Salzburg: A Journey Through History, Music, and Culture

Salzburg under sunny skies – Salzburg travel guide

Are you searching for the best things to do in Salzburg or the best places to visit in Salzburg? Are you tired of going through random lists on the internet that only mention the place but tell you nothing about why they are worth a visit? 

In that case, this guide is perfect for you.

As you explore its historic streets, you’ll find a city steeped in culture, music, and history. It’s a destination that truly deserves a spot on your travel bucket list.

In this article, I will take you through the top things to do in Salzburg, ensuring that your visit to this gem of a city is as memorable as it can be. So, let’s dive into the list of exciting experiences waiting for you in Salzburg!

How to Reach Salzburg

Getting to Salzburg is a breeze. Whether you’re coming from neighboring Austrian cities like Vienna or planning a visit from Munich, or even arriving by air, you’ll easily find a mode of transport that suits your preferences. 

By Train

Travelers in Austria will find excellent train connections to Salzburg, making it an efficient and picturesque journey. 

Trains run regularly from Vienna and other Austrian cities, making it accessible from various parts of the country. 

You can even reach Salzburg by train from Munich using the cost-effective Bayern ticket

By Car

For those who prefer the freedom to explore at their own pace, arriving in Salzburg by car is a viable choice. 

But do note that parking within the Old City can be a bit challenging due to limited space. So either park your car outside the city center in one of the paid public parking spaces or leave your car at your hotel (if it allows guest car parking) and explore the city on foot or using public transport. 

By Flight

Salzburg is well-connected by air if you’re traveling from afar or internationally. 

W.A. Mozart Airport offers flights to and from all major European cities. 

Where to stay in Salzburg

Most tourists visit Salzburg on a short holiday as all the top tourist attractions in Salzburg can be seen in a couple of days. So even if the prices of accommodation close to the center are higher than the outskirts, I recommend staying close to the Old Town or near the Mirabell Gardens. 

Choosing accommodation close to the center will allow you to cover most places on foot and the ones which are slightly farther would still only be a short tram or bus ride away. 

The best hotels in Salzburg are 

High-end

  1. Hotel Sacher Salzburg – Excellent views, luxury accommodation in the heart of the city.
  2. Hotel Goldener Hirsch – Historic charm meets modern comforts in the Old Town.
  3. Radisson Blu Hotel Altstadt – Upscale riverside hotel with easy access to the Old Town.

Mid-range

  1. Hotel am Mirabellplatz – Comfortable rooms steps from Mirabell Gardens.
  2. Hotel Bristol Salzburg – Well-appointed accommodations near Mirabell Gardens.
  3. Hotel Markus Sittikus – Cozy rooms and easy access to the Old Town.

Budget

  1. MEININGER Hotel Salzburg City Center – Modern rooms near the train station.
  2. JUFA Hotel Salzburg City – Simple accommodations within walking distance of Mirabell Gardens.
  3. Hotel Turnerwirt – Basic accommodations a short walk from Mirabell Gardens.

12 Top Things To Do In Salzburg

I love Salzburg for its charm. Even without narrow alleys and lofty staircases like in the Old Town of Dubrovnik or large imposing monuments like the ones in Rome, Salzburg manages to mesmerize its tourists. Here are some of the best things to do and see there.

1. Hohensalzburg Fortress

Perched high on the Festungsberg hill, Hohensalzburg Fortress stands as a monumental testament to Salzburg’s history and architectural prowess. This fortress can be seen from almost anywhere in Salzburg’s Old Town and nearby areas. 

Built in the 11th century, the Hohensalzburg Fortress was initially constructed as a defensive stronghold to safeguard Salzburg from potential threats. Over time, it evolved into a symbol of the city’s enduring heritage. 

Today, it stands as a remarkably well-preserved castle, reflecting Salzburg’s rich past.

Visit tips: 

  • Arrive early to avoid crowds, especially during peak tourist seasons.
  • Use the funicular railway for a convenient ascent. Expect a queue for the funicular railway. 
  • Take a guided tour if you can to make the most of your visit. Else follow the trail to cover the entire fortress area. 
  • Click plenty of pictures of the incredible Salzburg city seen from above. 
  • Eat at the restaurant above. It’s expensive but the food is delicious. 
  • Buy a Salzburg card before you visit. It allows free entry to the fortress and its museums as well as free access to the funicular. 
  • Check the official website to find out more about concerts and special events taking place in the fortress. Attending a musical concert at the fortress is a memorable one-of-a-kind experience. 

2. Salzburg Cathedral

Salzburg Cathedral has a rich religious heritage and its architectural grandeur will leave you awestruck. The Salzburg Cathedral dates back to the 8th century when it was founded by Saint Rupert. 

Observe its fine Baroque architecture, beautiful twin spires, the vast dome, and the hues of glowing light passing through. 

Over the centuries, it underwent multiple renovations and expansion but its core remains intact. 

Visit tips

  • Begin your visit by stepping inside this sacred space. Admire the stunning Baroque interior, ornate frescoes, and the awe-inspiring dome. Don’t forget to look up at the intricate organ, an impressive piece of craftsmanship.
  • For those interested in delving deeper into the cathedral’s history, Take a guided tour of the crypt. 
  • Check the opening hours before your visit, as they may vary depending on the time of year and special events.
  • Remember that the cathedral is a place of worship, so dress modestly and respectfully during your visit.
  • Capture the cathedral’s stunning facade from the Domplatz square.

3. Mozart’s Birth Place

One of the many interesting facts about Austria is that many renowned classical music composers were born in this country.

In fact, one of the primary reasons why Salzburg is such a popular town among tourists is that the musical legend Mozart was born in this city.

His birthplace, now converted into a museum, has been made open to tourists and it holds a special place in the heart of Salzburg. 

The birthplace is a charming yellow townhouse located inside the city’s Old Town. Even though the house itself dates back to the 12th century, it was Mozart’s residence from 1747 to 1773. 

The museum’s exhibits include his childhood violin, clavichord, original portraits, and personal letters that offer a glimpse into the remarkable life of the musical genius.

Visit tips:

  • Opt for the audio guide, available in multiple languages, for in-depth insights as you explore the museum.
  • If you’re visiting with family, consider purchasing a family ticket, which covers two adults and their children under 19. Alternatively, you could simply use your individual Salzburg card for free entry. 
  • Plan your visit during quieter times, such as early mornings or late afternoons, to avoid crowds, especially during peak tourist seasons.
  • A great collectible from Salzburg would be Mozart-themed souvenirs or any other music-related items. You can buy these from the gift shop here. 

4. Mozart’s Residence

Whether or not you were a fan of Mozart before your visit to Salzburg, you will become one as soon as you learn about him on your visit to his birthplace. 

Follow that up with a quick visit to his residence. While his birthplace showcases his early years, this residence gives you a deeper look into Mozart’s life as a young adult. It’s where he composed some of his most iconic pieces and made significant strides in his musical career.

The residence is where he lived with his family from 1773 to 1780. One of the highlights of the residence is Mozart’s original fortepiano, the very instrument on which he composed many of his masterpieces. 

Visit Tips

  • Get an audio guide here to learn more about each room and exhibit. It does a fantastic job of giving you all the information you need to appreciate his work. 
  • Entry is free with the Salzburg card.
  • Don’t miss the charming courtyard garden for a peaceful break.
  • Avoid visiting with chatty friends or in large groups. The place truly deserves proper attention and not a quick tour. 

5. St. Peter’s Abbey

St. Peter’s Abbey is located in the Old Town and is one of the best places to visit in Salzburg. It was founded in the 7th century by Saint Rupert and is the oldest abbey and the oldest monastery with a continuous history in the German-speaking areas of Europe. 

The abbey’s main attraction is the St. Peter’s Church, a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. Its ornate interior adorned with frescoes and intricate details, is a testament to the artistic achievements of the time. 

There’s also a cemetery adjacent to the church. Here you’ll find the resting place of Mozart’s sister. The catacombs here are also the oldest in this region and date back to the 11th century. 

The catacombs and the cemetery were both used in the movie Sound of Music. 

Visit Tips

  • St. Peter’s Abbey offers a peaceful environment for reflection and silent contemplation. Take a moment to soak in the serenity.
  • To see the catacombs, you’ll have to pay a fee of 2 Euros. Only cash is accepted. Plan accordingly. 
  • Check the abbey’s opening hours in advance, as they may vary depending on the time of year and special events. The Abbey is usually closed on weekends.

6. Mirabell Palace and Gardens

Located across the famous Salzach River, outside the Old Town is the Mirabell Palace. The Mirabell Gardens are right next to it. 

While you cannot enter the palace, the gardens are open to tourists. 

Originally designed in the early 18th century, Mirabell Gardens were conceived as a visual delight for the Archbishop of Salzburg. The gardens, even today, are well-maintained and showcase its beautiful landscape. The flowerbeds, the sculptures, and the fountains continue to impress. 

The Pegasus Fountain that stands before the historic Mirabell Palace is the highlight of the Mirabell Gardens. 

However, the reason why the Garden is immensely popular and loved by tourists is that it is the filming location of the beloved movie ‘The Sound of Music’. You will instantly remember ‘Do Re Mi’ as you step inside the garden. 

Visit Tips

  • To enjoy the gardens in a more peaceful setting, visit the gardens later in the evening when crowds tend to be smaller and as the day tour crowds leave. 
  • The gardens are one of the most Instagrammable places in Salzburg. Plan accordingly. 
  • If you plan to take the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, you need not visit the gardens separately. 
  • The gardens are wheelchair-friendly, making them accessible for all visitors.

7. Hellbrunn Palace

Hellbrunn Palace is about a twenty-minute drive away from the Old City. The Palace is famous for its incredible trick fountains. There is an open lawn area here which is ideal for relaxing in the middle of a busy day. 

Built in the early 17th century by Markus Sittikus, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, this palace was designed for pure enjoyment.

The highlight of Hellbrunn is its trick fountains. The hydraulic system, designed centuries ago, still surprises and delights visitors. 

Visit Tips

  • Plan to spend a few leisurely hours here to get the most out of this place and its vibey feel. 
    • Expect to get slightly wet as the fountains trick you and catch you off guard
    • Check out the gazebo which is the place where ‘I’m Sixteen going on Seventeen’ was filmed.
  • Wear comfortable shoes for walking around the palace grounds.
  • In winter the palace shuts down for tourists and is instead replaced by a Christmas market – which is also a must-visit. 

8. Mount Untersberg

Mount Untersberg is located about 45 minutes outside the Old Town. To visit the mount, you will have to take a bus (Bus No. 25 from the Old Town and get off at the last stop) or drive to the base of the mount. 

A cable car takes you to the top of the Mount Untersberg. The Mount is located at an altitude of about 1900 meters which is considerably higher than Salzburg located at around 400 meters. 

You can see the entire town from here. The city, including its airport and planes, looks tiny from up there. 

There is also a hiking trail that takes you to the peak. It’s moderately difficult and you’ll need to climb for about 25 minutes to get to the top. 

Visit Tips: 

  • Plan a trip to Untersberg when the weather’s clear for the best views. You’ll literally be transported straight into the clouds. 
  • Dress appropriately or carry layers. The sudden increase in altitude means that it’s much cooler on the top than at Salzburg.  
  • The cable car ticket is quite expensive. But for Salzburg card holders, access to both the bus going to Untersberg, as well as the cable car, is free. 
  • The café at the top serves delicious hot chocolate and is an excellent place to take in the views and relax after a tiring hike. 
  • Wear comfortable hiking shoes. 
  • The bus going to Untersberg also stops at Hellbrunn Palace so you can plan your journey accordingly.

9. Cruise in the Salzach River

A Salzach cruise takes you through the Salzach river which divides Salzburg into two halves – the Old Town on one side and the modern more contemporary side on the other. A typical cruise takes about 40 minutes but there are a few private companies that offer longer cruise options too. 

A Salzach cruise is not a must-do in Salzburg especially if you are crunched for time. But if you have ample time, you can definitely include it in your Salzburg itinerary. The river offers an excellent vantage point from where you can appreciate the pastel-coloured buildings of Salzburg, and the baroque architecture of the Old Town and admire the vast mountain with an imposing Hohensalzburg fortress. 

The cruise offers plenty of photo opportunities. 

Visit Tips

  • If you have a Salzburg card, Tour 1 (an 8-kilometer cruise that takes about 40 minutes) is complimentary. But you need to get a physical ticket from the ticket window near the Makarsteg bridge. The cruise runs once every hour and the tickets get sold out quickly. Plan accordingly. A paid ticket for this cruise is not worth it. 
  • If you plan on getting a paid ticket, book a longer 2.5-hour cruise that also takes you to Hellbrunn Palace and provides a more in-depth tourist commentary by the guide. 
  • Avoid going on a cruise when the water levels are low. The experience is fairly disappointing. 

10. Shopping in the Old Town

There is something magical about walking through the lanes of the Old Town of Salzburg. While Salzburg is not famous for being a shopper’s paradise, you will still see plenty of old boutiques lining the sides of lanes in the Old Town. 

Take your time going through the many items sold here which include books, souvenirs, fashion, jewelry, etc. 

Some must-buy souvenirs in Salzburg are

  • Mozartkugeln – These famous Mozart chocolates are found in various stores across the city, each claiming to offer the original and best version. But the authentic ones are found at Cafe Konditerai Furst.
  • Beer stein or local liquer
  • Reproductions of Gustav Klimt paintings
  • Christmas decoration

The Getreidegasse is the most famous shopping lane in the Old Town. It has a mix of local boutiques and international retail brand stores. For a more local shopping experience, 

  • visit the winter Christmas markets in Salzburg 
  • Visit the small boutiques at Linzer Gasse
  • Ask for weekly markets and flea markets in the outskirt areas. You’ll get plenty of fresh produce and handmade souvenirs here. 
  • Most shops are shut on Sunday

11. Experiencing Salzburg’s Café and Beer Hall Scene

A visit to Salzburg is incomplete without hanging out at one of the many cafes here. 

The Cafe Tomaselli is the oldest cafe in Austria and sits right in the heart of the old city. Order a coffee and spend a quiet afternoon people-watching. 

If coffee doesn’t spark joy, head to Augustiner Braustubl – Salzburg’s biggest beer hall. The vibe of this place is perfect. You pick a mug, clean it under a tap, and then have someone pour beer into it. Drink your beer in peace while socializing with strangers seated around you.  Finish off with a meal of schnitzel and sausages. 

12. Head out on a Sound of Music Tour

Being the primary filming location of the classic movie ‘Sound of Music’ is one of the major reasons why Salzburg attracts so many visitors. If you are a die-hard fan of the movie, it is best to book yourself on the original Sound of Music tour. The guide will take you across every single filming location, share anecdotes and inside information about the movie’s making, and share its tales with the passion and fervor of a true fan. 

But if you don’t want to spend on the tour and want to just see all the places without a guide’s commentary, you can even visit all the places on your own. Many of the places will form part of your regular tourist itinerary like 

  • The Mirabell Gardens
  • St. Peter’s Abbey 
  • Hellbrunn Palace 

Salzburg awaits to fill your journey with rich history, mesmerizing sights, and cultural delights. As you depart, the echoes of music and beauty linger, promising a warm welcome upon your return to this enchanting city. Safe travels!

 

Vrushali Ketkar, a lawyer turned travel blogger, shares her travel expertise on her blog ‘Couple of Journeys.’ Her detailed articles cater to both busy individuals and families and enhance their joy of traveling by simplifying travel planning.

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