The city is situated on a plateau falling in a series of terraces to the lake at the foot of Pfänder mountain. It is a junction of the arterial roads from the Rhine valley to the German Alpine foothills, with cruise ship services on Lake Constance.
The first settlements date from 1500 BC. Celtic tribe named Brigantii is mentioned by Strabo as a sub-tribe in these region of the Alps. In the 5th century BC, the Celts settled at Brigantion, which was one of their most heavily fortified locations. After battles in 15 BC, the Romans conquered Brigantion and the city became a Roman camp. It was conferred the status of a municipality (Brigantium) around 50 AD and was the seat of the Roman admiralty for Lake Constance. In 259/60 Brigantium was destroyed by the Alemanni, a Germanic people who settled in the area in around 450.
From 610 to 612 St. Columbanus and Saint Gall worked as missionaries in Bregenz. From 917 the castle served as a residence of the Udalrichinger (ruling dynasty of Vorarlberg), who called themselves Counts of Bregenz. The house died out around 1150. The son of the first Ulrich was Saint Gebhard, born in 947. He became Bishop of Konstanz and was later known as the patron of the pregnant women. In around 1170 Hugo of Tübingen (Montfort) founded a town settlement (first documented mention in 1249), enlarged in the 13th and 14th century and from 1650 to 1652.
The city was sold in 1451 and in 1523 to the Habsburgs and continued under Austrian rule, with a brief occupation by Swedish forces under Carl Gustaf Wrangel during the 30 Years' War, until the 19th century. Bregenz was under Bavarian rule from 1805 to 1814. From 1842 to 1850, the harbour on Lake Constance was built. In 1883 and from 1889–1891 the harbour was enlarged, and Austrian ship service was set up in 1884. Rail communication has existed since 1872 and since 1884 across the Arlberg massif. Since then, the town has extended to the surrounding countryside. Since 1726, Bregenz has been the main seat of Austrian administration in Vorarlberg (Obervogtei, in 1786 Kreisamt, since 1861 seat of the Landtag, since 1918 seat of the Landeshauptmann). Rieden-Vorkloster and Fluh were incorporated into Bregenz in 1919 and in 1946, respectively. The town was bombarded in 1945, and 72 houses were destroyed.
Landmarks buildings of Bregenz include Martins Tower, St. Gallus Church, the Art House, the Post Office Building, and the Lake Promenade. A well known meeting point for local philosophers, politicians, writers and musicians.
Upper town: (oldest part, remains from the 13th and 16th centuries, town walls still standing), old town hall (1662); the Martinsturm is considered the landmark of Bregenz (late Roman core, chapel with frescos from 1362, from 1599 to 1601 a storey was added, biggest Baroque bulb-shaped steeple in Central Europe, houses the Museum of Military History); Gothic parish church of St. Gall (the Roman-Romanesque foundations date from before 1380, rebuilt around 1480, from 1737 to 1938 altered by F. A. Beer in Baroque style); Herz-Jesu parish church (1905–1908).
Lower town: town hall built in 1686 (façade from 1898) Gothic Seekapelle, Landhaus (built from 1973 to 1982 by W. Holzbauer), the former Kornhausmarkt (built from 1838 to 1940, altered from 1951 to 1955) now houses a theatre, Protestant church of the Sacred Cross (1862–1864), Parish church, church of St. Kolumban (1962–1966), Kunsthaus Bregenz (1991–1997), Tourismushaus tourist centre (1994–1998). District of Vorkloster: Maria Hilf parish church (1925–1931, C. Holzmeister, interior from 1980) and Cistercian monastery of Mehrerau. On the Gebhardsberg rock, remains of the fortress of Hohenbregenz (destroyed by the Swedes in 1647).
Government: Bregenz is the seat of the Vorarlberg provincial government (Landtag), home of most provincial authorities (e.g. school supervisor, police headquarters), department of human resources development (AMS), the police headquarters for the province of Vorarlberg, Office for Environmental Protection, Chamber of Labour, Economics Chamber, Chamber of Agriculture, Chamber of Pharmacists, military regional headquarters, military garrison, one of the main hospitals of the province (Landeskrankenhaus) as well as a sanatorium, farmers' health and social insurance office, VLV (Mutual Fire Insurance Institute).
Schools and the arts: Four Gymnasium secondary schools, commercial college (HAK), technical college (HTL), upper secondary business schools (Höhere Lehranstalt für wirtschaftliche Berufe), three Berufsschulen vocational schools, crafts colleges, Academy of Social Sciences, nursing school; adult education centre, school boarding houses, provincial archives, provincial library, provincial museum, Kunsthaus Bregenz (modern arts centre), Künstlerhaus art centre, Thurn und Taxis Palace, five monasteries, Heimatwerk (autonomous institution fostering the manufacturing of traditional craft products, etc.), various newspapers.
Public facilities: Festival and Congress centre, Theater am Kornmarkt, casino, harbour for sailing boats and yachts, cable car up the Pfänder mountain.
Economic structure: 14,769 employed people in 1991. It is mainly dominated by small businesses in the service, trade and industry sectors: textile industry (Wolford AG), iron-fittings manufacturer (Julius Blum GmbH), glass processing and machine construction. The Airline InterSky which is since 2010 the biggest privately owned Airline in Austria has its headquarters in Bregenz. Bi-seasonal tourism, a major attraction is the Bregenz Festival (since 1946, floating stage since 1949, modernised in 1979, Festival and Congress Hall in 1980), winter sports at the Pfänder mountain.