In late 2008, I traveled on a 3 week vacation to Switzerland and stayed near the border of Liechtenstein and Austria in a little town called Oberschan. It’s situated right in the Swiss Alps, and thanks to my friends family, I had the pleasure to wake up every morning to three countries and gorgeous mountains. So having nothing planned we thought, why not go to Austria for a day?
So a group of 4 packed into a car, headed down a Swiss map and followed the Rhine River or border of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, north towards the Bodensee Lake (Lake Constance). Liechtenstein is so tiny that it takes a mere few minutes to travel the entire country from north to south. Just north of the northernmost point of Liechtenstein lies the border crossing Switzerland and Austria.
We cross over the little Rhine River which downstream in Germany will turn into a huge wide river and the metro of Bregenz, Austria. Bregenz is on the northwestern part of the narrow part of Austria and is within 30 minutes of 3 other countries, Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I knew this city from it’s famous musical festival Bregenzer Festspiele, featured in James Bond Quantum of Solace.
It was Christmas-time so the city was beautifully decorated for the up-coming celebrations. It was cold but not unbearable but I did notice that there was definitely lack of tourists. Luckily for us, it felt like an ordinary Austrian city, unremarkable but that’s exactly the type of experience I wanted anyways. From first glance it felt like a walk-able city but only a few tourist attractions. I also didn’t know that Bregenz is the capital of Vorarlberg, Austria’s most prosperous province.
We walked down to the boardwalk or promenade, something everybody should do when visiting the city, especially in the summer. My advice would be to come during the Bregenzer Festspiele, a performing arts festival held in July and August. It’s famous because the festival puts on many types of opera shows including ones on a floating stage over Lake Constance on the promenade. The stage is changed every year.
Also there is another thing I had wish I could have seen. There is a 360 degree lookout point over Bregenz on Pfänder mountain, and it’s possible to walk or take a cable car up to it. There is a restaurant on top as well as various shows in the summer and in the winter it’s possible to ski, toboggan, and snowboard. Honestly I would go just for the views as the price of admission is not expensive.
Being right before Christmas, we walked up and down the little city, and watched as shoppers bought their last-minute presents. I wanted to try some Authentic Austrian food so we settled for a restaurant and I had Wiener Schnitzel with some Hot Chocolate. Random I know but it’s what I wanted at the time apparently.
This was all during the cold winter and the streets were mostly dead of tourist but in a way you kind of get the city to yourself. I would recommend the Kunsthaus Bregenz, a contemporary art museum in a glass, steel & concrete building. Very modern, very European, and very Austrian. Take time to stroll the city, the Oberstadt Bregenz or upper Bregenz, look for the local Christmas markets if coming in Christmas, and try authentic Austrian food.
If you were to come in the summer, the atmosphere of the city would certainly be more lively and there would be certainly be more things to do, like boating and swimming. The sun is out for longer and there is a chance to enjoy a cold beer sitting at a café. But in a way, Austria just before Christmas, was a perfect place to visit, cozy and uncrowded.
Like I said earlier the city is quite small and you could easily spend a couple of hours and do most everything you want to do and see. I would suggest staying at most of a day and move on to nearby Austrian cities or nearby countries. The lovely thing about the area is that you’re surrounded by 3 other countries, all with unique Alpine culture and breath-taking views.