One of my long term travel goals was to visit all federal capitals of Austria. True, Austria is rather small and it looks like a goal within easy reach. However, most of the cities are kind of hard to reach and/or are so small that it does not seem to be worth the trip. Nevertheless, I wanted to have a go at it. I still need to revisit St. Pölten and Innsbruck as it has been way too long since my last visits there, but technically I have already been there. So the only one left was Eisenstadt, the capital of Burgenland. A few weeks ago I could squeeze in an afternoon for going there and do a little bit of exploring.
Eisenstadt is located in Austria’s easternmost and least populous state of Austria, Burgenland. The city has a population of a bit over 14,000 people. Eisenstadt literally translates into ‘Iron City’, which is derived from area’s history of iron mining and iron trade. The city’s origins date back to the Hallstatt period, so the first people settled down there sometime in the 8th to 6th century BC.
The city is most famous for being the former seat of the noble family Eszterházy and the home of the classical composer Joseph Haydn. Eisenstadt is located not far from Vienna, a 40-50 minute car drive from Austria’s capital city. So it is perfect for those tourists who want to spend a day outside of Vienna but still want to be in a pretty city.
Palace Esterhazy and its park
The palace and its park was the first thing that we noticed in Eisenstadt, plus our car was parked relatively close to it, so we decided to have a little walk in there and enjoy the nature and the chirps of the birds.
The Esterházy Palace – the landmark of Eisenstadt – is a baroque castle, erected in the 13th century. In 1622 the Hungarian Esterházy family became the owners of the palace who then had been the principal residents of the palace for over 300 years. After the death of the last Esterházy prince in the 20th century his childless wife created several foundations in order to preserve the heritage of the family. Therefore, the palace is still a hub for cultural events today, and with the Haydnsaal (a concert hall inside the palace) numerous concerts as well as other festivities and social events are held there.
The palace park covers an area of about 50 hectares right next to the palace. Its landscaped gardens date back to the 19th century. Inside the park there are several ponds, exotic plants, a temple, an orangery, and an obelisk. As it was February – still winter and relatively cold – the ponds in the park were frozen and we could see birds standing on the layer of ice. With its Egyptian-style columns on top of a small hill overlooking the Leopoldine pond lies the Leopoldine Temple, which was built in 1806. Inside the temple there is the ‘Leopoldine’ statue.
Wandering the streets of Eisenstadt
Eisenstadt is not a very big city and obviously there is not a lot to do or see in comparison to other cities, especially during winter. However, the pedestrian area of the city centre is very nice to look at, so taking a stroll and just looking around was a must! We took a quick peek at the main church of the city – the Saint Martin’s church, first mentioned in 1264. The Plague Column is also located in the city centre on the pedestrian street; it was constructed in 1713 as a plea to God to free the town from the plague.
Taking a coffee & cake break
After our walk in the city centre it was definitely time for some coffee and cake. While doing a little research on what to do and see in Eisenstadt before our trip I stumbled upon a café in the city centre.
The Altdorfer Family opened a bakery and coffee house in the pedestrian area that focuses on healthy and delicious food and desserts. The family has been doing business in Eisenstadt for over 270 years, starting out as a confectioner, gingerbread baker, and chandler (weird combination, right?) and working as a local bakery and confectioner now. At the Altes Backhaus in the city centre the company offers various breakfast options, daily lunch menus, as well as home-made cakes and even dinner. They try to offer healthy foods with a good amount of vegetarian and vegan options. As we had lunch only a few hours before we decided to go for coffee and tea as well as the typical Esterházy cake – a cake consisting of buttercream spiced with cognac, sandwiched between several layers of almond meringue dough. Yum!
Joseph Haydn – the ‘Father of the Symphony and String Quartet’, friend of Mozart, teacher of Beethoven, composer during the Classical period in the 18th century – used to live in Eisenstadt for some time. Haydn got promoted to conductor for the Esterházy court in 1766 which had been his job for more than 40 years. The remoteness of Eisenstadt isolated the composer from others, which in turn forced him to ‘become original’. His music widely circulated in Europe and he was even famous before his death. Haydn bought a little baroque house situated in the city centre in which he lived for 12 years. Various furniture items as well as original instruments can be seen there. However, it is not open during winter so we didn’t even have the possibility to go inside.
The bottom line of my trip
Eisenstadt is a cute little city, perfect for spending an afternoon there. It does not offer that many exciting sights or monuments, but the palace and the park are definitely worth looking at. Admittedly, I was a tiny bit disappointed by the palace as I have something else in mind when I hear palace. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that in spring or summer, when everything is green and colourful and the sun is shining, it will look more pompous than on such a dark and cloudy day.
I really liked the area around the castle where you could have a glimpse over the city and the pedestrian area. The nicely-done pavement, colourful house façades, benches and trees transform the city centre into a very pedestrian friendly and beautiful area – perfect for window shopping and enjoying the day despite the gloomy weather.