Been there, done that? Here are twenty sights you may not have visited
After you've worked your way through the major tourist attractions of our three countries—such as Bavaria's Royal Castles, Vienna's several palaces and its great Kunsthistorisches Museum, the wonderful Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne, Castle Chillion in Montreux (said to be Switzerland's most visited tourist spot), Mozart's Birthplace in Salzburg, the most storied cathedrals and abbeys, and ridden to the tops of the highest mountains—you may choose to turn your attention to less expensive, less crowded venues. And, with many top attractions, one visit may be enough. Standing in line for an hour or more on a hot day to troop with 50 other tourists through Schloss Neuschwanstein (the castle Disney copied decades ago) is an essential travel experience but one that, for many, doesn't need to be repeated.
For those seeking alternatives to the big name attractions touted by all the guidebooks, we've compiled a starter list of 20 of our favorite lesser-known ones. They are not as expensive (some are free), not as crowded and, for the most part, less intellectually demanding. Some are a bit offbeat, a few are inspiring, and several are simply fun.
We'll continue to add to the list and will welcome your suggestions for additions.
• Arsenal, Graz (A): A supermarket of the medieval art of war. its four floors contain every conceivable specimen of 17th century technology, all appearing brand new. The ground floor contains six 16th century field guns, a bronze mortar from 1652, implements and materials for making rockets, armor for light cavalry and footmen, black armor, (breast and back plates), hundreds of matchlock arquebuses (cannons with cannon balls), countless 17th century matchlock, wheelock and flintlock muskets, pistols and rifles.
• Central Cemetery, Vienna (A): Among the famous folk buried in this huge cemetery are composers Beethoven, Brahms, Gluck, Schubert, Schoenberg, von Suppe, Lanner, Stoltz, and all the famed Strauss family. You can also see the graves of actor Curt Jurgens; WWII German flying ace, Walter Nowotny, who shot down 255 Russian aircraft; and Geli Raubal, Hitler's niece with whom he had a scandalous affair that ended with her suicide. To find exact grave locations see www.findagrave.com and browse by cemetery.
• Christkindl, near Steyr (A): This tiny village is where Austrian children send their Christmas letters and all are answered by the post office. You may wish to mail a card from here as the stamps and postmark are somewhat prized. There is also a massive, wonderfully intricate, 'Rube Goldberg'-style, mechanical Nativity scene on display. Completed just before the war, it is the work of a single local hobbyist who took some 40 years to build it - in his living room.
• Kaisergruft, Vienna (A): The Capuchins' Crypt beneath the streets of Vienna is the burial place of the Imperial family and contains the remains of some 125 Habsburg emperors, empresses and archdukes. One thing to keep in mind when walking among these lavish, ornate coffins is that certain organs of those interred here have been removed and placed elsewhere: the Church of the Augustinians for the hearts and the catacombs of St. Stephen's for the entrails.
• Riedel Crystal, Kufstein (A): The world's finest wine glasses are made by hand at this small factory. Riedel's suggested retail price for four of its top-of-the-line Bordeaux glasses is $356. From an overhead catwalk, visitors can see them made. In a carefully choreographed series of steps involving several artisans, glowing red blobs become sparkling crystal glassware. The sales room offers good prices on seconds of wine glasses as well as other glass products and will ship.
• The Prater, Vienna (A): This old-world amusement park is much more than just the giant Ferris wheel that starred in the movie The Third Man. Of course there are rides, both usual and unusual, but also a planetarium, a casino, shooting galleries, a hall of mirrors, restaurants, beer gardens, and a museum. Since all are independently operated, admission to The Prater grounds is free.
• Botanical Gardens, Nymphenburg Palace, Munich (G): The palace, of course, is a major tourist draw but too many bypass this extraordinary display of horticulture. The remarkable cactus exhibits and intensely humid tropical greenhouses put the visitor in a different world.
• Carriage Museum, Munich: Another frequently overlooked corner of Nymphenburg is the former stable and its magnificent collection of harnesses and horse-drawn wagons, including the ornate state coach and sleigh of King Ludwig II; he of Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee fame.
• Church at Ottobeuren, near Memmingen: Only when you step inside the "Jewel of German Baroque," in the tiny town of Ottobeuren, do you become fully aware of its enormous size and stunning ornamentation. This is one of only a handful of individual sights in Germany to which Michelin awards three stars, "worth a journey."
• Mercedes Welt am Salzufer, Berlin: Yes, it's a Mercedes Benz dealership showroom—but what a showroom. The five-story, ocean liner-shaped steel and glass atrium-style enclosure houses two restaurants, a private club with indoor climbing wall, racquetball courts, and, of course, all those great cars—both brand new and rare vintage models—some of them suspended on cables connected to the overhead steel girders. In the main floor's informal eating area you can keep one eye on huge, high-definition TV screens tuned to CNN while having lunch, dinner or just a snack.
• Partnachklamm, Garmisch-Partenkirchen: Go to the end of the road that runs past the Olympic Ski Stadium, then follow the signs to the steep, narrow Partnachklamm gorge through which a fast river thunders and crashes. The path is directly along the torrent and one is likely to get a little wet.
• Schloss Tambach's Falconry Show, Altenstein near Coburg: A huge condor flying directly at you with its landing gear down is, to say the least, exciting. Diving falcons, soaring eagles and those big condors all share airspace in this exhilarating exhibition. Admission includes access to the castle and its hunting museum, as well as entry to the wild animal park.
• Villa Wahnfried, Bayreuth: The house where Richard Wagner lived the last 12 years of his life. He and his wife, Cosima, the daughter of Franz Liszt, are buried in the garden. Anyone who enjoys Wagner at all will find it a moving experience to listen to a recording of his music while looking out upon his grave from the very room where he composed it.
• Appenzell Showcase Cheese Dairy, Stein near Appenzell: In our opinion, this is the best of the half dozen or so Swiss cheese-making factories open to visitors. But you must start your visit next door at the Appenzell Folklore Museum and first watch cheese made the old-fashioned way over an open fire. Then see how it's done in the 21st century at the modern dairy.
• Basel Zoo, Basel: More than 600 species and 6,000 animals are beautifully presented over the zoo's meticulously maintained 28 acres. One of Europe's best.
• Red Cross Museum, Geneva: Among the many powerful exhibits is remarkable film footage that causes some visitors to weep when they view jerky World War I footage of former enemies, Germans and Englishmen, hugging and dancing as the armistice goes into effect, ending a war that killed 60,000,000. One especially poignant film, taken during the Spanish-American War, shows Red Cross nurses running into gunfire to tend wounded soldiers.
• Ritom Funicular, Airolo: Located just south of the Gotthard Tunnel near the village of Piotta in Italian-speaking Ticino, the Ritom is not a cog wheel, instead it rides on tracks and is pulled by a cable. The ascent takes 12 minutes and portions of it are near vertical, an 88.7% grade. At the top, a 25-minute walk leads to a lake formed by a dam. Further walking leads to more lakes in this mainly treeless landscape. There is a restaurant by the dam where the Osso Buco looks promising.
• Swiss Open Air Museum, Ballenberg near Brienz: This collection of about 60 farmhouses, barns and mills, all fully operational, is well-known in Europe but according to tourist authorities, most U.S. visitors pass it by. Give it at least half a day.
• Textile Museum, St. Gallen: Though the winning Super Bowl quarterback always seems to pick Disneyland over the St. Gallen Textile Museum, the exhibition of hand embroidered lace on the museum's upper floor is absolutely not to be missed.
• Jaquet-Droz Automatons, Neuchâtel: Found in Neuchâtel's Museum of Art and History these highly-detailed miniature robots were built in 1769-1780 and consist of three figures: a woman 30 inches tall with tiny fingers articulated in great detail who breathes (the chest moves in and out) and plays music on a wind piano; and a pair of 24-inch child figures, one actually draws various objects and the other writes with a pen on paper. See them in action the first Sunday of each month, otherwise there's a short video.