Austria's third biggest city (after Vienna and Graz) is an arty option for a weekend. It was one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2009 and has continued with its forward-thinking mind-set, offering a raft of dynamic galleries and institutions. Chief among these is the Ars Electronica Centre, a museum of science, technology and digital media whose glass walls flash in different colours after dark (Ars-Electronica-Strasse). It is open daily except Mondays. From 1-3 November it will host Space Days: Astronomy – a feast of star-gazing and sharp images of the great beyond.
Get your bearings
Linz is located in the north of Austria, 20 miles below the Czech border. It is the capital of Oberösterreich (Upper Austria) – one of the nine länder (states) into which the country is divided. The Danube flows west-to-east through its heart, separating the Altstadtviertel (the medieval core) and the Innenstadt (inner city) on the south bank from areas like Urfahr to the north. Public transport (linzag.at) consists of buses and three tram lines, which all meet in the main square, Hauptplatz. Single fares €1, day-passes €4. The tourist office is at Hauptplatz 1 and is open daily (linz-tourismus.info). It sells the Linz Card, which covers museum entry and transport: €15 for one day, €25 for three. More information: austria.info.
Take a hike
Begin at Theatergasse 1, outside the Landhaus – the impressive 16th-century structure which acts as the parliament for Oberosterreich. Its ornate clocktower is a city symbol. Walk east towards Hauptplatz, but take the first left onto Altstadt and head north into the old town – though you may wish to halt at number 13, where Madame Wu Teesalon (madamewu.net) is an alluring café and tea stockist. Continue up Altstadt into Alter Markt. Walk through the square and turn left into Hofgasse, which climbs steeply. At the top of the stairs, you can peer at the Danube as it flows below the city's 16th-century Schloss (castle).
Landstrasse is the commercial drag, forging south through the Innenstadt. Its key retail option is the shiny Passage mall at 17-25 (passagecitycenter.at). At number 22 on parallel Herrengasse, Jindrak (linzertorte.at), is a patisserie that dispenses the Linzer Torte – a sweet lattice tart heavy with honey and almonds. At number 5, Xocolat is an Austrian chocolate specialist (xocolat.at).
Lunch on the run
The third floor of Passage comes with a trendy eatery, Sky Garden (skygarden.at). A bowl of thick tomato soup with pesto is €5.20. The cocktail list includes the Sky Punch.
A walk in the park
Strung along the south bank of the Danube between the bridges of Nibelungen and Eisenbahn, the Donaupark is an alfresco slice of Linz's artiness. This near-mile-long strip of grass is dotted with large iron and steel sculptures – a tribute to the city's factories and dockyards. These chunks of metal provide an angular backdrop to a stroll next to the river.
Tucked into the shadow of the Ars Electronica Centre at Kirchengasse 4, Stadtwerkstadtt is a cultural centre that puts on art shows and DJ nights. Its Café Strom is part of the package.
Dining with the locals
The Ars Electronica Centre has an excellent house restaurant, Cubus (cubus.at), which serves meat fillet with cognac pepper sauce for €15.90. Elsewhere, Riva is the pick of the eateries on the main square, with pizzas from €7.50 at Hauptplatz 13 (; www.riva-linz.com) and Café Traxlmayr is a classic Austrian salon at Promenade 16, where you can try veal in a mushroom sauce for €8.50 (cafe-traxlmayr.at).
Go to church
At Herrengasse 26, the Mariendom (mariendom.at) is the biggest cathedral in Austria. A 19th-century Gothic masterpiece, it has shrugged off the damage it sustained from a direct bomb strike in 1945. Sunday mass is at 10am and 11.30am. The Mariendom is known as Linz's "new" cathedral because it has an "old" counterpart – the 17th-century Ignatiuskirche, which is almost lost in the narrow Domgasse (at number 3 ignatiuskirche-linz.at). Sunday mass is at 7.30am and 10.30am.
The Ars Electronic Centre is decidedly of-the-now. Exhibits include the "Password Hacker" computer. The Lentos Kunstmuseum is also up to the minute. A striking slab of glass which glows at night, it preens on the riverbank at Ernst-Koref-Promenade 1 (lentos.at), open daily 10am-6pm except Monday. The contemporary art inside includes Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe.
Out to brunch
Try Austrian fast-food favourite leberkas – a peppery meat paté, served warm in ciabatta for €2.70 at Leberkas-Pepi at Rathausgasse 3 (leberkaspepi.at).
Take a ride
Catch the Postlingbergbahn tourist tram (tram 50) from the top of Hauptplatz. Leaving every half hour (returns €5.60, but included in the Linz Card). It will take 18 minutes to carry you to the summit of the Pöstlingberg – the 1,768ft hill to the north of the city. Here, you can enjoy ice creams from €4 at the Café Linzblick.
Icing on the cake
Pitched at Am Volksgarten 1, the Landestheater is Linz's ultra-new opera house (landestheater-linz.at). It will prove its versatility on 24 November (3pm; from €14) with Honk! – a musical reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling.