“All Salzburg is a stage,” Count Ferdinand Czernin once wrote. “Its beauty, its tradition, its history enshrined in the grey stone of which its buildings are made, its round of music, its crowd of fancy-dressed people, all combine to lift you out of everyday life, to make you forget that somewhere far off, life hides another, drearier, harder, and more unpleasant reality.” Shortly after the count’s book, This Salzburg, was published in 1937, the unpleasant reality arrived; but having survived the Nazis, Salzburg once again became one of Austria’s top drawing cards. Art lovers call it the Golden City of High Baroque; historians refer to it as the Florence of the North or the German Rome; and, of course, music lovers know it as the birthplace of one of the world’s most beloved composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91). If the young Mozart was the boy wonder of 18th-century Europe and Salzburg did him no particular honor in his lifetime, it is making up for it now. Since 1920 the world-famous Salzburger Festspiele (Salzburg Festival), the third-oldest on the continent, have honored “Wolferl” with performances of his works by the world’s greatest musicians.
Ironically, many who come to this golden city of High Baroque may first hear the instantly recognizable strains of music from the film that made Salzburg a household name: from the Mönchsberg to Nonnberg Convent, it’s hard to go exploring without hearing someone humming “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” A popular tourist exercise is to make the town’s acquaintance by visiting all the sights featured in that beloved Hollywood extravaganza The Sound of Music, filmed here in 1964. Just like Mozart, the Trapp family—who escaped the Third Reich by fleeing their beloved country—were little appreciated at home; Austria was the only place on the planet where the film failed, closing after a single week’s showing in Vienna and Salzburg. It is said that the Austrian populace at large didn’t cotton to a prominent family up and running in the face of the Nazis.
Getting to know Salzburg is not too difficult, for most of its sights are within a comparatively small area. The Altstadt (Old City) is a compact area between the jutting outcrop of the Mönchsberg and the Salzach River. The cathedral and interconnecting squares surrounding it form what used to be the religious center, around which the major churches and the old archbishops’ residence are arranged (note that entrance into all Salzburg churches is free). The Mönchsberg cliffs emerge unexpectedly behind the Old City, crowned to the east by the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Across the river, in the small area between the cliffs of the Kapuzinerberg and the riverbank, is Steingasse, a narrow medieval street where working people lived. Northwest of the Kapuzinerberg lie Mirabell Palace and its gardens.
It’s best to begin by exploring the architectural and cultural riches of the Old City, then go on to the fortress and after that cross the river to inspect the other bank. Ideally, you need two days to do it all. An alternative, if you enjoy exploring churches and castles, is to go directly up to the fortress, either on foot or by returning through the cemetery to the funicular railway.
If you are doing this spectacular city in just one day, consider taking a walking tour run by city guides; one sets out every day at 12:15 PM, from the tourist information office, Information Mozartplatz, at Mozart Square (closed on some Sundays during off-season). There are also escorted bus tours through the city but because much of Salzburg’s historic city center is for pedestrians only, the bus doesn’t get you close to some of the best sights.
Salzburg Restaurant Reviews
Salzburg has some of the best—and most expensive—restaurants in Austria, so if you happen to walk into one of the Altstadt posheries without a reservation, you may get a sneer worthy of Captain von Trapp. Happily, the city is plentifully supplied with pleasant eateries, offering not only good, solid Austrian food (not for anyone on a diet), but also exceptional Italian dishes and newer-than-now neue Küche (nouvelle cuisine) delights. There are certain dining experiences that are quintessentially Salzburgian, including restaurants perched on the town’s peaks that offer “food with a view”—in some cases, it’s too bad the food isn’t up to the view—or rustic inns that offer “Alpine evenings” with entertainment. Some of the most distinctive places in town are the fabled hotel restaurants, such as those of the Goldener Hirsch or the “Ratsherrenkeller” of the Hotel Elefant.
For fast food, Salzburgers love their broiled-sausages street stands. Some say the most delicious are to be found at the Balkan Grill at Getreidegasse 33 (its recipe for spicy Bosna sausage has always been a secret). For a quick lunch on weekdays, visit the market in front of the Kollegienkirche—a lot of stands offer a large variety of boiled sausages for any taste, ranging from mild to spiced.
In the more expensive restaurants the set menus give you an opportunity to sample the chef’s best; in less expensive ones they help keep costs down. Note, however, that some restaurants limit the hours during which the set menu is available. Many restaurants are open all day; otherwise, lunch is served from approximately 11 to 2 and dinner from 6 to 10. In more expensive restaurants it’s always best to make a reservation. At festival time most restaurants are open seven days a week, and have generally more flexible late dining hours.
Salzburg Hotel Reviews
It’s difficult for a Salzburg hotel not to have a good location—you can find a room with a stunning view over the Kapuzinerberg or Gaisberg or one that simply overlooks a lovely Old City street—but it’s possible. Salzburg is not a tiny town, and location is important. It’s best to be near the historic city center; it’s about a mile from the railway station to historic Zentrum (center), right around the main bridge of the Staatsbrücke. The Old City has a wide assortment of hotels and pensions, but there are few bargains. Also note that many hotels in this area have to be accessed on foot, as cars are not permitted on many streets. If you have a car, you may opt for a hotel or converted castle on the outskirts of the city. Many hostelries are charmingly decorated in Bauernstil—the rustic look of Old Austria; the ultimate in peasant-luxe is found at the world-famous Hotel Goldener Hirsch.
If you’re looking for something really cheap (less than EUR 50 for a double), clean, and comfortable, stay in a private home, though the good ones are all a little way from downtown. The tourist information offices don’t list private rooms; try calling Eveline Truhlar of Bob’s Special Tours (0662/849511-0), who runs a private-accommodations service.
If you’re planning to come at festival time (July and August), you must book as early as possible; try to reserve at least two months in advance. Prices soar over the already high levels—so much so that during the high season a hotel may edge into the next-higher price category.
Room rates include taxes and service charges. Many hotels include a breakfast in the room rate—check when booking—but the more expensive hostelries often do not. A property that provides breakfast and dinner daily is known as halb pension, and one that serves three meals a day is voll pension. If you don’t have a reservation, go to one of the tourist information offices or the accommodations service (Zimmernachweis) on the main platform of the railway station.
Before you arrive in Salzburg, do some advance research to determine the city’s music schedule for the time you will be there, and book reservations; if you’ll be attending the summer Salzburg Festival, this is a must. After you arrive in the city, any office of the Salzburg Tourist Office and most hotel concierge desks can provide you with schedules for all the arts performances held year-round in Salzburg, and you can find listings in the daily newspaper, Salzburger Nachrichten.
For a small city, Salzburg has a wide spectrum of stores. The specialties are traditional clothing, like lederhosen and loden coats, jewelry, glassware, handicrafts, confectionary, dolls in native costume, Christmas decorations, sports equipment, and silk flowers. A Gewürzsträussl is a bundle of whole spices bunched and arranged to look like a bouquet of flowers (try the markets on Universitätsplatz). This old tradition goes back to the time when only a few rooms could be heated, and people and their farm animals would often cohabitate on the coldest days. You can imagine how lovely the aromas must have been—so this spicy room-freshener was invented.
At Christmas there is a special Advent market on the Domplatz, offering regional decorations, from the week before the first Advent Sunday until December 24, daily from 9 AM to 8 PM. Stores are generally open weekdays 10-6, and many on Saturday 10-5. Some supermarkets stay open until 7:30 on Thursday or Friday. Only shops in the railway station, the airport, and near the general hospital are open on Sunday.