Salzburg is an Austrian city along the German border near the Alps. Salzburg has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, and is best known for having a well preserved city center. The small city is home to 27 churches and also happens to be the birthplace of Mozart. Of course, Sound of Music fans know Salzburg as many scenes of the iconic 1965 movie featuring Julie Andrews. With three universities, easy access to the Alps and Germany, there are many things to do in Salzburg. Here are a few of our favorites.
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Salzburg Old Town
The heart of every historic city in Europe is the Old Town area, and Salzburg is no exception. Also called Altstadt, Old Town is what earned Salzburg the UNESCO World Heritage designation. The best way to explore Salzburg Old Town is on a self-guided walking tour, where you can stroll at your own leisure and explore the various squares and public performances.
One of the more popular squares in Salzburg Old Town is Mozartplatz Square, named for Salzburg’s most famous resident. If you are visiting Salzburg in winter, there is a skating rink and a Christmas market. Of course, the center of the square is a Mozart memorial that dates back to 1842. The tourism office of Salzburg is located in Mozartplatz Square and you’ll find Residenzplatz and Waagplatz Squares nearby.
A highlight of any visit to Salzburg is a peek inside the Salzburg Cathedral, a 17th century Baroque cathedral with twin spires visible for miles. With 27 churches in town, it can be hard to stand out, but Salzburg Cathedral certainly does. Located in Altstadt, not far from Mozartplatz, the cathedral is free to enter, and there is a museum on the 2nd floor with an admission fee. The cathedral is filled with exquisite artwork on the walls and ceiling, as well as a beautiful outdoor courtyard.
If you are visiting Salzburg in the summer, a trip to Eagle’s Nest is a must. The site (Kehlsteinhaus) was built as a mountain retreat for Adolph Hitler, high in the German Alps above Salzburg. There are many tours available from Salzburg, but given the high elevation, it’s only open in the summer once the snow has been cleared. You can also take public transportation to reach Eagle’s Nest from Salzburg, but will spend time on several transfers. The site is now a museum, and there is a cafe on site, as well as hiking trails in the area.
King’s Lake (königssee)
Often combined with Eagle’s Nest in a day trip from Salzburg, King’s Lake is a stunning emerald green alpine lake seated below the majestic peaks of the Bavarian Alps. There is a lakeside village you can visit with shops and restaurants, as as well walking paths along the lake. There is a ferry on the lake, with a narrated and sightseeing tours available. The ferry is hop-on hop-off, so it’s a great option to reach some more hiking trails along the lake.
For more outdoor recreation options near Salzburg, head to Gaisberg Mountain, just 30 minutes from downtown by bus. The Gaisenberg trail is a popular exercise option for Salzburg locals and visitors alike. There are dozens of hiking and mountain biking trails, which become cross-country ski trails in the winter. There are hotels and restaurants on the mountain, you can make an entire day of your outdoor adventure, with breaks for a beer or snack along the way.
Mirabell Palace & Gardens
Mirabell Palace is part of historic Salzburg, and the gardens are world-famous, thanks to Sound of Music. The Palace was built in 1606 by Prince Wolf Dietrich and today is home to government offices including the mayor of Salzburg. The Gardens have been redesigned many times since the 17th century, and feature many specialty areas such as the Rose Garden, Orangery and the Dwarf Garden with numerous marble dwarf statues. The Pegasus Fountain is in a primary scene in Sound of Music, where the children dance around the fountain singing “Do Re Mi.”
Not far from Salzburg is Hellbrunn Palace, once the summer residence of prince-archbishop Markus Sittikus. The yellow palace was built around 1615, by the same architect as the Salzburg Cathedral. The fountains at Hellbrunn Palace are famous for the tricks they play. The water shows that include a dancing crown and spitting stags are endlessly entertaining. Visitors to Hellbrunn Palace can also tour the inside and learn about the colorful history of the palace. The well-tended grounds of Hellbrunn Palace are a great place for a stroll. In December, a Christmas market springs up along the palace courtyard and driveway.
On a hill overlooking Salzburg is Hohensalzburg Fortress, which partially dates back to 1077 when medieval construction began. The wall and towers were built in 1462, and is still one of the best preserved castles in Europe. A funicular leads up from the small town of Hasengrabenbastei, making it easy to reach the fortress. Some of the fortress has been converted into a museum, and visitors can stroll through the rooms and halls. There are a few places to eat at the fortress, and the aerial view of Salzburg is worth the trip!
St Peter’s Abbey
Another historic attraction of Salzburg is St Peter’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, cathedral, cemetery and catacombs that is over 1000 years old. There is also a restaurant on-site as well as a book shop. The site is still an active monastery, so it may not always be open to the public at all hours. The cemetery at St. Peter’s is one of the oldest in the world, and many famous artists and scholars are buried here. Continuing with the “Sound of Music” highlights, the cemetery and catacombs were featured as the Trapp family fled from the National Socialists before escaping to Switzerland.
Housed in the Neuen Residence in Mozartplatz, the Salzburg Museum has interactive exhibits on arts, culture, history and life in Salzburg. There are permanent displays, as well as traveling exhibits. For the most part, the museum presents the history of Salzburg, with particular attention to the archbishop lineage which once ruled the city. You will see and hear about many archbishops as you visit the other sites around Salzburg, so the Salzburg Museum would be a great stop early in your visit to give context to other monuments.
Mozart’s Birthplace & Residence
As you can imagine, Salzburg is not about to ignore one of it’s most famous residents. The prolific classical composer was born in Salzburg in 1756 and there are monuments to him all over the city, including in Mozartplatz Square. Two locations of greater importance, Mozart’s birthplace and his residence, have not been turned into museums. In the Getreidegasse, you’ll find Mozart’s Birthplace, one of the most popular museums in the country, and is where Mozart was born and spent most of his childhood. When Mozart was 17, the family moved to Makartplatz Square, to the home which is now the Mozart Residence museum.
Salzburg’s main shopping street is Getreidegasse, located in Old Town Salzburg. Along the narrow, winding street you’ll find shops with jewelry, traditional costumes, fashion, accessories, bookstores, perfumes and food shops as well. If you love to browse, you can easily spend a full day wandering the street, peeking into the adjacent courtyards and sampling bakeries and cafes along the way. One notable (and photogenic) feature of Getreidegasse is the multitude of wrought iron decorative signs above the entryway of each business.
For those visiting Salzburg with kids, the Toy Museum is a must-see. While the museum has many historical toys on display, it’s also a very interactive museum, which children will love. There’s a model train collection, as well as antique toys, musical instruments, dolls, stuffed animals and even a children’s cinema.
Day Trip to Munich
While there are many things to do in Salzburg, if you aren’t continuing on to Germany after your visit, you might consider a day trip to Munich. There are nearly two dozen daily trains from Salzburg to Munich, and the trip takes less than two hours. Of course, this Bavarian city of 1.5 million has much to offer beyond a short day trip, but the short commute makes this a great option during Oktoberfest when Munich hotel prices skyrocket. Enjoy a day in Munich, while retreating back to quaint and quiet Salzburg at the end of the day.
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