. Conversely, on a clear day, it can be seen from miles away. Hochosterwitz Castle is considered one of Austria’s most impressive medieval castles. When this 9th century castle is open to the public, visitors are allowed to walk through 14 gates to reach it.
3. Aggstein Castle
Sitting high atop a hill overlooking the Danube River, Aggstein Castle is reminiscent of a fairy tale castle where the handsome prince dashes up to save the fair damsel. Built in the 12th century, it was besieged and destroyed by invaders a few times. It fell into disrepair several times. The last restoration was in the early 2000s.
4. Rosenburg Castle
Located in Lower Austria, Rosenburg was transformed from a medieval fortress to a Renaissance castle. The castle dates back to the 12th century when it was a Romanesque structure. Costumed staff work with falcons and put on medieval tournaments for visitors today.
5. Schallaburg Castle
Schallaburg Castle is considered one of the most beautiful Renaissance castles north of the Alps in Austria. Originally built in the 11th century, it is one of the oldest surviving homes in Austria today. A three-wing Renaissance castle was added in the 15th century. Some 1,600 terracotta sculptures representing mythological scenes fill the arcade. Picnicking on the grounds of this cultural gem is a popular activity for visitors.
6. Seebenstein Castle
Seebenstein Castle, just south of Vienna, is a 12th century fortified castle that changed hands many times over the centuries. At one time, it was owned by the Princes of Lichtenstein; today it is privately owned and lived in by a family that opens it to the public on weekends. Filled with antique furnishings, the stone castle has some beautiful stained glass windows as well as a collection of children’s armor.
7. Burg Mauterndorf
Situated in a bucolic setting, Burg Mauterndorf boasts an imposing three-story defense tower, though it was originally built as a toll and taxation office in the 13th century. It is surrounded by two ring walls that prevented travelers from passing through without paying tolls. Now owned by Salzburg Province, Burg Mauterndorf’s chapel is noted for its 14th century frescoes.
8. Moosham Castle
Travelers who believe in ghosts and witchcraft will definitely want to visit Moosham Castle, said to be one of Europe’s most haunted castles as hundreds of witch beheadings took place here, as well as thousands more accused of being witches. It’s said some witches, as well as werewolves, haunt the castle, which dates back to the 11th century. Also known as Witches Castle, the Salzburg area fortress is a museum today.
9. Riegersburg Castle
Riegersburg Castle is unique among Austrian castles since it is more closely identified with powerful women than men, though it was a knight who built a keep on top of a dormant volcano in the 12th century. A baroness acquired it in the 17th century, increasing its rooms to 108 and five gates. The castle is reached via a steep road through the forest.
10. Heinfels Castle
Once upon a time, Heinfels Castle was called Hunnenfels Castle because the Huns reportedly constructed the castle sometime in the 13th century. Located in the Tyrol region, Heinfels Castle is a fortress once invaded by soldiers wanting to overthrow Catholic rule in Austria. Legend has it that treasure can be found in the underground corridor leading into the castle. Only the outside is accessible to visitors now, as the interior is undergoing restoration.
11. Kufstein Fortress
Kufstein Fortress is the main attraction for visitors to Kufstein, a city in Austria’s Tyrol region. It’s been owned by rulers of several empires; the Austro-Hungarian empire used it as a prison for political dissidents. Today, it houses a museum and is a venue for concerts and an annual summer operetta. A gondola carries visitors from the city proper to the fortress. It is home to the world’s largest outdoor organ.
12. Hohensalzburg Castle
Other castles pale in comparison to Hohensalzburg Castle, which is considered Europe’s biggest fortress and possibly the most beautiful Sitting on a hill overlooking the city of Salzburg, the castle did its job well, as it has never been conquered, With an exterior that looks pretty much like when it was built in the 11th century, Hohensalzburg Castle doubles as a concert hall and event venue today.
13. Laudegg Castle
At one time, Laudegg Castle was a guard tower in Tyrol’s Ladis that is located on an ancient Roman road. The castle was the administrative seat of the royal court until the 16th century. Then it became an arms depot and prison, before being allowed to deteriorate. Restoration efforts began in the 20th century. The castle is now in private ownership and can be visited once a week in the summer months.
14. Forchtenstein Castle
Looming up among the foothills of the Rosaliengebirge mountain range is Forchtenstein Castle. It is the only fortress in the region that was never captured during the Turkish Wars; safeguarding all the costly and precious possessions of the Esterházy family. This collection of family treasures can still be seen here today.
15. Burg Griffen
The Burg Griffen castle sits on a 130 meter (427 feet) high limestone mountain above the town of Griffen in Carinthia. It was built between 1124 and 1146 by order of Bishop Otto of Bamberg. In the 16th century a large reconstruction of the castle took place as a protection against the threat posed by the Ottoman forces, though the Turks never laid siege to Griffen.
16. Hardegg Castle
The earliest document about this castle dates back to 1188, when the founder of the Hardegg Castle, built it on the banks of the River Thaya along the border with what is now the Czech Republic. He then took on the name and title of Count Hardegg. The castle subsequently came under the ownership of the ruling Habsburgs. In 1495, Emperor Maximilian I sold the fortress to Heinrich Prueschenk, a nobleman from Styria, and a direct ancestor of the present Count Maximilian Hardegg.
17. Landskron Castle
The ruined castle of Landskron can be found northeast of Villach, in the Ossiach Tauern mountains. In the Middle Ages, this castle was one of the Habsburg’s strongholds in Carinthia. In the 16C, it passed to the Khevenhüllers, whose chronicles testify to the sumptuousness of the place during that period, before it was abandoned during the Thirty Years War. In 1812, lightning caused a fire that destroyed the roof and much of the interiors that were left.
18. Burg Petersberg
Burg Petersberg is a ruined castle situated above Friesach, which is the oldest town in Carinthia. About 1076 Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg had the Petersberg Castle built in order to prevent Emperor Henry IV from crossing the Alps. In 1149 King Conrad III of Germany stayed at the castle on his way back from the Second Crusade, as did Richard the Lionheart returning from the Third Crusade in 1192.
19. Burg Heidenreichstein
Considered Austria’s finest moated castle, Heidenreichstein was built on its hilltop at the end of the 12C and beginning of the 13C, and then remodeled in the 15 and 16 century. Composed of four wings with three circular corner towers, it was long owned by the Palffy family and now belongs to Count Kinsky who lives here full-time.
20. Hohenwerfen Castle
With the Austrian Alps as a backdrop, Hohenwerfen Castle stands out in the forest of green trees surrounding this impressive white structure. Located in Werfen, 40 km (25 miles) south of Salzburg, the castle dates back to the 11th century when it was built to protect the Archbishopric of Salzburg from invaders. The castle also has served as a residence, hunting lodge, prison and police academy. It is looks familiar, it was featured in The Sound of Music when the children sing “Do Re Mi.”
21. Kreuzenstein Castle
The Kreuzenstein Castle is located on a wooded hilltop overlooking the village of Leobendorf near Vienna. The current structure is, in fact, a 19th-century architectural fantasy built out of sections of medieval structures from all over Europe. Occupying the site of a previously destroyed castle, the enormous structure was built by Count Nepomuk Wilczek between 1879 and 1908 to house his collection of late-Gothic art objects and armor.
22. Liechtenstein Castle
The Liechtenstein Castle is located in Lower Austria on the southern edge of the Vienna Woods. Originally built during the 12th century, the castle was destroyed by the Ottomans in 1529 and again in 1683, and remained in ruins until the 19th century, when it was rebuilt. Part of the “Three Musketeers” movie (the ’90s version) was filmed outside this castle.
23. Gallenstein Castle
Founded in 1278, Gallenstein Castle was never conquered. In 1950 a reconstruction was started to restore this Styrian fortress to its former glory.
24. Herberstein Castle
Perched on top of a steep cliff above the Feistritz ravine, Herberstein castle looks like something straight out of a fairytale. The castle is hidden from plain view by the trees of the even higher surroundings and was thus naturally protected from attackers. The structure is 700 years old and combines 3 styles – Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Admission to the castle includes guided tours of part of the castle, access to the historic gardens, the zoo, and the Gironcoli Museum.
25. Burg Neuhaus
Neuhaus Castle is almost invisible from the bottom of the valley; only the tower rises into the sky. The castle was first mentioned in the 13th century and it probably was constructed as border fortress for the Counts of Tyrol as shelter from the Counts of Bolzano.
26. Burg Clam
Burg Clam was built in 1149 by Otto von Machland who owned all of Upper Austria. At that time it was a fortress consisting of two towers. During the 30 year war the Clam family had their own private army to defend the castle. Clam was besieged many times but no hostile troops ever managed to capture the castle.