One of the most stunning cities in all Austria, Salzburg is set in a picture-perfect spot amidst the Alps. Besides its beautiful architecture, old town and alpine setting, all its sites relating to The Sound of Music film only add to its already considerable charm.
Once known as the ‘Rome of the North’, the city was completely transformed in the fourteenth century under the rule of the influential Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich. Since then, its atmospheric Altstadt has instead been famed for its picturesque and well-preserved Italian Baroque-style buildings.
Lying alongside the scenic Salzach river amidst snow-capped mountains, its historic heart contains loads of elegant churches, squares and palaces. Exploring the handsome hilltop castle, which dominates the city skyline, is one of the most popular things to do in Salzburg while world-class concerts and operas are held in its countless theaters below.
It’s possible to see a few of the attractions in Salzburg on a quick day trip from Munich or Vienna, but spending a few days allows visitors to take in more sights and soak in the atmosphere of this delightful city.
Map of Things to do in Salzburg, Austria
Although now synonymous with the famous musical starring Julie Andrews, the city is also the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. With melodies ringing in the air and romantic views and cityscapes wherever you go, it is no wonder Salzburg is one of the country’s main tourist destinations.
19. Mozarts Wohnhaus
A fascinating place to visit, Mozarts Wohnhaus lies just across the Salzach river from the older house he was born in. Actually, destroyed during the Second World War, the renowned composer’s residence was rebuilt and opened as a museum in 1996.
From 1773 to 1780, he and his family lived here in the ‘Dance Master’s House’ along Makartplatz. Their airy eight-room apartment now has a handful of instruments used by him for you to peruse. Some original portraits and music sheets are also on show.
Although it is quite small in comparison with the other museum dedicated to Mozart, music lovers will still appreciate its unique artifacts and exhibits. These also present more information on Wolfgang’s family and their lives in Salzburg.
18. Alter Markt Square
Just a short walk from Mozarts Wohnhaus is the attractive Alter Markt Square which has acted as the center of the city for centuries. Enclosed by pretty pastel-colored townhouses, it is located right next to Residenzplatz and the Salzburger Dom.
Set at the foot of the castle, not far from the riverfront, the old square has served as a market and meeting place since the thirteenth century. Lined by loads of stylish cafes and chic tourist shops, its charming cobblestones also contain the ornate St. Florian Fountain. Erected in 1488, its striking statue, coat of arms and marble steps make for some fine photos.
Asides from taking in its architecture and ambience, you can see the city’s narrowest house and an old apothecary. There is also the classic Viennese-style Cafe Tomaselli coffee house to stop by and fun markets to explore.
17. Stiegl Brauwelt
Other than seeing the city’s attractions and scenic surroundings, one of the main things to do in Salzburg s visit its top-class breweries. At the historic Stiegl Brauwelt just outside of the center, there are terrific tours and tastings for you to enjoy.
One of the most popular and commonly found beers in Austria, Stiegl has remarkably been family-owned since 1492. On their very well-run tours, you’ll learn all about their history and how beer production has changed over the years. In addition to exploring its modern brewhouse and bottling hall, there is a 270-degree film to see that covers the entire process from start to finish.
At the end, you can sit and sample some of the flavorful beers produced here in its brewpub or restaurant. There is also some tasty Austrian cuisine to try and a lovely beer garden to relax in outside.
16. St. Sebastian’s Church & Cemetery
Back over on the more modern side of town, not far from Mozart’s Residence, is the stunning St. Sebastian’s Church. It and its cemetery are wonderful to wander around with many famous historical figures having been buried here.
Instantly recognizable from its onion-dome, the Late Baroque-style church was built in 1753 to replace an early edition that had become derelict. Although a devastating fire later destroyed many of its artworks, its interior still boasts a beautiful high altar.
The real highlight however is its gorgeous graveyard which was designed to look like an Italian campo santo in 1595. Alongside its exquisite arcades, you can find majestic monuments and markings to Mozart’s father and wife among many others.
At the center of its immaculate, green grounds lies the elaborate St. Gabriel’s Chapel. The final resting place of the important Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Wolf Dietrich, the mausoleum really is an architectural masterpiece. For us, St. Sebastian’s easily rivaled the more popular St. Peter’s due to its cool carvings and rather eerie graves.
Getreidegasse, which translates as Grain Lane, is Salzburg’s most famous shopping street. Located in Old Town, Getreidegasse is filled with high narrow buildings that contain shops, boutiques and restaurants serving the city’s specialties, including mouthwatering desserts.
Some buildings have guild signs that indicate the type of work that took place here in centuries past. Jewelry and traditional costumes are among the popular items on shoppers’ lists.
Note that No. 9 Getreidegasse is where Mozart was born. Visitors should take time to explore the passageways and courtyards off this street as there are even more enticing shops to separate visitors from their Euros.
Another hugely interesting church for you to check out is that of Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church) in the Salzburger Altstadt. Lying right next to St. Peter’s Abbey and the Domplatz, it has a fantastic vault ceiling, tall bell tower and intricately crafted high altar to admire.
While the first church to stand here was established in the eighth century, the current one dates to 1450. Now exhibiting an arresting mix of architectural styles, its slender steeple and steep roof are visible for many miles around.
Inside is the real showstopper though as its glorious Gothic vault ceiling is supported by soaring pillars that tower above its glimmering gold-decked altar. Its choir also has nine Baroque-style chapels to stroll about, all home to refined religious paintings and sculptures.
13. Haus der Natur
Towards the end of the Altstadt, alongside the Salzach river, is the equally impressive Haus der Natur. At the state-of-the-art science center, you can learn about everything from dinosaurs and technology to anatomy, evolution and our universe.
Founded in 1924, its interactive exhibits now cover eight levels across two buildings. Whereas some rooms focus on Arctic ecosystems or those of the rainforest, others look at life back in prehistoric times. You can also examine orbiting planets from up close or ogle at its amazing dinosaur models and sparkling spaceships.
Particularly popular are the museum’s innumerable aquaria and the glass tanks of its reptile zoo. Amidst its colourful coral reefs and verdant foliage, guests can spy shoals of swirling fish, live snakes and lizards.
12. Take a Sound of Music Tour
As the city is synonymous with the film, you really must take a Sound of Music Tour when in town. As well as taking you about all the main shooting locations, your guide provides in-depth info on the family and filming process.
Following the footsteps of the von Trapp family, it visits both the Mirabell Garden and Hellbrunn Palace among other stops. Here you’ll see where Maria and all the children danced and sang ‘Do-Re-Mi’ alongside other singing scenes. You can then explore the old Nonnberg Abbey where she served as a novice and drive out to the delightful Lake District nearby.
Options include not just brilliant bus and bike tours around Salzburg but walking ones and horse-drawn carriage rides too. Whichever one you opt for, you’re certain to see a lot of the city and learn everything there is to know about the magical musical.
Travelers with an interest in pre-historic sites may enjoy a visit to Kapuzinerberg. Sitting on a hill overlooking the Salzach River, human habitation of Kapuzinerberg dates back to the Neolithic period.
The hill is not fully developed, and small wild animals may be seen roaming the gardens and grounds. Kapuzinerberg is best known for its Way of the Cross chapels that tell the story of the Passion of Christ as they lead up the hill. The route ends with an impressive depiction of the crucifixion. A monastery, towers from an old fortress and lush gardens add to the site’s beauty.
10. Mozarts Geburtshaus
If you want even more insight into the life of the musical maestro, make sure to head to Mozart’s Geburtshaus. Much larger than the other museum dedicated to the famed composer, it lies along the lively Getreidegasse shopping street.
Now painted bright yellow, it was here in the twelfth century house that Wolfgang was born on January 27th, 1756. Up until the family moved in 1773, he spent much of his childhood in their apartment on the third floor. One room has since been restored to how it would have looked back during his lifetime.
Turned into a museum in 1880, the big building also contains unique old certificates, letters and memorabilia that document his life in the city. The highlight is of course its expertly crafted historic instruments, including a violin and clavichord actually played by Mozart. We ended up really enjoying all its well-done displays and even snapped some great pics with the museum’s large Playmobil model of Mozart!
Residenzplatz, or Residence Square, is located in the heart of Old Town Salzburg, This magnificent square is surrounded by archbishop residences, Salzburg Cathedral, the Old Residence and townhouses now filled with shops and eateries.
It is also the place where visitors can hop a horse0drawn carriage for a ride through the streets of Old Town. A fountain, said to be Salzburg’s most beautiful, punctuates the square. This unique fountain sports snorting horses, giants and dolphins. Many public events, including Salzburg’s Christmas fair, take place in the square today.
8. Hellbrunn Palace
Visitors to Hellbrunn Palace should wear clothes that dry quickly. That’s because the trick fountains the palace is famous for spray water on visitors.
One of the most famous family attractions in Salzburg, this early 17th century Renaissance palace was originally built as a pleasurable place where archbishops could relax for a day. Since they came only for a day, the palace has no bedrooms, though it was intended as a summer residence.
Sound of Music fans may recognize the pavilion where Liesl sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” to Rolfe, though it was located at another palace when the movie was filmed.
7. Hangar 7
Owned by Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, Hangar 7 is a stylish, hangar-inspired museum with a collection of historical airplanes, helicopters and Formula One racing cars. It is one of those museums that is just as intriguing from the outside as it is from the inside.
The wing-like dome of the museum and adjoining cylindrical towers are built of a latticework of steel supporting a glass shell. The sleek, modern structure contrasts sharply with the Alps rising in the backdrop. Hangar 7 is also home to the Michelin starred restaurant Ikarus as well as two bars and a lounge.
6. Cable Car to Untersberg
For the most incredible views imaginable of Salzburg and the surrounding Alps, make sure to take the cable car up Untersberg. Set just southwest of the city, the legendary mount has all kinds of fun outdoor activities for you to enjoy.
Easily reached by bus, the funicular’s cable cars whisk guests up to its summit in just over eight minutes. From St. Leonard station in Gartenau, you slowly rise over 1,300 meters to Geiereck’s jagged peak, high up amidst the clouds.
On the way, you bask in breathtaking panoramas of Hohensalzburg Castle watching out over Salzburg and the Rositten Valley. At its 1,806-meter-high peak, there is some magnificent hiking and biking to be had amongst its alpine landscapes.
5. St. Peter’s Abbey
One of our favorite places in the city, St. Peter’s Abbey, its cemetery and catacombs are nestled right at the foot of the fortress. Located alongside a sheer rock face, all its grand rooms and gardens are very interesting and attractive to wander around.
Long the spiritual heart of Salzburg, it was founded in the seventh century though the current church ‘only’ dates to 1130. Later redecorated in a Rococo-style, it contains several exquisite altars and the tombs of both Mozart’s sister and Johann Michael Hayden. There is also a very elegant library to see, though this is unfortunately only accessible on rare occasions.
Perhaps even more impressive however are the intricate, iron-wrought graves in the lush green cemetery outside. You can also visit the cool catacombs and chapels that are carved in the rugged rock right by the abbey. Coupled with its unique setting, look and atmosphere, we thought this made St. Peter’s very special to visit.
4. Salzburger Dom
Rising dramatically above the Altstadt are the big bronze dome and two tall towers of the Salzburger Dom. One of the city’s most important places of worship, the basilica boasts loads of lovely architecture and twinkling artistic treasures.
Originally erected in 774, it was later rebuilt in the seventeenth century under the rule of Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau. Once past its arresting Baroque facade with its ornate gates, portals and statues, you can explore the cathedral’s immense interior. Besides an imposing organ, there are fine frescoes to see beneath its dome and the baptismal font where Mozart was baptized.
The Domplatz in front also contains the marvelous Marian Column with the city’s fun Christmas market taking place here in wintertime. The Cathedral Museum is also well worth checking out if you like old religious artworks.
3. Mirabell Palace and Gardens
Just one of Salzburg’s many unmissable tourist attractions is the magical Mirabell Palace and its gorgeous gardens.
The building’s front is plain compared to other Salzburg palaces, but visitors will find lush gardens, featuring statues of mythological people, on the grounds. Is pretty flowerbeds and fountains make for some absolutely phenomenal photos, with the charming castle looming in the background.
Again, built by the Prince-Archbishop in 1606, the vast Neoclassical-style palace was designed for his beloved courtesan Salome Alt. It was later rebuilt in Baroque and Neoclassical styles, and served as the 1815 birthplace of the future King Otto of Greece.
Highlights include the amazing ‘Angel Staircase’ which is adorned with dozens of cute cherubs and the grand, gold-decked Marble Hall. At the palace, you can also hear Mozart concerts almost everyday – over 200 years since he performed there himself.
Outside though amidst its terraced gardens where the famous musical was filmed is where visitors spend most of their time. Asides from the distinctive Pegasus Fountain around which Maria and the children danced, there are some divine viewpoints to see too. We really loved ambling about the blooming gardens, snapping pictures with the castle and church spires in the distance.
2. Hohensalzburg Castle
Sprawling across a huge hilltop, the spectacular Hohensalzburg Castle completely dominates the city’s skyline. After a steep climb up either on foot or via its funicular, you can explore its countless courtyards, museums and sturdy fortifications.
The largest, fully preserved castle in Central Europe, the colossal complex’s current appearance mostly dates to the 1500s. Perched atop Festungsberg Hill, it acted as an important seat of power for the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg for centuries. As well as seeing all its sumptuous stately rooms and their fine furnishings, guests can walk around its old dungeons, towers and battlements.
Other than the glittering Golden Hall, the antiquated Salzburg Bull organ is another of its main sights. The castle’s museums also house armour and weapons while exhibits shed more light on the lives of the Prince-Archbishops. From up here, you can also enjoy panoramic views of the city, old town and endless mountains all around you.
1. Salzburger Altstadt
An absolute treat to stroll around, the atmospheric streets of Salzburger Altstadt are undoubtedly the highlight of most people’s time in town. Lined by lots of beautiful old buildings, its grand squares contain most of the city’s main sights.
Overlooked by the hulking great Hohensalzburg Castle, the historic heart of the city straddles the banks of the Salzach river. As Salzburg was once the capital of a very wealthy independent state, eye-catching churches, squares and merchants’ houses all sprung up over the centuries.
Getting lost amidst the narrow lanes of the Judengasse before again emerging at one of the Altstadt’s picturesque squares like Alter Markt or Residenzplatz is a wonderful way to spend the day. Along the lively Getreidegasse, you can shop til you drop while taking in its fetching facades and wrought-iron guild signs. Here too you’ll find some excellent art galleries, chic boutiques and, of course, Mozart’s birthplace.
As the cathedral, castle and St. Sebastian’s Church are all found here, not to mention Mirabell Palace and St. Peter’s Abbey, it really is the heart and soul of life in town. An enchanting place, it made Salzburg and its scenic surroundings our favorite stop in all Austria.