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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Salzburg
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.
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.
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.
The world’s largest ice caves wend 19 miles (30 km) under the Tennengebirge Mountains in the Salzach district of the Austrian Alps; they were discovered in 1879 and a mystical subterranean underworld was unveiled to the world. Pick a clear, sunny day as your visit to Eisriesenwelt starts with a spectacular twisting drive up through the scenic Salzach Valley, followed by a 20-minute uphill hike and then a breath-taking cable-car ride over sheer mountainsides. Finally there’s a further 20-minute walk up to the caves, with superb Alpine views across mountains and lush valleys.
Led by professional guides, the cave tour penetrates half a mile (1 km) into the caves, following 700 steps up and 700 down on a prepared pathway with handrails. Once underground, the reward for the strenuous uphill trek is instant. This is a magical world of sparkling ice formations in a series of cathedral-like caverns full of stalagmites and stalactites eerily illuminated by magnesium lamps.
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 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.
A short stroll from the historic center of Salzburg, the lakeside palace of Schloss Leopoldskron is one of Austria’s most acclaimed works of architecture, built in 1736 by the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg, Leopold Anton Freiherr von Firmian. The masterwork of architect Pater Bernhard Stuart, the Rococo-style palace is renowned for its elaborate stucco works, the handiwork of Johann Kleber, and a series of striking interior paintings, including Andreas Rensi’s Four Seasons in the Festsaal hall and Franz Anton Ebner’s Wedding of Atalante, which adorns the ceiling of the chapel.
Changing hands several times throughout its over 200-year history, Schloss Leopoldskron has amassed a fascinating history, once belonging to King Louis I of Bavaria, hosting the engagement ceremony of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria and Empress Sissi, and being purchased by Max Reinhardt, co-founder of the Salzburg Festival, who used the dramatic setting as a backdrop for the festival’s main events.
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.
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