Salzburg is set in the forested foothills north of the Alps mountain range, and the Salzach River divides the city. The northeastern half of the city is the new town — mostly businesses and transport links — and the southwestern bank of the river is home to the charming Altstadt (Old Town) with its Baroque churches and one of Europe’s oldest medieval fortresses. Salzburg’s Old Town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
Home to Mozart, Haydn and setting of “The Sound of Music,” Salzburg is a wildly popular stop for music lovers of all kinds and tourists of all ages. So soak it all in and sing it out loud while you’re in town. Walk the Getreidegasse, a busy shopping street, and happen upon the house at number 9, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born. Pace the gardens of Mirabell Palace; “Do-Re-Mi” was sung on its steps. During the holiday season, enjoy the festivities and decorations of Salzburg’s impressive Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), and if you feel like singing a carol, the lyrics to “Silent Night” were written here as well.
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Because of its historic importance in the salt trade (both the city and the river running through it get their names from the seasoning), Salzburg has long managed to incorporate both sophistication and traditional regional culture. Called the “Rome of the North,” Salzburg’s powerful rulers, the Catholic prince-archbishops, brought Baroque architecture to Salzburg from Italy in the 17th century. And given its proximity to southern Germany, Salzburg’s culture has strong Bavarian ties. The most celebrated historical achievement of Salzburg, however, is its music, and in particular the symphonies, concertos and soaring strings of the city’s prodigal son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Mozarts Geburtshaus: Mozart is the city’s main draw, and not just one, but two museums commemorate his early life in Salzburg before he left for Vienna. This particular museum, which celebrates the child prodigy’s early years from his birth in 1756 until the family moved when he was 17, is hard to miss. Painted in bright yellow and adorned with the German “Mozarts Geburtshaus” (Mozart’s birth house) in golden letters, the museum at Getreidegasse 9 contains portraits, instruments — including his toddler-sized violin — and other personal effects.
Mozart-Wohnhaus: Regarded as the more comprehensive of the two Mozart museums, this house was the Mozart family residence from 1773 to 1787. Mozart lived here until the age of 25, when he moved to Vienna. The residence houses scores and portraits as well as Mozart’s original pianoforte.
Festung Hohensalzburg: The Hohensalzburg Fortress, built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard, is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Set atop Monchsberg Hill, the castle dominates the city skyline with its position and bulk — it’s large enough to hold a community of 1,000 and engineered so that it can be self-sufficient if necessary. The fortress never actually faced an attack, though local peasants unsuccessfully laid siege to the spot in 1525. The castle is walkable, and the views from the hill and the castle’s ramparts are the best in the city. There is easy access via a funicular railway, called the Festungsbahn.
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Schloss Mirabell and Gardens: The Mirabell Palace and Gardens should look familiar to “Sound of Music” enthusiasts as the spot where Julie Andrews’ Maria and her von Trapp children bounced up and down the steps, singing the classic “Do-Re-Mi” song from the musical. Built around 1606, the palace itself was an ode of sorts from Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau to his mistress Salome Alt. It was redesigned in the Baroque style in the 18th century and severely damaged by Salzburg’s great fire of 1818. The palace is now home to the town’s municipal offices, and the palace’s Marble Hall plays host to hundreds of weddings each year. The beautiful Mirabell Gardens date from about 1690, with design flourishes — the Pegasus Fountain, for example — added as recently as the 20th century. Emperor Franz Joseph I opened the gardens to the public in 1854.
“Sound of Music” Tour: There is no shortage of options and events trading on the popularity of “The Sound of Music,” and you can pay for a tour that will take you to some of the locations featured in the 1965 film adaptation of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical. You can make your own self-guided tour, however, by simply picking and choosing from some of the sights. A good place to start is the Mirabell Gardens, mentioned above. Behind the Hohensalzburg Castle, there’s a path to the Nonnberg Benedictine Abbey that was used as Maria’s nunnery in the film. Continuing down Nonnberggasse to the Almgasse and through the park-like lands below Monchsberg Hill, walking down Leopoldskroner Allee will bring you to Schloss Leopoldskron, a Rococo palace set on a lake. The grounds were one of the main exterior locations for the movie, although the palace itself is not the von Trapp villa. The Villa Trapp, actually, is across the river and outside the old town, quite a long way away (at least by foot).
Austrian food is a varied affair, having been shaped over several centuries by a multitude of cultural influences. You can get a taste of Bavaria in Upper Austria, where dumplings, krauts (pickled vegetables), meat, potatoes, salads and fish dishes are the tradition. Linzertorte is a famous dessert cake from Linz, and Salzburg is known for its kasnocken (cheese dumplings) and Salzburger nockerl (a dessert souffle). Other well-known traditional Viennese-Austrian offerings include wiener schnitzel (breaded veal) and apfelstrudel (apple strudel pastry).
You’ll find no shortage of beer in Austria, and the white wines — particularly the Gruner Veltliner and riesling varietals of the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria — are good too. In Upper Austria, where Salzburg is located, the regional classic is called Most, a non-carbonated cider. Austria is also known for its schnapps — distilled fruit liquor. Schnapps is often drunk after a meal as a digestif. Be careful; it’s strong.
Salzburg has numerous lovely cafes, and you won’t struggle to find good food here, but here are a few of our top recommendations.
Augustiner Braustubl: The Augustine Brewery at Mulln has been Salzburg’s home for gemutlichkeit (warmth, friendliness and good cheer) for ages. Founded by monks in 1621, the brewery continues to make craft beer in wooden barrels and serve it up to patrons in large (and larger) ceramic steins. On nice days, the beer garden is a great place to sit under the chestnut trees and enjoy a range of food from the onsite food stalls offering meats, salads, pickled vegetables and fish dishes. The food is inexpensive and the beer is tasty. It’s all self-service, and the picnic tables are shared, so you’ll be sure to make new friends while you’re here.
Magazin: Not far from the easygoing brewery is a far more chic and refined affair called Magazin, located at Auginergasse 13a. If you’re looking for gourmet, go there. The menus and the ingredients are seasonal, and the restaurant has an enormous selection of wines on hand. You can eat indoors in the modern, industrial space or outside in a courtyard at the foot of Monchsberg’s sheer rock wall. Menus are a la carte, but there are also tasting menus available.
Monschberg 32: Another chic affair, this modern fusion restaurant and coffee bar offers some of the best views in the city. Another perk? You can get a two-course lunch for around 15 euros — a bargain compared to the price of the mains or five-course dinners. Menus are seasonal and ingredients are local and organic when available. The restaurant is all glass walls leading out to a terrace that looks out over Salzburg and Alpine peaks beyond.
Shopping in Salzburg
One of Salzburg’s best-known sweets (and a fantastic souvenir to bring home) is Mozartkugeln: small chocolate and pistachio marzipan balls originally made in Salzburg in 1890 by the Furst company. Note that Mozartkugeln sold from market stalls or in souvenir shops are often overpriced; you can usually find them for a better price in supermarkets.
Other non-Mozart souvenirs from Salzburg include hand-painted Christmas egg ornaments and other holiday decorations from a unique (and much-loved) shop called Christmas in Salzburg.
In the Old Town, the Getreidegasse is a must-stroll, lined with shops nestled in exquisite historical buildings. Among the numerous goods for sale are jewelry, clothing and antiques.
Salzburg’s Christmas Market sets up shop in November each year and runs throughout the holiday season. Here you can browse the colorful stalls for Christmas ornaments, toys, traditional handicrafts, holiday decorations and sweets. Don’t forget to pick up a mug of mulled wine.
If malls are your favorite places to shop, Salzburg has several to choose from. Among our favorites are EUROPARK, home to stores such as H&M, Tommy Hilfiger and Lacoste, and Forum 1, located near the city’s main train station; it has a similar collection of international brands.
–written by Jamey Bergman