Two weeks ago we went on a weekend trip to Austria. We visited Mozart's birth town Salzburg and the most beautiful Austrian town, the magical Hallstatt.
I traveled from Prague by Leo Express bus, which I can warmly recommend. The economy ticket for a 5,5-hours ride costs less than 17€. The bus is spacious, so you'll have enough place for your feet, you'll get a free bottle of water and there is also a free coffee machine inside the bus (you can use it only when the bus stops).
After a pleasant ride through the Czech Republic and green Austrian fields (the grass is greener in Austria than elsewhere, I swear!), we arrived in Salzburg. The bus left us at the parking lot in southern Salzburg (P+R Süd), across the street from the Hellbrunn Palace and the city Zoo.
If you need to go to the city center, just buy a bus ticket from a ticket machine at the bus stop (2€ for a 1-hour ticket) and take the bus n.3 or n.8 to the Makartplatz, where Mozart's Residence stands. The bus ride lasts less than 20 minutes.
Surrounded by beautiful Alpine mountains, Salzburg is the fourth-largest city in Austria (more than 153 000 inhabitants). Its Baroque city center was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Salzburg gained in popularity among tourists from all over the world when the famous American musical "The Sound of Music", filmed in the city, came out in 1965.
What to see in Salzburg?
1) The Old Town
Salzburg's Old Town is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps. Cross the river Salzach on one of the two central bridges: Staatsbrücke or Makartsteg decorated with love locks.
The first thing that you'll notice is the tower of the Old City Hall (Altes Rathaus). The Old City Hall was built in the 14th century as a house of the city's bourgeoisie, but the town bought it at the beginning of the 15th century. It has a recognizable Rococo-style facade.
Passed the Old City Hall, you'll found yourself in Salzburg's famous shopping street, Getreidegasse.
While walking among luxurious and less luxurious shops (Swarowski, Benetton, Douglas, souvenir shops, etc.), hotels and passageways leading to Austrian and Japanese restaurants, look up for the iron gilded signs marking various stores and old craft shops. The richly decorated signs give the city its authentic courtly look.
If you take the Getreidegasse Street to the right, you'll get to the Mozart's Birth House with its recognizable yellow facade. In front of you, you'll have a nice view of the Mönchsberg hill with the Museum of Modern Art similar to a small castle on top of it.
Close by is also a large Salzburg University complex with the University Library, a small park, and the Kollegienkirche.
If you turn to the left, the Getreidegasse Street will lead you to the Mozart Square (Mozartplatz), a small square with benches, cafés, Christmas shop, and the statue of Mozart in the middle. The statue is dedicated to Salzburg's most prominent resident, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and it was erected in 1842.
From Mozartplatz, you can continue towards the Salzburg's Cathedral, which is situated on the Residence Square (Residenzplatz). The spacious square is a popular venue for different cultural and sports events (including the Christmas market). It's surrounded by the Residence Rooms and Gallery, the Cathedral of St. Rupert and St. Virgil, and the Salzburg Museum.
In the center of the Residenzplatz stands a beautiful Baroque fountain decorated with horses, giants, and a sculpture of the Greek god Triton shooting water from its trumpet in a form of a shell.
It's time for your coffee break. The oldest café in Salzburg and the most prestigious one is Café Tomaselli nearby. It has been run for over 150 years and it was Mozart's favorite café in the city.
Being the most prestigious café with a nice atmosphere and a charming terrace, Café Tomaselli is also a bit pricey. If you want to spend less for a coffee and still enjoy the atmosphere of the city, I would recommend the Zum Zirkelwirt restaurant and café on a small square behind the Salzburg Museum. The price of a coffee is about 3€ and you can sit on a beautiful terrace hidden behind green bushes and flowers.
Get back to the cathedral to take some more photos. Walk through the passage that leads from the Residence Square (Residenzplatz) to the Cathedral Square (Domplatz). You'll pass a few "old-fashion" stands with older Austrians selling souvenirs and maybe singing while they do their jobs.
Continue towards the grandiose Fortress Hohensalzburg on the Festungsberg hill. Soon you'll find yourself on the Chapter Square (Kapitelplatz), where the high clergy resided in the past. The main attraction on the square today is a golden round sculpture with a man standing on it called "Sphere".
2) The Salzburg Cathedral
The Salzburg Cathedral is the most important sacred building in the city and a masterpiece of the Early Baroque architecture. It's consecrated to St. Virgil, the bishop who built the first cathedral in the 8th century and one of the two patron saints of Salzburg, and St. Rupert, the other patron saint of Salzburg.
You can enter the Cathedral from the Cathedral Square, another popular venue for the Christmas Market. The three-door-entrance is decorated with the white marble statues of Apostles Peter and Paul holding a key and a sword, as well as the statues of Salzburg's patron saints St. Virgil and St. Rupert.
The entrance is officially free of charge, but the donation is required when you leave the church. There is a man at the entrance collecting your donations and offering you more information about the cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral, you can admire the beautiful frescoes on the ceiling, a work of Italian painters, Donato Mascagni and Ignazio Solari. You'll also see the baptismal font, where Mozart and Joseph Mohr, the composer of "Silent Night", were baptized. Mozart also often played one of the organs in the cathedral.
Don't miss the visit to the cathedral's crypt, on the left side when you're facing the main altar. In an interesting ambient, you'll see the remains of the first two cathedrals that burned in fires, tombs of Salzburg's archbishops, and an interesting art installation "Vanitas" by Christian Boltanski.
3) Mozart's Birthplace and Residence
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on the 27th of January of 1756 in Salzburg as the youngest of seven children of Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart. When Mozart was 4 years old, his father taught him how to play clavier, and, as a young genius, Mozart wrote his first musical compositions at the age of five.
The Museum located in the Mozart's Birth House tells a story of Mozart's life, from his birth, through his early travels and performances as a child prodigy, the employment at the Salzburg court, his life in Vienna until his early death in 1791.
You'll see Mozart's first violin and his piano, the circumstances in which he grew up (a model of kitchen and a room from Mozart's childhood period). You'll learn more about his family, the relationship with his sister Nannerl and the musical talent of his two sons, Karl Thomas Mozart and Franz Xavier Wolfgang Mozart.
The last part of the exposition is dedicated to Mozart's passion for opera and it exhibits the coulisses and short videos of his operas performed in various European cities.
The entrance fee to the Mozart Birthplace is 11€. You can buy a combined ticket for 18€ and visit both Mozart Birthplace and his Residence on the Makartplatz.
Each tourist wants to know which one of the two museums is better to visit. I've been only to Mozart's Birthplace but reading the Internet pages of both buildings, and people's comments on forums, I think that both museums are similar.
Both museums exhibit some of the original Mozart's instruments, both reveal stories about the lives of Mozart and his family (the Residence has a special temporary exhibition about Mozart's dad Leopold). It's only up to you which one will you choose, but I don't think it's necessary to visit both museums unless you're a big Mozart fan.
In both Mozart museums, you will have an opportunity to buy various souvenirs: magnets, mugs, music sheets, chocolate liqueurs, etc., as well as the famous Mozartkugeln, chocolate balls filled with pistachio, marzipan, and nougat.
However, Mozart museums have higher souvenir prices, so it's better to buy Mozartkugeln in a supermarket Spar, where you'll save some euros.
4) The Sound of Music World
Are you a fan of the Hollywood musical "The Sound of Music"? If yes, you'll probably want to visit all or most of the places where the musical was filmed.
You'll remember the scene in which Maria is singing "Do Re Mi" with the children while walking through the Mirabell Palace Gardens. Visit the Residence Square where Maria passed on her way from the monastery to the Von Trapp house, singing "I Have Confidence in Me" and splashing in the Baroque horse fountain.
Feel the romance while walking around the glass pavilion near the Hellbrunn Palace, where Liesl got her first kiss from Rolf, and Maria and Captain confessed their love to each other.
There are many other filming locations in Salzburg and around it, but there is also a small museum called The Sound of Music World in the center of the city (Getreidegasse 47).
The museum exhibits a few of the movie props, posters, and VHS tapes, but mostly tell a story about the real Austrian Von Trapp family and their life before and after they've escaped Austria. You can also watch a short video interview with one of the Von Trapp daughters.
One interesting fact that I've learned in The Sound of Music World is that Captain Georg von Trapp was born in Zadar, Croatia, and studied at the Naval Academy in Rijeka.
The entrance fee for the museum is 8€ and you can also buy a small souvenir on the way out - bags, mugs, music boxes, DVDs, T-shirts, etc.
5) The Mirabell Palace and Gardens
The most romantic spot in Salzburg is the Mirabell Palace with its stunning colorful gardens. The Palace was built in 1606 by prince-archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau for his mistress Salome Alt.
When Wolf Dietrich was arrested, the new owner of the palace, Mark Sittich von Hohenems, gave the palace today's name, Mirabell (from Italian words mirabile and bella: "admirable" and "beautiful").
Today the palace belongs to the city and houses municipal offices. The highlight of the palace is the Marble Hall, a venue for the Salzburg Palace Concerts (where once Mozart and his sister performed) and a popular wedding and ceremony hall.
What attracts tourists from all over the world are the colorful Mirabell Gardens with beautiful fountains, a fragrant rose garden, a charming hedge theater, and the breathtaking view of the Fortress Hohensalzburg in the distance.
Enjoy a walk through the gardens decorated with colorful flowers, splash about in the Pegasus and the Grand Fountain, and contemplate the 4 statues around the Grand Fountain representing the 4 elements: fire, air, earth, and water.
You can also walk through an interesting Dwarf Garden with 17 marble sculptures of dwarfs.
6) The Fortress Hohensalzburg
One of the largest medieval castles in Europe, the Hohensalzburg Fortress, proudly stands on the Festungsberg hill, on 506 meters above sea level. It was built in the 11th century under Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein, although its today's image dates from the beginning of the 16th century.
The principal role of the fortress from the medieval times was the protection of the city and its rulers, prince-archbishops. Inside the fortress walls, you can visit some of the museums about the history of Salzburg: the Fortress Museum, the Altes Zeughaus (about the fortress defense mechanisms), the Rainer Regiment Museum (about the successes of the Salzburg's regiment during World War I).
You'll see the original furniture from the beginning of the 16th century in the Princes' Hall, the Golden Chamber, and the Golden Hall, as well as an interesting Marionette Museum, where historical marionettes relate the history of the city.
The entrance to the Fortress Hohensalzburg costs 12.90€ and includes a funicular ride up and down the Festungsberg hill, an entrance to all of the fortress museums, and an audio guide in eleven languages. If you pay 16.30€ for an all-inclusive ticket, you can also take a peek into the Princes' Apartments, the Golden Hall and the Golden Room.
If you want to walk to the fortress, it's a nice uphill walk (in my case, it was more of a morning gymnastics, since I went there at 7:30 a.m.) and it will take you about 15-20 minutes. In that case, you'll pay only 10€ for the entrance, which also includes a funicular ride downhill.
The Fortress opens at 9/9:30 in the morning, so by the time I was at its door, only the workers were entering. I found it surprising that the doors were wide open for anyone who was walking around, so I took a peek of the fortress courtyard. I didn't go further inside since none of the museums weren't open yet and I didn't have an entrance ticket. :/
Instead, I had a pleasant walk following the footpaths on Salzburg's hills, surrounded by nature and enjoying the views of Salzburg's Old Town, the Cathedral, and the St. Peter's Monastery.
7) The St. Peter's Monastery and Cemetery
At the base of the Mönchsberg hill lies the St. Peter's Monastery, a Benedictine monastery founded in the 7th century by St. Rupert. The Abbey is still active today and the monks still live and work in the monastery.
The abbey church of St. Peter was built in the Romanesque style, while its interior was renovated in the Rococo architectural style. In St. Peter's Abbey, some of the historical personalities were buried, such as Mozart's sister Nannerl and a composer Johann Michael Haydn.
The greatest attraction of the monastery complex is the cemetery, which is considered one of the most beautiful and oldest cemeteries in the world.
The cemetery, scenically placed on the slope of the Mönchsberg hill, is also one of the filming locations of the musical "The Sound of Music". The Von Trapp family hides from the Nazis among the gravestones so that they could safely escape from Austria later on.
The entrance fee to the Catacombs, where Nannerl and J.M.Haydn were buried, is 2€.
8) Salzach River Promenade and Kapuzinerberg
When you're done with the sightseeing of the Old Town, when you've seen all of the important museums, you should take time to enjoy the Salzburg's nature. Take a walk (or have a bike ride) along the promenade on the east side of the Salzach River below the green slopes of Kapuzinerberg.
The Capuchin hill or Kapuzinerberg is a huge hill in Salzburg rising from the eastern bank of the Salzach River. The 640 meters-high hill is the ideal spot for hiking and outdoor activities.
If your lucky enough to catch the sunny weather (which wasn't always the case during our visit :/), use it and climb the Capuchin hill. You'll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Old Town and the Fortress Hohensalzburg on the other side of the river.
There's even a religious side of the Kapuzinerberg hill. A pathway of chapels marking the Stages of the Cross will lead you to the Capuchin Monastery from the 16th century at the top of the hill.
There are three ways to climb the Kapuzinerberg:
a) from Steingasse at the bank of the river following the Imbergstiege stairway
b) from Linzergasse through the Franziskustor gate (the closest entrance to our hotel Urban Stay Villa Cicubo)
c) from Fübergstrasse in the north-east
9) The Hellbrunn Palace
I was returning home with Leo Express bus from the P+R Süd and I came there earlier to see the Hellbrunn Palace, at least from outside. It was pretty difficult to get there since the weather was crazy – the sun and the rain were taking turns, the strong wind was blowing – and I had to cross the highway and walk for 15 minutes to get there.
The Hellbrunn Palace is a summer residence built in the 17th century under the prince-archbishop Markus Sittikus. It's a beautiful example of Late Renaissance architecture built by architect Santino Solari.
The palace is a perfect spot for leisure, enjoying nature, and playful walks among the Mannerist trick fountains. The large parks and gardens of the palace are a perfect playground for the whole family.
During your visit to the Hellbrunn Palace, don't miss the romantic gazebo from the Hollywood musical "The Sound of Music"! The Salzburg Zoo is located near the palace, so you can spend the whole day in the area. The ticket price is 11.50€.
The entrance fee to the Hellbrunn Palace is 12.50€ and it includes a guided tour of the trick fountains, the entrance to the palace and the folklore museum.
Where to stay and what to eat in Salzburg
I reserved our accommodation in Salzburg more than a month before the trip and it was already too late for some (cheaper) hotels. We booked the only hotel still available for a decent price, Urban Stay Villa Cicubo (Vogelweiderstrasse 7). The price of a 2-bed room was 81€ per night.
The room was small but decorated in style with a picture of Mozart above the bed and a TV. The accommodation didn't offer breakfast, but there was a coffee machine where you could buy a coffee for 1.50€ and have tea for free. I think they should have more coffee cups in their stock (they got out of coffee cups on our last morning) and offer something to stir your coffee with.
The reception of the hotel was open from 7:30 a.m. until 12 a.m. If you would come during the afternoon or in the night, your keys would wait for you in a small safe outside the hotel. They've sent us the combination code in an e-mail a few days before our visit. I saw those small safes around the town, as well, both on business and private buildings. Austrians are a practical nation. 🙂
We were on a budget during our stay in Salzburg, so we ate mostly ready meals from Spar or fish dishes from the fast-food chain Nordsee. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of food and great service in an Indian-Italian restaurant Bella vita next to our hotel (Vogelweiderstrasse 9). We had fish masala and chicken curry with rice for about 24€ all together.
If you want to try typical dishes (Schnitzel, sausages, Apple Strudel) and local drought beer in an authentic Austrian atmosphere, go to the Kastner's Schenke (Schallmooser Hauptstrasse 27), for example.
In the evening, soak up the local atmosphere in one of the beer gardens in the city, Fuxn bar (Vogelweiderstrasse 28). They have a large variety of delicious home-brewed beers for an average price of 4.50€ per half a liter.
Be careful with opening hours of Salzburg's restaurants. Most of the restaurants open at 11, 11:30 a.m., so you'll have to eat your breakfast in the hotel or from Spar supermarket. Many supermarkets close earlier in the evening (even before 8 p.m.), but there is always a Spar supermarket at the Main Train Station with long opening hours.