Herberstein castle sits on a rock in the Feistritz ravine and thus is not accessible from 3 sides. At the same time, the castle is not visible from out of the ravine and was thus naturally protected from attackers.
The oldest parts of the castle situated near the zoo stems from the 12th century. The first small castle called Herwigstein stood under the fiefdom of the Stubenberg Clan. Otto von Hartenberg could free the castle by a payment to the Stubenbergs and is considered to be the ancestor of Herberstein Castle since then.
By 1400 the castle was expanded by a massive outer bailey, which included the previously built Gothic chapel of St. Catherine. The bailey was extended in the 15th century a number times. Mid-16th century, the castle was transformed into a residential building with Renaissance elements and expanded to accommodate the numerous offspring. In the 17th century the magnificent banqueting hall was built, the deep moat was built on. Mid-17th century the Florentinerhof was constructed after an Italian model and by the end of the century St. George's Chapel, the gardeners home and the 'Maierhof' were completed.
In the 17th and 18th century about one-fifth of Styria was possessed by Counts of Herberstein. Some 1,000 farms were tributary to the castle. The castle is still owned by the Herberstein family and serves as a residential and administrative center.
Admission to the castle includes guided tours of part of the castle, access to the historic gardens, the zoo, and the Gironcoli Museum, which features works by contemporary Austrian artist Bruno Gironcoli.
The keeping of wild animals has a long tradition in Herberstein. It can be tracked back to the 17th century, the first time fallow deer were kept in Austria. At the end of 1960 Herberstein was converted into a zoo where visitors could see animals from all five continents. At that time the castle was opened to the public for the first time, too. Today the Herberstein Zoo is very well designed and has the largest cheetah park in Europe. It includes a remodeled ski-lift, forcing the cheetah to catch their food, which is hauled by the ski-lift at fast pace.
Kirkjubøargarður ('Yard of Kirkjubøur', also known as King"s Farm) is one of the oldest still inhabited wooden houses of the world. The farm itself has always been the largest in the Faroe Islands. The old farmhouse dates back to the 11th century. It was the episcopal residence and seminary of the Diocese of the Faroe Islands, from about 1100. Sverre I of Norway (1151–1202), grew up here and went to the priest school. The legend says, that the wood for the block houses came as driftwood from Norway and was accurately bundled and numbered, just for being set up. Note, that there is no forest in the Faroes and wood is a very valuable material. Many such wood legends are thus to be found in Faroese history.
The oldest part is a so-called roykstova (reek parlour, or smoke room). Perhaps it was moved one day, because it does not fit to its foundation. Another ancient room is the loftstovan (loft room). It is supposed that Bishop Erlendur wrote the 'Sheep Letter' here in 1298. This is the earliest document of the Faroes we know today. It is the statute concerning sheep breeding on the Faroes. Today the room is the farm"s library. The stórastovan (large room) is from a much later date, being built in 1772.
Though the farmhouse is a museum, the 17th generation of the Patursson Family, which has occupied it since 1550, is still living here. Shortly after the Reformation in the Faroe Islands in 1538, all the real estate of the Catholic Church was seized by the King of Denmark. This was about half of the land in the Faroes, and since then called King"s Land (kongsjørð). The largest piece of King"s Land was the farm in Kirkjubøur due to the above-mentioned Episcopal residence. This land is today owned by the Faroese government, and the Paturssons are tenants from generation to generation. It is always the oldest son, who becomes King"s Farmer, and in contrast to the privately owned land, the King"s Land is never divided between the sons.
The farm holds sheep, cattle and some horses. It is possible to get a coffee here and buy fresh mutton and beef directly from the farmer. In the winter season there is also hare hunting for the locals. Groups can rent the roykstovan for festivities and will be served original Faroese cuisine.
Other famous buildings directly by the farmhouse are the Magnus Cathedral and the Saint Olav"s Church, which also date back to the mediaeval period. All three together represent the Faroe Island"s most interesting historical site.