Just along the Bavarian border of Germany lies a neighboring Austrian village that’s straight out of a storybook. Salzburg is most commonly known as the birthplace of Mozart, or as the filming location for The Sound of Music, but rest-assured this charming city is comprised of much more than just that. It's architecture boasts stunning medieval and baroque edifices, well-manicured parks are plentiful and a formidable clifftop fortress set against the northern border of the Alps makes for breathtaking scenery. Yes, Salzburg is an idyllic combination of man-made and natural beauty. My friend Haley (who took most of these amazing pictures!) and I spent three days exploring as much as we could of all this city has to offer (and we could have easily spent more time if it was available!) It was seriously such a magical trip and I'd recommend it to just about everyone (unless you're a troll that hates beautiful scenery). Whenever the time comes to plan a trip of your own, here is what I'd recommend:
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
LANGUAGE: German, although just about everyone speaks English. I always advise to try, at the very least, to say “thank you” in the native tongue, which in this case is “Danke”.
CURRENCY: Euros. In my experience, bank cards are widely accepted (except for taxis- be sure to have cash for those!)
GETTING AROUND: Walk! Salzburg is an extremely walkable city that can pretty much be explored entirely by foot. There were a few times we relied on other forms of transportation (i.e. The Sound of Music tour took us around by bus and we did take a cab to dinner once while staying at Schloss Leopolskron). It’s also a great city for biking, although we didn’t have a chance to do that.
SALZBURG CARD: Our friends at Visit Salzburg provided us with a 72 hour Salzburg Card, which you can purchase to save money as you see the city sights. With a choice between a 24, 48 or 72 hour pass, you'll get free admission to over 30 attractions and museums in the ‘City of Mozart', free use of the public transport network and discounts at numerous other sights. Note: the Sound of Music tour is not part of this, but nevertheless it will cover a lot of other sights so look into it depending on the sights you’re hoping to see!
Situated in the heart of Mozart's hometown, on the bank of the river Salzach, and opposite the old town, all sites are within walking distance from Hotel Sacher Salzburg. They offer individually furnished rooms that feature numerous antiques and original oil paintings (it was honestly one of the most beautiful rooms I've ever stayed in abroad).
It was evident that the staff is proud of their history and stays true to traditions. When we first arrived, we had the pleasure of sitting down with our new friend Sandra from the marketing department for a glass of prosecco to learn more about the rich history associated with Hotel Sacher Salzburg. She informed us of the infamous Sacher-Torte which has been the most famous cake in the world since 1832 and the original recipe remains a well-kept secret specific to this hotel. The basis of the entire confection is a chocolate cake, thinly coated by hand with best-quality apricot jam. The chocolate icing on top of it is the crowning glory. It tastes best with a portion of unsweetened whipped cream. Sandra ordered us a slice (which pairs well with a cappuccino!) so we could try it for ourselves and it did not disappoint. Regardless of whether or not you stay here while visiting Salzburg, I definitely recommend at least popping in for a famous slice to experience it yourself!
Hotel Sacher Salzburg provided the highest standard of comfort, superb service and every modern technology and amenity that we could have wanted. I thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a luxury experience in Salzburg.
For the second half of our time in Salzburg, we stayed at Schloss Leopoldskron, which was built in 1736 as a family property of Salzburg's Prince-Archbishop Leopold Anton Freiherr von Firmian (1679-1744). It was later purchased by Max Reinhardt in 1918, who was the most famous theatre impresario at the time. It was in a very dilapidated state when he purchased it, but he concentrated with great creativity on its reconstruction.
More recently though, this infamous property is known to be where many of The Sound of Music scenes were filmed. The most recognizable? The backyard scene at the end of "Do-Re-Mi" watch the video clip below to refresh your memory!)
As we learned on The Sound of Music tour (more about that in a minute) they actually used two different locations for the Von Trapp family home. Schloss Frohnburg, a 17th century country house, now the Mozarteum Music Academy, was used for the gates and front entrance of the villa where Maria (Julie Andrews) first approaches the Von Trapps after leaving the convent. But the director wanted the backyard to be more scenic with a lake that overlooked the majestic mountains of Salzburg. Thus, all backyard filming locations were filmed at Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron. The actual palace (where we would imagine the Von Trapp being) looks like this.
*NOTE: You can only visit the grounds if you are a hotel guest, so if you're a Sound of Music enthusiast who wants to see the same exact point of view, you'll have to stay here in order to do so.
Today, Schloss Leopoldskron serves as the home of the international non-profit organization Salzburg Global Seminar and the Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron.
To this day, the castle is not a museum but a house that is "lived" and offers its guests together with the castle park an extraordinary experience. The castle suites (pictured right) were under construction during our stay, so we stayed in the room pictured below on the left- which is a more affordable and contemporary option.
Regardless of which kind of room you stay in here, the entire property is available to you. In addition to walking around the grounds, we loved the gorgeous interiors of the castle (see below for photos of the breakfast hall and the dining room that inspired the ballroom in The Sound of Music).
This was a wonderful place to stay for many reasons. Aside from all the history and the stunning views, it's quite scaleable from a price perspective, offering something for just about every budget. It's not quite as central as some other properties, but bikes are available to take into the heart of Salzburg and the concierge was most accommodating to order us a cab when we needed it. Overall, you just can't really beat staying on the property where Sound of Music was filmed!
WALK AROUND THE OLD CITY
Salzburg’s Old Town is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps. It's known for its baroque architecture and of course, it's gorgeous alpine backdrop. The Old Town of Salzburg also earned a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List back in 1997, which has helped protect the architecture and layout of Salzburg. Let yourself get lost in the streets, but be sure to pay a visit to some of these spots.
Laugh if you want, but this was probably my favorite thing we did in Salzburg! It's no secret that this city was the backdrop all throughout the hit film that put Julie Andrews on the map, so naturally it attracts crowds from all around the world flocking to see the same picturesque sites. There are a few different tour options, but it's pretty unanimous that the best one is this 4 hour bus tour we did. Once you load onto the bus, they start playing bits of the film that coincide with the sights you're about to see (they even encourage you to sing along!) I was surprised how much ground we covered in the 4 hour time frame- it honestly flew by. Here's what you can expect to see:
STOP 1: LEOPOLDSKRON PALACE
This should look familiar! While, as I mentioned, you can't go in the actual backyard where the movie was filmed unless you're staying on the property, this tour will allow you to enjoy the spectacular view during a photo stop at Lake Leopoldskron mirroring the palace, where the famous boating scene was filmed. From there, you can see the Captain´s backyard and private palace gardens.
STOP 2: HELLBRUNN PALACE, GAZEBO
Remember the song "16 going on 17" scene as well as the kissing scene of Maria and Baron von Trapp? The second stop of this tour takes you to the original gazebo which was given to the city of Salzburg and relocated to the gardens of Hellbrunn Palace.
STOP 3: NONNBERG ABBEY
The next stop is passing by the Nonnberg Abbey, which is still an active women’s convent today. Here, the "real" Maria was a novice and also got married to Baron von Trapp. The Abbey does not allow visits within its walls, so you don't actually get off the bus here, but you are welcome to walk up to the front gate of their Gothic Church or to visit a church service after the tour.
STOP 4: SALZBURG LAKE DISTRICT AREA - ST. GILGEN
After touring the film-locations within the town of Salzburg, you will hop back on the bus and head for the Lake District, passing Lake Fuschl and Lake Wolfgang, where panorama shots and scenes of the picnic were filmed. The view down on to St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang make for an excellent photo stop!
STOP 5: MONDSEE WEDDING CHAPEL
After some time in the bus, you'll arrive in Mondsee to the famous church where the wedding of Maria and Baron von Trapp was filmed in the movie. Afterwards there is time to explore this little picturesque town on your own (I recommend getting an apfelstrudel!)
STOP 6: MIRABELL GARDENS
The tour ends in the beautiful Mirabell Gardens where the song "Do-Re-Mi" was filmed. After or before joining the tour, you can explore the gardens on your own where you'll find the Pegasus Fountain as well as the Do-Re-Mi steps from the film (watch the video below from 0:59 - 1:53 to refresh your memory!)
This was certainly one of the more touristy things I've ever done, but MAN was it so fun! This was hands down the highlight of our trip and I can't recommend it enough to anyone who loves The Sound of Music. Still not convinced? Here's a little video with more information about the tour to help you with your decision.
W. A. Mozart was born in 1756 in the “Hagenauer Haus” at No. 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg. Today, Mozart’s Birthplace is one of the most visited museums in Austria and is an absolute highlight, above all for Mozart fans. Even if you don't tour the inside, you must at least walk by and snap a photo while exploring the old town.
Haley was determined to wake up early for this sunrise shot over the city, and I'm so glad she was! We went to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, which our Sound of Music tour guide told us was an iconic spot overlooking the city during the "Do-Re-Mi" scene. While the museum isn't open at sunrise, you can still take the elevator to the top (which you have to pay cash, roughly €6 per person) for incredible panoramic views. Watching the sun come up over the mountains and hearing the bell towers chime was seriously beautiful and an unforgettable moment from our trip. I highly recommend doing the same if you're up for an early morning! Remember: sunrise time varies throughout the year so be sure to check the specific details of when you're visiting!
Salzburg has loads of iconic traditional fare you must try while visiting. Some of the favorites?
A wiener-schnitzel is arguably the epitome of Austrian cuisine. It’s essentially a large breaded and fried piece of veal. Contrary to popular belief (or at least Julie Andrews), it's not served with noodles, but instead with a lemon wedge, parsley potatoes and some cranberry. We ordered this dish at a recommendation I received from a friend:
Stiftskeller St. Peter is a restaurant within the walls of St Peter's Abbey, Salzburg, Austria. It is claimed to be the oldest inn in Central Europe (dating back to 803 AD) because of a mention of it in the Carmina anthology by the English scholar Alcuin of York. Regardless of the history, it was the dreamiest little spot you can imagine and offered fine dining options of authentic Austrian food. While they do offer Mozart Dinner Concerts, we opted for dinner in their standard dining room (which is in a cozy cave setting, complete with candles lit). It's a popular spot so be sure to make a booking in advance!
Our friends at Visit Salzburg told us from the very start of our trip that we had to try a Salzburger Nockerel: a sweet soufflé served as a dessert specific to this city to represent the snow-capped mountains surrounding Salzburg.There's a legend that says the famous Salzburg prince archbishop of Raitenau loved his mistress Salome mostly because she could make a mean (and fluffy) Salzburger Nockerl. It's quite tasty (although it does take some time to prepare so be sure to order it before you're done with your main course or you'll be waiting a while!) We were told that the best in town can be found at:
Restaurant S'nockerl, located in the Elefant Hotel, is just a stone's throw from Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg's city center. They offer traditional Austrian food and a cozy atmosphere (and again, a delicious Salzburger Nockerl!) Again, I'd recommend making a booking in advance to secure a table.
Some other food you must try?
- STRUDEL: These tasty deserts are filled layered pastries that come in many forms: cherry strudels, nut strudels, plum strudels, etc. However, while in Austria, I'd go for an apple or cheese strudel!
- SACHER-TORTE: See my statements above where I speak to Hotel Sacher Salzburg, but this famous cake is a must try while visiting!
- PRETZEL BREAD: You can see from my photos above that pretzel bread is sold at stalls in the streets of the old town, but it's not something to miss! This load of carby-goodness will only cost you roughly €3 and comes in loads of different flavors (I suggest the cheese and garlic!)
While everything above made our time in Salzburg so wonderful, what really made it memorable was the people we met. On our last night, we met up with some friends we made on the Sound of Music tour for a drink and closed the pub down. Two of them were brothers from Melbourne and the other from Ireland. Throw in us two Americans and we had a loud, lively bunch exchanging travel stories and becoming fast friends late into the night. Before they got to the pub to meet us, we befriended a local tour guide (originally from Germany) on a date with her boyfriend at the table across from us. They shared all their favorite bits about life in Salzburg and gave us some good recos for villages to visit when we went on to Germany (our next destination). We swapped social media information with all our new friends and still keep up with each others lives, which is something I try to do everywhere I go. It may seem odd to keep in touch with so many people you just met, but I'm continually surprised by how easy it is to connect with a complete stranger when you both share a common love for travel. It's honestly the coolest feeling to keep making friends in different corners all around the world, and some of my favorite stories have been when I re-connect with these people on different trips in new destinations. So whenever I find myself in Melbourne or Dublin or back in Salzburg, I can't wait to get back in touch with my new friends I made on this trip!
All in all, Salzburg is a magical place that feels like a fairytale and I hope everyone gets the chance to visit. Still have questions about planning your trip? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks as always for stopping by, and stay tuned for more travel guides and other travel-related stories soon to come!