“Salzburg belongs first and foremost to its citizens…”
The splendour of Salzburg’s Baroque Aldstadt (Old Town), its reputation as a centre of excellence for the Arts and its renown as Mozart’s birthplace and backdrop to The Sound of Music can leave you with the impression that Salzburg is the European city equivalent of Dickens’ Estella in Great Expectations – exquisitely beautiful yet cold and untouchable. It isn’t. The site of three universities, Salzburg’s population feels predominantly young and vibrant and despite the massive influx of visitors that throngs the streets throughout the year, the city belongs first and foremost to its citizens.
On a summer Saturday the banks of River Salzach are peppered with locals enjoying a picnic and soaking up the sun’s rays; its paths are busy with cyclists for whom the city affords the greatest respect and provides every convenience; and its riverside bars, restaurants and cafés buzz with Austro-Bavarian conversation. Head to the hedonistic beer garden of Augustiner Bräustübl and you’ll even forget that you’re a tourist yourself as you’re drawn inexorably to a joie de vivre that permeates the city.
“Invest in a Salzburg Card for free access to attractions and free city transport.”
This does not claim to be a definitive guide to this fascinating city. We spent just three nights in Salzburg and managed to cover everything listed here. Perhaps if we hadn’t lingered in the beer garden so long we might have squeezed in a fuller visit to the beautiful Hellbrunn Gardens instead of the fleeting one we managed, and if we hadn’t strolled the river quite so much or spent so long at the Hohensaltzburg Fortress we might have had time to pop to the airport and the intriguing Hangar-7 for lunch. But we did, so we didn’t.
This is just a guide to the places we went and the things we did in the hopes that it inspires you to discover your own Salzburg.
On the map
Straddling the River Salzach with the Altstadt on the west side and the new town on the east, Salzburg lies within whispering distance of the German border and at the northern edge of the Alps. With easy transport connections throughout Europe, Salzburg is a gateway to winter skiing and summer walking in the gorgeous Salzkammergut, lake district region.
Take me there
Most airlines fly from the UK to Salzburg predominantly in winter with reduced services operating through the summer. Budget airline Ryanair flies from London Stansted year round with limited flights during summer and Easyjet flies from all major UK airports during winter months only. Check out British Airways, Lufthansa and Air Berlin for summer scheduled flights. For summer bargains, pick up a flight to Munich and then jump on the high speed DB Bahn train which takes less than 2½ hours to whisk you into Salzburg.
Invest in a Salzburg Card (available from hotels, ticket and information offices in and around the city and online at Salzburg info. The card costs €23 for 24 hours, €31 for 48 hours and €36 for 72 hours and is activated the first time you use it. Apart from giving free access to all the city’s major attractions and museums as well as free travel on buses, it also gives you reduced prices on a whole range of events and allows you to bypass queues at ticket offices so you get to spend more time inside gates and doors than outside them.
“We recommend ending the afternoon with a well deserved beer or two in the Augustiner Bräustübl.”
The famous bits
Most of the must-see sights are neatly packaged in the Altstadt on the west side of the river and on the hilltop vantage point of Mönchsberg. We recommend beginning at the Altstadt and spending the morning exploring before lunch, then heading up to Mönchsberg in the afternoon so you can end the day with a well deserved beer or two in the Augustiner Bräustübl. Just a suggestion.
Mirabell Palace and Gardens – Sing: ‘The first three notes just happen to be…’
Depending on which side of the river you’re staying, you’ll either begin or end your exploration in these east bank gardens made famous by the do-re-mi song in Sound of Music. Neat beds of plantings and ornate fountains and statues are relegated to lesser interest alongside the informal concerts performed beneath the arbours and the proliferation of brides and grooms posing for photos amongst the flowers. The Palace is one of Europe’s most popular wedding venues and in peak wedding season you can witness a couple tying the knot every 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, on the west bank…
Getreidegasse. Running at a 90 degree angle from the distinctive clock tower of the Blasius Kirche, Getreidegasse is a delightful proliferation of shops, cafés and restaurants, many with ornate, medieval signs. Even McDonalds manages to look good with a heraldic lion and eagle supporting its golden M.
Mozart’s Birthplace. At number 9 on Getreidegasse, the birthplace of the city’s famous son would be quite miss-able were it not for the tour groups milling the pavement outside. Upstairs, in the apartment where Amadeus was born on January 27th 1756 you’ll find the instruments he played as a child as well as writings and family portraits. Entrance free with your Salzburg Card, €10 without. Interestingly, there’s a small, gourmet Spar supermarket on the ground floor which you might think somewhat incongruous until you learn that there was a grocery store there when Mozart was born, not Spar, obviously.
Dom Platz. From the river end of Getreidegasse, head down AlterMarkt and onto Residenzplatz with the wonderful horse fountain and the Dom. The distinctive turquoise dome of the magnificent, 17th century baroque cathedral is a city landmark. Inside you’ll find the font used to christen Mozart; the impressive organ which the child prodigy played on and a priceless collection of baroque artwork. All around the Residenzplatz are a number of museums containing access to archaeological excavations; art, artefacts and galleries. You’ll also find the Salzburg Museum on Mozartzplatz if you want to delve deeper into the city’s history and art treasures. Entry into each museum is free with your Salzburg Card, €2-€7 without.
St Peter’s Abbey. Behind the Dom, this equally stunning architectural masterpiece has a vaulted Romanesque hall and behind it, a lovely, tranquil cemetery. Look up and you’ll see catacombs in the rock face of Mönchsberg which you can visit (we didn’t have time). Entrance free with your Salzburg Card, €1.50 without.
To your right you’ll see the galleried Festival Halls which are at the epicentre of the city’s famous Salzburg Festival held every August.
Hohensaltzburg Fortress. Take the funicular up to the Hohensaltzburg Fortress (free and rapid entry with your Salzburg Card, €11.30 combined entrance without). Take time to explore the myriad rooms and courtyards of this 11th century fortress, packed with antiquities interspersed with modern art exhibitions. The views across the city from here are stupendous. We didn’t rate the cafés here and found them to be over priced. Better to wait until you get to M32 if you want to push the lunch boat out, or to the beer hall for cheap, local eats.
Modern Art Museum. Follow the path that leads through parkland along the Mönchsberg ridge to reach the Modern Art Museum and M32 restaurant. The museum stages contemporary art exhibitions within its avant garde halls (entrance free with your Salzburg Card, €8 without)
From here you can either get the lift back down to Altstadt (free with your Salzburg Card, €3.40 without) or better still, walk down the hill to the river via Augustiner Bräustübl (see below).
The best bits
Augustiner Bräustübl. Food stalls selling the sort of food you’d have if Carlsberg did picnics – roast chicken, grilled sausages, cold meats, pies, pastries, cold dips and salted white radishes (okay, Carlsberg would never have salted white radishes in their barbecue) and chilled, foaming, delicious beer that slips down the throat like nectar. An afternoon at Augustiner is worth the trip to Salzburg alone.
“…the sort of food you’d have if Carlsberg did picnics.”
Green Market. Held in the Universitätsplatz, as well as incredible displays of fruit, vegetables, jams, honeys, cheeses, meats and handicrafts you can buy great snacks and eat them standing up at small counters.
The River. On sunny days lie on the banks and sunbathe; sit at one of the riverside cafés and enjoy an ice cream, cycle the paths or simply stroll the riverside market. The Salzach is the heart of the city and draws its citizens to it like a life force.
The quirky bits
The dwarf garden. At the top end of the Mirabell Gardens, opposite the side entrance to the Palace, is a small, raised garden populated by stone depictions of dwarves. Each character is in some way disfigured and they strike much more interesting poses than the Roman Gods on the other side of the hedges.
Salzburg Marionette Theatre. You may not have watched a puppet show since you sat cross-legged in front of a Punch and Judy hut on the beach along with the rest of your classmates but a trip to the historic Salzburg Marionnette Theatre is surprisingly enjoyable, especially if you catch one of their English language performances.
The Sound of Music Tour. One of the earliest destinations to successfully exploit its movie setting credentials, Salzburg hosted the filming of The Sound of Music, based on the real life Von Trapp family, 50 years ago and is still pulling aficionados in by their thousands. Sound of Music tour buses are a permanent feature of the city and take fans of Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and their brood of singing charges across filming locations in the city and the surrounding countryside. (Salzburg Sightseeing Tours; tours take 4hrs and cost €35 for adults, €18 for children)
Find me a hotel
Style, comfort and convenience are what you need and we found that the Hotel Auersperg, a ten minute stroll from the Mirabell gardens and river, ticked all three boxes with the added bonus of friendly service, a great breakfast and a tranquil garden. Oh, and parking too at just €12 a day.
Auerspergstrasse 61, +43 (0)662 88944-0; double room with breakfast from €165.
Buy me dinner
The down side to spending a weekend in Salzburg is that many restaurants, particularly outside high season of July and August, don’t open on Sundays.
M32. A fusion of traditional Austrian and Mediterranean haute cuisine at equally haute prices on a chic terrace overlooking the city. Weekend set lunch menu €28. (M32, Mönchsberg, 32; +43 (0)662 841000; open Monday – Saturday 9am-1am, closed Sundays except during Salzburg Festival).
Mozart dinner. Not just a nice dinner but a whole evening of Mozart in the Baroque splendour of Stiftsketter St Peter. Musicians and singers in traditional costume perform Mozart’s most beautiful arias in between courses. Virtuoso performances and strong audience participation make for a fun and memorable evening. Be prepared to share a table with strangers and spend a long time over dinner. Tickets €54 per person excl drinks, which are expensive too. (book online)
Check out the beer halls (see ‘Best Bits’ and ‘Buy Me a Drink’) for traditional, no frills food that’s tasty, filling and cheap. You’ll also find a large selection of Italian restaurants where you can get good, cheap pizzas and pastas.
Afro.Cafe. It’s difficult to miss the brightly coloured flower pots and tall candles that adorn the little outside terrace of Afro-Cafe on Bürgerspitalplatz. African themed foods on a menu that changes daily and always includes one veggie option. Starter, main and a drink for under €10, available until 2pm.
(Afro Cafe; +43 (0)662 844 888; open Monday-Saturday 9am-midnight)
Buy me a drink
As you’d expect, the city throngs with places to enjoy a beer, a cocktail or a glass of wine and over the course of a weekend we had very limited time to try many of them out.
The beer halls are good places to sample the atmosphere and the outside terrace of Steigkeller is a popular meeting and drinking spot. Fine views can be enjoyed along with good people-watching from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Stein by the east (new town) bank of the river on Giselakai, opposite the Staatsbrücke bridge. As wine drinkers, our favourite bar was Wein & Co, on Platsz 2, a stone’s throw from the river. Great wine, knowledgeable staff and if you like what you’re drinking you get a discount voucher to buy a bottle to take home. Bargain.
“Don’t leave Salzburg without Mozart’s balls – you’ll see them everywhere.”
Find me a souvenir
When in Salzburg, there’s only one thing you simply cannot leave the city without and that’s Mozart’s Balls. Big, chocolatey and marzipan based, the original and best can be bought at a Euro a time from Fürst confectioners who have various outlets in the city.
The Salzburg Tourist Office are a mine of information on all things Salzburg and are über friendly and professional with it. Check out their website for all sorts of ideas on how to get the best from their city.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+