Salzburg is the fourth-largest city in Austria and the capital of the federal state of Salzburg. Located on the border of Germany, its internationally renowned Altstadt, or “old town”, which has one of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps, is dominated by its baroque towers and churches and the massive Festung Hohensalzburg. The city is divided by the Salzach River, with medieval and baroque buildings of the pedestrian Altstadt (Old City) on its left bank, facing the 19th-century Neustadt (New City) on its right.
When it comes to European destinations, Salzburg is a personal favourite, and I am not alone in that regard. Salzburg is so loved by visitors from all over the world, tourists outnumbering locals at peak times. The Altstadt birthplace of famed composer Mozart is preserved as a museum displaying his childhood instruments. The city was the setting for the musical play and film The Sound of Music and sites associated with the Sound of Music are popular with visitors.
Rail Travel Times:
Munich to Salzburg: 1 hr 41 mins
Vienna to Salzburg: from 2 hrs 15 mins
Innsbruck to Salzburg: from 1 hr 44 mins
Plan and Book:
Salzburg: See and Do
So what makes Salburg so special? There are lots of reasons – its connections with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Sound of Music help; it is surrounded the beautiful Austrian Alps; the Old City in particular is totally charming, and Hohensalzburg Castle, in the shadow of which the Old City sits, is just magnificent, both as an historic fortress and as the perfect place to get a bird’s eye view of Salzburg and the countryside which surrounds it.
For me, Salzburg has always been about the classical composer Mozart – it was here he was born (the house in which he was born is a museum dedicated to him and his family), lived the first 18 years of his life, and began performing as a child prodigy. Salzburg has not forgotten its most famous son, his name and images of him are everywhere – on cafes, monuments, souvenirs of every description from cds and videos to pens and writing pads, mugs, mousepads, chocolates, alcoholic drinks, cigarette lighters, miniature violins, busts, marionette dolls and all manner of clothing and accessories. Whatever you want with Mozart’s name on it, you’ll find it somewhere on the shelves of a shop in Salzburg. Even Mozart’s father, Leopold has been brought in on the act – you can get a stuffed toy Leopold holding a violin, which can be suspended by a string to make it bob up and down.
You’ll also find what many believe to be “the” authentic Mozart museum which has been set up in the house where Mozart was born on 27th January 1756. Mozart’s Geburtshaus is one of the largest houses in Getreidegasse 9, 5020 Salzburg. The Mozarteum, as it is cutely called, contains originals and copies of paintings of Mozart, his family and numerous people associated with him, originals and copies of letters he wrote and original music manuscripts, and a collection of furniture similar to that which would have been found in the house when the Mozarts lived there. A number of musical instruments are on display, however only the violin Mozart played as a child and a clavichord are actual instruments he played.
Mozart’s Geburtshaus is located in Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s most attractive and most visited shopping street with its high and narrow houses and romantic courtyards. It forms the backbone of Salzburg’s “Old Town” (Altstadt), which is a pleasant 30 minute walk beside the Salzash River from the centre of modern Salburg where the railway station is located. Salzburg’s Altstadt is internationally renowned for its baroque architecture and is one of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
St. Peter’s Abbey, Europe’s oldest restaurant, is located in the heart of Old Salzburg and a great starting point to walk up to the Festung Hohensalzburg. Sitting majestically on a craggy hilltop behind the Old Town, Hohensalzburg Castle (Festung Hohensalzburg) is one of the largest castles in Europe. You can get up to it either by a funicular railway or by a series of walkways and stairs. Bravely, we chose the latter. Construction of the fortress began in 1077 under Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein, and it has been progressively added to. The ring walls and towers were built in 1462. The only time that the fortress actually came under siege was during the German Peasants’ War in 1525, when a group of miners, farmers and townspeople tried to oust Prince-Archbishop Matthaus Lang, but failed to take the castle. Hohensalzburg castle was refurbished from the late 19th century onwards and became a major tourist attraction with the Festungsbahn cable car, opened in 1892, leading up from the town to the Hasengrabenbastei. It stands today as one of the best preserved castles in Europe.
The castle is in remarkably good shape, visitors can take a guided tour of the castle’s armoury, a famous marionette puppet show operates during the castle’s open hours, and guided tours of sections of the inner rooms can be purchased for a fee over and above the entry fee. But the lasting memory of the castle most visitors have is the view from the various balconies, towers and battlements. The views across the old and new sections of Salzburg to the lush green farmlands and the Austrian Alps which encircle the city are truly breathtaking, no matter which direction you choose to look.
Visit the Princely Residence, a magnificent early baroque edifice with splendid halls and a gallery featuring European paintings dating between the 16th and 19th century. The nearby vast Salzburg Dom is without doubt a major attraction of the old town. Inside you’ll find the Romanesque font where Mozart was baptized.
Residenzplatz (Residenz Square) is a large, stately square in the heart of the historic centre of Old Salzburg close to the Salzburg Cathedral (Dom), the Mozartplatz, and the Hohensalzburg Castle. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Salzburg. The square is bordered by the ‘Alte Residenz’ to the west, the ‘Neue Residenz’ to the east, the Salzburg Cathedral (Dom) to the south and historic private houses (Burgerhauser) to the north. The Residenzplatz was built by the Archbishop of Salzburg Wolf Dietrich Raitenau in 1587, who also ordered the construction of the monastery of the Salzburg Cathedral (Dom).
In the middle of the square sits a grand baroque fountain, or ‘Residenzbrunnen’. The fountain was executed by Tomasso di Garona between 1656 to 1661. It is made of marble, and it is considered the largest baroque fountain of Middle Europe.
The Festival District, at the foot of Monchsberg, with two famous festival halls and the Felsenreitschule is a baroque masterpiece designed by Fischer von Erlach in 1693. South of Salzburg’s old town is the popular Schloss Hellbrunn with the world-famous ‘Wasserspiele’ containing many ingenious trick fountains and water-powered figures.
Some 4,000 cultural events make Salzburg one of the most important cultural centers. The acclaimed Salzburger Festspiele, founded in 1920, is the high point in Salzburg’s culture calendar and includes concerts, opera and theater performances.
For modern & contemporary art visit the Museum of Modern Art, located on top the Monchsberg and a restaurant, that offers amazing views of the old city of Salzburg.
Kapuzinerberg, a steep hill, can be accessed through Linzergasse in the old part of town. Once you’re in you’re in deep forest. There are several paths that bring you to the top (where the Franziskischlossl fortification stands – today it’s a restaurant) via either a paved road -no traffic, though- or a forest track with steps. There are several viewpoints along the way. The views of the city, and the Alps, are spectacular, the air is fresh and it makes for a superb little excursion without leaving the city.
The Sound of Music
Salzburg is renowned as the setting for the movie, The Sound of Music, about the Von Trapp family who lived in Salzburg. All outdoor scenes were filmed in and around Salzburg, and many corners of the Old City are recognisable to anyone who has seen the film. An interesting fact about it is that The Sound of Music never had a cinematic release in Salzburg because films that are set in Germanic countries but have been dubbed in German are generally shunned by the locals. It is still possible to find Salzburg folk who look a little bit puzzled if you talk to them about The Sound of Music for the simple reason that most of them have not seen the movie.
You can follow Maria’s footsteps and explore the many locations in the city of Salzburg and the surrounding countryside. Panorama Tours offers a bus tour, which takes you to all movie sites, though many can be found just by walking around the old town area.
The opening aerial shots are Salzburg’s glorious Lake District, the Salzkammergut. The castles you can see are Kloster Hoglworth, an old monastery on a peninsula in Hoglworther – Schloss Anif, off E55 a few miles south of Salzburg. The mountain, atop which Maria (Julie Andrews) makes her first twirling appearance, is Mehlweg, near the Bavarian village of Markt Schellenberg, about six miles from Salzburg. Don’t be too disappointed – the birch trees and the babbling brook were added for the movie.
The Benedictine Convent of Nonnberg Abbey is where a young 19-year-old novice, Maria Augusta von Kutschera, began her studies back in 1924. Two years later, Fraulein Maria became the Von Trapp family governess and in 1927, she and Georg von Trapp were married in the abbey’s church. It is at Nonnberg Abbey that the nuns sing ‘Maria’. Convent interiors were recreated in the studio, but the exterior really is Maria’s abbey. Nonnberg Abbey is where you can visit the courtyard and peek inside the chapel (which looks nothing like the interior recreated back in Hollywood). Nonnberg Abbey is a Benedictine monastery that was founded in 714 AD, making it the oldest women’s religious house in the German-speaking world.
The film cheats a little with the exterior, too. As you’ll find if you visit, the real Nonnberg Abbey doesn’t look out over the picturesque old town of Salzburg, but to the nondescript southern suburbs. The reverse shot, of Maria leaving the abbey, filmed way across the city on the Humboldt Terrace (seen later in the Do Re Mi number), in front of the Museum of Modern Art, which since 2002 has stood atop Monchsberg Cliffs on the site of the old Cafe Winkler.
As Maria leaves to take up her post with the Von Trapp family, I Have Confidence in Me was filmed in Salzburg’s Old Town, in the Residenzplatz, where you’ll see the Domplatz arches, through which Maria enters, and the Residenz Fountain, in which she splashes. Residenz Square and Residenz Fountain are both visible in this scene.
The ‘Villa Von Trapp’ is a combination of two different Salzburg locations. The tree-shaded lane, where Maria alights from the bus, is Hellbrunner Allee, running south from the old town. Here you’ll recognise Schloss Frohnburg, a 17th century country house, now the Mozarteum Music Academy, which was used for the intimidating gates and front entrance of the villa which Maria nervously approaches.
The facade of Schloss Leopoldskron (Leopoldskron Palace), a rococo castle on Leopoldskroner Teich, facing the lake represented the von Trapp residence. The lakeside terrace is beside a small artificial lake on the southwest of the town. Now a seminar and conference centre, you can view Leopoldskron across the lake from Konig Ludwig Strasse.
The real Villa Trapp, by the way, is in Aigen, a suburb just to the southeast of the Old Town of Salzburg. Since 2008, it’s been open as a hotel, Villa Trapp, Traunstrasse 34, 5026 Salzburg. There’s a rail service to Bahnhof Aigen.
The little footbridge over which the von Trapps skip at the beginning of the My Favourite Things montage of Salzburg is Mozart Steg, north of Mozart Platz. They quickly move on to Domplatz, in front of Salzburger Dom (Salzburg Cathedral); Kapitelschwemme, the Baroque horse pond once used for watering and cleaning horses, in Herbert von Karajan Platz; and the market on Kajetanerplatz, just north of Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria demonstrates her tomato juggling skills.
They finally head off for a picnic in the meadow above the village of Werfen, 25 miles south of Salzburg in the Salzach River valley where you can also visit the castle from wartime action movie Where Eagles Dare. Maria and the children were using the rack-railway to the Schafberg when going from the city to the picnic site. The Gschwandtanger Meadow where they had their picnic is the last stop on a Sound of Music Trail in Werfen. Signage at the locality includes a map of the surrounding peaks and flanking each side are cleverly designed panels with little windows that identify the mountains beyond.
The Sound of Music Pavillon can be found at Hellbrunn Palace today, though in the movie it was still located at Leopoldskron Palace. One of the most famous and romantic scenes was filmed here: ‘I am 16 going on 17’.
Do-Re-Mi begins at the picnic, returning to Salzburg atop the Monchsberg Cliffs, on Humboldt Terrace which you can reach from the Monchsberg elevator in Anton Neumayrplatz, at the end of the Gstattengasse shopping street, and continuing with a carriage ride south from St Erhard Kirche, the Parish Church of St Erhard, along Nonntaler Hauptstrasse, which you’ll find directly beneath Nonnberg Abbey. The number climaxes at Mirabell Gardens, on Schwarzstrasse, over the Salzach River behind Schloss Mirabell, where you’ll find the fountains, statues and, famously, the flight of steps on which the children hop.
The Von Trapp gazebo, used for Sixteen Going On Seventeen, once stood in the grounds of Leopoldskron, but constant trespassing resulted in it being moved and reconstructed in the ornamental gardens of Schloss Hellbrunn, Morzger Strasse, toward the south of Salzburg. And another cheat. It was recreated, slightly larger, back at 20th Century-Fox in Hollywood for the interior shots.
Maria’s wedding, which took place in Nonnberg Abbey, was filmed in the baroque, twin-towered St Michael’s Church, Wredeplatz, in Mondsee, about 15 miles east of Salzburg on the E55/E60. The Anschluss scene, Austria’s enforced unity with Nazi Germany, was staged back in the centre of Salzburg itself in Residenzplatz.
The music festival, at which the von Trapp family perform its farewell song and Baron von Trapp sang Edelweiss, is at the Felsenreitschule (Rock Riding School), Hofstallgasse 1, a 1400-seat theatre built in what was a rock quarry for Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun in 1693, and used as the archbishop’s riding school. It is one of the sites of the Salzburg Festival.
St Peter’s Graveyard
Despite what some overenthusiastic tour guides might tell you, the cemetery in which the von Trapps hide from the Nazis is a Hollywood studio set, though its design is clearly based on St Peter’s Graveyard, which you can see just off Kapitelplatz.
The mountain over which the family finally escapes to freedom is above the village of Obersalzburg with views of the Untersberg in the distance, near the village of Rossfeld, on the 319, 12 miles south of Salzburg.
Werfen Ice Cave
The world’s largest ice cave lies 40km south of Salzburg. Take the train to Werfen, about a 40 minute ride. Outside of the station is a shuttle bus that is not essential but highly recommended, as you will otherwise be walking for quite some time up a very high mountain. It will bring you to the ticket building, which gives you a ticket for the lift to the top and a tour of the caves. Bring good shoes because there is an additional 20 minute walk up the mountain, and bring something warm because the caves are below freezing and the tour lasts 30 minutes. Check the website for ticket prices and times.
Werfen and Festung Hohenwerfen
The little town of Werfen is also known for the medieval Hohenwerfen Castle (Festung Hohenwerfen), the second-biggest fortress of Salzburg. Situated in a very picturesque setting on the top of a cliff overseeing the valley, the Festung Hohenwerfen is famous for its bird of prey shows. Werfen is one of the oldest market towns of Salzburg. It was founded in 1190 and endowed with plenty of privileges to ensure the development of an important community at this strategically important location.
There are a few different salt mine tours available in Salzburg’s immediate surroundings. A good one is Salzwelten Salzburg in Bad Durrnberg. Getting there is easy with the Salz Erlebnis Ticket, available at the train station; it covers the local train and a bus transfer (round-trip), admission, and the (required) Salzwelten tour. The 90-minute tour is great for families, although children under 4 are not allowed on the tour. Put on white coveralls, ride a trolley into the mine, and use wooden slides to descend into the lower levels. A cafe and picnic benches are available on-site, as well as a small reconstructed Celtic village that includes a playground. Allow about 2 1/2 hours for the tour and the Celtic Village. Open 9AM-5PM Apr-Oct; 10AM-3PM Nov-Dec. Family and Group tickets are available.
The mountain is perennially popular with tourists due to its proximity to the city of Salzburg, less than 16 km to the north of the mountain and within easy reach by bus. A variety of paths lead to the top, but most people use the cable car that lifts passengers over 1300m to the Geiereck peak. The cable car runs from the ‘St Leonhard’ station in the town of Gartenau to the station at the Geiereck peak.
Around St. Leonhard im Pitztal there is a vast network of hiking paths. The Pitztal Almweg for example connects five alpine pastures, and the circular path Venet-Rundwanderweg, boasting a lenght of 30 km, leads you on 2,512 m asl. Another must-see for visitors is Lake Rifflsee, a typical moraine lake that can be reached by the Rifflsee cable car.
In winter St. Leonhard is an ideal winter holiday resort. One of the reasons for this is the Pitztal Glacier cable car, the Pitzexpress, that takes you to an altitude of 2,840 m asl. If you aim even higher, there are several lift facilities that are connected, taking you at 3,440 metres. This is also where skiing is possible from September to May, perfect conditions included! However, those who prefer cross-country skiing can enjoy exercising on a high alpine cross-country ski track on 2,600 metres. In the valley, in other words in the neighbouring village of Mandarfen, there is a 34 m high ice tower, which is the highest worldwide.
Lake Wolfgang (Wolfgangsee)
30 minutes by bus from Salsburg, Lake Wolfgang is one of the best known lakes in the Salzkammergut resort region. Lake Wolfgang stretches about 10.5 kilometres from the northwest to the southeast. From the village of St. Gilgen on its shores, ferries, including an 1873 paddle steamer, cruise the lake, which is ringed by mountains. They visit the villages of Furberg and Strobl as well as the market town of St. Wolfgang. The legendary Oxen Cross island can be found near the picturesque Furberg cove, and the nostalgic Zwolferhorn Mountain cable car travels up to the peak of the same name directly from the village.
Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s mother, Anna, was born in St. Gilgen and Mozart’s sister Nannerl lived in St. Gilgen for many years.
St Wolfgang is another charming town situated on the steep banks of the Wolfgangsee. The village’s main fame arose as a place of pilgrimage, and today’s visitors still come to see the same 14th-century church, packed with art treasures. The Schafbergbahn, Austria’s steepest steam-powered cog railway has been taking visitors up the Schafberg from St. Wolfgang ever since 1893. In just 35 minutes, it covers a difference in altitude of 1190 metres and a distance of 5.85km all the way up to the Schafberg summit.