Salzburg could easily be one of the prettiest cities in Europe.
There’s something about the Austrian city that makes you feel like you’re in a European fairytale, or The Sound of Music (it was filmed there in case you’re not a fangirl like me), which is kind of the same thing. From the quiet streets of the historic city center, called the Altstadt, (a UNESCO World Heritage Center) with its Baroque architecture, to enjoying a bratwurst and a Stiegl beer on the banks of the city’s Salzach river, to sounds of classical music playing in concert halls or cafes or art galleries, there’s a charm about Salzburg I haven’t met anywhere else in Europe.
If you’re passing through Salzburg as part of a Euro trip, here are a few ways to get a good taste of the sweet city.
Stop one, schnitzel | 7:00 p.m.
Let me put this out there now, if you’re a vegetarian or pescatarian, Austria may not end up being a favorite when it comes to food—it’s a lot about meat and potatoes. Though there are good veggie pasta options too. But if you do eat meat, Salzburg’s schnitzel is on point. It’s a thin cut of meat coated in bread crumbs or fried. Sometimes it’s covered in a mushroom cream sauce. Sometimes it’s stuffed with a finely cut onion/mushroom/bacon combo, like the one I had at Central Cafe, a very simple, but good restaurant near to where I stayed. Sometimes it’s just served plain. Whatever’s in it or on it, it’s usually juicy and well seasoned and it’s a staple in these parts, so worth a try.
Rest your head at Salzburg Gablerbräu | 9:00 p.m.
If you’re all about location when it comes to stays, the Star Inn Hotel Premium Salzburg Gablerbräu, kind of can’t be beat. It’s right in the Altstadt, minutes from the river, a short walk to where Mozart was born, and to the famed Mirabell Palace and Garden (where part of the Do-Re-Mi song in Sound of Music was filmed), close to shops and restaurants and pretty much most things you’re likely to want to get to.
Get your Sound of Music on | 9:00 a.m.
OK, I’ll be honest: The Sound of Music was a big part of what drove me to Salzburg. That and I was already in Austria for a work thing. I grew up watching and loving the movie and have easily seen in 100-ish times, so I did what any self-respecting fan would do. I boarded a tour bus full of other fans to trace the filming locations around the city. I know it’s really nerdy and I’m not ashamed at all. The tour, courtesy Panorama Tours Salzburg, started at Mirabell Gardens where they sang Do-Re-Mi, went to the Leopoldskron Palace, which was the back of the house where Maria and all the kids fell out of the boat into the water, then to the gazebo where Liesl sang Sixteen Going on Seventeen and to the Mondsee wedding chapel where Maria and Captain von Trapp got married. The tour also takes you to the Salzburg Lake District area, which has nothing much to do with the movie, but it will give you a real The Hills are Alive vibe with all its beauty. If you’re a major fan of the movie, don’t miss this. And if you’ve been dragged along by a major fan of the movie, it’s still a fun few hours and a really good tour of Salzburg.
Dine with Mozart | 7:30 p.m.
If you like classical music, Austria is the place to be. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, likely the most prolific classical musician ever, was born in Salzburg in 1756. The child prodigy performed his first concert in public at the ripe age of 6. The house where Mozart was born is right in the Altstadt. It’s now a museum fittingly called Mozarteum, and you can stand right in the room where he was born, which is pretty cool even if you’re not crazy about classical music. I didn’t get a chance to do this, but I was instructed by someone born and raised in Salzburg, that the Mozart Dinner Concert in the Baroque Hall of St. Peter monastery, is an experience worth having. The night is designed to feel much like a night on the town in the 1700s, with musicians playing Mozart’s music live, and cuisine in keeping with the times, which isn’t hard here since it’s made and served in the oldest restaurant in Europe. Definitely try booking in advance because there’s typically no room for procrastinators.
Eat breakfast on the Salzach | 9:00 a.m.
When in Europe, dine outside at every opportunity, weather permitting. In Salzburg, one of the best places to do this is with a view of the Salzach river that runs through the city. A prime spot is Cafe Bazar, a traditional coffee house in the city that sits right on the Salzach. The cafe was built in the early 1880s and since then has been a haunt for famous (and less so) artists, poets and thinkers. Breakfast is served all day and you’ll find things like eggs with Austrian sausage and croissants with house-made marmalade on the menu. If the weather is nice, pick a spot on the patio and take in the views.
See the Hohensalzburg Castle | 11:00 a.m.
If there’s one landmark that’s distinctly Salzburg, it’s the Festung Hohensalzburg, the castle fortress on the hill with by far the best views of the city. The fortress was originally built in 1077 and expanded over the years. It’s been through wars but was never conquered, and stayed untouched when fires burned much of the city. Now there’s a cool museum up there that tells much of Salzburg’s history, and on a clear day, there’s no better view of the Baroque architecture and cathedrals and the river separating it all that’s so distinctly Salzburg.
Find yourself a bauernkrapfen | 1:00 p.m.
When I tell you if you only do one thing in Salzburg, it should probably be this, I’m really serious. I’d never heard of a bauernkrapfen or even seen one before, but when my eyes met one on the walk down from the castle, it was love at first sight. Being a fan of all things dough related, I saw this plate of perfectly fried dough dusted with powdered sugar and I bought it without question or hesitation. And it was likely the best fried dough experience I’ve ever had in my life. (this might even give beignet a run for their money…gasp! Don’t tell NOLA). Imagine beignet, but airier, lighter and big enough to take up a whole plate. Words won’t do this justice, but I’ll put it this way, just writing this is bringing about a wave of grief that I’m not eating a bauernkrapfen right now.
Check out the market in Capitalplatz | 2:00 p.m.
Europe is good at outdoor markets. Especially the Christmas markets. Salzburg has been doing its Christkindlmarkt since the 15th century and it’s a place you’ll find Christmas ornaments, Austrian handicraft, fresh pretzels, the aforementioned bauernkrapfen and glühwein, a spiced mulled wine served hot that is to Austria and other parts of Europe what hot apple cider is to the Northeastern US. Except it’s alcohol. All of that said, though, these markets really only happen in December, so if you’re not there then, sorry, However, there are still good open air markets to happen upon, like the one at Capitalplatz, which you’ll likely walk right into when walking down from the Hohensalzburg Castle, and it’s where you’ll see fresh-baked pretzels bigger than a basketball.