We finally made our way into the Alps! Salzburg is just under 3 hours drive from Hohenfels, so I don’t know why this wasn’t one of our first trips. Now that we’ve experienced it, I’m kind of slapping myself for waiting so long.
It was an extremely enjoyable and scenic drive into the Alps, and once we arrived, everything was scenic in one way or another. Salzburg is condensed and easily walkable, easy to navigate (I memorized the general layout of the city by the 2rd day), full of culture and ornate architecture, and has the most beautiful backdrop imaginable. Even on days when the weather is less than savory.
We were able to do so much in just four days, and didn’t even have to do much planning to make the most of our time. I highly recommend the app “Visit a City,” which helps you build itineraries for touring cities all over the world. You can start with a pre-built itinerary of popular sights, and then add or delete things to your heart’s content. It organizes your stops so that they’re in logical order, tells you the opening hours for the places you want to visit, and provides you with maps to get from one place to the next (you can download the maps to use offline, too).
After sitting with with Lee and reviewing what we thought were the best parts of the trip, here are the results:
The Salzburg Card
We bought this pass ahead of time on Viator.com, but you can also buy it at the visitor’s center in the Hauptbahnhof train station. It starts at €25 for 24 hours and goes up to €40 for 72 hours. It’s an all-access card that gets you into museums, popular tourist sights, and public transportation. It also includes the cable car ride up to Hohensalzburg Fortress, and the even more extreme ride to Untersberg mountain, which alone costs €23.50 per person! Lee and I both got 72 hour cards, and we used the heck out of them. We saw most of the popular sights around Salzburg and didn’t pay anything at a single one of them. In addition, you get to skip all the ticket lines, which can get pretty long depending on the time of day. If you’re planning on keeping yourself busy with sightseeing while in Salzburg, the card quickly pays for itself and you end up saving a ton of money.
They Mirabell Palace gardens are perfectly manicured and lined with flowers ever so carefully. We got here too early to see the fresh spring flowers planted, but the winter flowers were still nice and added a pop of color to an otherwise dismal environment. It’s almost as if this place goes to sleep in the winter, and wakes back up in the Spring/Summer. This is one of the first places we visited, and the weather that day was less than desirable. But even during the winter, and even in the rain, Mirabell is still worth a visit.
Mozart Museums: Geburtshaus and Wohnhaus (Birthplace and Residence)
I’ve played classical piano for the last 18 years (surprise!), and you bet your ass I’ve played my fair share of Mozart. In fact, I played the second movement of Mozart’s Piano concerto No. 21 in C major as a duet with my teacher for my final piano recital when I was 18. It made my grandmother cry. So, it’s safe to say I’m a fan of the guy, and it was amazing to see where he practiced. There is a large number of items on display at the Wohnhaus, including several of the family’s instrument’s and his original fortepiano. The Geburtshaus has a lot of smaller, interesting artifacts such as his childhood violin, original portraits, letters he wrote to his wife and family (he had a great sense of humor), original compositions, and even a lock of his hair (or, so they claim).
Residenz State Rooms
Located in the heart of Altstadt (Old City), this stately palace is where the Archbishops of Salzburg lived and held parties and gatherings throughout history to display their power and grandeur. The rooms were pristine, perfectly preserved, and fascinating. An audio guide is available to provide commentary while you walk through, but be prepared to spend 2-3 hours walking slowly through the Residenz if you want to hear it all.
This Baroque cathedral where Mozart was baptized is connected via a panoramic terrace to the Residenz museum. The elevated walkway between the two buildings has amazing views of the Residenzplatz, the Glockenspiel, and St. Peter’s Abbey. There is also a small cafe, so you can sip an espresso while sitting on ornate white chairs and enjoying a slightly elevated view the city–if that’s your thing. When entering the church from the panoramic terrace, you immediately find yourself in the balcony right under the pipe organ, looking down into the sanctuary. Looking up at the organ actually made me dizzy. I felt like a speck of dust in comparison to the grandeur of this church.
St. Peter’s Abbey
St. Peter’s is a Benedictine monastery and former cathedral in Old Town that was founded around 700 AD. When I walked through the passageway and entered St. Peter’s, I felt like I was transported into another world. There is a good deal to see in here, including the church, the smaller chapel, the cemetery (Petersfriedhof), and the catacombs. The contained area of the abbey is right next to a massive cliff/steep hill that leads up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Built into the wall are the small network of catacombs (which are included with your Salzburg card, by the way). The stairs are steep and unforgiving, but it’s definitely an experience you don’t want to miss. The graveyard was, without a doubt, the most intriguing graveyard I’ve ever seen. It is a combination of traditional headstone graves that are out in the open, and mausoleum-type graves that are fenced off covered, protecting them from the elements and curious visitors. The most remarkable thing was how well-attended the graves were. All of them were covered with freshly-picked flowers, portraits, personal artifacts, and toys and trinkets.
This massive Medieval castle/fortress sits atop the Festungsberg hill and is easily seen above all the other structures in Salzburg. To get there, you can either walk up a long steep hill or take the cable car. Since the ride was included with our Salzburg card and we could skip the line, we took the cable car! At the top are several overlooks and a couple restaurants with an unobstructed view of Salzburg and the Alps. The fortress contains multiple buildings and feels like you’re touring a small little city. There is an extensive museum that takes you on a journey throughout the entire history of the fortress, and also a little marionette museum–which is totally creepy, but a cool piece of Salzburg history. There is an observation deck at highest point in the fortress, which is a little watchtower with 360° views.
Richterhöhe at Mönchsberg
Just a stone’s throw from Hohensalzburg is an old Medieval wall and watchtower on the crest of a hill overlooking the Alps. We decided to descend from Hohensalzburg on foot, and after a short walk through a quiet residential neighborhood with lavish Austrian houses, we arrived at “Richterhöhe am Mönchsberg” on the adjacent hill. We didn’t know about this place until we stumbled upon it, and I was instantly glad that we found it. There were only about 15 people perusing the hill when we arrived, and even fewer as the day wore on. Everyone was respectful of the peacefulness of the environment. We liked it so much up there, we sat on a bench for about an hour just looking into the distance. Too often, we forget to take a moment to slow down and absorb our surroundings when we visit a new place. We seem to get caught up in the excitement and overtax ourselves trying to see as much as possible, when really, sometimes we can see the most amazing things without even moving.
Untersberg Cable Car
I saved the best for last, so good on you if you’ve read this far. A 20-minute ride through the suburbs on the #25 bus from Hauptbahnhof takes you straight to the Untersbergbahn, a gondola that zips straight up to the summit of the Untersberg mountain (everything is free with a Salzburg card!). It’s only a 10-minute ride to the top, but it’s definitely a white knuckle-inducer if heights make you nervous. When we emerged, I was floored by the view. The summit consists of a slightly undulating hill that visitors can either walk or ski, and it was covered in tightly-packed snow. Since we both decided to only bring one pair of shoes on this trip, we had to get creative to work around the non-existent treads of our Chuck Taylors. We weren’t able to safely trek up to the highest point, but got pretty close. Something that shocked me was that there were no railings or barriers preventing you from falling down the entire mountain (with how steep it is, you would fall all the way down). It made me uneasy a few times, but for the most part I felt pretty safe. I wouldn’t let young children run around unattended here during the winter, but in the summer it’s probably much safer. We ate a traditional Austrian lunch of Frittatensuppe (beef pancake soup), Rindgulasch, and frothy mugs of Stiegel beer at Hochalm cafe, a homey log cabin-type restaurant at the summit with outdoor seating and the friendliest waitstaff I’ve ever met in Europe.
Odds and Ends
We saw quite a bit of stuff that doesn’t exactly constitute a well-known tourist attraction, but was still very interesting and worth mentioning. One of these stops was a craft beer store called “Bottle Shop,” located in the cellar of a shady-looking building. Once we saw the signs for an international craft beer store though, we couldn’t resist checking it out. And I’m glad we did! They have all different kinds of beer and cider from the four corners of the world, from funky stuff like cucumber beer to dark whiskey barrel-aged stouts that weigh in at a whopping 16% ABV. The best part was the wooden chute leading down into the store that looks like a slide. I asked the lone employee working if the slide was for beer, or for people. He said, “It’s for beer, but it can be for people too. Just sit on a pillow so you don’t bust your ass.” So, I did! …… er, slide. Not bust my ass. It was great.
Something else we really enjoyed in Salzburg was taking long walks along the Salzbach river. There are multiple bridges, so you can criss-cross back and forth several times between Altstadt and Neustadt. Mozartsteg, or the Mozart Bridge, was used in The Sound of Music in the scene when Maria and the children are running about town wearing the old drapes. It’s a narrow pedestrian bridge, but surprisingly, there were no pedestrians on it around 5 pm on a Friday! The most modern pedestrian bridge, Makartsteg, is covered end-to-end in lover’s locks. We noticed the bridge from all the way down the river because of how sparkly it appears in the sun. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lock to leave our mark, but it was fun to see such a quirky modern trend in the middle of a city as old as Salzburg.
We also stumbled upon an open-air market called the Grünmarkt in the vicinity of the University of Salzburg Cathedral. It was overflowing with delicious pastries, fresh-caught fish, a bounty of herbs and vegetables, an endless selection of fragrant and colorful flowers, and several food carts serving local specialties.