Culture between the lake and mountains

Despite being surrounded by nature, the Austrian city of Bregenz has carved out a reputation as one of the best cultural hubs in the region. Find out why.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Cultural things to do in Bregenz, Austria

The water gently laps up against the stone wall around the lakeside, a breeze bringing small waves to the edge.

In one direction is the great expanse of Lake Constance with a few ships dotted across it. In the other direction, wooded mountains rise about the small city of Bregenz, which has grown in the space between the water and the hills.

Here, in the most western part of Austria, is a popular European centre of nature. The lake also has shorelines in Germany and Switzerland and it connects all three on a liquid superhighway used more for pleasure than commuting.

The Swiss Alps are not far away, Germany’s Black Forest is also nearby and, even closer, the mountains and valleys of the Vorarlberg region of Austria attract hikers in summer and skiers in winter.

cultural things to do in bregenz, austria

With so much natural attraction in easy reach, you might think there’s enough to bring in tourists and entertain locals in this region. But it seems the city of Bregenz was not satisfied with just what the earth had gifted it.

It wanted more and over the years has put an emphasis on growing artistic and musical offerings.

It has developed into a cultural hub – one of the most impressive for hundreds of kilometres all around – and now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to a small community of just 30,000 residents.

Vorarlberg Museum, Bregenz, Austria
Kunsthaus Bregenz, modern art gallery, Austria

The most famous cultural attraction in Bregenz is the annual opera festival called the Bregenz Festival.

People travel from across the world to see the performances on the impressive stage built in the water on the edge of Lake Constance each summer.

cultural things to do in bregenz, austria

Walk through the city – from the lake up to the old town – and you can feel the history of somewhere that was founded by the Romans in the years before Christ and, without losing its heritage, has become a cutting edge modern art destination.

Rather than focus of the historic buildings – and there is a good collection of them at the top of the hill around St Martin’s Tower, I want to talk about what I believe are the two permanent cultural highlights of Bregenz.

Kunsthaus Bregenz

It’s a modern art museum but with a twist. Rather than have a collection of different artists, the Kunsthaus Bregenz has the work of just one person.

But it’s more than just a simple display – the entire building is given over to the artist to do whatever they want with it.

The building itself could be a piece of art – elegantly simple outside and a blank canvas inside. The rooms have a certain degree of natural light flowing into them and can be transformed depending on the style of the work placed inside them.

Art can be crammed together or the room can be left relatively bare. Water or fog could be pumped through, plants could grow, the walls could be painted.

Kunsthaus Bregenz, modern art gallery, Austria
Kunsthaus Bregenz, modern art gallery, Austria

Each artist is given the building for three months before the next collection is installed. It means there’s always something different to see and the sum is greater than the parts, in a way that makes you think about more than just each piece.

When I visit, the building is filled with works by Richard Prince. He’s used each of the three levels in a different way but created themes and symbols which run through each of them.

Kunsthaus Bregenz, modern art gallery, Austria

It’s a fascinating way to approach an exhibition.

The Kunsthaus Bregenz is located at: Karl-Tizian-Platz, 6900, Bregenz, Austria. You can see it on a map here.

The Kunsthaus Bregenz is open at the following times:
Tuesday – Sunday: 1000 – 1800
Thursday: 1000 – 2100

Entrance to the Kunsthaus Bregenz costs €9 for an adult and €7 for a concession. It’s free for children.
A combination ticket for the Vorarlberg Museum and Kunsthaus Bregenz is €15/12.

You can find out more information at the museum’s official website.

Vorarlberg Museum

While the Vorarlberg Museum is ostensibly about the region and its history, it takes a broader approach to storytelling. The way the exhibitions are laid out and the way visitors interact with them is as important as the displays themselves.

Take one of the main exhibitions, for instance. It has 26 small displays in it – one for each letter of the alphabet.

A topic starting with each letter has been chosen and they range from architectural models, to head dresses, figures of saints and even sword handles. They all relate to the region somehow but are interesting in isolation, even without the local connection.

There are drawers beneath the main displays you can pull out to see more and special sections for children give them things to play with.

Vorarlberg Museum, Bregenz, Austria

There are several permanent exhibitions and at least one temporary one. When I visit, there’s a large section about a local author called Franz Michael Felder.

A lot of the material is lost on me but the way it has been laid out and designed is fascinating.

Vorarlberg Museum, Bregenz, Austria

There is a problem with the museum for international visitors in that the English translations are not really up to scratch. I ask at the front desk and am told an English audioguide is being worked on.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting, because the style of the museum is interesting in itself, but it’s a consideration to keep in mind.

Kunsthaus Bregenz, modern art gallery, Austria

The Vorarlberg Museum is located at Kornmarktplatz 1, 6900, Bregenz, Austria. You can see it on a map here.

The Vorarlberg Museum is open at the following times:
Tuesday – Sunday: 1000 – 1800
Thursday: 1000 – 2100

Entrance to the Vorarlberg Museum costs €9 for an adult and €7 for concession. It’s free for children.
A combination ticket for the Vorarlberg Museum and Kunsthaus Bregenz is €15/12.

For more information, you can visit the museum’s official website.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BREGENZ

Bregenz is not cheap by Austrian standards because of its location, but there are some good quality hotels here.

BACKPACKER

There aren’t really any hostels in Bregenz but you’ll get a good value room at Bed & Breakfast Sonne.

BUDGET

With a great location at a good price, Hotel Central is probably your best budget option.

BOUTIQUE

Although it’s in a historic building, Hotel Gasthof Lamm has lovely modern touches.

LUXURY

For something a bit upmarket, Grand Hotel Bregenz has cool design and comfortable colourful rooms.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Bodensee-Vorarlberg Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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