Austria is my home away from home. Since the first time I visited, I have felt a peace and belonging like nowhere else in the world. I first visited Salzburg for a few days during a high school study abroad program, and returned for a month-long college study abroad program. I brought my husband, Hunter, there for the first time in 2015, and he fell in love with the country as I had. This inspired us to get married here on October 5, 2018. We were able to bring some of our family and friends along to experience this huge piece of our heart. That experience is something I am so grateful for and so thrilled that we could have.
Salzburg is a city for wandering streets and making discoveries. Splitting the center of the city is the Salzach River. The old town side of the river (Altstadt) is primarily only walking streets, with no cars in the midst of the city. Altstadt is home to many of the historical landmarks of Salzburg, including the Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg). The new town side similarly has many main thoroughfares where cars are not typically found, and also features more shopping and restaurants. There is so much history and beauty in every part of this city.
The historical center of Salzburg is concentrated on one side of the Salzach River, and is referred to as Altstadt (“Old Town”). One of your first stops in Altstadt will likely be Getreidegasse. This street includes many stores and restaurants. It is the perfect place for strolling, and is the first hint of the almost entirely pedestrian streets in this part of town. All of the businesses on this street are required to have old-fashioned wrought-iron signs. It is always fun to pick out the McDonald's and Zara signs like you will see nowhere else in the world. A main historical stop on this street is Mozart's birthplace (“Mozart's Geburtshaus”). You will recognize it by its yellow exterior and the very large gold sign describing what it is. Another great stop on this street is the tiny homemade schnapps store, Spirituosen Sporer. The location is tiny, and every time I visit I am greeted by a few locals enjoying an afternoon spirit. You can sample some of their many delicious flavors and walk away with a very unique and beautiful souvenir.
Mozartplatz features a statue of Mozart, and beyond this is Residenzplatz. This square features a large fountain, which you may recognize from the Sound of Music. Through large arches is the main entrance to the Salzburg cathedral (Dom zu Salzburg/Salzburgerdom). It is definitely worth a visit to walk through and see all of the intricate yet massive artwork and the five organs. You can also visit the Crypt below the Cathedral. Beyond the Domplatz is the Kapitelplatz. This square has a lot to see: some sculptures, a fountain, and stands featuring a variety of food and goods. If there is a festival going on in Salzburg when you visit, there could be more temporary features here. During the music festival, a screen is set up for public viewings of opera films, and a full restaurant is also arranged in the square. One of my favorite places in all of Salzburg is the pretzel stand in Kapitelplatz. Whether you prefer sweet or savory, I guarantee you will find something you love here. My personal favorite is pistachio.
From Kapitelplatz, you can branch off to many different sites. Whether you walk to take a visit or simply see it on the city skyline or hear the many bells, Stift Nonnberg is a convent in Salzburg and a central plot location of the Sound of Music. The entrance to the cable car up to the Fortress is off of Kapitelplatz on Festungsgasse. The Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter is Salzburg's oldest bakery, dating back 700 years. Petersfriedhof is a cemetery, which may not seem like a tourist attraction, but the intricate gravesites are definitely worth the visit. Once you walk through here, you will see St. Peter Stiftskulinarium/Stiftskeller St. Peter, which is likely the oldest existing restaurant in Europe and perhaps in the world. Further along is the Felsenreitschule, which is extremely unique. It is a music hall that has literally been dug out of the side of the mountain. This amphitheater is at the edge of Universitätsplatz, where you will find the university in Salzburg, another beautiful church, and you will often see a farmer's market. There are many stands that are worth a visit here. One thing I would definitely recommend making use of is the water fountain featuring fresh spring water. You can enjoy the intense and beautiful swirling water and fill up your water bottle. Salzburg tap water is true spring water, and some of the best in the world.
While you are in Salzburg, you will have to visit the Festung Hohensalzburg (the Salzburg Fortress). You can walk to the top and pay an entrance fee, or take the cable car up. I definitely recommend a historical tour of the fortress, so that you can learn about all of the history and see all of the facets of the fortress.
As far as food and local cuisine, one of the necessary staples is a trip to Café Fürst, where you will have to get the Salzburg specialty: the original Mozartkugeln. They also sell delicious gelato and many pastries and desserts (I recommend the Esterhazytorte). Austria follows the more deliberate and enjoyable style of eating out: you can take the time to enjoy your meal and the company of those you are with, and you will likely not be rushed out of anywhere. My aunt once gave me advice to order the house wine wherever you go when traveling. This is what led me to discover one of my all-time favorite Austrian wines, Grüner Veltliner.
If you walk outside of downtown, I definitely recommend a walk up the hillside of Mönschsberg. This offers views of both sides of the river and the fortress. The Museum of Modern Art is located here as well. While you are in this area, you have to visit Augustinerbrau. At this beer garden, you select your stoneware stein size and pay for a beer brewed on site. You can sit in any one of the many the large indoor halls or outside in the garden, and there are also food stands arranged like a traditional marketplace. You can enjoy a pretzel or even a full meal while you drink. This is the perfect place to have some local cuisine and socialize.
There are a few options to get across the Salzach to New Town. One of my favorite things to do in Salzburg is to just walk along the river and enjoy all of the views and explore new parts of town. In the warmer months you will find many people sitting on the grass along the river.
There are multiple bridges to choose from, and you will likely end up crossing most of them by the end of your stay, but the two I recommend the most are the Makartsteg and the Mozartsteg. Both are pedestrian-only bridges. The Makartsteg has quickly become the love lock bridge for the city. It features a great panoramic view of Altstadt and the fortress. Mozartsteg is a thinner and less frequently trafficked bridge, but still very fun to use to cross the river. At the end of this bridge is the “We love Coffee” stand, where you can buy coffee and tea before heading into town to explore. I frequently bought a soy chai latte here from a very fashionably dressed Austrian woman, whose life I greatly envied.
Whatever bridge you choose, you will have a lot more to explore once you arrive in New Town.
The main tourist attraction in New Town is Schloss Mirabell and its famous Mirabell gardens. The rose garden and other gardens here are meticulously maintained, as well as sections of greenery. It is absolutely worth a visit.
One of my favorite things to do in New Town is to hike up Kapuzinerberg. This involves a steep climb starting from a walkway off of Linzer Gasse, traveling up the mountain. The result is beautiful views of the city along the top of the hill. You can hike adjacent to paths along the old military walls, which have some small towers along the way.
Hotel Sacher and Café Sacher are also in New Town, where you can have the famous Sachertorte. This chocolate and apricot cake is a specialty of Austria. My favorite restaurant in Salzburg is Alter Fuchs, where I recommend ordering the Spinatknodel.
St. Sebastian's Cemetery is the resting place of Mozart's wife and father, as well as Theophrastus Paracelsus, “the father of modern medicine”. One random attraction in this part of town is the birthplace of Christian Doppler (as in, the Doppler Effect). I always get some enjoyment out of visiting the Bärenland gummy bear shop, which has many unique flavors and offers samples.
Schloss Hellbrunn is a very fun destination. The palace features a series of elaborate trick-fountains. And, if you are a Sound of Music buff, you can also find the famous pavilion from the movie.
Untersberg is a mountain in Germany that offers opportunities for those who love to hike and those who do not. It is a twenty-minute bus ride from downtown Salzburg. You can either take the day to hike up the mountain, or opt for a cable car to the top. Even if you do take the cable car, it is about a half hour hike to the actual summit of the mountain. There is a café at the top if you would prefer to have some tea and an apple strudel and take in the views, but I definitely recommend the brief hike to the summit. The views stretch to Salzburg and the rest of the surrounding Alps.
You can also visit any of the nearby salt mines, or Salzkammergut. I recommend the mine in Hallein. The guided tours offer insight into the history of a huge industry for this region, which led to the name of Salzburg.
If you are a Sound of Music and von Trapp family fan, you will definitely want to take a guided bus tour. This will take you to all of the locations that were used in the film as well as the von Trapp family sites, which are quite a bit spread out from downtown. The tour offers you the convenience of getting to all of these locations and learning about each of them.
You can also take a day trip to Berchtesgaden, Germany and specifically on to Königssee. This trip involves a couple bus rides totaling around an hour of travel, or a little over a half an hour if you are able to drive. Daily boat tours travel out to St. Bartholomā and further out to Salet. This is one of my absolute favorite places in the world, and the boat ride out is a magical experience. Even though our wedding day featured a bit of a fiasco at this location, it is still a top recommendation from me.
Tour a museum created by Red Bull housing various Red Bull team racecars, airplanes, and other interesting items. The founder of Red Bull is Austrian and their headquarters is located in a town neighboring Salzburg.
The two main grocery stores in Austria are Billa and Spar. Hunter and I usually opt for exploring the local grocery stores in whatever country we are visiting, to see what unique food we can find and also to stock up on snacks and occasionally meals and avoid spending too much eating out! Some of my favorite things in Austria are: any sort of Paprika snack (but Jumpy's are my favorite), Almdudler is a mild soda very similar to gingerale, and any chocolate (but especially Milka).
Other foods you might want to try in Austria are apple strudel, spaetzli/spaetzle, potato or cucumber salad, Wienerschnitzel (although as a vegetarian I have abstained from this particular specialty), gelato, pretzels, and so much more.
Some German vocabulary that may be useful:
The mystic underground of the Postojna Cave, most notorious karst cave in the world, with the Predjama Castle, and the iconic Bled with the scenic lake, the 12-century castle and wooden boats to paddle your way to the only true island in Slovenia.