10 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Bregenz
The capital of Vorarlberg, Bregenz lies on the southeastern shores of Lake Constance at the foot of the Pfänder on the westernmost tip of Austria. Extending southwards as far as the Bregenzer Ache and divided into the Lower and Upper Towns (Unterstadt and Oberstadt), Bregenz is famous for its many festivals and numerous cultural institutions, including a number of world-class museums and art galleries. The town can trace its roots back as far as the Bronze Age when a settlement of Celts built a fortress here that was conquered by the Romans in 15 BC and later developed into an important trading post. After eventually being Christianized by Gaelic monks around the 8th century, the town became the seat of the Counts of Bregenz. These days, it's a popular vacation spot for day-trippers and museum-hoppers, its varied attractions regularly ranking among the country's most popular tourist sites.
See also: Where to Stay in Bregenz
1 Bregenz Promenade and Lake Constance
On idyllic Lake Constance, one of Europe's most scenic lakes and the continent's third largest, Bregenz is a convenient base from which to explore the lake and its beautiful surroundings, as well as areas further afield such as the Rhine Valley. The town itself lies on a plateau at the base of the Pfänder Mountain, which provides stunning views over the lake, and its busy harbor serves numerous tourist boats and ferries, connecting the town to many other attractions. The harbor affords great views and is fun to visit for its promenade and swimming areas. Just off shore is the town's "floating" Lake Stage built over the water, a venue for numerous concerts, theatrical productions, and festivals such as the famous Bregenz Festival (Bregenzer Festspiele) held each July and August.
2 The Pfänder
Immediately east of Bregenz and dominating the town is the 1,064-meter-tall Pfänder. Accessible via a two-kilometer, six-minute journey to the summit aboard the Pfanderbahn cable car - or a two-hour trek via a steep footpath from Bregenz via Hintermoos - it's a must-visit for its incredible views over Lake Constance toward the German town of Bodensee, as well as to Switzerland. All told, on a clear day, some 240 mountain peaks are usually visible, making it one of the most famous lookout points in Austria. The upper station of the cableway offers spectacular views from its terraced restaurant. Another must-see is the Alpine Wildlife Park where visitors can enjoy a pleasant 30-minute stroll through a green space with herds of alpine mountain goats (also check out the neighboring Eagle Observatory with its birds of prey demonstrations). In winter, the Pfänder welcomes skiers from across Europe to its many splendid slopes.
Address: Ferdinand Kinz, Pfänder 4, A-6911 Lochau
3 Lower Town Bregenz
Bregenz's Lower Town (Unterstadt) is the newer part of town with the Kornmarktplatz at its center. Highlights include the former Kornmarkthaus built in 1838 (now home to a theater); St. Nepomuk Chapel, an 18th-century Rococo Church notable for its rounded shape; and the Kornmesser Inn built in 1720. Also of interest is the nearby New Town Hall (Rathaus) built in 1686 and the adjoining Lake Chapel of St. George (Seekapelle) endowed in 1408 in memory of the victory over the peasants in the Appenzell War of 1403.
4 Upper Town Bregenz
The once fortified old Bregenz Upper Town (Oberstadt) occupies the site of the Celtic and later walled Late Roman town of Brigantium. It's a wonderful area to explore on foot as many of the streets have preserved their old world character and charm, and in places, remnants of the old 13th-century town walls still stand. Other Upper Town highlights include the Old Town Hall (Alte Rathaus), a half-timbered building from 1622; the Deuringschlösschen, a little palace built in 1698; the walled Capuchin Monastery and Church from 1636 with the Chapel of St. Joseph (added in the 18th century); and the splendid Parish Church of St. Gallus, a simple 14th-century Gothic structure rebuilt in 1738 and notable for its rich Late Baroque and Rococo interior decoration.
5 Vorarlberg Museum
On the northern side of the Kornmarktplatz in Bregenz's Lower Town, the Vorarlberg Museum was founded in 1857 to preserve the state's rich cultural heritage. Highlights of its many displays include the collections of historical, cultural, and artistic interest ranging from prehistoric times to the present day, including ancient stone memorials and archaeological finds from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages, together with Roman finds from the 1st to 4th centuries. Other displays are devoted to local culture from the Gothic and Renaissance periods, including musical instruments, costumes, crafts, and weapons. The museum is also home to a rich collection of goldsmiths' work, coins, and tapestries.
Address: Kornmarktplatz 1, 6900 Bregenz
6 Kunsthaus Bregenz
One of the most attractive modern structures in town - it's basically a steel skeleton with a layer of glass sheets surrounding but not touching it - Kunsthaus Bregenz is noted for hosting a wide variety of rotating exhibits of international contemporary art. Opened in 1997, it's fast become one of the town's most important cultural attractions; in addition to its art exhibits, it hosts an eclectic mix of events and educational programming. After enjoying all the artwork, be sure to visit the onsite restaurant, and try to check out the building at night for its spectacular lighting.
Address: Karl-Tizian-Platz, 6900 Bregenz
7 St. Martin's Tower
Probably the most noticeable landmark in Bregenz is the massive St. Martin's Tower (Martinsturm). Built between 1599 and 1602 as a watchtower, this historic Baroque building offers superb panoramic views over the town and Lake Constance from its upper levels. Notable highlights include a number of superb ceiling frescoes, as well as a large collection of local history exhibits and displays.
Address: Graf-Wilkhelm-Strasse, Bregenz
8 Dornbirn and the Rappenlochschlucht
Dornbirn, the newest and largest town in the state of Vorarlberg, lies only a few miles south of Bregenz at the edge of the Bregenzerwald on the outskirts of the wide Rhine Valley. The town is well known for its many textile firms, and savvy shoppers are recommended to visit the company outlets for the occasional bargain. First mentioned in records in 895 AD, Dornbirn has existed under its current name only since 1901 and now extends all the way to the Rhine. A highlight of a visit is the Rappenlochschlucht, a magnificent gorge through which the turbulent River Ache flows and which can be easily accessed from the small village of Gütle (it's just a ten-minute walk). A highlight of this beautiful area is the picturesque Alplochschlucht, a 120-meter-high waterfall.
9 Feldkirch and Schattenburg Castle
Feldkirch, the old district capital of Vorarlberg and the most westerly town in Austria, lies some 35 kilometers south of Bregenz where the River Ill carves its way through a rocky gorge from the Wallgau into the Rhine Valley. Inhabited since the Bronze Age, the town's most important attraction - apart from its historic Old Town center - is Schattenburg Castle. Dominating the town and providing superb views over Feldkirch, Schattenburg can be reached by a fun, yet steep track. Once the seat of the Counts of Montfort from the early 12th century until 1390, the castle has a beautiful courtyard with a wooden ambulatory and a palace with a banqueting room. It also houses a local museum with a collection of weapons and a Romanesque crucifix from 1250, as well as an old inn.
Address: Burggasse 1, 6800 Feldkirch
A short drive south of Bregenz rises the Gebhardsberg, a 600-meter-tall heavily wooded hill that's popular among walkers for its pleasant forest trails. Worth exploring are the ruins of Burg Hohenbregenz, destroyed by the Swedes in 1647, and an 18th-century pilgrimage chapel with frescoes added around 1900. From the popular Burgrestaurant, there are magnificent views of the town, the lake, and the Rhine Valley. A climb southwards along the Ferdinand-Kinz-Weg is also well worthwhile.
Where to Stay in Bregenz for Sightseeing
Most of the tourist attractions in Bregenz are along its lakeside promenade and in the nearby Unterstadt, the Lower Town centered around Kornmarktplatz. The floating stage just offshore is the venue for the Bregenz Festival and many other performances, and the nearby Pfanderbahn station is the base of a scenic mountain ride. You'll find more things to do in the narrow streets of Oberstadt, or Upper Town, still guarded by remnants of its 13th-century walls. Here are some highly-rated hotels in Bregenz:
- Luxury Hotels: Location doesn't get better than the Messmer am Kornmarkt, between the harbor and Pfanderbahn station amid the Unterstadt's major attractions. Although Hotel Schwarzler is a 25-minute walk from the city center, it's close to a bus to the lakefront and has a restaurant and pool with saunas. In an idyllic mountainside setting a 15-minute drive from the center, Hotel Schonblick offers a heated pool as well as rooms with balconies and sweeping views.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Near the harbor, Kornmarkt, and Pfanderbahn station, modern rooms at Hotel Germania include free breakfast and parking, and it has a good restaurant. On a quiet street a short walk from the harbor, Kornmarktplatz, and the train station, Hotel Weisses Kreuz is convenient to shopping and restaurants. Also close to the lake and Kornplatz, Hotel Bodensee has large rooms (some with Alpine views), free parking, and many restaurants nearby.
- Budget Hotels: On the lake, right by the rail station and next to the Festspielhaus for the music festival, Mercure Bregenz City serves a full breakfast and has some rooms with balconies. Also near the station and convenient to the lake, Ibis Bregenz has few frills but good internet and on-site parking. Snacks and coffee or tea are always available. Near the lakefront, between the station and Kornmarkt attractions, Hotel Garni Helvetia has standard plain rooms with a good breakfast and free secure parking.
In the heart of the Arlberg, one of Europe's most popular winter sports destinations (and also popular in the summer with hikers and climbers), the small community of Vandans makes for a fun day trip from Bregenz, just 60 kilometers to the north. Perched on the mouth of the river Montafon, where the Rellstal enters the Illtal, Vandans lies on the site of an old Raeto-Roman settlement that gave the town its name (it comes from the local word "fantauns," meaning stretch of water). If you're driving, take the road that climbs up the beautiful Rellstal to the Unter Zaluandaalm. Another fun option is to take a chairlift from Vandans to Latschau, connecting it with the Golmerbahn. An alternative day trip is to head south to the Lüner See, a lovely little alpine lake encircled by a pleasant footpath and overlooked by a number of tall mountain peaks.