The fairytale city of Salzburg, Austria is well worth a stop on your Europe itinerary. The best things to do include the fortress, the palace, and so much more.
Living in the Vilseck area of Germany, we would get lots of visitors. Planning what to do I had two goals in mind. The first is simply to do things that were memorable and fun. I wanted my guests to leave having the best time of their life, and hopefully getting bit by the travel bug. Secondly, one of the reasons traveling in Europe, especially
Germany, is so fun is that you can see so many countries in a short time. So, with Salzburg being so close to Bavaria, we would head there quite often, just to show it off.
I found Salzburg, and really most of Austria, to be quiet and reserved. The exception is the ski slopes. They are always raucous and fun. However, I think it just take a little time to get used to the peace and calm of the country. Salzburg certainly has a lively old town area, and the Christmas market is a lot of fun as well. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not quite as reserved as I like to think. Salzburg gets under your skin, and it makes you want to return over and over again.
Salzburg – Things to Do
There is plenty to do in Salzburg to keep you busy for at least two days, but it’s also pretty close to a number of day trips. If you want to use it as your jumping off point and not keep moving hotels, you could easily fill up four or even five days.
Funicular or Festungsbahn
We knew we wanted to see the fortress, so that was the first place we visited. To get there, we headed straight to the funicular. A funicular is a quick tram ride to the top of a mountain or steep hill. It’s one of those things that wee always have to take if there is one, because it’s “fun” and always provides great views. Yes, it costs a bit more, but the other option is taking the staircase right next to it and hiking up for 20 minutes. It’s just a matter of whether you are trying to get your steps in for the day.
Hohensalzburg Festung (Fortress)
A fortress is supposed to be imposing, and let me tell you Hohensalzburg Festund, the Salzburg Fortess is really imposing. There are not many places you can go in the city where you can’t look up and it it. From below it really looks impenetrable, and I guess that’s what the majority of invaders have thought as well, since it was never taken in battle. Napoleon did conquer it, but without a fight. As most old castles, this one too, has been turned mostly into a museum. We took the audio tour and found it very enjoyable.
Streets and Alleys – Shopping
As you walk down the narrow streets and alleys, you can look for old fashioned door bells, wrought iron merchant signs, and find shops that have been open for a couple of centuries. One of the most popular shopping streets is called the Getreidegasse. It’s quaint and a lot of fun.
Erika was having a major allergy attack once when we visited, so we went into the nearest pharmacy. It had been open since the 1800’s, and the interior doesn’t look like it’s changed much except for adding a computer and cash register on the bar. Right there they found something for her to take and even gave her a glass of water that they fetched from a beautiful fountain right there in the anteroom. We loved the one stop and problem solved, and it was just more memorable that it was in such an ancient business.
Mozart Museum and House
We also visited Mozart’s house and museum, where again we took an audio tour, but I have to say it was just way too much information, and too much repetition. What I did like about it was each stop had a piece of music that he composed and followed along his life timeline. That part was pretty interesting, but overall I thought it was just too much. By the time we reached the video at the end of the tour, we all almost fell asleep. I do think you should visit the museum, but if you get the audio guide, you might want to skip through some of it.
Try Some Coffee and Pastries
Austrians can bake. No joke. They have some of the tastiest pastries, and to pair them with the amazing coffee they brew, it’s almost imperative to add a “meal” a day, and invent a way to stop by one and have a snack.
In Austria, they have a whole coffee language, and I think you should try them all.
The same goes with the pastries.
Take a Baking Lesson
One winter, we headed down to Salzburg just to learn how to make apfel strudel. This was important to me, because I was especially interested in learning about the pastry. The pastry used is very similar to the yufka or phyllo that I usually buy to make my Turkish borek. I buy it because it’s supposed to be so difficult to make. It needs to be pulled and pulled and stretched and stretched.
One of the best times to visit Salzburg is in the winter, at Christmas. Why? Two reasons. The first is that they have a particularly great Christmas market. And second, the famous Christmas carol “Silent Night” was composed and sung for the first time in 1818 not far away.
The Christmas market is held every year from the last Saturday in November until December 24th. It’s easy to find in the Residenzplatz, behind the Salzburg Cathedral. It was there we saw our first skinny St. Nikolas passing out candies from his huge burlap sack. It’s a magical and fun place to go and drink a glass of gluhwein. Also, you might get to see Krampus and his gang wander through. In fact, they will often be seen on the streets of Salzburg too during the advent season, so keep your eyes open.
Another Christmas-y things to do is visit the towns of Oberndorf and Arndorf, about 20 kilometers away. This is much easier if you have a car, but if not, there are buses as well. It is in Oberndorf that the poem of Silent Night was written by Josef Mohr. He brought the poem to Franz Gruber, a primary school teacher and organist, that lived in Arndorf to write the music for it. On Christmas eve in 1818, it was first sung in the Oberndorf chapel, and it’s repeated every year there as well.
How to Get to Salzburg
The only problem with the road is that there are trucks, trucks, and more trucks. The border, thankfully, doesn’t require stopping, but it can still get backed up. One thing that drivers have to remember when going there is that there is an annual road tax. Most of the petrol stations between Munich and Salzburg sell the tax in vending machines and give you a sticker to prove that you’ve paid. It’s pretty easy, so there’s no excuse not to have one.
Whether you are visiting Austria or Germany, head to Salzburg and have some fun.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.