Note the use of the word ‘favorite’. I’m using the American spelling because, as I write this, I’m humming the Rogers and Hammerstein song from The Sound of Music. I did this a lot in Salzburg. Channelling my inner Julie Andrews, I was in musical heaven in this beautiful little city. I was tempted so many times to fashion a pinafore dress from the hotel curtains and dance around the city as I spotted familiar sights from the movie.
Salzburg is also the home of Mozart, so if your musical tastes gravitate to ‘a little night music’, you will be equally entranced.
Sightseeing with the Salzburg Card
We only had two days in Salzburg but armed with complimentary Salzburg Cards kindly given to us by the city’s tourist board, we were able to see many of the highlights and still have time to relax with the ubiquitous coffee and cake which had become our Austrian ritual from the meadows around Bad Goisern to the picturesque streets in Hallstatt. As Salzburg is quite small, it’s very easy to find your internal compass and feel comfortable with the layout of the city. We visited at the end of a week’s walking holiday in October but it is the perfect place for a weekend break in any season.
The Salzburg Card is available for 24, 48 and 72 hours and gives one-time free admission to all city tourist attractions and museums plus free travel on all public transportation. It currently costs from 24 to 42 euros for adults and 12 to 21 for children, depending on the number of hours and the time of year.
Where did we stay?
Our hotel, the Wolf-Dietrich, was in a quiet street, north of the Salzach River. It’s located in the New Town (Neustadt), very near the Mirabell Palace and only a short walk from the attractions in the Old Town (Altstadt). The highlights for me were the comfy bed, excellent breakfast in a very pretty dining room and the peaceful location, which was away from the tourist hub but near to many good restaurants. We really should have made use of the swimming pool, sauna and steam room in the hotel’s basement too – maybe next time. The apartments, just across the road from the hotel, would be a great option for families.
Do-re-mi at the Mirabell Palace
It really was a short skip from our hotel to the Schloss Mirabell. I refrained from dancing around the Pegasus fountain but admired the beautiful gardens: a small-scale version of Versailles. Before we arrived in the city, we booked a concert which was held in the Marble Hall, famous as a performance venue for Leopold Mozart and his children, Wolfgang and Nanneri.
Unless you happen to be at a wedding or award ceremony here, the only way visitors are able to see this magnificent, ornate room is to book one of the regular concerts. I can highly recommend it. We listened to the talented Parlante Ensemble playing pieces from Schubert, Mozart, Puccini and Dvorjak. The cost was 38 euros each and would have been a little cheaper if we had used our Salzburg cards once we were in the city. We preferred to book in advance, however, and be sure of a seat.
Climb ev’ry mountain up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress and Nonnberg Abbey
Dominating the city skyline is the striking Hohensalzburg Fortress, the largest completely preserved example in Europe, dating from the 11th century. You can climb up to the entrance or you can buy your ticket at the base and go by funicular. A basic ticket, which includes funicular ride, audio-guide and entrance to the fortress precincts and museums, costs 12 euros (free with Salzburg card). State rooms cost extra unless you box clever and enter before 11am.
Whilst you’re up above the city, take the opportunity to walk along to a panorama point, Richterhöhe. This small plateau, on the Mönchsberg hill, offers more views over southern Salzburg and the edge of the Alps. This was such a beautiful walk, particularly as we were blessed with the autumnal colours of Salzburg on a day with temperatures of 20 degrees centigrade.
Or you could walk in the other direction (we decided to do this walk separately on our second day) to see another Sound of Music location: Nonnberg Abbey. Dougie and I entered the church so I could have another Julie Andrews fix, and it was here a little musical magic occurred. We were the only visitors at the time but were lucky enough to hear the angelic, melodic sound of the nuns singing. We couldn’t see them as they were in a separate part of the church, hidden from view, but the singing will stay with me forever. A very special moment.
The old and new in Salzburg
It’s a real joy to walk around Salzburg’s Old Town. Beautiful narrow streets lead to large, elegant squares. We made our way to Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s most famous street. The hub of the city since the 14th century, it’s renowned for its decorative guild signs above the shops. Even contemporary traders in the street have their own sign. How lovely to see a small, intricate, metal ‘M’ to represent McDonalds.
Look for the yellow, terraced house in Getreidegasse and you’ll find Mozart’s birthplace. If you have time you can visit this former home plus Mozart’s Residence in Markatplatz, in the New Town. We chose to visit his birthplace and enjoyed seeing exhibits such as various instruments belonging to the great composer. Both houses cost 11 euros to enter (3.50 for children) and both are free with the Salzburg Card.
As we meandered around the city it’s great to see some striking pieces of modern art. The city’s Walk of Modern Art throws up some fabulous pieces in the most surprising locations. We loved Sphaera, by Stephan Balkenhol, which, at 9 metres high, takes pride of place in Kapitelplatz near the cathedral.
In the Cathedral quarters we also found The Golden Bucephalus by Andjé Pietrzyk, a temporary exhibit until March 2018. Also 9m high, with its Murano glass eyes, this bronze, steel and concrete horse, famous steed of Alexander the Great, looked very much at home in its stately surroundings.
The Domquartier – a Baroque beauty
For 12 euros (free with Salzburg Card) you can immerse yourself in a Baroque bonanza as you use an audio guide to find your way through 15000 square metres of opulence. No photos allowed inside the state rooms but it’s a pleasure to absorb the exquisite rooms with their furnishings, treasures and artwork.
The cathedral (Dom) itself is free to enter so once you’ve looked down on it from the organ loft (included in the tour), re-enter the cathedral, take out your camera and crane your neck to photograph the inside of the dome.
Take a tour of the Festival Halls
For the small price of 7 euros (free for Salzburg Card holders) you can take a guided tour of the magnificent festival halls. There are three tours a day during July and August but only one opportunity at all other times, so we were delighted to fit this into our schedule as it was an unforgettable experience. It was listed as a 50 minute tour but our tour was much longer and so enlightening.
There are three main concert halls: the Large Festival Hall, the Summer Riding School and the House for Mozart. Operas, concerts and theatrical productions are performed here during the famous summer Salzburg Festival as well as throughout the year. Unfortunately rehearsals were underway in the Summer Riding School venue so we couldn’t go into the auditorium. This was such a shame as it was this extraordinary hall, carved into the rock, where the real and movie von Trapp family sang as an ensemble. Our guide made up for this disappointment by inspiring our small group as he showed us the two other halls. We walked onstage and saw all the activity going on behind the scenes too. I even sat in seat 21, row 12 in the House for Mozart which is Placido Domingo’s specially-reserved seat. Apparently its slightly off-centre position is the perfect spot for the acoustics.
We left the tour totally bowled over by the sheer size of the venues, the logistics and the eye-popping costs involved in staging some productions (25 million euros for a recent Aida) This tour, for me, was a stand-out highlight. They had trouble getting me off the stage and I wish now I’d at least tried out a few musical scales whilst I was up there.
All my other favorite things in Salzburg
- Having coffee and cake in Café Tomaselli, where the waiters take your drinks orders and the ‘cake ladies’ (kuchendamen) come to your table with their wares on a tray for you to choose. 300 years of trading and still in the hands of the same family.
- Children will love the Museum of Natural History and Technology (8 euros/free with Salzburg Card). It’s the perfect size to enthral but not overwhelm your little ones with its aquarium, reptile zoo and science centre.
- The Museum of Modern Art (Mönchsberg) (8 euros/free with Salzburg Card) had an unusual collection of acrylic cucumbers and pickled gherkins by artist Erwin Wurm. Called ‘self-portrait as pickles’ it featured 36 of them. Just as with people, according to Wurm, no two cucumbers are alike. There are more of Wurm’s glorious gherkins on a bigger scale near the Festival Halls ( see photo below). Trish’s top tip: M32 restaurant in the museum has a wonderful terrace with more superb views of Salzburg. Use the Mönchsberg lift (3.60 euros/free with card) to reach the terrace if you’re not visiting the museum itself.
There were also many attractions we didn’t have chance to see. An extra day would have been wonderful to visit Hellbrunn Palace with its trick fountains, Salzburg Zoo and, further afield, Schloss Leopoldskron, another famous location for The Sound of Music.
As we headed to the railway station to pick up the train to Vienna, we really didn’t want to leave Salzburg as this charming, sparkling little city had captured our hearts. But, as Rogers and Hammerstein are at pains to point out, when I’m feeling sad I should ‘simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad’.
We booked our own trip to Salzburg as an add-on from our Lakes & Mountains walking holiday with Inntravel.
The Salzburg Cards were complimentary from Tourismus Salzburg. All opinions are my own.