For river cruise operators, Linz is used mainly as a waypoint from which shore excursions set off to other, grander locales like Salzburg, Austria or Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic. And while the city is more of a place of work than a place to visit, it is a counterpoint to many other stops on a typical Danube River cruise itinerary. A quick tour through town (there really doesn't need to be any other kind) can provide relief for anyone suffering from "quaint European village fatigue syndrome."
Linz is the third-largest city in Austria, with a population of 190,000 inhabitants; it's also the capital to the state of Upper Austria. Once known as the country's center of industry (and hometown of Hitler), Linz is making a name for itself in the world of computer art and digital design. When you dock there, you will likely notice sculptures along the water's edge and a modern building with glowing LED lights, which is the Ars Electronica Center, a museum and development facility for new media arts. Also directly across from your ship will be Brucknerhaus -- named after composer Anton Bruckner -- a famous concert hall and home to the Bruckner Orchestra. The rising fortunes of Linz were officially recognized when the city was made a European Capital of Culture in 2009.
Many cruise lines dock in Linz and offer shore excursions to nearby Salzburg, a couple hours away by bus. Salzburg is set in the forested foothills north of the Alps mountain range, and the Salzach River divides the city. The northeastern half of the city is the new town -- mostly businesses and transport links -- and the southwestern bank of the river is home to the charming Altstadt (Old Town) with its baroque churches and one of Europe's oldest medieval fortresses. Salzburg's Old Town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
Home to Mozart, Haydn and setting of "The Sound of Music," Salzburg is a wildly popular stop for music-lovers of all kinds and tourists of all ages. In fact, the city gets 8 million visitors a year, an estimated 300,000 of which visit Salzburg each year simply because it's so prominently featured in the film musical "The Sound of Music."
So soak it all in and sing it out loud while you're in town. Walk the Getreidegasse, a busy shopping street, and happen upon the house at number 9, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born. Pace the gardens of Mirabell Palace; "Do-Re-Mi" was sung on its steps. During the holiday season, enjoy the festivities and decorations of Salzburg's impressive Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), and if you feel like singing a carol, the lyrics to "Silent Night" were written here, as well.
Cruise ships dock alongside a riverside park in Linz called Donaupark, just a short walk or cycle ride from the Hauptplatz (city center).
Linz is very safe, particularly in the main tourist areas, but as you would in any sizable city, beware of pickpockets, and always keep your belongings safe. Taking a few common sense precautions should be all you need to do to stay safe. Avoid carrying around large amounts of money or wearing flashy jewelry. Keep a close eye on valuables in crowded, public areas, as these are the places where pickpockets generally operate.
Emergency phone numbers in Linz (or anywhere in Austria) are: 133 for the police, 122 for the fire department and 144 for an ambulance. The European Mobile Emergency number is 112 from any mobile phone.
As a part of the European Union, Austria uses the euro. Visit oanda.com for up-to-the-minute exchange rates. Oanda also has a nice "cheat sheet" conversion chart that fits neatly into a wallet.
ATMs, readily available throughout Linz and Salzburg, tend to be the least expensive way to obtain local currency as well as the easiest, given that many are open 24 hours. Banking hours vary, but most banks in Austria will be open between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and between 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays, with some staying open later. As in any city, there are currency exchange offices that charge a commission for transactions. All major credit cards are accepted.
German is the local language, but English is widely understood and spoken in much of Austria. A few handy phrases in German will always enamor you to the locals, though, so try these:
Hello: Hallo (HAL-oh) or Gruss Gott (GROOS got)
Good afternoon: Guten Tag (GOO-ten tahg)
Please / Thank you: Bitte / Danke (BIT-tuh / DAHN-kuh)
Yes / No: Ja / Nein (yah / nine)
Excuse me: Entschuldigen Sie (ent-SHOOL-de-gen zee)
Beer: Bier (beer)
As the more frequented tourist destination, Salzburg offers more in the way of souvenirs than Linz, though there is shopping to be found in Linz, including jewelry and Austrian porcelain. Linz's best-known food product may be its eponymously named torte. The Linzertorte is a delicious, crumbly, latticework pastry with ground hazelnuts in the base and filled with fruit jam. It's often served during the Christmas holiday season.
Speaking of sweets, one of Salzburg's best known is Mozartkugeln: small chocolate and pistachio marzipan balls originally made in Salzburg in 1890 by the Furst company. Mozartkugeln sold from market stalls or in souvenir shops are often overpriced and you can usually find them for a better price in supermarkets.
Other non-Mozart souvenirs from Salzburg include hand-painted Christmas egg ornaments and other Christmas decorations from a unique (and much-loved) shop called Christmas in Salzburg. (Judengasse 11, Salzburg 5020, Austria; +43 662 846784)
You'll find no shortage of beer in Austria, and the white wines -- particularly the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling varietals of the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria -- are good, too. In Upper Austria, where Linz and Salzburg are located, the regional classic is called Most, a non-carbonated cider. Austria is also known for its schnapps -- distilled fruit liquor. Schnapps is often drunk after a meal as a digestif. Be careful, it's strong.