Being a history buff, I really love open-air museums. To me they are magical places and extraordinary sites capable of transporting visitors from modern life in the 21st century to settings as diverse as a bustling 18th-century village or a timbered farm straight from a fairytale. The Austrian Open-Air Museum Stübing (Österreichisches Freilichtmuseum Stübing), situated just outside of Graz, is one such place. Heralded as one of the best open-air museums in Europe, it is brimming with historical and architectural details to discover. Visit the museum and pay homage to the beauty of the past and wile away a glorious afternoon within acres of bucolic landscape.
Abbeys offer quiet places to reflect on your travels and often hold the key to understanding the cultural and religious history of a place. Often left behind as relics of history, abbeys continue to be homes of spiritual enlightenment. The marvelous Rein Abbey (Stift Rein) is no exception and definitely warrants a visit. So, whether you are a history geek, a decorative arts aficionado, or a cultural traveler, the Austrian Open-Air Museum and Rein Abbey are sure to inspire and bewitch and maybe even make you wish you were born in the yesteryear!
Please note: This article appears in paid collaboration with VisitGraz as part of the #GrazAmbassadors project. Of course, this does not affect our opinion. We report our honest experiences without obligations. The article also contains affiliate links. Learn more about them on our Disclosure page.
The Austrian Open-Air Museum Stübing
The Austrian Open-Air Museum Stübing was founded in 1962 as a means to show an increasingly industrialized society how people once lived. The museum is home to about 100 different buildings showcasing the various architectural styles and materials used throughout Austria over the last six centuries. The houses have been reconstructed on over 66 hectares of land surrounded by natural forests and gardens accompanied by livestock, giving the museum a more authentic feel.
Great care was taken to obtain an optimal measure of harmony between the individual structures and the landscape of the museum site by retaining as much the original characteristics of the settlement. The museum features manor houses, thatched-roofed farmhouses, alpine houses, barns, granaries, and mills. The exhibits reveal startling regional differences in architecture, furnishings, original tools, workrooms, and document the everyday life of the houses’ former inhabitants. The individual exhibits are arranged so as to proceed from Austria’s easternmost province, Burgenland, to the province of Vorarlberg in the west.
First off, you’ll encounter the Burgenland group of dwellings. These consist of a farmhouse from Neustift near Güssing, a belfry from Schallendorf, granaries from Unterschützen and Eisenhüttl, a barn from St. Nikolaus, and a pigsty from Rechnitz. Out of these, the single-storey farmhouse and the belfry are the standouts. The belfry is like the ones that first started to appear in the 17th century as a precursor of the chapel and church. It was built using large oak timbers and has a straw-thatched roof with the bell being rung to alert inhabitants to imminent danger and also to call them to prayers.
The farmhouse from Neustift is one of the last surviving examples of an early form of the Berglerhaus, a kind of farmhouse characteristic of South Burgenland. The building has a straw-thatched cruck roof with a broad overhang on the eave side providing shelter from the sun and the rain.
I really enjoyed surveying the living quarters of the house, which include a parlour, a kitchen and a bed-chamber and contain some fine examples of furniture. The house also lends valuable insight into the savage economic and social conditions which prevailed in the region in the past.
Next up is the group of buildings from Styria which is further divided into buildings from Western Styria, Southern Styria, and Eastern Styria. The Styrian collection of buildings is the largest in the museum and consists of numerous granaries, barns, huts, sheds, kilns, and mills. In addition to these, there’s a distinctive dovecot, an apiary, and a wine press.
The ropery from Feldbach in the south-east of Styria dates back to the end of the 19th century and is an interesting place to check-out. It was still in use till the demise of its last owner in the 1980s producing all the types of ropes and cords required by farmers. The ropes were made mainly from local products such as hemp and flax yarns.
A highly conspicuous structure among the buildings from Styria is the weather belfry from Schaftalberg near Graz. It is a typical representative of a kind of belfry that can be found all over Central and Western Europe. This 9-meter tower is made of roughly hewn pine poles. The belfry served as an alarm-signal in the event of a fire or war.
One of the most noteworthy buildings is the Niggas farmhouse, a great example of the regional version of cross-gable construction. It features a shop, the kind which was common in rural areas until the 1950s selling clothes, farm implements, household utensils, food, and other goods which farmers needed.
The Großschrotter farmhouse was brought over from Eggartsberg bei Geistthal. This two-storeyed farmhouse dates from the 16th century and features a steeply pitched rafter roof covered with spruce shingles. The house’s main feature is a large hall from which all the other rooms can be accessed. Up to the end of the 19th century, this type of open-hearth room house was fairly widespread.
The other noteworthy structure here in the Styrian section is the Sallegger Moar farmstead which dates back to the early 15th century and represents a typical form of farm complex found in Eastern Styria. This beautiful farmhouse is built from logs and has a thatched cruck roof with four hipped gables. The simple interiors include a bed, kitchen utensils, and a tiled stove. Also interesting are the small roadside chapels and shrines you’ll see along the way that are decorated with the Holy Trinity.
The set of buildings from Carinthia include a large drying rack from Dellach, a lime kiln, a granary from Saureggen, and barns from Winkl. A highlight in this section is the mid-19th century drying rack from Dellach im Gailtal. It consists of two parallel racks used for field produce, especially grain but sometimes also clover, hay, beans, and maize.
I also really liked the extraordinary 17th century wayside shrine known as the Wayside Cross. Its high octagonal formation is surmounted by a square structure forming a platform which carries four square pillars. Also noteworthy is the two-storey granary which is an outstanding example of local craftsmanship. It is built of logs with interlocking corner joints so that the lower/upper courses have protruding ends, while the ends on the upper/lower courses have bell-shaped notches.
4. Upper Austria
Moving along, the three buildings from Upper Austria are a chapel from Haag bei Neydharting, a farmstead from St. Ulrich, and a barn from Tarsdorf. The wonderful Schwarzmaier farmstead was built in the 18th century and is an excellent example of Upper Austrian vernacular architecture and includes all the characteristic features of the traditional Vierkanthof (a type of farm characterized by its four-elements construction where domestic and service buildings are united to form a single structure). The most distinctive feature of the dwelling part of the farmstead is tastefully decorated with sgraffito. Inside, the family living room or parlor, where the family entertained visitors, features a simple stucco ceiling, elaborately painted furniture, and a tiled stove.
5. Lower Austria
A farmstead from Rammelhof and a baking oven from the Waldviertlerhof are the only two structures from Lower Austria. The Brachhuber farmstead was built in the 17th century and was once common in the areas along the Danube. Its sturdy construction offered its residents a comfortable home during long and cold winters. The farmhouse’s roof is a good example of the cruck roof and the house still retains its original kitchen with a raised open hearth.
6. South Tyrol
A small shrine, wrought-iron crosses, a steep straw-thatched roof barn, a farm complex, and a grain mill complete the set of structures from South Tyrol. The most eye-catching building is the lovely early-19th century Wegleithof farmstead from St. Walburg. Architecturally impressive, the building has half-timbered gables with a low-pitched purlin roof which is covered with straight-split shingles. The expansive interior features a kitchen, living room, and several bedrooms. I was most impressed with the bedchamber which has a coffered ceiling and contains several exceptionally beautiful items of furniture including painted chests.
The buildings from the province of Tyrol include a farmstead, a granary from Hintertux, a baking oven, and a wash-house from Alpbach, a dairy hut from the Durlassboden, a barn-and-byre facsimile, and a unique stock mill from Großdorf/Kals am Großglockner. The timber-framed barn-and-byre building now houses an exhibition of rural vehicles and farming implements.
The dairy hut provides a good introduction to how people formerly used to live and work on the high pastures in many of the mountainous regions of Tyrol. Items on display in the hut include frames for carrying the big loaves of cheese back to the farm, a butter churn, muslin cloths for straining, and wooden bowls.
The huge Hanslerhof farmstead from Alpbach is also a sight to behold. has a long history which goes back to the 13th century when the Alpbach valley was first settled by the Bavarians. It represents a type of farmhouse, which was once common throughout Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria, and Bavaria. The farmhouse’s design was optimally adapted to the local climate and landscape.
I really love how the Hanslerhof’s access balconies are adorned with a profusion of flowers. The highlight of the cavernous interior is the exquisite paneled living room and the paneled bedrooms which illustrate the high standard of living in the Alpine region.
The Salzburg section consists of three structures including a farmhouse from Siezenheim, a barn from Flauchgau, and a fascinating corn mill from Lamm. From the Middle Ages until the 1950s water-powered corn mills like this one were commonplace in most alpine valleys.
The mid-17th century Siezenheim farmhouse is the type of farm where the living quarters, storerooms, and byre are all under the same roof. The building has a low-pitched shingle-covered pitched roof. The central feature of this kind of farmhouse is the threshing floor which extends from eave to eave dividing the building into a dwelling part and a service part. It’s also interesting to note that the house doesn’t have a chimney, the smoke rather escaped into the loft through the chinks in the ceiling, and from there it gradually seeped through the roof. Spinning and weaving paraphernalia can be found inside the interiors.
The Bregenzerwälderhaus from Schwarzenberg and the cowshed from Mittelargenalpe are the two engrossing structures representing the province of Vorarlberg. One of my favorite buildings in the museum, this communal cowshed and dairy was built in 1641 at an altitude of 1700 meters above sea-level and was in use until 1977. It retains many originally medieval features and bears testament to the development of Alpine dairying in Bregenzerwald. An aromatic hard mountain cheese (Bergkäse), which has been produced in this alpine region since the 17th century used to be stored in the building’s central cheese cellar along with all the cheese producing equipment. Also noteworthy are the thousands of shingles adorning the building’s exterior and roof.
The two-storey 19th century Bregenzerwälderhaus is a wooden structure closely associated with the wood of the Bregenzerwald forest. As with the other farmsteads in the museum, the dwelling and service parts are located at different ends. I really liked this building because although it looks pretty austere from the outside, has surprisingly fine interiors. The rich panelling on the walls and the ceiling along with the well crafted furniture reflects an affluent style of living.
Events at the Austrian Open-Air Museum
Besides the architectural aspects of rural life, you are introduced to traditional farming at the museum. You can witness sawing, harvesting, mowing, and the repairing of toofs, fences and a plethora of other occupations of farming throughout the year. On certain days of the week, you get to see craftsmen display their skills in techniques like pottery, bread-making, lace-making, spinning, and weaving, weather permitting of course! Sometimes one of the old baking-ovens is heated and visitors are treated to a piece of delectable warm bread.
Throughout the year, there are special exhibitions taking place at the Austrian Open-Air Museum focusing on different themes, which are well worth visiting. The museum’s tranquil location coupled with the surrounding serene landscape provides the ideal setting for a family trip or for a romantic outing.
Practical Information for the Austrian Open-Air Museum
The Austrian Open-Air Museum is open daily from 09:00-17:00 (April-October). Admission until 16:00. In 2020, the museum is also open throughout November from 09:00-16:00 (admission until 15:00). The entrance costs 13 EUR.
If you intend on visiting the Austrian Open-Air Museum from Graz with public transport, take the train to Stübing. The museum is a 30-minute walk from the station. For detailed transport connections, I suggest you check the Austrian journey planner website or download their app.
There is one on-site restaurant and one on-site cafe at the Austrian Open-Air Museum. Both are open to the duration of the museum itself. The food served at the restaurant is representative of the different regions of Austria.
If you’re interested in purchasing some locally produced crafts, traditional clothing items, and different kinds of regional food, you can check out the museum shop. Its opening hours also correlate with those of the museum’s.
As long as you’re in the area, don’t pass on the opportunity to see the beautiful Rein Abbey. Situated only 15 km north of Graz, this is one of the most prominent abbeys in Styria. Largely unknown in comparison to the more famous abbeys in Styria like Admont, Seckau, and Vorau, Rein Abbey holds its own and definitely warrants a visit. One advantage of this is that you’ll virtually have the abbey to yourself and can wander around in peace.
Founded in 1129, the abbey is said to be the oldest surviving Cistercian abbey in the world. Although much of the complex is Romanesque & Gothic in design, the collegiate church, which is also the main attraction of the abbey, is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. While the church’s yellow and cream-colored stucco facade is impressive, it is the church’s astonishing interior that hogs all the limelight.
The nave of the church is positively breathtaking and is dominated by four curving vaults depicting religious scenes watched over by cherubs. The nave is held aloft by chunky wall pillars, which are adorned with reddish-marbled entablature pieces. The stucco work inside the church is staggering and the galleries feature an ornate gilded balustrade grille. Jacky and I were completely in awe of
The gilded altarpiece is another highlight of the interior and features an exquisite painting depicting the birth of Christ and the adoration by the shepherds. The high altarpiece is an exquisite representation of The Assumption of Mary into Heaven.
Besides the church, the Abbey library demands a visit. In addition to 400 medieval manuscripts and incunabula, its magnificently frescoed interior is home to around 100,000 objects such as books, magazines, single sheets, and music.
Practical Information for Rein Abbey
Rein Abbey can only be visited on a guided tour. Guided tours are held daily at 10:30 and 13:30. Tours are usually held in German, though the guides will switch to English to answer your questions. A guided tour costs 9 EUR.
If you’re planning on visiting the Rein Abbey from Graz with public transport, take the regional bus number 110 (direction Stift Rein) from Graz Central Station (Graz Hauptbahnhof) and get off at the last stop. For detailed transport connections, I suggest you check the Austrian journey planner website.
Now, what do you think? Are the Austrian Open-Air Museum Stübing and Rein Abbey on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!