As a German-English tourism translator* and an avid traveler, I will always have a special place in my heart for Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg, situated at the base of the Alps, is a hidden gem in Central Europe. With a centuries-old castle overlooking the winding river and the quaint European houses below, you step into a fairytale the minute you enter the city. Below, see the top ten things to do in this storybook town:
1. Step into the past while visiting a historic Alpine castle. Festung Hohensalzburg (Hohensalzburg Fortress) is a must-see when in Salzburg, if not for the interesting history, then at least for the beautiful views of the Alps. Located in the center of the “Altstadt”, or old town, it can be accessed via tram or by foot (ca. 20 minute uphill walk). Once at the top, you can take an audio-guided tour around the old-fashioned rooms of the castle, followed by a stroll around the outside to see the amazing mountain views. On your way down the mountain, don’t forget to stop by the beer garden at Stieglkeller restaurant for a refreshing radler (the Austrian version of a shandy) and more aerial views of Salzburg.
2. Get your exploring shoes on at the largest ice cave in the world. Eisriesenwelt Werfen, open May 1 – October 26, is simply amazing. Located a short train ride away from Salzburg and nestled high up in the Alps, this cave boasts such ice sculptures and formations that you have never seen before. Good to do in rain or shine – although the views from the outside of the cave are impressive on sunny days. Bundle up, it’s cold in there!
3. Cheers with lederhosen-clad Austrians in a 400 year-old beer hall. At Augustinerbräu, known as Bräustubl or Müllnerbräu by the locals, you can feel like a real live Austrian. Pick up your beer stein, fill it up to the brim with mouth-watering Austrian beer, and join the rest of the locals in the massive indoor beer hall or the beautiful beer garden outside. Grab some sausage or sauerkraut from one of the many food stands, and you’re good to go. If you’re lucky, a brass band might be there as well! (And if you want your own lederhosen or dirndl to make sure you really fit in, check out Trachtenwelt, located at Judengasse 4 in the Altstadt).
4. Sing “Do-Re-Mi” as you frolic around Mirabell Gardens. Who doesn’t love the Sound of Music? Mirabell Palace and Gardens, built in the 17th century, showcases the beautiful baroque gardens where the Do-Re-Mi scene was filmed in the famous movie. Run around the fountain, sprint through the leaf-covered tunnel, or hop up and down the piano-like steps as you take in the lovely gardens around you. (If you would like to take a Sound of Music tour to see all the film locations in Salzburg and the surrounding area, I would recommend Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour to see the sites by bike or Salzburg Panorama Bus Tours to see more sites outside of the city.) And if you are not a Sound of Music fan, the gardens are definitely still worth a visit. They are beautiful!
5. Slide down a slippery chute into a 7,000 year old underground salt mine. At the Hallein Salt Mines, another short train ride from Salzburg, you can explore one of the oldest mines in the world. Journey underground to discover the importance of salt for the city of Salzburg (Salz = salt), and cross the border into Germany below the earth. This excursion is made better by the head-to-toe white outfit you are supposed to wear, the little train you ride on into the mine, and the two slides you get to slide down deeper into the earth – fun for people of all ages!
6. Stroll down Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s fanciest shopping street. For shoppers and non-shoppers alike, Getreidegasse shouldn’t be missed. It offers cobblestone streets, quaint shops, the house where Mozart was born, cafes, and more. See if you can find one of the locals’ most beloved Austrian sausage stands, famous for its “bosna” sausage, located down one one of the side alleys (“Balkan Grill Walter”).
7. Climb every mountain. Salzburg lies at the base of the Alps, and therefore offers many opportunities for hiking and mountain-climbing for the more adventurous among you.
1. Zwölferhorn is a mountain about 30 minutes outside Salzburg, in the Salzkammergut region. Don’t miss this! You can get to the top via gondola or hiking (ca. half a day up and down) and you will be rewarded with the most breathtaking views of Alpine lakes and glaciers you have ever seen. If you don’t have a car, there is a bus that leaves from the street side of Mirabell Palace.
2. Schafberg is another favorite, although a much more challenging hike (3-4 hours, but steep!). If you are not a hiker, you can take the cog train up the mountain, and once at the top, you can even spend the night in a hotel on a cliff! Both Zwölferhorn and Schafberg have restaurants at the top, so if you do make the climb, you can enjoy some much-earned Austrian food and beer. I suppose those of you who rode up can also have some food!
3. Untersberg is good for those travelers who want to stay closer to the city. Only a 25 minute bus ride (Bus Number 25) from the Altstadt, it can easily be done in an afternoon. A gondola takes you to the top, which is once again complete with a restaurant!
4. Kapuzinerberg, although not really a mountain, is a nice little insider tip. It’s a small hill off Linzergasse Street (through a stone archway on the left side if you are looking towards the river), and, although steep, you can make it to the top in ten minutes. It can also be accessed via steps on Steingasse. Once there (probably huffing and puffing from the steepness!), you’ll have a beautiful aerial view of the city and of Untersberg next to the castle.
5. Mönchsberg, the mountain on which the castle stands, also offers great Salzburg views. You can walk up the steps near “Toscaninihof“, take an elevator to the top or , from the castle, walk behind the castle to the right (facing away from the city) to the other side of the mountain. On the opposite side of the castle, restaurant M32 (rather fancy) and Stadtalm (typical Austrian fare) are great places to grab a bite and just gaze out at the rooftops, river and mountains. Make sure it’s a clear day/night, though, or the mountains seem to just disappear!
8. Visit Hallstatt, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Hallstatt is so beautiful that the Chinese actually made their own “Hallstatt” in China – an exact replica of the tiny Austrian town. With sixteenth-century Alpine houses and a picturesque Alpine lake, you’ll feel like you walked into a storybook. Don’t forget to check out the Gothic church, complete with a room full of skulls from floor to ceiling. Located in the Salzkammergut region, Hallstatt can be accessed via car or bus. Panorama tours also offers trips to the region.
9. Eat and drink like an Austrian. From Wienerschnitzel (thin pork/veal breaded cutlet) to Schweinsbraten (roast pork) to Kasnocken (Austrian mac and cheese with onions), the Austrian fare is delicious. Some great Salzburg restaurants are:
1. Bärenwirt – Founded in 1663, Bärenwirt boasts the best fried chicken (“Backhendel”) you’ll ever have. And if you don’t like fried chicken, there’s plenty of other great Austrian fare to be consumed at one of the oldest restaurants in Salzburg.
2. St. Peter’s Stiftskeller – If you thought Bârenwirt was old, St. Peter’s Stiftkeller is even older. First mentioned by one of Charlemagne’s liegemen in 803, it is the oldest restaurant in Europe. While rather on the expensive side, at least you can say you’ve dined where Charlemagne’s people once did!
3. Sternbräu and Die Weisse – Both these restaurants offer typical Austrian fare. Good food, good beer, good atmosphere. Die Weisse has a wonderful littler beer garden when the weather is warm, and Sternbräu was recently remodeled and is right near the Altstadt.
St. Peter’s Stiftskeller
10. And now you’ve earned it! Take a break from your sight-seeing and take part in the Austrian tradition of “Kaffee und Kuchen” (coffee and cake). Salzburg has many wonderful cafès, but some good ones to check out are:
1. Cafe Würfel Zucker – For those of you with a sweet tooth, Cafe Würfel Zucker (“Cafe Sugar Cube”) offers every kind of strudel imaginable!
2. Mozartswohnhaus – If you are a Mozart fan, you can enjoy a nice cup of coffee in the house where Mozart grew up (not to be confused with Mozarts Geburtshaus, where he was born).
3. Cappomio – With an Italian flair, Cappomio offers all kinds of coffee, tea and juices, as well as a light lunch and many desserts.
4. Fingerlos – A more traditional Austrian cafè, you will find many of the locals here. With a counter showcasing the most delectable cakes imaginable, Fingerlos is a good stop on your trip.
And there you have it! Enjoy your time in Salzburg, and if you have any more tips to add to the list, write them in the comments below! Auf wiedersehen!
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Image Credit: http://www.eisriesenwelt.at/ www.augustinerbier.at https://www.salzwelten.at/en/hallein/saltmine/ Salzburg: Getreidegasse | by zug55 m32.at http://www.cityscouter.com/travelguides/salzburg/Monchsberg.html Austria.info http://www.stpeter-stiftskeller.at/ www.tripadvisor.com http://media05.myheimat.de/