Things to Do in Salzburg
Just an hour’s drive outside of Salzburg lies the alpine town of Berchtesgaden and the historic Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus), Adolf Hitler’s mountaintop chalet and the former southern headquarters of the Nazi party. Perched atop Mt. Kehlstein, Eagle’s Nest offers a dark history and panoramic views of Germany’s Bavarian Alps.
Part of Salzburg’s UNESCO World Heritage–listed historic center, Mirabell Palace (Schloss Mirabell) enjoys a rich royal history, as well as a place in movie legend: it was one of the filming sites forThe Sound of Music. Built by Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich in 1606, the palace is most famous for its magnificent baroque gardens.
Built in the early 17th century, Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn) served as a summer retreat for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Its baroque exterior conceals an exuberant interior made for entertaining, though the real draws are the whimsical trick fountains (Wasserspiele) in the gardens, which spew water from unexpected places.
Salzburg’s Cathedral (Dom zu Salzburg) is a restrained exercise in classic Italian Baroque, topped with green bronze domes. Mozart was baptized here, and the building was completed in 1628.
Cathedral highlights include the light-filled atrium and dome, the crypt with its Romanesque foundations and tombs, and the statues of angels surrounding the altar.
The Cathedral Museum tells the history of the Dom’s construction and artworks.
Salzburg’s Old Town (Salzburger Altstadt or Altstadt Salzburg) is the historical and navigational heart of the city, a maze of medieval streets stretching along the banks of the Salzach River. The birthplace of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg’s atmospheric Altstadt is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site and overlooked by the hilltop Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Built in 1077, Austria’s Hohensalzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg) is one of the largest fully-preserved castles in Central Europe. Here you can enjoy incredible countryside views and guided tours of the baroque state rooms, lookout towers, and museum collections.
Nonnberg Abbey (Stift Nonnberg) is a Benedictine nunnery with a landmark spire in the center of Salzburg and is perhaps best known throughout the world as the home of the troublesome novice nun Maria in The Sound of Music, the magical movie that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. Nonnberg Convent sits tucked under the Hohensalzburg Fortress and was founded somewhere around 715 AD; the nunnery is the oldest constantly inhabited convent in Europe and its complex of buildings consists of the abbey, convent, chapels, church, cloisters and refectory, all built in a charming jumble of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles.
Nonnberg Abbey’s main church of Maria Himmelfahrt is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is Gothic in style, adorned with gleaming stained-glass windows and a series of biblically themed paintings. Largely rebuilt after a fire in 1423, the church nevertheless retains fragments of its original Byzantine and Romanesque frescoes in the choir.
The house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756, Mozart’s Birthplace (Mozart’s Geburtshaus) stands on Getreidegasse, the main shopping street in Salzburg’s Old Town (Altstadt). One of Austria’s most beloved museums, this ocher-painted town house is a must for first-time visitors to the city.
In the heart of Salzburg’s Old Town, St. Peter’s Abbey (or Stift Sankt Peter) is known for its cemetery and ancient lineage, dating back to the 800s. The Benedictine monastery’s abbey church has a Romanesque structure and lavish rococo interior.
The abbey library is a treasure trove of musical manuscripts, and the abbey also houses a prized collection of artworks, musical instruments and treasures. In the abbey cemetery lie the tombs of Mozart’s beloved sister and the brother of Haydn.
While you’re here, visit the Stiftskeller St. Peter restaurant, in the abbey cellars. Mentioned in a document from the year 803, it is thought to be one of the oldest hostelries in Europe and is an atmospheric choice for a night out in Salzburg.
Opened in 1913, the Salzburg Marionette Theater is one of the world’s oldest marionette theaters and celebrates the city’s long tradition of puppetry. The theater stages a range of productions using a cast of around 500 wooden puppets, from operas and fairy tales toThe Sound of Music—the 1959 movie that showcased the city and its puppetry.
More Things to Do in Salzburg
Lose yourself in medieval-era Salzburg on a stroll through Getreidegasse. The atmospheric laneway is lined with upmarket boutiques and shops.
Getreidegasse is as historic as it is pretty. Harking back to Roman days, the thoroughfare has always been the city’s high street, connecting Salzburg to Bavaria.
The street is lined with beautiful medieval and Baroque buildings, built by rich merchants over the centuries. It was in one of these buildings that Mozart was born in 1756.
Beneath the glittering lakes and snow-dusted mountains of Austria’s Lake District, the subterranean world of the Salzburg salt mines (Salzbergwerk) spreads out in a network of underground mines and tunnels. Used to mine “white gold” since the Bronze Age, the historic salt mines at Hallstatt and Berchtesgaden are now popular attractions. Here you’ll find fascinating insights into the region’s salt-mining heritage, as well as fun activities such as slides, train rides, and boat cruises.
The 17th-century Tanzmeisterhaus (Dance Master's House), where Mozart lived from 1773 to 1780 and composed many of his masterpieces, is now a museum devoted to Salzburg’s most famous resident. Beautifully restored in period style, the Mozart Residence (Mozart-Wohnhaus or Mozarts Wohnhaus) takes visitors on a journey through Mozart’s life and works.
Salzburg’s Old Market (Alter Markt) dates way back to 1280. The medieval buildings have long since gone, replaced by grand Baroque townhouses that line the square.
Take a seat at an outdoor cafe, or pick up some handmade chocolate Mozartkugeln balls at Fürst chocolatiers.
You’ll want to take a photo of one of the buildings lining the square at number 10a; you might miss it as it’s the smallest house in Salzburg.
The 900-year-old Hohenwerfen Fortress (Erlebnisburg Hohenwerfen) squats 510 ft (155 m) up on a rocky hilltop, surrounded by swathes of pine trees and the harsh peaks of the Tennengebirge Mountains. From its lofty position the castle dominates the village of Werfen in the Salzach Valley region of the Austrian Alps.
Accessed by either steep climb or funicular from the car parks, Hohenwerfen Fortress has its beginnings in the 11th century; it was built in tandem with the Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg as a refuge for the ruling prince-bishops. Parts of the fortified medieval walls can still be seen but the castle’s history has been turbulent and it was razed to the ground during the Peasants’ Rebellion of 1525.
Much of what you see today is the result of subsequent 16th-century restyling in Baroque style, when the castle was extended and heavily fortified to protect the prince-bishops from further attack. It was also used to house military prisoners before falling into disuse in the late 18th century; more refurbishment followed by then-owner Archduke Eugen of Austria before parts of the fortress was destroyed yet again by fire in 1931.
Restored once more to its present pristine whitewashed majesty, Hohenwerfen featured as Schloss Adler in the 1968 WWII movieWhere Eagles Dare.
Today an audio-guide leads visitors around the landscaped gardens and battlements, into the kitchens and Romanesque chapel, around the prince-bishops’ apartments, and up the bell tower for far-reaching Alpine views. There are also small museums detailing the history of the castle and displaying weapons used in its protection as well as Austria’s only falconry museum – the summer months see daily flight demonstrations with birds of prey. Tours of Hohenwerfen Fortress are often combined with a trip through the world’s largest ice caves at Eisriesenwelt near Werfen.
Salzburg is immensely proud of its most famous son, and Mozart Square (Mozartplatz) is just one of the city’s many tributes.
The square, with its elegant statue of a youthful Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, dates back to 1842 and was partly funded by Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, who was a big fan.
One of Salzburg’s most famous squares, Mozartplatz is a popular spot for a photo stop and a stroll.
Building started in 1956 on Salzburg’s Large Festival Hall (Grosses Festspielhaus), which was designed by Austrian architect and stage designer Clemens Holzmeister specifically to host the annual Salzburg Festival. The grand green-and white theater is neo-baroque in style and the main auditorium can seat an audience of 2,170; it opened to great fanfare in 1960 with a performance of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier conducted by Herbert von Karajan and is renowned for its acoustics; the circular stage has a width of 100 meters (328 feet) and is one of the largest in the world. The interior decor is a monument to 1960s design, with marble statues by sculptor Wander Bertoni, as well as installations by Anton von Webern and notorious Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka.
As well as hosting the Salzburg Festival, the venue has a full repertoire of year-round performances and also holds concerts during the city’s Easter and Whitsun Festivals as well as carol services at Christmas. It stands next door to another of Salzburg’s great musical venues, the Haus für Mozart (House for Mozart), which was completed in 1925 and was also designed by Clemens Holzmeister.
Located at the Salzburg Airport, Hangar-7 is a one of-a-kind aircraft hangar and transport museum that comes in at 44,130 square feet and offers ever-changing exhibitions in addition to upwards of five restaurant and lounge options. In addition to the aircraft and cars on display, there are also contemporary art exhibitions and air shows on occasion.
Though its main attractions are Flying Bulls historical aircraft and fleet of Formula 1 cars, many visitors come to the hangar simply to admire its architecture, the work of Salzburg architect Volkmar Burgstaller. The landmark's exterior can look like a glass aircraft wing when admired from the outside, and Hangar-7 also has a sweeping 131-foot (40-meter) entrance with two cylindrical towers. There are 1,754 panes of glass of different sizes, providing a view of the nearby mountain panorama.
One of the world’s largest ice caves, this network of frosty caverns and tunnels extends for more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) through the Tennen Mountains in the Austrian Alps. Discovered in 1879, this subterranean wonderland encompasses vast blue-tinged chambers, sculptural ice formations, and frozen waterfalls.
Salzburg’s superb museum of modern Austrian art comes as a contemporary change after the city’s relentless Baroque charm. It has two branches: the Museum of Modern Art Mönchsberg (Museum der Moderne am Mönchsberg) and the Museum of Modern Art Rupertinum (Museum der Moderne Salzburg Rupertinum).
The Mönchsberg museum of modern art perches above the city on the rocky crag of Mönchsberg, one of five steep hills that form part of the city’s skyline; it was designed by Munich architects Friedrich Hoff Zwink following a competition launched in 1998 and has a series of light-filled, airy galleries tucked behind its ultra-modern white-marble façade. The four-floor museum opened in 2004 and holds exhibitions of contemporary painting, installations and temporary exhibitions from contemporary Austrian artists as well as open-air displays on the surrounding terraces. The neo-Gothic 19th-century Amalie Redlich Water Tower that stands next to MDM Mönchsberg has been incorporated into the gallery and hosts workshops and other events. The museum’s award-winning M32 restaurant has a panoramic terrace for views across Salzburg and the River Salzach; it is one of the city’s most popular summer dining spots.
Silent Night is arguably one of the world’s best-loved Christmas carols and its words were written in 1816 by a priest called Josef Mohr, who lived locally to Salzburg in the rural village of Oberndorf. Its sentimental but catchy tune was composed two years later by Franz Xaver Gruber and the carol was performed for the first time on Christmas Eve 1818 in the village’s St Nicholas Church. This church destroyed by heavy flooding at the end of the 19th century, only to be replaced by the white-washed, many-sided neo-Baroque Silent Night Chapel (Stille Nacht Kapelle) in 1937. Since then a whole local industry has grown up around the carol, which has been translated into more than 300 languages, and life in Oberndorf has changed forever.
Although a visit to this idyllic little village is a joy any time, and it has a small museum where there are copies of the original manuscript and score, Oberndorf really comes into its own at Christmas. A traditional market takes over its main square and hundreds of visitors from across the world come to hear Silent Night being sung at Midnight Mass in the chapel on Christmas Eve.
Zipping up to one of Salzburg’s most impressive viewpoints, the Mönchsberg Lift (Mönchsbergaufzug) makes easy work of the 60-meter climb to the top of the Mönchsberg plateau. From the 523-meter-high viewing terrace, the views span Salzburg’s Old Town, with its hilltop Hohensalzburg Fortress, striking cathedral and scenic riverside, and it’s a perfect spot for photos.
Hop on the lift from Anton-Neumayr-Platz in the Old Town, then jump out at the top of the hill, where you can visit the Museum of Modern Art or hike along the plateau’s woodland trails all the way to the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Located in the gloriously ornate Neue Residenz in Mozartplatz, the Salzburg Museum opened in 2007 to great acclaim and won European Museum of the Year two years later. It serves as an informative and educational museum of art and history, scanning aspects of the development of Salzburg as a city.
A museum of several parts housed in fine marble apartments, it features temporary art exhibitions, highlights the lives of prominent Salzburg movers and shakers, and examines the history of the city through a series of artwork in the permanent exhibition ‘The Myth of Salzburg’. A one-man exhibition on the third floor spotlights the mesmeric paintings of famous contemporary Austrian artist Gottfried Salzmann.
The Salzburg Museum is partnered to the adjacent Panorama Museum and they are connected by the subterranean Panorama Passage, which reveals a section of Roman wall covered with murals and four models of Salzburg at pertinent points in its development. The undoubted star of the Panorama Museum is the 85-foot (26-m) cyclorama of the city painted in 1829 by Johann Michael Sattler; it is supremely impressive in its fine architectural and topographical detail.
Located in two buildings on Museumsplatz near the River Salzach, Salzburg’s natural history museum was founded in 1924. The Salzburg Museum of Natural History (Haus der Natur) is an offshoot of the Salzburg Museum, which incorporates seven branches including the Toy Museum (Spielzeug Museum) and the Monatsschlössl ethnology museum at Schloss Hellbrunn as well as its main branch at the Neue Residenz. Along with a series of exhibitions focusing on dinosaurs, geology, the natural world and space travel, there’s an aquarium and reptile zoo featuring alligators and poisonous lizards.
The separate and largely interactive science center is wonderfully child friendly and displays across its three floors of hands-on exhibits examine energy, the human body and noise – this being Salzburg, the Audio Lab features the music of Mozart; it also has a science lab where junior experiments can be safely conducted under supervision.
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