I arrived in Salzburg at night, in the rain and was immediately lost. Luckily, a kind local went out of his way to walk me to the hostel I had brilliantly decided not to book in advance.
Apparently, Salzburg is the place to be on a Friday night in October in Austria, because this large hostel didn’t have a single bed left.
The receptionist handed me a map, scribbled a bus number on it and circled a point far across the city where she said they might have a hostel bed. Back into the cold, rainy night I went. After several more mistakes that ended with me trudging in circles (hey, it was a roundabout), I finally staggered into the hostel around midnight, three hours after arriving in the city.
“Yes, we have one bed left,” said the nice young guy working at the reception desk. If I’d had any energy left I would have jumped over the desk and hugged him. Instead, I handed him my passport.
I spent the next two days roving the city of Salzburg, entranced by the snow-capped mountains that peeked in the background of every photograph I took.
Salzburg is a small city overflowing with musical history, tucked at the base of the Austrian alps, with plenty of fresh air and jaw-dropping views in every direction. Not only is Salzburg the birthplace of Mozart, it’s also the real-life city where the von Trapp family lived and escaped the Nazis, and where The Sound of Music was later filmed.
Today, Salzburg is home to three universities and the UNESCO World Heritage Altstadt, or Old Town filled with baroque architecture and overlooked by the imposing Hohensalzburg Castle.
Here’s how to spend a few days exploring Salzburg and the surrounding countryside:
A visit to Salzburg wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Hohensalzburg Castle. Start off with a short hike up the steep hill to the castle, or take the funicular if you’re feeling lazy (I wasn’t). A museum housed inside contains the history of the castle along with an impressive collection of weapons ranging from the Middle Ages through World War II. However, the true star of the castle is it’s panoramic view of the Austrian alps and the town of Salzburg below.
Lined with medieval and baroque buildings, the twisting cobblestone streets of Salzburg’s Altsdadt are very picturesque. It’s actually a high-end shopping district now, with a few cafes and restaurants sprinkled throughout, but it’s still a fun way to spend a few hours. Highlights include the Salzburger Dom cathedral, and Mozart Geburtshaus.
Mozart Geburtshaus – Mozart’s Birthplace
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the museum housed in Mozart’s birthplace. The museum contains tons of fascinating bits and pieces of Mozart’s family life and childhood. It was sort of amazing to read the correspondence between Mozart and his wife, sister and parents…they were a very loving family with a sense of humor. Also there’s lots of gifts…fancy snuffboxes, jewelry etc. that Mozart received for his childhood performances, which apparently irritated his father, who preferred cold hard ca$h!
Gardens at Mirabell Palace
Since I was totally obsessed with The Sound of Music as a child, I wanted to visit at least one Sound of Music movie location in Salzburg. The centrally located Mirabell Palace Garden was a no-brainer. It turns out, many of the places used in the movie filming were sort of pieced together…the Von Trapp family home, for example, was actually several difference mansions and gardens around and just outside of Salzburg. Anyways, the gardens are beautiful and you can see where different parts of the song “Do Re Mi” were filmed, such as this fountain in the photo above (#movienerd).
Werfen Sound of Music Trail
If you have time for a day trip, the Sound of Music Trail in Werfen is a great option. You’ll get to visit a Sound of Music site, do a short hike and take in some stunning alpine scenery, all in one go.
Catch the train from Salzburg and travel down a scenic valley and along the river to the small town of Werfen. From the train station, cross the river and follow the road up into the small town. There’s a tourist information point on the main street, where you can get directions to the trailhead, which starts on the left, just past the tourist info point. Most Werfen residents can also point you to the trailhead.
A market next door is the perfect place to pick up your picnic supplies. The trail winds steeply uphill to a small meadow where the picnic scene was filmed. The trail takes about 45 minutes to ascend. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the valley, the alps and Hohenwerfen Fortress. Make it a full day and visit the fortress and the ice cave, also located in Werfen.
And that’s all for Salzburg. In the words of the Von Trapps, “Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you!” Next stop, Croatia …