Top Things To Do In Salzburg, Austria
SALZBURG AUSTRIA, SEPTEMBER 2017
Though often overshadowed by the capital of Vienna, Austria's fourth largest city is the stuff of fairytales. Rich in history and exuding with charm, Salzburg lures visitors with its breathtaking scenery, Baroque palaces and passion for music (think Mozart and the von Trapps). Simply take a leisurely stroll down along the Salzach River, pass by picture-perfect pastel buildings, with views of yodel-ready Alpine vistas in the distance, and you will fall in love with this Central European city.
Our stop in Salzburg was the only portion of our recent Europe trip for which I did (relatively) no planning in advance. I made a hotel reservation at Hotel Sacher, one of Salzburg’s grandest hotels dating back to the late 1800's, but that was pretty much the extent of it. Since so often the most memorable experiences are the unplanned ones, we decided to spend our 48 hours discovering the city by foot sans map or city guide, and I'm so happy we did! The other reason why I planned so little was due to the fact I had a hard time finding many helpful resources online. So, after experiencing the city firsthand, below are my top suggestions of what to see and do while in Salzburg.
Explore Mirabell Palace and Gardens
Our first encounter with Salzburg happened to be my favorite! Just steps from our hotel in the heart of the city was Mirabell Palace and Gardens, a grand palace accentuated by stunning rose beds, manicured lawns, large fountains and a perfect view of the city's cathedral and fortress in the distance. It is a beautiful sight! We visited in late September and the grounds were still in full bloom, and experiencing it at sunset made it just that much more enchanting. To give you a sense of the beauty, it's a UNESCO World Heritage site and is free to roam.
the hills are alive with the Sound of Music
Salzburg is famous for a few things, with one of the most widely-known being it's the backdrop for the beloved musical, The Sound of Music. Super fans can go on The Original Sound of Music Tour with runs daily from 9.30am to 2.30pm. The official tour takes you to the filming locations a little further out of the city, but there are plenty of filming spots you can find on your own such as the Mirabell Gardens, which I learned (after we got home) was the location for the famous "Do-Re-Mi" scene. Since we had less than 48 hours in town, we didn't go on the tour, but I did convince Greg to go to the city's world famous marionette theater for a performance of the classic film which was surprisingly fun and extremely well done!
Spend The Afternoon At cafe tomaselli
Another favorite memory from Salzburg was our time spent at Cafe Tomaselli. Few things are more European than a leisurely afternoon spent at a cafe, and if you go to only one in Salzburg make sure it's Tomaselli. Founded in 1700 and a favorite hangout of Mozart's, this cafe epitomizes authentic coffee culture with a generous helping of style and tradition. We sat upstairs on the outdoor terrace where white and green umbrellas pop against the soft-hued buildings lining the square, ordered coffee and pastries, and relaxed as we watched the world pass by. I ordered the “Tomaselliums Kaffee 1705/2005”, a unique concoction of strong mocha and Mozart liqueur, and highly recommend it.
Another popular cafe is Cafe Bazar, a century-old Viennese-style coffeehouse with crystal chandeliers, wood paneling and marble tabletops, situated along the river bank with views of Old Town. We had breakfast here one morning which was delightful and conveniently located next door to our hotel.
Explore Old Town
During our two days in Salzburg we found we spent most of our time in "Old Town", which is one of the best-preserved city centers in Europe, full of baroque architecture, beautiful churches and local vendors. Here you can tour Mozart's childhood home, visit the Museum of Modern Art, stroll through street markets, and find restaurants cooking Austrian dishes of Spaetzle and Wiener Schnitzel. It's relatively small and can definitely be accomplished in one day, but its charm kept luring us back!
Shop Along THE Historic Getreidegasse
For all Old Town has to offer, the bustling heart of it is Getreidegasse, a famous shopping street since the 12th century where high-end establishments rub shoulders with souvenir shops. Cobblestone alleyways lead to tranquil courtyards and traditional Austrian restaurants, allowing the old world splendor to truly come alive. To experience the most unique part of the street, though, you only need to look up! Each establishment boasts a beautiful wrought-iron guild sign, and seeing these alone is worth the stroll! There are plenty of shops worth stopping in, but my top suggestions for traditional Austrian goods would be Lanz of Salzburg, Wenger Trachtenmode and Trachten Stassny.
Hands down though, the one shop not to be missed is Christmas in Salzburg! I've never seen so many beautiful hand blown glass ornaments in my life. I spent a good hour shopping and admiring the vast variety - which could have been longer had I not felt bad for Greg - and the ornaments I bought are my favorite souvenirs from our entire trip!
Hohensalzburg Fortress is a huge 11th century castle on a hilltop in the middle of town with 360 views of the Austrian Alps and city. It’s the icon of Salzburg and is the largest fully preserved castle in Central Europe. From Old Town you can take a funicular up the hill to the fortresses' entrance and join a guided audio tour or explore the three museums it houses. As interesting as it was to tour the castle and learn Salzburg's history, my favorite part of the experience was admiring the mountain panoramic and countryside. I could have sat there all day! It’s almost impossible to skip this place on a trip to Salzburg, and you shouldn’t!
Explore The Surrounding Area
I'd say 48 hours is the perfect amount of time to see the city of Salzburg, but allow for a little more time if you plan to explore any of the surrounding area. Salzburg is dramatically framed by snow-capped mountains, which offer not only breathtaking views but also endless activities, such as hiking and skiing. Being on the Germany-Austria border, day trips to Munich, Hitler's Eagle's Nest and Neuschwanstein Castle (tips for your visit here) are all easy. We had planned on visiting the country's most picturesque village, Hallstatt, which is only an hour drive from Salzburg, but unfortunately ran out of time. I highly recommend making the time for Hallstatt though!
See A Classical Music Performance
Given its nickname is the City of Mozart, Salzburg practically lives and breathes classical music, so it's the perfect city to take in a show! Any night of the week you can find numerous dinner concerts and orchestras performing, all rich in history and culture. We had planned on seeing a show but from the research I did online prior to arriving, I had a hard time deciphering which show would be best. My recommendation would be to ask your concierge which show is best, or try The Mozart Dinner Concert which will give you the chance to experience true Austrian cuisine and the music of Mozart.
a few other things to consider
-When To Go
I recommend visiting either early Fall or the month of December. We were there late September and the weather was perfect - sunny with temperatures in the mid-60's. The scenery was still green and in bloom, and there were fewer tourists than the summer months. Plus, late September is the height of Oktoberfest, making it a magical time to be in the region! Or, if you can go a little later in the year, Salzburg is one of the great European cities for Christmas markets. During the four weeks before the holiday, the annual markets open with booth after booth of handmade Christmas decorations and ornaments, hot spiced wine, sausages every way imaginable and everything else "Christmas" that you could possibly want.
-Where To Stay
- Sacher Hotel - Right on the river with views of Old Town and the Hohensalzburg fortress, it's hard to beat this hotel's location! Plus, it has been privately owned by an Austrian family for the past 150 years, ensuring you receive a genuine Salzburg experience full of luxury and tradition. If you're looking for an extra special stay, book the Beatles Suite! We were fortunate to have been unexpectedly upgraded to this room where the icons once stayed, and the paraphernalia around the room was so cool to see!
- Arthouse Blaue Gans - The oldest inn in Salzburg has recently been transformed into a hip boutique hotel, a place full of inspiration located on the Getreidegasse. We ate dinner at the hotel's restaurant and it was our favorite meal while in town!
- Sheraton Grand - Adjacent to the Mirabell Garden, just a few minutes’ walk to Old Town, this hotel is a great option if you're looking for familiar comfort plus Salzburg charm. Due to a renovation issue at the Sacher Hotel, we stayed one night here and were tempted to stay the second night as well thanks to its large, newly designed rooms.