An essential guide to Salzburg
Set on the banks of the Salzach river, Salzburg is a Baroque beauty known for its UNESCO-protected Old Town and cultural heritage, from Mozart to The Sound of Music. It’s easy to reach from lots of resorts by bus or train – or you could even go on a day trip with TUI to see all the best bits. Here’s how you can make the most of your time in Austria’s musical city.
There’s no missing the massive stone walls of the Fortress Hohensalzburg. Built on top of the Festungberg, a rocky hill in the centre of Salzburg, it’s guarded the city since the 11th century. As well as being one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in Europe, it’s also among the biggest – so it’s not surprising that it’s never actually been attacked.
Nowadays, the quickest way to scale the battlements is by hopping on the funicular railway. At the top, wander through the Prince’s private chambers and The Golden Hall with their ornate Gothic carvings. Then pay a visit to the Salzburg Bull, a 500-year-old mechanical organ that you can still hear in action three times a day. And don’t miss looking around the Marionette Museum to see puppets used in The Sound of Music and Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute – you can even have a go at puppeteering yourself.
With its turquoise-coloured copper dome and twin spires, Salzburg Cathedral is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city. There’s been a church on this spot for over 1,000 years, and the current building has been around since 1628. It’s survived several fires in its time and was almost destroyed completely during World War II when a bomb hit the central dome, but is now back to its former glory.
It’s set in a grand square, and the outside is decorated with fluted columns and marble statues. Before you head in, pause to take a closer look at the trio of giant bronze doors – they’re covered in detailed designs showing stories from the Bible. Then inside, marvel at the painted panels and stone scrollwork as you walk down the central aisle to the altar, where the ceiling of the main dome soars to an impressive 71m high.
Mirabell Palace and gardens
Once a residence for the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg, and now the home of the city council, the Mirabell Palace is just a short hop from the historical city centre. To get a glimpse of its opulent past, you can look inside the Marble Hall before heading outside.
The grounds played a starring role in The Sound of Music and you can recreate the iconic do-re-mi scene around the Pegasus fountain. But you don’t have to be a fan of the film to enjoy these beautiful gardens.
Admire the swirling patterns of the flower beds planted on the lawns of the Grand Parterre. Then smell blooms in the secluded Rose Garden, before wandering among miniature statues in the Dwarf Garden. And over on the western side of the grounds, you can find your way through the hedge maze to discover a hidden theatre, and pop into the Orangery to enjoy the lush, tropical plants.
St Peter’s Abbey and catacombs
Dating back to 696AD, this Benedictine abbey is the oldest church in the German-speaking world. Soak up the calming atmosphere in the cemetery, which feels more like a garden than a graveyard thanks to the floral displays. Then climb the stone steps behind the crypts to venture inside the catacombs. Carved into the Mönchsberg hill that overlooks the abbey, the winding passageway is dotted with small altars and ancient inscriptions. And at the end of the tunnel is a small chapel where you can look out over the city rooftops below.
Salzach river boat trip and Hellbrunn Palace
Set sail down the Salzach river to the Hellbrunn Palace pier on one of Austria’s best boat trips. The 40-minute cruise takes in views of Salzburg’s waterfront, before leaving the city behind and gliding past riverside villas, with mountains dotting the horizon beyond. Then from the pier, a short bus ride takes you on to the palace.
The Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg built this Renaissance-style palace as a summer retreat where he could entertain and host lavish parties. Popping inside to admire the frescoed great hall is a must, but it’s the gardens that are the big attraction here.
The leafy avenues are scattered with ponds and water features. Stroll through underground grottoes and listen as imitation birdsong plays through a network of pipes. In the mock Roman theatre, keep an eye out for the trick fountains if you don’t want to get wet. And on the edge of the gardens, look for the water-powered mechanical theatre – it shows a detailed city scene, brought to life with over 200 moving figurines, including a dancing bear and a barber shaving a customer.
The Old Town
Running through the heart of the Old Town, Getreidegasse is the city’s most famous shopping street. It’s filled with high-end shops where you can find everything from furniture to traditional dresses, and is also the perfect place to pick up souvenirs like music boxes and Mozart Balls, Salzburg’s popular chocolate treat. As you browse the window displays, look up to see the ornate wrought iron signs that hang above every shop – they’re a legal requirement here. And along the way, you can stop off at The Sound of Music Museum to learn about the real-life history of the Von Trapp family.
Just a few streets away from Getreidegasse is a winding lane called Goldgasse. Curving its way between the market square and Salzburg Cathedral, it was once the home of the city’s finest goldsmiths – and it’s still the best area to buy jewellery today. Even if you’re just window shopping, it’s a pleasant place to potter, with its tall, medieval townhouses, arched doorways and colourful shutters.
No day in Salzburg would be complete without a trip to see the birthplace of its most famous son, Mozart. This bright yellow building was home to the young genius until he was 17 years old. Inside, you can learn more about the story of his life, see original manuscripts and some of the instruments he used when composing his masterpieces.
The best places to eat and drink in Salzburg
Whether it’s coffee and a slice of cake in a café or filling up on schnitzel and dumplings in a traditional tavern, you’re never far from somewhere to sample the local cuisine here.
The Tomaselli family have run this coffee house on the edge of the old market square for over 150 years, making this Austria’s oldest café – even Mozart was rumoured to have been a regular visitor. Join the locals for a leisurely brunch or sit back on the sun terrace and watch the world go by while you sip an afternoon coffee.
Whatever the time of day, you can’t leave without trying some of the cakes and pastries, from fruit-and-nut-filled Linzer torte to Erdbeerschüsserl, a house speciality made from strawberry sponge filled with vanilla cream and redcurrant jam.
With its plush red upholstery, marble tabletops and chandeliers, the café in the Hotel Sacher is hard to beat when it comes to elegant coffee spots. It’s also a must-visit if you want to try one of Austria’s most famous desserts, Sacher-Torte – a rich chocolate cake filled with apricot jam, covered with glossy chocolate ganache and served with whipped cream. It was invented by Franz Sacher in 1832, and the Sacher family still make it using his original recipe. Enjoy yours outside on the terrace, where you can look out across the Salzach river to the Old Town beyond.
Austria’s famed for its beer, and this is a great place to taste one of the country’s best-loved brands, Stiegl. Head to the bar and take your pick from seasonal batches flavoured with things like juniper, coriander, cinnamon and honey, or stick with a classic märzen – a refreshing lager with a malty flavour.
And if you fancy tucking into some authentic Austrian food, take a seat on the vine-covered veranda to try local favourites like roast pork and Salzburger Nockerl, a fluffy soufflé-style dessert.
These are a few of our favourite things, but there’s so much more to see and do. Start planning your next Lakes & Mountains holiday and discover Salzburg for yourself.
Or if you’re eager to get off the beaten track, check out these lesser-known places to visit in Austria.