What to see and do in Salzburg, Austria.
Salzburg is an incredibly attractive city filled with churches, squares with fountains, and a huge castle that looms over everything. Lots of trendy cafes and restaurants are filled with well-to-do tourists. Salzburg is definitely a up scale tourist town. In the background, behind the city are snow covered mountains. Perfect right?
There seems to be two schools of thought on Salzburg. Many travelers, especially fans of music, are attracted by the Mozart museums/monuments and the (albeit cheesy) Sound of Music tours. Combined with the lovely architecture and geographic location, they end up loving Salzburg. Other travelers find Salzburg incredibly boring; I’ve heard many complain that the cultural interests on offer attract an older crowd, and that, as a result, the city lacks a pulse. They can’t leave soon enough. I’ll give my opinion on that further below.
Salzburg; brief history and interesting facts;
-A settlement in Roman times (around 15 BC), but fell into ruins until around 700 AD when “Salzburg” (literally Salt Castle) grew on tolls extracted from barges carrying salt on the Salzach river.
-In 1077 work started on Salzburg’s prime attraction, Hohensalzburg Fortress (the biggest completely preserved middle-age castle in Europe), which was initially for use as a base for troops of the Holy Roman Empire. The fortress was built up more in 12th and 13th centuries in response to disputes with Austria and Bavaria (Salzburg was independent), then again in 15th century because of threat of invasions from the Turks.
-One-third of population died of the Black Plague in the 14th century. Jews were expulsed from the city in 1492.
-In 1730s Protestants were also forced to leave the city.
-Salzburg became rich in 17th and 18th century on increased salt trade (salt helps preserve food). It transformed Salzburg into one of the world’s most outstanding baroque city with magnificent palaces, churches and gardens.
-In 1756 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born here.
-In 1816 Salzburg becomes part of Austria, then in 1918 becomes part of German Austria. Bombed in World War II, but much of its baroque architecture was not damaged.
Highlights: We took a walking tour of the old town. 2.5 hrs long, it covers the main sites in the old town, our favorites being the Salzburg Cathedral and the cemetary at St. Peter’s Cathedral. The tour is highly recommended for the detailed information provided by the very knowledgeable guides.
We went up the mountain with the funicular and toured around Hohensalzburg fortress which has great views over the town and the mountains in the back. When exiting the castle, make sure to turn left and follow the path that skirts the hills. You’ll get some of the best views in town (see the photo at the top of this post).
Related: Castles and Fortresses that you may have never heard of
We did a quick tour of the Panorama museum. The panorama painting of Salzburg taken in 1829 is very impressive. There are 2 major Mozart museums in town, the one where he was born (in the old town) and the other where he lived his teenage years (across the river in the new town). My Rick Steve’s guidebook said the 2nd, the “Mozart Residence” was the better of the two. We toured it and were disappointed – the family’s furniture had been sold by auction and the residence is essentially empty. If all you like to look at are scrolls titled “Mozarts D minor, sequitur 5 from the concert played at Salzburg Catheral” (I made that up but that’s basically the kind of stuff written) then this place is for you. Lissette is a big Mozart fan and even she was disappointed – better off watching the movie “Amadeus”, much more informative than this museum tour.
So, our opinion on Salzburg? Well, we didn’t love it, but neither did we find it incredibly boring – we fell somewhere in between. We were here two nights and 3 days and saw most of the sites on the first day then decided, quite spontaneously, to make a day trip to Berchtesgaden (where we saw Lake Konigssee) the next day. Tour here. Lissette and I both agree that Salzburg has to be seen if in the area but that a day is sufficient.
Related: Our Guide to what to See and Do in Austria
Accommodation. We stayed at the Weisse Taube hotel in the old city (98 Euros/night for double breakfast included). Basic but clean and comfortable. Location was perfect, and the hotel staff was great. Excellent location. I give it a 4.5 out of 5.
“Da Pippo” restaurant on main street is recommended (it has a large Italian flag on the outside). Food was great, atmosphere superb, prices relatively cheap. We had a great Italian waiter, a middle aged man who looked right out of The Sopranos. When we told him that Venice was our next stop he looked envious “Germans and Austrians, it’s da right or it’s da left. No fantasy. In Italy is fantasy”. We thought it was a nice introduction to our next destination.
Flying in. Salzburg airport (code: SZG) is the country’s 2nd largest airport and is located 3.1 km (2 miles) from Salzburg’s city center.
Have you been to Salzburg?
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What a beautiful city! Thanks for sharing your pictures and experience! Sounds like it was a wonderful trip!
This was the city we planned to visit some years ago. We ended up in a different location that year, but I still want to visit Salzburg and its famous castles!
I also agree. We don’t love Salzburg. It’s pretty, but there isn’t honestly much to do there for active adventures. I do really enjoy their Christmas Market though. The city has so much ambiance at Christmas time.
I agree with you. We liked Salzburg, but didn’t love it, for no specific reason really. We had a day and a half there and found that was enough to see all the sights we were interested in without having to rush around like crazy.
Thanks for the comment Rhonda – I like it when people agree with me 😉
Hmm, My friends just landed in Vienna a few days ago, I’ll let them know to only day trip Salzburg, hah.
Hi Devlin – depends what people prefer; if they love the whole Sound of Music thing they may enjoy a bit more time to see Salzburg. Otherwise a day is fine to see the highlights and Berchtesgaden is a good base to see lots of incredible nature!
That’s a great blog…I am going to Salzburg in a few days, from where did you take the first picture?
Thanks for the comment. When you come out of Hohensalzburg castle, don’t go down. There’s a path to your left that skirts the hill and gives you these views of the town.
I have been to the Mozart town, it is a beautiful place.