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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The revered German-language poet Georg Trakl was born in Salzburg in 1887 and spent much of his short life building up a body of literary work that has remained with us long after he died in a military hospital in Krakow at the tender age of 27. He spent his formative years in the city and much of his work shines light on the Salzburg of the early 20th century, although he flitted restlessly around Austria, traveling frequently to Vienna and Innsbruck. Heavily influenced by the works and lifestyles of French symbolist poets like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Trakl was soon heavily involved with drugs and also suffered from depression; it is suspected he may have committed suicide but this is not known for sure.
Nevertheless his poetry attracted much praise attention and his reputation lives on. Many years after his death in 1914, his birthplace on Salzburg’s Waagplatz was converted to a museum in his memory in 1973.
Salzburg’s modern art museum consists of two parts; the MDM Rupertinum is housed in an elegant medieval palace in the Altstadt (Old Town) while the MDM Mönchsberg sits on a rocky crag above the city. Together the MdM Salzburg buildings offer over 3,000 meters of exhibition space for 20th- and 21st-century Austrian art and began life in 1983, when local art collector Friedrich Welz donated his entire collection of works by Oskar Kokoschka to the city. Displays include temporary exhibits along with paintings drawn from the museums’ core collection, including Austrian favorites Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, a scattering of French Impressionists and an 18,000-strong collection of contemporary Austrian photography.
The Salzburg Museum incorporates seven branches, including the Toy Museum (Spielzeug Museum) and Museum of Natural History (Haus der Natur), but its main branch is at the Neue Residenz and is connected by subterranean tunnel to the adjacent Panorama Museum. The underground passage itself features a section of Roman wall covered with murals and models of the city at important points in its development but the main attraction of the Panorama Museum is the cyclorama of the city. Painted in 1829 by Johann Michael Sattler, the masterpiece painting-in-the-round is supremely impressive for its fine architectural and topographical detail and is 26 meters (85 feet) in diameter. Visitors stand on a central platform, from here telescopes and computer screens highlight various areas of the city, providing detailed descriptions of 19th-century Salzburg.
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