By far the best way to get to know this charming old island town is on foot. Lose yourself in the maze of small streets and passageways flanked by centuries-old houses. Wander down to the harbor for magnificent views, with the Austrian shoreline and mountains close by to the east. Just 13 km (8 miles) away, they are nearer than the Swiss mountains visible to the southwest.
Lindau was made a Free Imperial City within the Holy Roman Empire in 1275. It had developed as a fishing settlement and then spent hundreds of years as a trading center along the route between the rich lands of Swabia and Italy. The Lindauer Bote, an important stagecoach service between Germany and Italy in the 18th and 19th centuries, was based here; Goethe traveled via this service on his first visit to Italy in 1788. The stagecoach was revived a few years ago, carrying passengers on a 13-day journey to Italy. This service only runs occasionally—ask at the Lindau tourist office.
As the German empire crumbled toward the end of the 18th century, battered by Napoléon's revolutionary armies, Lindau fell victim to competing political groups. It was ruled by the Austrian Empire before passing into Bavarian control in 1805. Lindau's harbor was rebuilt in 1856.