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Habsburg Austria - Castles & churches, houses & palaces, town & country

Outstanding range of castles, abbeys, churches, houses, palaces and excellent art collections.

Picturesque towns and villages, and consistently beautiful scenery.

Can be combined with Salzburg String Quartet Festival, 7–12 May 2024.

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  • Innsbruck, aquatint c. 1830.
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Habsburgs first came to Austria in 1273; their departure in 1919 terminated the longest innings of any dynasty in European history. The territory over which they ruled had meanwhile expanded into a vast multi-national empire which encompassed much of central and eastern Europe which is now split between ten different countries. There was, of course, a concomitant accumulation of titles including several kingships and, for much of their time in power, the most august title of them all: Holy Roman Emperor.

This tour concentrates on the lands which are now more or less coterminous with modern Austria, a clutch of dukedoms and counties in largely mountainous terrain which were not particularly prosperous. However, proximity to the principal Habsburg seat, Vienna, meant that a high proportion of the artistic and architectural splendours of the Empire were concentrated in the Austrian lands. Only a day and a half is devoted to Vienna itself on this tour, which concentrates on the smaller towns and the architecture of the countryside.

Prominent in this category are the abbeys, some of which can boast a continuity of spiritual life since the early Middle Ages, many of them rebuilt on a most lavish scale during the Baroque age. The ruling dynasty and the aristocracy of their empire spawned a profusion of castles, country houses, town palaces and hunting lodges, and created art collections which today form the kernel of some of the best of their kind in the world.

Day 1

Fly at c. 11.00am from London Heathrow to Munich (Lufthansa). Drive into Austria, stopping at the fortress town of Kufstein. First of two nights in Innsbruck.

Day 2

Innsbruck. Surrounded by mountains, Innsbruck has a spectacular natural setting with a joyously picturesque historic centre. Schloss Ambras just outside Innsbruck is a Habsburg palace of the 16th century; surviving here is a collection of curiosities which ranks as one of the first museums in the world. An afternoon walk around Innsbruck includes the astonishing tomb of Emperor Maximilian (d. 1519) with 28 larger-than-life bronze statues, the 18th-century Habsburg state apartments in the Hofburg and the Baroque cathedral.

Day 3

Salzburg. The episcopal city-state of Salzburg once played a major role in European culture and politics, and the old town centre has scarcely changed since the days of its greatness two centuries ago. Among the places visited are the gardens and stair hall of Schloss Mirabell, churches by the greatest master of Austrian Baroque, Fischer von Erlach, the Late-Gothic Franciscan church and the mighty cathedral, the first major Baroque building north of the Alps. First of two nights in Linz.

Day 4

Linz, Wilhering, St Florian. The Danube city of Linz, capital of Upper Austria, has a very attractive historic centre with a town hall and several churches of architectural importance. The monastery church at Wilhering beside the Danube has the finest Rococo interior in Austria. The buildings of the great Augustinian monastery of St Florian span the Baroque era, beginning with the church by Carlo Carlone and culminating in the mighty Marble Hall by Jakob Prandtauer.

Day 5

Grein, Artstetten, Melk. Grein is a delightful little town on the Danube with a hilltop castle and an 18th-century theatre. Schloss Artstetten was rebuilt in the 16th century and again for Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose descendants still live here. Perched on a rock outcrop beside the Danube, the vast Benedictine Monastery at Melk is one of the greatest creations of the Baroque era. A sequence of state apartments includes a terrace with a magnificent view of the Danube valley and culminates in a church of dazzling splendour. First of two nights in Durnstein.

Day 6

Dürnstein, Riegersburg, Altenburg. Dürnstein is an enchanting little town on the Danube, backed by a hill with a ruined castle and fronted by a monastery church at the water’s edge. Drive through idyllic hilly scenery north of the Danube. The Benedictine abbey at Altenburg, distinguished by the library hall, monumental stairway and oval church, ranks with the finest of Baroque abbeys. Nearby is Schloss Riegersburg, an imposing 18th-century mansion in private ownership.

Day 7

Vienna. Built around 1700 for Emperor Joseph and modified 50 years later for Maria Theresa, Schloss Schönbrunn became the summer palace of the Habsburgs until the end of their rule. One of the largest of royal residences, it contains some of the finest Rococo interiors in Europe and has extensive parkland and gardens. Other visits include the Habsburg tombs in the Capucin crypt and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, one of the world’s greatest collections of paintings. Overnight Vienna.

Day 8

Vienna. The Roman frontier settlement close to the Danube became the principal seat of the Habsburgs and therefore centre of the Holy Roman Empire and capital of a vast multi-national empire. The Hofburg, the Habsburg Palace, is an agglomeration of buildings spanning six centuries with an
incomparable collection of precious regalia in the treasury and magnificent Baroque library. Fly from Vienna (Austrian Airlines), arriving Heathrow c. 6.45pm.

Those who are combining the tour with Salzburg String Quartet Festival: take the train (1st class) at c. 3.00pm from Vienna to Salzburg, arriving c. 6.00pm. Transfer to your chosen hotel and check in. The transfer is accompanied. 12th May: after the festival, fly from Munich to London Heathrow on your chosen flight option.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £3,590 or £3,310 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,970 or £3,690 without flights.

Combining with Salzburg String Quartet Festival: flights are charged as part of your pre-festival tour booking, so you take the ‘no flights’ price for the festival, and the option of  ‘arriving a day early’ at your chosen hotel


Flights (economy class) with Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines (Airbus 321); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 lunches and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.


Schwarzer Adler, Innsbruck: a family-run 4-star boutique hotel in the historic centre. Hotel Schillerpark, Linz: a comfortable 4-star hotel near the main square. Richard Loewenherz, Dürnstein: a lovely old-fashioned hotel occupying a historic building next to the Danube. Hotel Bristol, Vienna: a 5-star hotel in a superb location on the Ringstrasse, traditionally furnished and decorated.

How strenuous?

Quite a lot of walking is involved, some of it uphill and over roughly paved paths. It should not be undertaken by anyone who has difficulties with everyday walking and stairclimbing. There are also some long coach journeys. Average distance by coach per day: 65 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size

Between 12 and 22 participants.

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.

Combine with

Morocco, 11–22 April 2024

Albania: Crossroads of Antiquity, 17–24 April 2024

Gardens & Villas of the Italian Lakes, 18–24 April 2024

Genoa & Turin, 20–26 April 2024

Malta: prehistoric to present, 22–28 April 2024

Salzburg String Quartet Festival, 7–12 May 2024

Two Spains: The Spanish Civil War & its Aftermath, 8–16 May 2024

Art in Scotland, 10–17 May 2024

Madrid & Toledo, 10–17 May 2024

Classical Greece, 11–20 May 2024

Gastronomic Le Marche, 13–20 May 2024

The Western Balkans, 13–26 May

'A good combination of towns and more peaceful rural spots.'

'I found the lecturer extremely knowledgeable and experienced.'

'Very interesting and lots of variety.'