The hills are alive, with the sound of music! How can you not walk around the beautiful streets of Salzburg and not think about the iconic movie from our childhood?! The old cobblestone streets, the beautiful architecture, the hills surrounding the city, the fortress sitting atop the hill – everything about Salzburg is just magical. With so much to do and see, you need a good three days in the city to take in all the sights.
Salzburg may not be as large as the capital of Austria, Vienna, but to us, it’s like its charming younger sister. Cute little streets that create a maze in the Old Town. Friendly people smiling at you for no good reason, but their natural joie-de-vivre. The Fortress that dominates the cityscape and makes the city look regal. The mountains that surround the city, and make you want to break out in song, as if the Sound of Music soundtrack is on a loop in your head. The fog and clouds that roll in and out and add a little je-ne-sais-quoi, making the whole city feel like a fairytale. How can you not fall under the charm of this beautiful city!?
When to go
Although it gets quite chilly in the winter and really hot in the summer, the weather in Salzburg is usually quite mild. The crowds come in with the heat, around July and August, just in time for the Salzburg Festival. Then, you have the cutest Christmas markets that are set up in December. Expect to see more tourists at these times of year.
If you are looking for peace and quiet, and more affordable pricing, the spring, early summer and autumn (September/October) are awesome! Just be warned that you will have to deal with some rain… or a lot of it, like we did!
What to do
There is a lot to do and see in and around Salzburg. It all depends on what you enjoy doing and where you want to spend the most time. Walking around from one site to the next is easy, though some may need a bit more stamina to get to. If you’re a fan of the Sound of Music, make sure you take it all in as this was one of the main shooting locations of the iconic movie. You can even sign up for a tour that will take you to all the famous spots!
Sitting atop the Festungsberg Hill, the Hohensalzburg Castle is impossible to miss from any vantage point in the city! Its construction began in 1077, and it continued to expand for centuries after that. It served as a fortress, military base, home to the archbishop, and to royalty. It has quite a rich history, and the beauty of it is that you can visit it all today.
To reach the top, you can either use the pathway, or the funicular cable car. You can guess what we took! The funicular gets you up from the bottom to the top of the hill in about a minute. How can our legs compete with that?! The price of your entry ticket will include the lift. Make sure you get them online, to skip the line and save some money as well!
Once you are up there, you can walk around the grounds, go through the museums (getting the all-inclusive pass will allow you to visit them all), walk up to the top of the tower with an audioguide, take in the amazing views and pretend that you are royalty!
St Peter’s Abbey
Situated near the entrance for the Fortress funicular, the Abbey is dedicated to St. Peter. It was originally built over old Christian remains in 696 by Saint Rupert and has stood there ever since.
You can peacefully walk around the cemetery grounds, admiring the beautiful tombstones. You can also visit Austria’s oldest library with thousands of books (only accessible by guided tour) or the Long Gallery with its many paintings. You can also go down into the catacombs.
For fans of the Sound of Music, you may recognize this cemetery and the catacombs as the place the Trapp family used as a hiding place before escaping to Switzerland.
Mirabell Palace & Gardens
There is something so regal about Salzburg. Home to countless historic sights, it’s no surprise it’s still considered it one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Listed as a cultural heritage monument, and built in 1606, the Palace was mainly used as a pleasure palace for royalty.
Although we didn’t have a chance to go inside, we loved walking inside the gardens, where you have amazing views of the Fortress and the Cathedral. There are tons of fountains and statues around making the Palace look even more majestic.
For fans of the Sound of Music, it was also here that Maria and the children dance around the Pegasus Fountain, while they’re singing “Do Re Mi”. At the end of the scene, the Trapp family stand on the steps in front of the Rose Hill to sing the song’s final bars. Derek didn’t know the lyrics to the song, so we couldn’t recreate the scene ourselves!
This beautiful baroque Cathedral is situated in an enclosed square next to the Salzburg Residenz. It’s a beautiful place to visit, with a rich historical past.
Since being built in 774, the Cathedral has been demolished and rebuilt several times. Today, it stands as a striking piece of architecture, only making the cityscape more beautiful! It may look quite simple from the outside, but it’s actually quite beautiful and striking inside, where it counts.
We were lucky enough to go for Sunday Mass, and the sound of the choir, along with the beauty of our surroundings made it even more impressive. If you choose to go at this time, please be respectful as it’s a place of worship.
This is one of the world’s most visited museums. Any classical music fan will not only love this city, because of all the museums, monuments and places dedicated to Mozart, but his birthplace is one of the most special.
You can find it right in the Old Town. There is a plaque on the front, as well as signage to tell you exactly where it is… you’ll also see a crowd there, so it’s hard to miss! You’ll need a good hour to visit the museum where you will learn details of his childhood life, the musical instruments he owned and composed his famous symphonies with.
Another famous Sound of Music spot, the Benedictine Nonnberg Convent sits above the city, at the foot of the Festungsberg. In the movie, this was Maria’s convent, when she was a nun. In fact, every morning at 6:45am, you can hear the actual nuns of the convent sing Gregorian Chorals. If you’re not a morning person, you can also hear the choir during special holidays!
You can visit the frescoes in the so-called “Paradise” which is located below the Nuns’ Gallery. You can also see the altar in St. John’s Chapel, but you need to ask for the key at the convent entrance. Walking around the grounds, you will get a beautiful view of the city, and of the Hohensalzburg Castle.
Walking around the Old Town was one of our favourite things to do in Salzburg. But can you really blame us? It’s one of the largest UNESCO World Heritage sights by area. It’s lined with beautiful boutiques and restaurants. The architecture of each building is stunning and the cobblestones only add to its charm. If you want to spend an afternoon getting lost, this is the place to do it!
If you want to get a little active during your time in Salzburg, and get an insane view of the city, head to Kapuzinerg. We hiked to the top of this hill in the hopes we’d find another schlössl, which in our limited knowledge of German, was supposed to mean Castle, right?! Like the Schönbrunn Schloss in Vienna, right?! WRONG! Turns out the ‘Franziskischlössl’ at the top of the hill is actually just a restaurant!
But that’s ok, because the hike itself was quite beautiful. There are many trails to choose from. The leaves were a bright red, the views we got of all corners of the city were stunning, and especially the view we had of the Fortress! Just wow!
Whenever we see a church, we love to walk in and explore it, and this even more true in Austria. They are always stunning and so different from one to the next. Kollegienkirche was actually more of a surprise than any other church we’ve seen.
From the outside, it looked like any other church we’ve seen. But when we walked in, we discovered this very simple and beautiful church. On top of it, there was an art exposition going on, with this impressive and imposing piece rolled on the ground with broken glass, as well as stunning portraits. We would love to tell you more about the piece, but everything was in German. Regardless, this piece was really moving.
Pretty much the best thing about Europe at the end of November and most of December is the amount of Christmas markets that pop up! And Salzburg is no exception with its Christkindlmarkt. In fact, almost every square in town was taken over by a Christmas market. Talk about merry!
If you know us, you know we’re not big on shopping for things. This is not why we love the Christmas markets. Instead, we love them because of all the food and drink we can get there. Stalls and stalls selling local and traditional fare. The souvenir mugs that you can fill and refill with mulled wine and apfelpunsch, a boozy apple drink. Seriously, could life get any more perfect?!
Other sights we’ll need to come back for
Obviously, the two days we had were not enough to visit everything in Salzburg, which is why we recommend spending three. We also hope you get better weather than we did (hello rain and clouds). There were a few things we will need to come back for. If you have more time, we highly suggest you check them out!
Hangar-7: Created by the Red Bull gang, Hangar-7 looks like the coolest place. Located at the Salzburg Airport, it not only houses the Flying Bulls aircraft fleet and a collection of Formula 1 race cars, but it also hosts art exhibitions, has a restaurant, two bars, a lounge, and a café. A must see next time we’re there!
Hellbrunn Palace: Built between 1612 and 1615, and located 15 minutes from the center of Salzburg, Hellbrunn Palace is not only a beautiful place to visit. Make sure you check out its trick fountains as well. And for you Sound of Music fans, you may just recognize a special gazebo there!
Leopoldskron Palace: If the weather had cooperated, we would have never missed this iconic palace! Built in 1736, this palace used to be home to archbishops and royalty. It was also the main shooting location for the Sound of Music. Today, it’s mainly a hotel. Although certain places are closed to the public, there is a day in November that they allow non-hotel guests to visit the grounds.
Where to stay
If there is one place we recommend staying in Salzburg, it’s at Townhouse Tessa. But don’t get us started as to why! Actually, we’re going to tell you anyway!
First off, even before we got there, we were given access to Heym Collections website, where we could learn more about the city of Salzburg, and an overview of all the sights. We were also sent our ‘key’ electronically, so we can get into our amazing apartment, quick and easy. The key was sent on an app, and all we had to do was tap our phone on their door, and Open Sesame! It was so easy and convenient. We loved it!
Then, Townhouse Tessa was in the most perfect location. We walked to every single spot we mentioned here. It was so close and convenient. You can even see the Fortress from the balcony. We were steps away from all of the Christmas markets, which was great for discovering all the local foods and drinks.
Finally, the apartment itself was stunning. Decorated in such a modern yet timeless manner, you could see that there was such attention that was paid to every little detail in the room. As if the bed wasn’t comfortable enough, we loved hanging around in the living room, reading a book on the extra large couch.
At Townhouse Tessa, we really felt like we were at home, in the middle of this beautiful city. We could not recommend it highly enough!
As always, depending on what you plan on doing while you are in Salzburg, you may want to get yourself the Salzburg Card. It will give you access to the city’s museums and attractions for free or at a discounted rate. You’ll get to use public transportation for free as well.
We loved discovering Salzburg. From the exploring the fortress and Old Town, to hiking Kapuzinerg, catching views of the city from every possible angle, we had a great time here. It helped that one of us was a Sound of Music fan, but even if the movie is not your thing, you will surely find something that will make you fall under its charm. Although it’s not as large as Vienna, the quaint and enchanting mountainous setting got us. We’ll see you soon Salzburg!
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