Salzburg is a baroque gem that is a must-see! Whether musical, historical, vibrant or traditional, the Austrian city can be discovered in less than 48 hours. With a thousand-year-old fortress, a sparkling river that divides the city and a mountainous environment, you will feel like you are in a fairy tale from the moment you arrive.
I came to Salzburg for the first time to visit the Christmas market, but being too young to remember every detail, I just remember feeling a fairy-tale atmosphere at a time of the year that was right for it. The Baby Jesus Christmas Market is one of the oldest and most traditional Christmas markets in the world. Thus, the city can be visited in all seasons.
Recently, I spent 3 days there in the summer of 2019 before heading to the Austrian capital, Vienna. However, one day was dedicated to discovering Hallstatt, which left me 1 day and a half to enjoy it as much as possible. Here are some activities that will charm you during your stay in Salzburg! But first of all, a bit of history doesn’t hurt.
This picturesque Austrian town boasts a rich past. Its name (Salz- means salt in German and -burg means fortified castle) is directly associated with the salt mining which made the region rich, although the name Salzburg was given before the salt trade.
Due to its geographical position, we learn a lot about the city, which was even part of the Kingdom of Bavaria (1809-1816) and the German Republic of Austria (1918-1919). Given the historical events that followed, the city was first Austrian, then under the rule of Nazi Austria and then under the occupation of Austria (by the Allied forces) after the Second World War, before becoming part of Austria in 1955.
Before these more contemporary periods of history, the city-state of Salzburg was ruled by many prince-archbishops, since the city had been the seat of the bishopric since 739. This was a very flourishing period for the city, as it was home to many artists from all over Europe. It was on their initiative that the city became a Baroque jewel north of the Alps. Gardens, houses, churches and fountains were built in Baroque style. Inspired and impressed by the magnificence of Rome (ecclesiastical state), they wanted to give Salzburg this sumptuous appearance, which is why today the Austrian city is nicknamed the Rome of the North.
A meeting point between German and Italian culture, Salzburg today is the unspoilt result of rich history.
The cult of music and Mozart
The city of Salzburg is best known for its festivals which fuel the city’s cultural life and then, one cannot stroll through the Old Town without thinking of its most illustrious citizen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Music is in the spotlight all year round and at its peak when the Salzburg Festival, one of the most prestigious in Europe, takes place.
The word music sounds too vague to express how the city positions itself to it. It is mostly for classical music that Salzburg attracts many visitors. Naturally, Mozart occupies the main square, but you can discover many other works by famous composers such as Strauss or Bach during various classical music experiences.
I have not personally experienced any of these, not being a huge fan of classical music, however, there is a great opportunity to attend concerts, dinner concerts or even to come across a city orchestra playing beautiful tunes in the old town.
As I told you, I’m not a huge fan of classical music but I’m still a bit sensitive to it. As I was walking around, I especially liked to tell myself that I was wandering through a city with a musically charged history. And then, you can’t escape the omnipresence, at least in terms of touristic activities, of the offer around Mozart.
The soul of the Austrian composer is present in every corner of the city, whether by visiting Mozart’s Geburtshaus (the house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born), which is one of the most visited museums in Austria or by going to the Mozart Family Residence (Museum “Mozart-Wohnhaus”).
And then, simply by taking a leisurely stroll through the city centre of Salzburg, you can try out a Mozartian experience as the Austrian can be discovered around his statue on Mozartplatz (Mozart Square), where his widow’s last flat is also located. If you want more information, you can visit the official website of the Salzburg Tourist Office, which explains the Mozart tour in detail.
Without lying, I didn’t expressly set out to follow Mozart’s footsteps in Salzburg, but rather in the footsteps of some goodies revolving around the composer. What do I mean by that?
“Some” would not be the most appropriate determinant since only one product related to Mozart interested me: the Mozartkugel. Either Mozart’s balls in English, but that doesn’t sound very appropriate (or rather it sounds weird to a person with a dirty mind…), so I would stay with the Austrian term afterwards.
The Mozartkugel is a kind of chocolate candy with pistachio, marzipan and praline in the centre. In my opinion, it is the real Austrian gastronomic asset. The Wiener Schnitzel is good, but as long as you’re eating something that’s not very healthy, you might as well go for the chocolate, right? By the way, the Sacher Torte is also a delight (chocolate cake) and the Linzer Torte (Linz cake) does not do too badly in terms of taste. But it is really these little balls of chocolate that are the pride of Salzburg. Explanations.
This recipe was created by the master confectioner Paul Fürst, who first presented his candy in 1890. Confiserie Fürst sells Mozartkugel exclusively in its Salzburg shops (there are 4 of them) or through online sales. And they are the best on the market, as the original recipe and preparation have become culinary art.
Many other organisations nowadays produce imitations of the Mozartkugel, which resulted in a court case for the use of the rights to the name. Given the popularity of the chocolate candy, many Salzburg and even international confectioners decided to copy the Fürst company. In any case, for having tasted them in many different confectionery shops, and even to sometimes buy them on international sale, there is no doubt, the best are those of Fürst. Hence the need to go to Salzburg to taste them if you know and appreciate these little sweets.
So I’m back to music. The city of Salzburg is also internationally renowned for a film: The Sound of Music. I must confess that I have never seen this film although I know the story. In fact, this classic film was shot in and around Salzburg, since the family that inspired the movie lived in Salzburg.
If you love this film, you will be able to see filming locations all along your stroll through the city; such as the Castle and the Mirabell Garden, which is my next activity to visit during a 36-hour time in Salzburg.
Stroll in the Mirabell Garden
On my way downtown from my youth hostel, I randomly followed many passers-by on their way to a famous place in the city, which I later learned was the Mirabell Garden. Built-in 1606, Mirabell Castle shines particularly brightly in its gardens, which were redesigned towards the end of the 17th century.
Recognisable thanks to its characteristic baroque geometrical shape, the Mirabell Garden is the perfect place to rest surrounded by a multitude of flowers, read a book comfortably seated on a garden bench or simply stroll quietly in a natural setting in the middle of a city. If you walk through it from the entrance from the railway station (look for the Bernhard Paumgartner Weg), you can enjoy a wonderful view of the fortress in the background of the gardens. This is enough to leave anyone speechless.
Because of its beauty, it is also the starting point for many tourists and you will have a lot of effort to make, if you don’t want to find many groups of tourists, mainly Asian, in your pictures.
It is, therefore, a popular meeting place for tourists who are fans of the Sound of Music due to the numerous scenes shot in the Garden. It is not surprising to see tourists trying to reproduce cult scenes from the film on photography or video.
I soon got tired of watching all this little world and took the time to wander around the gardens just to appreciate the beauty of them. The rose garden was definitely my favourite place.
Wander through the Altstadt and be enchanted architecturally
After strolling through Mirabell Park, it is now time to explore the old town. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is no way to argue with the fact that strolling through it is so romantic and beautiful.
Getreidegasse is Salzburg’s main shopping street and the heart of the old city centre. This alleyway is really interesting architecturally with its line of tall houses with beautifully wrought-iron signs. Don’t hesitate to take the passageways along the street as they also represent the architecture of Salzburg. Some are decorated with arcades, others with works of art, your curiosity will be satisfied.
As you go deeper into the Altstadt, you will discover many famous sights. Strolling through the old town you can experience the Italian charm of the city and above all get lost in the narrow alleys to discover architectural wonders.
Admire Salzburg’s colossal St. Rupert’s Cathedral (in German: Salzburger Dom) where Mozart was baptised, drink a refreshing spritz on a terrace next to the Neue Residenz, which houses the Salzburg Museum, or enjoy the city’s countless churches, such as St. Michael’s Church. You can also pass by two famous cafés (I’ll tell you about it below), Domplatz, Kapitelplatz and Universitätsplatz.
Take a walk on the right bank of the Salzach river
As you will have noticed when arriving in Salzburg, the city is cut in half by the Salzach river. While the centre of Salzburg is located at the foot of the fortress, on the other side of the river, on the right bank, you can discover a pretty piece of the city by taking the Steingasse.
Go to Linzer Gasse Platzl, then go straight ahead and you will enter a charming narrow cobbled alleyway in pastel shades. For several hundred metres you will feel as if you are strolling out of time in the modern Austrian city, but rather in a small, lost village, which in medieval times was the main trade route to Italy. You can return to the charming old town by crossing the Salzach over the Mozartsteg bridge.
In the end, you can have a coffee at We love Coffee food truck for a coffee break on the go, or a little further up the river at the Kaffee Alchemie. I guarantee you that the alchemy of coffee is guaranteed in this cosy café.
If you love old-fashioned cafés, don’t hesitate to go to the Café Bazar, where Marlene Dietrich often spent time, or the Café Tomaselli, which used to be frequented by Mozart.
Enjoy the sunset by getting up high
If there is one thing I enjoy when travelling in a city, it is finding a high point, whether it is a rooftop or a hill, to enjoy a lovely sunset if the weather cooperates.
In Salzburg, the best place is certainly to have an unobstructed view of the fortress which is the landmark of the Salzburg skyline. So you will have to go to the small hill facing it on the Kapuzinerberg (Capucin mountain, although it is a hill and not a mountain).
I was talking to you under the previous heading of the Steingasse, well it is on your way to this one, that you will have to find a staircase on your left, which will take you up, after many steps (Imbergstiege), to the Capucin Abbey.
You certainly won’t need to climb to the top to enjoy the magnificent view of the old town and the fortress. Indeed, when you arrive at the abbey, you can take the path on the grass directly next to the stairs. You will walk along the old ramparts and this is where the photos below are taken from.
Naturally, you can continue to climb to the top to enjoy other points of view, but personally, I preferred to come back down to enjoy a good supper after my first day of travel, alone.
Indeed, travelling alone for the first time, it took me a few minutes before I found my way to a restaurant. This is because I had never dared to sit alone in a restaurant (cafés or bars don’t count, it’s not the same atmosphere). Yet how good does it feel to sit at my table and enjoy a good cocktail with shrimp linguine and think that I had succeeded. The first day travelling, alone. It may sound silly, but it’s not easy for everyone to travel and live alone. So travelling… But in the end, you quickly get a taste for it. I loved it and I’m already looking forward to going on an adventure on my own.
The address of the restaurant is literally next to the entrance to the stairs to the hill. It is the Shrimps Bar & Restaurant.
I recommend another restaurant, Cook & Wine, a little outside the old town. I totally recommend it for its nice terrace and its many good wines to taste for an aperitif.
Step back in time with a visit to the Salzburg Fortress
The Salzburg Fortress is more commonly known as the Festung Hohensalzburg. I told you before that it is the landmark of the Salzburg skyline, which makes it the tourist attraction not to be missed. Dating from the 11th century, it is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe. It gives the impression that it still protects the city almost a thousand years after its construction.
You can reach this historic temple on foot, after a 15-minute, arduous ascent, but also by funicular. Since 1892, a funicular railway has been running from the Festungsgasse (the street that you will also have to take to reach the summit on foot). It is located next to Domplatz.
Once you arrive at the fortress, you will be able to buy a ticket, with various options. I confess that I don’t really remember the price, but I put the link a little higher up. I remember taking the easiest option to visit the fortress.
You will realise the grandeur of the fortress as you stroll through the inner courtyard. Try to imagine what it was like to live in the Middle Ages there. There’s plenty to keep you busy if you haven’t taken the integrated audio guide option.
After that, it’s really the discovery of the interior rooms that will impress me the most. Without revealing too much, I can simply tell you that most of the rooms are almost original (dating back to around the 1500s). You should not miss the Fürstensaal and the Goldenen Saal. The imitation of the starry night sky is absolutely magnificent!
From the imposing fortress, you can look out over the city and the Alps in the background.
On the way back down, you can enjoy a meal and, above all, a good pint at the traditional Augustinerbräu brewery, where the beer is brewed in an old-fashioned way, directly from wooden barrels and served in sandstone mugs. If you are a beer lover, there are even historical tours following in the footsteps of the best and oldest breweries in the city.
Between tradition and modernity
Salzburg is a city that knows how to combine its very baroque past with its development towards a more creative modernity today. Many galleries and museums are dedicated to contemporary and modern art, which I didn’t have time to include in my itinerary.
However, you can get an idea of the city’s creativity and enthusiasm for this simply by taking a walk. Indeed, at the bend in an alleyway, in a park or even on a square, you will be able to see artworks, often unusual, all over the city.
Since 2002, many world-famous artists have been invited to design works of art (some of which are somewhat weird, like the pickles above) and you can discover them all by following a route called Walk of Modern Art, including a work by Marina Abramovic, an artist I particularly appreciate. Let yourself be guided on this original and artistic route.
Getting to Salzburg :
Different means of transportation are possible to reach the Austrian city, but during this trip I preferred the train, coming from the neighbouring country. Every day, a train connects Zürich to Budapest (or Prague or Bratislava – are we talking about those cool train offers?) via Salzburg and Vienna. Austrian trains are very comfortable for a trip lasting a few hours. For more information, click here.
Salzburg offers many good train connections, especially to Vienna (2.5 hours) but also to Munich, with Bavaria nearby, Berlin, Prague and Venice. Naturally, there are also good connections to Switzerland and to the whole of Austria (e.g. Linz).
I will return from this trip by night train, after a few days in Vienna. The prices are affordable, but I also preferred this means of transport, because my father works at the SBB and can provide me with a permit for Austria at a lower cost.
I spent 3 nights at the youth hostel Hostel Haunspergstraße in a 4-bed dormitory. Breakfast which is quite substantial for a youth hostel is included in the price. The centre of Salzburg is about 1.5 km away.
Salzburg has the Salzburg Card that will give you many advantages if you plan to visit a lot.