Salzburg is the 4th largest city in Austria and is perhaps most well known for two things: Mozart and “The Sound of Music.” If you were to ask a native of Salzburg, odds are they they are not overly familiar with the latter of the two. There is a good chance they might not have even heard of the movie.
Salzburg is a beautiful city located on the Salzach River (where the city gets its name). The Austrian Alps make this city one of the most picturesque locations you can visit in Europe. I was lucky enough to be able to make a stop here on my last trip to Europe earlier this year. If you are able to, spend at least 2 to 3 days here! Salzburg is an easy train ride from Munich or Vienna if one of those cities is your “home base.”
Note that Salzburg does have an airport not far from the city center. A few smaller carriers like Easyjet and Ryan Air fly into it. The train, however, is going to be the easiest way to get to Salzburg. The main station is Salzburg HBF on the OBB Austrian Railway.
The Salzburg Card
I only had 1 day in the city, but I was able to do so much thanks to the Salzburg card. If you only have a limited amount of time this is going to be your best friend for using public transit and admissions into most of the major sites around the city. The card itself comes in 24, 48 and 72 hour increments and can be purchased from your hotel or online. It comes with some discounts for shopping and dining you can use too!
I decided to buy my card form my hotel in Salzburg as I wasn’t sure exactly how much time I was going to have. The 24 hour card cost me about 30 Euros. When you receive the card, you will have to write your name on the back; you will be asked to write the date and time you first use the card in order to activate it. Keep in mine that the clock doesn’t start until you write the time on it. If you start at 12 noon, you are able to use it until 12 noon the next day.
The Salzburg card comes with a map of all of the sites it includes with its purchase. You will want to have an idea of what you want to see before you start using it. Some of the sites are very spread out. Also take note of the opening and closing hours of the sites. I found in winter that many places opened and closed early. I wanted to maximize what I could reasonably see in a day.
Making Your Plan and Top Sites to Start With
When I was given my map, my plan of attack was to start in the Old Town of Salzburg before venturing into the outlying area. The most popular sites to see are going to be Mozart’s birthplace and the Hohensalzburg Fortress. I would recommend starting with the birthplace first.
Mozart’s birthplace is small and can only accommodate a certain number of visitors at once. I went first thing in the morning and as the first visitor of the day had the place to myself. You will walk through the rooms where the Mozart family lived and see some very compelling historical items including a lock of hair, letters from his father and mother and his violin. Photos are not allowed inside; this is strictly enforced. Off the top of my head, I would say there are about 7-9 rooms in all.
Every time you use the Salzburg card, you will need to visit the ticket window to have the card scanned. You receive one admission to each location you visit. Some places will offer you a free audio guide.
Not far from the birthplace is the Honhensalzburg Fortress. This is a place that again is popular during the day. You will want to make this your first or last stop. The fortress itself is one of the oldest buildings in the city and serves as the best place to enjoy the view and take pictures. You will have two options to reach the top, walking or taking the funicular to the top. With the amount of walking you will most likely be doing in the day, take the funicular. It’s included in the card.
You will be asked to scan your card and will not have to wait in the ticketing line. I’ve heard in summer lines can be especially long. You will stand in a pod and in about 3-4 minutes are at the top of the fortress! The view is impressive. The fortress itself has several museums you can walk though. In winter all of them were closed except for the marionettes. I stayed up in the fortress for about an hour before coming down. Use your time wisely. More specifics on what is in the fortress can be found here.
When you come back down from the fortress, you may want to see the St. Peter’s Cemetery that inspired the cemetery scene from the Sound of Music before leaving the area. I would recommend you grab a snack or coffee before your next stop.
If you are interested in Museums or just enjoy palaces, your next stop should be Dom Quartier. Dom Quartier is across from the Salzburg Cathedral and is where I spent most of my time. Dom Quartier, like Mozart’s Birthplace does not allow photography inside. The building was once the residence of the Prince and Archbishop of Salzburg before it was incorporated into what became Austria.
I was overwhelmed by Don Quartier and personally would have been happy with just a walk though, but the audio guide is well worth it if you have the time. You will walk through the Residenz rooms and end with the art gallery, religious museum and other important works. The tour will allow you to walk though the top of the Salzburg cathedral. You could easily spend 3-4 hours here without realizing it. Eat and ensure your feet are well rested before you attempt the site.
Sound of Music Tours
I will note that if you are a fan of the Sound of Music, you can do everything on your own without a tour guide, but if you want a tour, the two largest companies to consider using are: Panorama Tours and Bob’s Special Tours. Both companies have short and long tours. I think the shortest is about 4 hours long. They can include outlying sites if you want to get to places like Hallstatt. Prices will vary based on time of year and season. I don’t recommend one over the other as I’ve never used either. My hotel concierge recommended both companies equally. Book in advance if possible. Grey Line also does a big bus tour and Fraulein Maria has a biking tour through the city.
Other Sites in the Old Town
Two sites I think may be worth your time are the Salzburg Museum near Mozart’s square and the Sound of Music Museum. The Salzburg Museum covers the history of the city and has some interesting exhibits on musical instruments. The SOM museum is a small site that has a real history of the Von Trapp family and a behind the scenes look at the filming of the movie.
If you need a break from the museums, spend the time to look into the unique shops in the Old Town and enjoy the food and atmosphere. If you are an avid Sound of Music fan, you can enjoy the Horse Pond, University of Salzburg and a few other locations where the movie was filmed without taking a tour.
Across the River
If you are walking outside the Old Town area to your next destination decide if you will be catching the bus to the Zoo or maybe Hellbrunn Palace. The Rauthaus stop is going to be your landmark for these locations. As I mentioned earlier, all public transit is included with the pass. You don’t need to do anything when you board the bus, just have the pass handy in case you are asked to show it. Both of these sites are a ways outside the city are going to eat into your afternoon and if you only have 1 day, I don’t think you’ll be able to do both. I skipped both of these myself in favor of walking across the Salzach River to see Mozart’s House and the Mirabell Gardens.
The walk from the Old Town to the Mirabell Gardens area takes about 10-15 minutes. I really enjoyed seeing the river and seeing hundreds of padlocks on the side of the bridge left my hundreds of hopeful couples in love. I loved seeing families out and about and the landscape and imposing fortress on the hill.
If you decide to see Mozart’s Home, I would do this before Mirabell Gardens. Like the birth place, it is small and can’t accommodate a large amount of people. The Mozart House was where his family lived and where he lived and grew up before moving to Vienna (I should specify Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).
A very short distance away was the highlight of Salzburg for me, Mirabell Gardens. Must of the ground was covered in snow, but walking through the area you can absolutely tell how it must look in Spring. I’m a sucker for all things Pegasus and I made it my mission to find the famous statue in the Sound of Music.
I was dead tired after fitting in all these places in the span of 10 hours, but it is possible to maximize your time in the city. I waited until I was done with my site seeing before shopping in the Old Town. I went a little crazy and picked up a hand made cuckoo clock. There are many candies, wines, beers, clothing and other fun items you can find. Make sure you have room in your suitcase.
Many shops are closed on Sunday and close early. If you want to shop, do so before 4 or 5 pm. Unlike major cities few shops are open after this time (unless there is a festival or other even going on).
Staying in the City
You can find accommodations of all types in Salzburg, but I found that the Old Town location, in my opinion, was the best base. I splurged and stayed at one of the oldest hotels in the city, Hotel Elefant. The room was small, but perfect for me as it was right around the corner from all the major sites I wanted to see, had an English speaking staff and served a fantastic breakfast. It was all about the location. I love historical hotels and loved the charm of staying in a small hotel. Visit here is you want more information on hotels in Salzburg.
Learn Basic German
I would highly recommend you learn a few words of basic German just in case you need it. I made the mistake of not knowing more than Hello and Thank You and got lost twice. I didn’t research ahead of time that there were two two stops from my bus that sounded alike: Aulthaus and Rathaus (oppostie directions of one another).
With that being said, I could not have met kinder people in Austria! A very kind bus driver and older lady both went went out of their way to call friends who spoke English to translate for me and get me where I needed to go. I could not have been more thankful. Experiences like these really make your trip and will turn you into a better traveler. Getting lost is stressful, but also an adventure. You can’t always rely on technology (my phone couldn’t find a signal when I was lost).
Consider spending some time in Salzburg if you have a few days. I absolutely want to go back and enjoy the Spring time. In winter if you take the train from Munich, reserve a seat. A large number of families will be on your train with ski gear and there may not be enough seats for everybody. Salzburg holds a special place in my heart and is well worth the adventure. Get the Salzburg card to save you time and money. Use the Salzburg official tourism site to help you with your planning. Until next time, happy travels!