City Guide for Salzburg, Austria
Though perhaps living in Vienna’s shadow, Salzburg shouldn’t be left your Austrian vacation.
Apart from just being stunningly beautiful, Salzburg has a lot to offer. Famous for being the setting for The Sound of Music, Salzburg has quite a musical past. If you did not know that it was the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, don’t worry you will see his portrait and sculptures of the classical musician all over the city. There are multiple universities which give the city an interesting mixture of a college town feel in some places that are contrasted by the more touristy areas. Similar to many other European cities, Salzburg is divided by a river, the Salzach. Both sides have their attractions with stunning Baroque architecture, though the bulk of them are in West Salzburg.
Looking at Salzburg today, you might expect that this peaceful alpine city has always been as it was. However, it has witnessed much more violent times and has been under the rule of many different factions like Prussia, Bavaria, Nazi Germany, and eventually Austria. During World War II, Salzburg was victim to the Nazi Anschluss and thus Allied bomb runs leveled almost half of the city’s buildings. Luckily, most of the large Baroque buildings in the Old Town center were only slightly damaged. But enough of history, let’s get into what Salzburg is like today. Prepare yourself to hear everyone and their mother singing The Sound of Music around town and embrace your inner Julie Andrews.
Top 5 Sights
Festung Hohensalzburg (Salzburg Fortress)
This fortress/castle dominates the Salzburg skyline and doubles as a great landmark for keeping your bearings while exploring the city. Originally built in 1007, the fortress has never been conquered, unless you count the hundreds of tourists that visit the fortress daily. If you are not thrilled about making the climb up to the fortress, have no fear. There is a surprisingly fast train cab that will shuttle you up to the entrance in seconds. The panoramic views of the Old Town district from the top will not disappoint.
Though this street will most definitely be filled with large groups of tourists, it is still worthwhile to slowly window shop you way from one end to the other. Getriedsgasse has pretty much everything; from classic Austrian apparel to the more modern H&M, Red Bull merchandise store, and much more. If shopping is not your cup of tea, this busting street is the birthplace of Mozart and can visit the home in which he was born and raised. Walking down the street you cannot miss the beautifully designed antique-looking signs. You will feel as if you entered Diagon Alley, well almost.
A trip to Austria is not complete without summiting an alp, even if you take a cable car the majority of the way up. This easy hike is only a fifteen minute bus ride from downtown Salzburg. Be sure to go dressed properly as it will be cooler and windier on top of the mountain. The hike from the cable car to the summit of Untersberg is not strenuous at all, you can do it. The panoramic views of Salzburg and the alp are some of the most incredible I have ever seen anywhere in my life.
Mirabell Palace & Garden
Located on the east side of the Salzach river which divides the city into two, Mirabell Palace should be on your list of sights if you have a certain affection for Julie Andrews leading the Von Trapp children while singing “Do-Re-Mi”. The grounds and gardens also make for quite a lovely night stroll after a big meal of traditional Austrian goulash.
The Old Town District
As I mentioned in the intro, the now beautiful Old Town district has had its share of adversity. For instance, the Salzburg Dom has been beaten, battered, and even burned down in its long existence. In the 12th century, Frederich Barbarossa put the entire cathedral to the flame. Much more recently, in 1944, a bomb dropped by Allied forces in World War II completely destroyed the dom. You would not know any of that by walking the beautiful Salzburg streets today though as you look inside stunning Baroque church after church.
Off the Beaten Path
Franziskischlössl Salzburg on Kapuzinerberg
Though it is not as beautiful as Untersberg was, this much smaller mountain/hill is more manageable and closer to town. The gem of Kapuzinerberg is the once old monastery turned outdoor cafe/event site. We had no idea there was anything on top, but we were delighted to find coffee and apple strudel after an uphill climb. Be careful upon arrival though, there are often weddings in the courtyard.
Salzburg Christmas Museum
Though this holiday museum located in Mozartplatz is very small, it is not to be missed if Christmas happens to be your favorite holiday. There was, however, a strangely large amount of Krampus figures that were more than unsettling. My only disappointment was that the entire museum did not smell like a christmas tree. The museum is 5 euros for students and free with the SalzburgCard. It will no doubt leave you wishing it was December.
Museum der Moderne
Salzburg actually offers two locations for their modern art museum. One is located in Old Town and the larger of the two sits above the west side of Salzburg. If you only have time for one, I recommend the Museum der Moderne Rupertinum (the smaller one in Old Town). Converted from a 14th century monastery, Rupertinum became a modern art museum in 1983. The current exhibition, by Dan Perjovschi, centers around satire in modern art. The current political event statements were thought provoking but more interesting was that the exhibition was created directly onto the walls of the museum. There were no frames, so modern.
Food & Drink
Though a chain, this Italian restaurant will satisfy even the biggest of travel induced appetites. They serve large bowls of pasta and some of the largest “individual” pizzas I have ever seen. Eating at L’Osteria for a meal is really more like eating two meals because you will have leftovers.
Believe me, I am all for eating the authentic cultural delicacies a foreign city has to offer. Sometimes though, you just need a good burger. If this sounds like you then look no further than Burgerista. Conveniently located next to the river on the west side, Burgerista will no doubt satisfy your American food cravings.
This was the lone third wave coffee shop I could find in Salzburg. Despite the lack of specialty coffee competition, 220 Grad did not disappoint. I knew I was in for a treat when I walked inside to find the small cafe packed and standing room only. Luckily they do coffee to-go, otherwise you will have to wait for a table to open up which could be awhile.
For a more classic Austrian dining experience check out Stieglkeller located near the Fortress. With entree selections including beef goulash, bread dumplings, and käsespätzle you are in for a hearty meal of Austrian comfort food. Stiegl is also one of Austria’s largest beer producers and the brauhaus features dozens of their brews.
Though not a restaurant, you will see dozens of shops on both sides of the river selling these chocolatey balls of goodness. You might know that chocolate in Europe is a pretty big deal. In Salzburg, Mozart chocolate is king. It really has nothing to do with the composer other than feature his portrait on the foil cover.
Local Knowledge and Transportation
Getting around Salzburg is not difficult at all compared to other larger European cities since it is noticeably smaller, though its streets tend to bend and meander rather than remain in a grid. The public transportation is great and convenient, though walking is definitely possible as many of the sights are close to each other. Be aware that a lot of restaurants and stores are closed, or have reduced hours, on Sundays.
If you are going to be in Salzburg for 48 hours or more, I highly recommend buying the Salzburg Card. The pretty steep price, about $120 is asking a lot. However, this includes some meals (depending on where you bought the card, most Salzburg hostels sell them at the front desk), access to just about every museum in the city, the cable car ride up the Unstersberg, complete access to all public transportation, and more. If you do swoop for the Salzburg card, make it worth it by doing as much as you can.
I want to close the city guide with a bit of advice from my friend Matthew Nunez. While we were in Salzburg he said, “tip for entering Salzburg, Like The Sound of Music songs. Tip for leaving Salzburg, don’t leave”.