Lindau – The Coolest Island Town You’ve Never Heard Of
28th March 2020
Picture this: you’re on a beach, sunshine and a cool breeze on your face. In front of you stretches a crystal blue lake. Across the water to the left is Austria. And to the right, Switzerland. You see in the distance Pfänder, a snow-capped mountain (wait, snow-capped?? in July??). Well… what if I told you this is a real place? On the sunny shores of Lake Constance (Bodensee) lies the island town of Lindau. Only 65 miles (104 km) from the famous Schloss Neuschwanstein, it is well worth the trip to the southern tip of Germany!
A Brief History
Lindau, a Bavarian town, is the capital of its county. Its real gem, however, lies in the middle of Lake Constance. The historic Old Town of Lindau is contained within 0.26 square miles (0.68 square kilometers) on an island connected by a land bridge. The first known use of the town’s name was documented in 882 and refers to the linden tree, frequently seen on the island. On the mainland, there is some evidence that there may have been a 1st-century Roman settlement here!
In 1274, Lindau became a Free Imperial City, despite having a population of less than 25,000. Upon the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, it lost its status as a Free Imperial City and was given to the kingdom of Austria in 1804. The following year, Austria returned Lindau to Bavaria.
After World War II, possession of Lindau changed multiple times, eventually ending up back under Bavarian rule in 1955.
What We Did
Lindau is a town with many historic landmarks. Start your tour in Marktplatz, the main town square. The City Museum, also known as the House of Cavazzen, is a Baroque-style building. The town started construction on it in 1728 after a fire destroyed much of Lindau. Its painted facade was created at this time. The House has served as the town’s museum since 1929.
While you’re hanging around Marktplatz, check out St. Stephan’s Church. It was built in 1180. The interior features an altar dating back to the 1780s and Roccoco-style frescoes.
The Lindau Rathaus (Old Town Hall) sits at the top of Maximilianstraße, the main pedestrian walkway through the island. It was built in 1422 and took 14 years to complete. The Gothic-style building’s exterior was renovated in 1930 and has many colorful paintings detailing life on the island.
Down by the Bay
Once you leave Marktplatz, meander your way down Maximilianstraße toward the harbor. You’ll find wonderfully colorful little alleyways and cobblestone side streets. There’s one so small even I had to stoop to go through it. Follow it through to a hidden beach! Take a little swim here on a summer afternoon and pause to revel in the German, Austrian, and Swiss scenery!
When you’re done with your swim, go down the street a little further and you’ll find the harbor. In 1853, a dam was built to connect the island to the railroad from Munich. This resulted in the creation of the harbor in 1856. The harbor is most recognizable by the Bavarian Lion sculpture and Lindau Lighthouse flanking it. This is Bavaria’s only lighthouse and the southern-most lighthouse in all of Germany.
When you eventually end up down near the harbor, Mangturm is a 65-foot tower that was built in 1100. It served as Lindau’s main watchtower until the Lighthouse. It stands at the end of what was once the city’s town wall. The inscription on the tower reads “To protect and defend the harbor – a powerful symbol of the former Imperial Free City of Lindau.” Today, the tower serves as a fairytale telling base. Some days you can see a blonde braid from one of the arrow slits – Rapunzel’s hair.
Where We Ate
Maximilianstraße is the main street through the Old Town of Lindau. The street has been fully pedestrianized and is lined with plenty of cafes and restaurants. We found a great little cafe and spent the morning sitting outside enjoying our coffee and Danishes, doing my personal favorite activity – people watching!
There’s also a Biergarten here which is the only place in all of Germany I found (besides McDonald’s) that served chicken. I’m not a huge sausage person (after this trip I didn’t eat it for another six months!) so chicken was a welcome treat! Accompanied by, of course, a pint of the local beer.
Where We Stayed
We stayed in Hotel Gasthof Stift which is right in Marktplatz. The building itself was actually part of the old monastery! It really was the perfect location, right in the heart and town and within walking distance to everything. Our room was on the corner and had a side window with a few of St. Stephan’s and had a front-row seat to the church bells every hour (my favorite!). Since we stayed during Lindauer Kinderfest (see below for more), we could actually watch the fireworks right from our window!
A word to the wise if you’re planning a trip in the summer: Get. Yourself. A. Fan. I’m not kidding. Yes, it’s one more thing to carry. And yes, without a doubt people will make jokes. But if you’re anything like me, I’m not going to get any sleep if I’m roasting all night long. And I’m super cranky if I don’t sleep. Just do it. Get a little $15 desktop fan. You’ll thank me later.
What We Wished We’d Known
Parking in the city is quite easy to find, however, most street parking is only for a limited time and can get quite expensive. They do offer several long-term lots. Park in one of these and ditch the car while you’re here. The island isn’t that big, and you take in the best parts of the city by walking. Alternatively, you could try one of several bike rental shops – just be careful on the cobblestone streets! This would spell disaster for someone like me…
In remembrance of the Thirty Years’ War, the town of Lindau held the first Lindauer Kinderfest (children’s festival) in 1655. It is held the last Wednesday before the school holidays, usually sometime in mid-July. The day starts on the mainland with a parade of students and teachers accompanied by a marching band. They cross to the island and gather in front of the Old Town Hall. The celebration continues well into the night.
We just so happened to arrive on the day of the festival in July 2015. Had we known what was going on, we probably would have made an effort to get into town even earlier. There were beer tents as far as the eye could see! In my book, there’s no better way to explore a new place than a leisurely walk with a beer in hand. Walking around town with alcohol is not a common experience here in the States, and I kept looking over my shoulder for someone to come tell us that this wasn’t allowed. It also seemed like a pretty great time to have a bachelor party – these guys sure had fun! (Please note the Viking helmet with the veil – the best!)
Lindau also prides themselves on their Oktoberfest and Christmas markets. While I fully support a trip for each of these events, be forewarned that it does get cold here (the average low in December is 30°F). Which is quite different from our experience in the summer – the average high in July is 76°F. A stroll through the island’s gardens is a wise choice regardless of the season. Any time of the year you choose to visit, there will always be something exciting to see and do!