Among the four major cities of Austria, Linz is the least publicized and the least visited by foreign tourists, but its charms are many and its history as a Danube port is long and illustrious. The best way to explore the town is to hire one of the officially sanctioned English-speaking guides provided by the Linz tourist office, Hauptplatz 1 (tel. 0732/70701777; Do-it-yourselfers can request the brochure "A Walk through the Old Quarter," which highlights the city's main attractions.

The most popular shopping district in the city is Landstrasse, which is filled with a variety of boutiques.

Hauptplatz was the original marketplace and is now one of Europe's biggest and most beautiful squares, with baroque and rococo facades surrounding it. On the east side is the Rathaus (Town Hall). In the heart of the square stands the Dreifaltigkeitssäule (Trinity Column), built in 1723 to mark the city's deliverance from plague, fire, and Turkish invasions. This marble column rises 26m (85 ft.).

The Brucknerhaus concert hall was named in honor of Anton Bruckner, the Linz-born composer, and has an elliptical facade of glass and steel with a wooden interior. Concerts presented in this acoustically perfect hall have been transmitted throughout the world. The building was constructed from 1969 to 1973 as a cultural and conference center.

The Silicon Valley of Mitteleuropa -- Linz is not as preoccupied with its baroque and imperial past as many visitors believe. It's also home to a new generation of computer-industry whiz kids, who are transforming prosperous but staid Upper Austria into the Silicon Valley of Mitteleuropa (central Europe). Their ambitions are celebrated at Linz's Ars Electronica festival, held annually over a 5- or 6-day period during early September. Originating in 1979, it awards the coveted Golden Nika Prize to whichever entrepreneur or developer has created the previous year's most memorable electronic product. The festival has been called "The Oscar Awards Ceremony of the European Computer World." Previous awards have gone to the developer of the best international website and the developers of the most realistic computer game.

European Capital of Culture in 2009 -- Linz will be in the spotlight in 2009 when a series of cultural programs will be featured here when it is elevated to "European Capital of Culture," at least for the year 2009. Linz was selected to be the center of this media attention because of its position at the crossroads of the East-West axis from Paris to the Black Sea and the North-South axis of the Rhine-Main-Danube River route. It wasn't just geography that put Linz in this lofty role, but its performance both as a cultural center and a city of industry. Information about what's coming up will be posted on

A Baroque Masterpiece: The Abbey of St. Florian

Abbey of St. Florian, the largest in Upper Austria, is an outstanding example of baroque architecture. Augustinians have occupied this site since the 11th century, although the baroque structures you see today were built between 1686 and 1751. St. Florian was a Christian martyr who was drowned in the Enns River around A.D. 304. He is often called upon by the faithful to protect their homes against flood and fire. The abbey was constructed over his grave.

The greatest composer of church music in 19th-century Austria, Anton Bruckner (1824-96) became the organist at St. Florian as a young man and composed many of his masterpieces here. Although he went on to greater fame in Vienna, he was granted his wish and buried at the abbey church underneath the organ he loved so dearly. You can visit the crypt as well as the room where the composer lived for about a decade.

The western exterior of the abbey is crowned with a trio of towers. The doorway is especially striking. As you enter the inner court, you'll see the Fountain of the Eagle. In the library, which contains some 140,000 books and manuscripts, are allegorical ceiling frescoes by Bartolomeo Altomonte. The marble salon honors Prince Eugene of Savoy for his heroic defense of Vienna against a major siege by the Turks. The ceiling paintings here depict the Austrian victory over the "infidels."

Altdorfer Gallery is the most outstanding part of the abbey, surpassing even the Imperial Apartments. Well-known works by Albrecht Altdorfer, a 16th-century master of the Danube school of painting, are displayed. Altdorfer was a warm, romantic contemporary of Dürer, to whom he is often compared. He painted more than a dozen panels for the abbey's Gothic church, depicting, among other scenes, the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.

The Imperial Apartments, the Kaiserzimmer, are reached by climbing a splendid staircase. Pope Pius VI once stayed here, and a whole host of royalty has occupied these richly decorated quarters. You're allowed to visit the bedrooms of the emperors and empresses.

The abbey church has twin towers reaching 79m (259 ft.). The church is distinguished by columns of pink marble, quarried near Salzburg. Lavish stucco decoration was used in the interior, and the pulpit is in black marble. The choir stalls are heavily gilded and adorned with ornamentation and carving. You should allow about an hour for a tour.

Visitors can enter the church free, but guided tours of the monastery are 5.30€ ($8.50) for adults and 2€ ($3.20) for children. Tours are conducted April through October daily at 10 and 11am and at 2, 3, and 4pm. Otherwise, you must write to the abbey for permission to visit.

The abbey, Stiftstrasse 1, St. Florian (tel. 07224/890230), lies 19km (12 miles) southeast of Linz. It has its own exit (St. Florian) from the Autobahn linking Linz and Vienna. In addition, bus nos. 2040 and 2042 run throughout the day from Linz to St. Florian.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.