Welcome to Salzburg
The joke ‘If it’s baroque, don’t fix it’ is a perfect maxim for Salzburg: the story-book Altstadt (old town) burrowed below steep hills looks much as it did when Mozart lived here 250 years ago. Beside the fast-flowing Salzach River, your gaze is raised inch by inch to graceful domes and spires, the formidable clifftop fortress and the mountains beyond. It’s a backdrop that did the lordly prince-archbishops and Maria proud.
Beyond Salzburg’s two biggest money-spinners – Mozart and The Sound of Music – hides a city with a burgeoning arts scene, wonderful food, manicured parks, quiet side streets where classical music wafts from open windows, and concert halls that uphold musical tradition 365 days a year. Everywhere you go, the scenery, the skyline, the music and the history send your spirits soaring higher than Julie Andrews’ octave-leaping vocals.
Top experiences in Salzburg
- Festung Hohensalzburg Getting an eyeful of Salzburg from the city’s whopping 900-year-old fortress.
- Mozart Following in the footsteps of Salzburg’s musical wunderkind in the places where he lived, loved and performed.
- The Sound of Music Waltzing among the locations from the 1965 Hollywood film, while yodelling Maria-style at the top of your voice.
- Salzburg Festival Timing your visit right to catch a summer’s worth of opera, theatre, music and high culture.
- Untersberg Getting high on views of the Austrian and Bavarian Alps at this 1853m peak.
- Augustiner Bräustübl Sipping steins of potent monk-made ales in this cavernous brewpub and beer garden.
- DomQuartier Bingeing on baroque finery in the cathedral, abbey and lavish former palace of the prince-archbishops.
- Museum der Moderne Tuning into Salzburg’s contemporary-art scene at this hilltop gallery.
Top attractions in Salzburg
Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich built this splendid palace in 1606 to impress his beloved mistress, Salome Alt. It must have done the trick because she went on to bear the archbishop some 15 children (sources disagree on the exact number – poor Wolf was presumably too distracted by spiritual matters to keep count). Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, of Schloss Belvedere fame, remodelled the palace in baroque style in 1721. The lavish interior, replete with stucco, marble and frescos, is free to visit.
A prince-archbishop with a wicked sense of humour, Markus Sittikus, built Schloss Hellbrunn in the early 17th century as a summer palace and an escape from his functions at the Residenz. The Italianate villa became a beloved retreat for rulers of state, who flocked here to eat, drink and make merry. It was a Garden of Eden to all who beheld its exotic fauna, citrus trees and trick fountains – designed to sober up the clergy without dampening their spirits.
Salzburg’s most visible icon is this mighty, 900-year-old clifftop fortress, one of the biggest and best preserved in Europe. It’s easy to spend half a day up here, roaming the ramparts for far-reaching views over the city’s spires, the Salzach River and the mountains. The fortress is a steep 15-minute walk from the centre or a speedy ride up in the glass Festungsbahn funicular.
The crowning glory of Salzburg’s DomQuartier, the Residenz is where the prince-archbishops held court until Salzburg became part of the Habsburg Empire in the 19th century. An audio-guide tour takes in the exuberant state rooms, lavishly adorned with tapestries, stucco and frescos by Johann Michael Rottmayr. The 3rd floor is given over to the Residenzgalerie, where the focus is on Flemish and Dutch masters. Must-sees include Rubens’ Allegory on Emperor Charles V and Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro Old Woman Praying.
Housed in the baroque Neue Residenz palace, this flagship museum takes you on a fascinating romp through Salzburg past and present. Ornate rooms showcase everything from Roman excavations to royal portraits. There are free guided tours at 6pm every Thursday.
Rising above Salzburg and straddling the German border is the rugged 1853m peak of Untersberg. Spectacular views of the city, the Rositten Valley and the Tyrolean, Salzburg and Bavarian alpine ranges unfold from the summit. The mountain is a magnet for local skiers in winter, and hikers, climbers and paragliders in summer. From the cable car’s top station, short, easy trails lead to nearby viewpoints at Geiereck (1805m) and Salzburg Hochthron (1853m), while others take you deeper into the Alps.
Erzabtei St Peter
A Frankish missionary named Rupert founded this abbey-church and monastery in around 700, making it the oldest in the German-speaking world. Though a vaulted Romanesque portal remains, today’s church is overwhelmingly baroque, with rococo stucco, statues – including one of archangel Michael shoving a crucifix through the throat of a goaty demon – and striking altar paintings by Martin Johann Schmidt.
Museum der Moderne
Straddling Mönchsberg’s cliffs, this contemporary glass-and-marble oblong of a gallery stands in stark contrast to the fortress, and shows first-rate temporary exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century art. The works of German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka have previously been featured. There’s a free guided tour of the gallery at 6.30pm every Wednesday. The Mönchsberg Lift whizzes up to the gallery year-round.
Gracefully crowned by a bulbous copper dome and twin spires, the Dom stands out as a masterpiece of baroque art. Bronze portals symbolising faith, hope and charity lead into the cathedral. In the nave, both the intricate stucco and Arsenio Mascagni’s ceiling frescos recounting the Passion of Christ guide the eye to the polychrome dome.
A short climb up the Nonnbergstiege staircase from Kaigasse or along Festungsgasse brings you to this Benedictine convent, founded 1300 years ago and made famous as the nunnery in The Sound of Music. You can visit the beautiful rib-vaulted church, but the rest of the convent is off limits. Take €0.50 to switch on the light that illuminates the beautiful Romanesque frescos.
What to eat
You absolutely cannot – nay, MUST not – go to Salzburg, or anywhere else in Austria for that matter, without eating a schnitzel. A wiener-schnitzel is the epitome of Austrian cuisine. It’s a big, battered, flattened, breaded and fried slab of tender veal. It’s actually not served with noodles, so I’m sorry if I (or the Von Trapp family) misled you – it’s usually served very simply with a lemon wedge and parsley potatoes. Compared to some other cuisines it even looks a little plain, but wait til you have a bite in your mouth before making any judgements. I found a particularly good one in the Old Town, just off Getreidegasse at the Elefant hotel’s restaurant. The meat was ridiculously tender and almost as big as the plate it came on. The parsley potatoes were waxy and buttery, and of course it came with the obligatory lemon wedge – but also pot of tart cranberry jelly, which lifted the whole meal beautifully. Order a schweine-schnitzel if you prefer pork and/or enjoy saying those words together.
Strudel can pretty much be described as a hug on a plate. A cream/custard/ice cream smothered hug, which of course are the best kinds. You can have all kinds of strudel – a strudel is a filled layered pastry, so you can have cherry strudels, nut strudels, plum strudels… but if you’re in Austria, I say be a purist about it and have apple or cheese. If you take the Sound of Music coach tour, eat strudel at Braun’s café in Mondsee just outside the city. You’ll get one plus a coffee for around €7, and it’s quite honestly swimming in vanilla sauce. But if you’re staying in the city, head to Café Wùrfel Zucker on Griessgasse, in between Getreidegasse and the river. They make a mean strudel… flaky, buttery pastry; a sweet but tart and very apple-y apple filling, and best of all a, holy trinity of accompaniments – ice cream, vanilla sauce and cream.