Things to Do in Salzburg
Perched on its craggy mountain lookout, Salzburg’s famous castle, Festung Hohensalzburg, dominates the city and its Old Town. Surrounded by walls and dotted with towers and battlements, Festung Hohensalzburg is one of the largest and best preserved castles in Europe.
The fortified castle was built in 1077, from its lofty position protecting Salzburg, with cracking views of the surrounding countryside. Take a guided tour around the palatial state rooms, Gothic torture chambers, lookouts and museum collections. Keep an eye out for more than 50 examples of the castle’s symbol, a regal lion holding a beetroot – or is it a turnip?
Lovely Salzburg’s enchanting medieval heart lies along the southern bank of the Salzach River; the Aldstadt is an enclave of winding cobbled alleyways, airy piazzas and many fine Baroque churches.
The wealth of Salzburg originated in the 14th century when it became an independent principality ruled by powerful prince-bishops, and thanks to its glorious architecture it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The Old Town’s many highlights include the massive Baroque Salzburg Residenz (Prince-Bishops’ Palace) in Residenzplatz and the landmark Dom (cathedral), majestically gilded inside and with a dramatic Baroque façade rearing up over Domplatz. St Peter’s Abbey is a Benedictine monastery with a fine, frothy rococo interior and a gastronomic treat in its cellars; Stiftskeller St Peter is one of Salzburg’s oldest restaurants.
Salzburg’s Cathedral, or Dom, is a restrained exercise in classic Italian Baroque, topped with green bronze domes. Mozart was baptized here, and the building was completed in 1628.
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 Cathedral’s construction and artworks.
Fun fountains and Baroque style are the attraction at Hellbrunn Castle, or Schloss Hellbrun, on Salzburg’s doorstep. The palace was built in 1619 as a summer residence for Salzburg’s Archbishop, and the gardens are filled with ingenious landscaping, featuring trick waterworks. Visit on a warm day when you don’t mind getting wet!
Highlights of the water park include the outdoor dining table with jets of water shooting from diners’ seats, a water-operated theater, Gothic grottoes, splendid statues and colonnaded promenades.
Nonnberg Abbey 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 celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015. The nunnery sits tucked under the Hohensalzburg Fortress and was founded somewhere around 715 AD; it 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’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.
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.
Two museums in Salzburg celebrate the life of genius composer and child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Born in the city on January 27, 1756, he grew up in two different houses before turning his back on the city in preference for the bright lights of Vienna and beyond. Both are now museums.
The Mozart Geburtshaus (Mozart’s Birthplace) is located on Getreidegasse, the smartest street in Salzburg’s enticing Aldstadt. The massive townhouse itself dates from the 12th century, but by the 1750s it was divided into apartment and the Mozart family were crammed onto one floor. Mozart’s family lived in this surprisingly humble abode for 26 years before their precocious son hit the big time and started earning good money. This museum has recently has something of an overhaul and is much improved; the exhibition highlighting Mozart’s early life stretches over three floors and incorporates period furniture as well as the clavichord on which he composed The Magic Flute.
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.
Mozart lived in the Tanzmeisterhaus with his family from 1773 to 1780. The eight-room apartment was a big step up for the family from the crowded lodgings on medieval Getreidegasse.
The house was built in 1617, and has been totally rebuilt and renovated to return its appearance to that of Mozart’s era. Mozart composed many of his masterpieces in this house, and a visit to his home provides a glimpse into the life of the musical genius. Entertaining and informative displays trace Mozart’s many journeys and his links to Salzburg.
More Things to Do in Salzburg
Salzburg is immensely proud of its most famous son, and 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, it is a popular spot for a photo stop and a stroll.
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.
Building started in 1956 on Salzburg’s Large Festival Hall, 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.
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 MDM Rupertinum and the MDM Mönchsberg. The latter 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 number-one destination of beer lovers, Austria’s most popular brewing exhibition is found Salzburg’s oldest brewery, which was built in 1863, although Stiegl has actually been brewing ever since 1492 and the company remains independent to this day. In medieval times the production of beer was as vital to the growth of Salzburg’ wealth as the mining of salt in the region; a visit to the Stiegl Brauwelt encompasses a whistle-stop tour of the brewing process and the bottling plant as well as highlighting the social impact of brewing on the city. Although guided tours are currently only available in German, all the exhibits in the museum are clearly labeled in other languages, including English, so it is easy to understand the displays.
Tastings following the brewery tour give the chance to sample three of the ales produced here, and soft options are offered for non-drinkers. Time your visit correctly and stay on in the restaurant for lunch or supper.
Salzburg’s Old Market Square (or 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.
Salzburg’s acclaimed Marionette Theatre was founded back in 1913 and its debut performance Bastien and Bastienne – the comic opera by Mozart – proved an instant hit with audiences. As its fan base expanded, so the theatre’s repertoire increased, taking in operas by Rossini and Strauss, Shakespearian plays and also developing shows especially adapted for children, including Alice in Wonderland and Peter the Wolf; The Sound of Music was also added to theater’s body of work in 2007.
The theater was awarded its own base in 1971, an ornate Baroque theater with a seating capacity of 350 that is tucked between the Mozarteum and the Landestheater. An extraordinary level of detail goes into the crafting of the puppets – each head is hand-carved in wood – and costumes and stage sets are individually designed for each show, while the characters are sung by some of the world’s greatest opera stars.
Located in two buildings on Museumsplatz near the River Salzach, Salzburg’s natural history museum was founded in 1924. It 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.
Salzburg is the city of Mozart and music festivals and is also home to several Baroque orchestras. Most prestigious is the Mozarteum Orchestra, which was founded in 1841 with the help of Mozart’s widow and their sons; today it is one of Austria's leading symphony orchestras under the leadership of English conductor Ivor Bolton. It plays a leading role in the annual Salzburg Festival and has a permanent home at the Mozarteum, a complex of two concert halls built between 1910 and 1914. The grand and glittering neo-classical Great Hall (Grosser Saal) has seating for 800 and is regarded as Salzburg’s most beautiful concert venue, while the Viennese Hall is a smaller auditorium perfectly proportioned for chamber-music concerts, with an audience capacity of 200.
Housed in the elegant Renaissance Bürgerspital, which was once a hospital, the Toy Museum was founded in 1978 and surrounds one of the most beautiful cloistered courtyards in Salzburg. It is an offshoot of the Salzburg Museum, which incorporates seven branches, including the Museum of Natural History (Haus der Natur) and the Monatsschlössl ethnology museum at Schloss Hellbrunn as well as its main branch at the Neue Residenz. Exhibits include antique dolls’ houses and puppet theaters among its collection of historic toys, but the museum is largely given over to interactive displays for children. It is a joy to visit for families with young kids as there are many games to play and puzzles to solve as well as Teddy bears to cuddle, dolls to dress up and a maze to get lost in. Model trains and racetracks are found on the second floor along with lots of costumes to dress up in and possibly the world’s biggest collection of Barbie dolls.
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