Lower Austria is often described as the 'province around Vienna' because, from a geographical point of view, Vienna, which is Austria's capital and at the same time a separate federal province, is located in the centre of Lower Austria - similar to the situation of Berlin and Brandenburg in Germany. Also, for a long time, the Office of the Government of Austria was located in Vienna and it was not until 1996 that St. Pölten was chosen to be its provincial capital. In 1997, the regional parliament, government and administration, followed by other important institutions were transferred to St Pölten.
Lower Austria has the largest area and the second largest population (after Vienna) of the nine federal provinces in Austria. On the north, Lower Austria is bordered by the Czech Republic; on the east it is bordered by Slovakia where the river system of Thaya and March marks the frontier line. In the south, the foothills of the Eastern Alps form a natural boundary with Styria. In the south-east, Lower Austria borders Burgenland and this is where the province also has a share in the Pannonian Plateau, which then stretches a scant 4km away into Hungary..
The Danube plays a very prominent role in both topographical and historical terms. This river, which was once the northern boundary of the Roman Empire, is the lifeline of the region and divides Lower Austria into a northern part with the Wald- and Weinviertel and a southern part with the Most- and Industrieviertel.The Danube has been of great importance since historical times as a transport artery, and today it forms part of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal, linking the Atlantic to the Black Sea.
Througout Austria's history, Lower Austria has always been very important, for it was in connection with the Lower Austrian town Neuhofen/Ybbs that the first recorded mentioning of the name "Ostarrichi" (Österreich), dating back to over one thousand years ago, was found.
However, Lower Austria is not only the historical heart of Austria with countless cultural points of interest, it is also important from the economic point of view, for this province is generating the bulk of Austria's agricultural products as well as featuring a highly developed industrial sector. In addition, the region has major sources of raw materials as well as extensive leisure facilities which are especially interesting for tourists.
The name 'Niederösterreich = Lower Austria' requires an explanation, for it sometimes evokes to incorrect associations. The prefix 'Nieder = Lower' has nothing to do with being flat or low, in fact it refers to the position of this province with regard to the river Enns, whose lower course forms the boundary between the provinces of Upper Austria and Lower Austria. Viewed from Bavaria to the east, this German province was very important to the development of modern-day Austria in the early Middle Ages, Lower Austria lies 'below' the Enns. So the name Lower Austria derives etymologically from this fact: it refers to the land "below" the Enns - as opposed to the region "above" the Enns, which accordingly is known today as "Oberösterreich = Upper Austria".