In the shadow of the Kufstein Fortress, on the banks of the Inn River, lies the “pearl of Tyrol”. Kufstein is one of Austria’s best-preserved small historic towns. Easily reached by train or road, it’s well worth including in any Austria itinerary, with or without kids.
|KUFSTEIN AT A GLANCE|
|Main attraction||Kufstein Fortress with Heroes’ Organ|
|Famous export product||Riedel Glass|
|Location||About halfway between Munich, Germany and Innsbruck, Austria|
|Getting there||Train or A12 motorway|
|Top hotels||arte Hotel or Träumerei #8|
The Kufstein Fortress is unmissable from its dominant position on a hill overlooking the town. If the walls of this well-preserved fortress could talk, it would awe you with tales of fierce battles fought over many centuries.
First mentioned as Castrum Caofstein in a document from 1205, the Kufstein Fortress was of great strategic importance in battles between the German Bavaria and the Austrian Tyrol.
The Festungsbahn, a glass-walled funicular railway, whisks you to the top of the fortress in minutes. While the use of the funicular is included in the ticket price, there’s a lot to see and learn when taking the stairs. Therefore, I’d recommend taking the stairs at least one way.
|Weird and wonderful fact about Kufstein Fortress
When Ludwig of Brandenburg, the son of Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria, married Margarete “Maultasch”, Duchess of Tyrol, in 1342, he gave her Kufstein as a wedding present. About 20 years later the gift gave rise to a fierce battle.
Margarete handed Kufstein to the Habsburg Duke Rudolph IV together with the rest of the Tyrol. The Bavarians were furious and demanded she returns her wedding gift. When this didn’t happen, they successfully invaded the Kufstein Fortress.
In 1504, Kufstein and its fortress were conquered by Emperor Maximilian I. His secret weapons? Two cannons called Weckauf (meaning wake up) and Purlepaus which came all the way from Innsbruck on a raft on the Inn River. Each cannonball weighed between 100 and 150 kg. Replicas of the famous cannons can be seen in the fortress’ Kaiserturm or Emperor’s Tower.
The Kufstein Fortress today
Visiting the Kufstein Fortress today is certainly worth the entrance fee. There is more than enough to keep you entertained for well over an hour if not two – even more so when you visit during an event such as the Ritterfest or Knight’s Festival.
Grab an information brochure at the ticket office and embark on a self-guided tour. Even without going into the official “museum” spaces, there are information boards explaining what you see at relevant spots inside and outside the fortress walls.
There are 21 different stations, including the Elisabeth Batterie with its cannons, a 60-metre deep well, and an underground tunnel connecting two sides of the fortress.
Bürgerturm (citizen’s tower) with Heroes’ Organ
This tower is home to a collection of exhibits of the famous Tyrolean Imperial Infantry (Kaiserjäger) and rifle companies (Schützen). But the biggest attraction in the Bürgerturm of the Kufstein Fortress must be the Heroes’ Organ.
With 4948 pipes and 65 registers, the Kufstein Heroes’ Organ is the biggest free-standing organ in the world. Inaugurated in 1931, the organ was built as a memorial to World War I victims. Every day at noon the sound of organ music erupts from the organ pipes. On a “good wind day,” it can be heard up to 10 kilometres away.
The daily “concert” lasts about 20 minutes, always ending with The Good Comrade. If you ask kindly in advance, the organist may play your favourite song before that.
Tip: In summer, the Kufstein Heroes’ Organ is also played at 18:00. All other activities, including the fortress funicular, come to a standstill for the duration of the performance.
Johannes Berger, the resident organist, plays on most days. The biggest challenge for guest organists is that they’re unable to practice before they play the Heroes’ Organ for the first time. Why? Because their attempts will be heard by the entire town! (Given the fact that there’s a delay of a third of a second before the notes are heard, it’s not an easy task due to play the instrument.)
Important note: Don’t expect to find the organist in the Bürgerturm. The key desk is in the Festungsneuhof at the base of the fortress. If you want to see the organist play, this is where you should wait. If you want to see the pipes come to life, be in the Bürgerturm.
We’ve listened to the organ from inside the tower as well as from a street café in the Unterer Stadtplatz (lower town square). I preferred the latter, soaking in the sounds and the atmosphere over a cold beer. There is also a pavilion near the main entrance to the fortress from where to listen to the Heroes’ Organ.
State prison museum – The top storey of the Kaiserturm was turned into a state prison during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It’s possible to walk into the former cell block with its 13 cells where prominent Hungarian political dissidents were imprisoned.
Fortress and local history museum – State-of-the-art exhibition technology make this museum well worth a visit.
Special exhibitions – Regular special exhibitions, like the one about punishment in the Middle Ages, are held at the Kufstein Fortress. Also look out for special events, such as the Knights’ Festival which is held over the Whitsun weekend every year.
|KUFSTEIN FORTRESS ESSENTIAL INFORMATION|
|Families (2 adults, 2 kids)||€25||€21|
|Opening times||09:00 – 18:00||10:00 – 17:00|
- “Summer” is roughly from the end of March to the beginning of November, and “winter” in the remaining 5 months.
The fortress’ main entrance is easily reached behind the parish church in the centre of town.
Walk down Römerhofgasse
No visit to Kufstein, Austria is complete without a stroll down the quaint Römerhofgasse in the shadow of the fortress. The cobbled lane is the first on your right after crossing the Inn River from the train station.
If there’s a street steeped in history, it’s this one. Buildings, restaurants, and hotels to look out for are:
Perhaps most famous as the place where Karl Danzer composed his famous song, the Auracher Löchl is one of the best-known traditional restaurants in Tyrol. After all, it’s been around for more than 600 years!
According to the owners, the Auracher Löchl is also home to the smallest bridge restaurant in the world. The Brückenrestaurant or bridge restaurant caters for 2 guests only.
If you only have time for a drink while exploring the Römerhofgasse, why not try a gin in the Auracher Löchl’s Stollen 1930 speak-easy gin bar.
Karl Ganzer Memorial
A memorial stone for Karl Ganzer, composer of the worldwide hit yodelling song Die Perle Tirols (The Pearl of Tyrol), also known as the Kufsteiner Lied, can be seen next to the Auracher Löchl.
Ganzer composed the song in 1947 but it was Franzl Lang’s 1968-recording which made it world-famous. The song tells the story of a vacation in Kufstein.
|KUFSTEINER LIED LYRICS (1st verse)|
|Kennst du die Perle, die Perle Tirols,||Do you know the pearl, the pearl of Tyrol|
|das Städtchen Kufstein, das kennst du wohl;||the little city of Kufstein, you do know it|
|umrahmt von Bergen, so friedlich und still:||Surrounded by mountains, so peaceful and still:|
|Ja das ist Kufstein an dem grünen Inn,||yes that’s Kufstein on the green Inn|
|ja das ist Kufstein am grünen Inn.||Yes that’s Kufstein on the green Inn|
The Batzenhäusl Schicketanz is to Kufstein what the leaning tower is to Pisa and the bait is to the fisherman.
The Batzenhäusl Schicketanz is Kufstein’s oldest wine tavern which is just as deeply steeped in legend as the Auracher Löchl. Interesting historic artifacts such as 16th-century cannon balls await you inside, while the outside is decorated with colourful murals and traditional sayings.
Note: I heard that Batzenhäusl is currently closed to the public but I’m unable to find information about this.
More things to do in Kufstein, Austria
Visit the Riedel Glassworks
Kufstein is home to the manufacturer of some of Austria’s best export products – Riedel glass. Visitors to the Riedel Glass factory can watch how the different glass products are still blown with the mouth in a special tour called Sinnfonie. Where else will you find a better useful souvenir of Austria than in the factory shop?
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Take the Kaiserlift into the mountains
The Kaiserlift, one of the last one-seater chair lifts in Tyrol, takes you to 1,200 metres above sea level from where you have panoramic views of the mountains and valleys that surround Kufstein, Austria. This is also the starting point of various hiking trails.
Where to stay in Kufstein
If you like sleeping in historic buildings, the Träumerei #8 boutique hotel next to the Auracher Löchl is a good option. Each room is decorated according to a theme representing a different place in the world.
For something more modern, the arte Hotel is a great new addition to the accommodation in Kufstein.
Eating and drinking
There are many good options for restaurants in Kufstein, Austria. I already mentioned the Auracher Löchl. Another good choice for traditional Austrian food is Restaurant Perlepaus, named after one of the famous cannons. You can’t miss it at the foot of the fortress.
Our choice during our last visit fell on Hans im Glück, a burger restaurant on the corner of Römerhofgasse and the Unterer Stadtplatz. A big selection of burgers, including vegan, at reasonable prices and an interesting forest interior made for a pleasant dining experience.
Getting to Kufstein
By car – Kufstein, Austria is easily reached via the A12 Inn Valley motorway from the west (Innsbruck) and the A93 motorway from the east and north (Munich and Salzburg). There is ample parking in and around the city centre. Watch out for the blue signs with a big white P on them.
By train – A stress-free and quick way to reach Kufstein. The town is on the main railway line connecting Innsbruck with Munich, Salzburg and Vienna. This means there are not only regular trains but also fast trains stopping in Kufstein. We prefer taking the regional train from Hall in Tirol, another of Tyrol’s beautiful historic old towns. You can click here to book your ticket.
The Kufstein Fortress and the Inn River are the 2 dominant sights when you exit the Kufstein train station. From here, it’s just a short walk across the bridge before you reach the town centre.
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