Steeped in a fabulously rich cultural past, the picturesque Austrian city of Salzburg is brimming with unique things to see and do.
The city’s heritage is most deeply interlinked with classical music, with famed composer Mozart having been born here. Geographically, it is divided by the Salzach River, with medieval and baroque buildings of the pedestrianised Altstadt (Old City) burrowed below steep hills on its left bank and the 19th-century Neustadt (New City) on its right. On both sides of this boundary, visitors will find no end of attractions, and here’s our pick of the best.
Visit a stunning country house
Who said aristocrats don’t have a sense of humour? In the early 17th century, Markus Sittikus, the archbishop of Salzburg, had the idea of transforming the vast gardens of Schloss Hellbrunn, his grand summer playhouse, into a place of mirth and merriment – for him, at least. With the palace built over natural springs, the archbishop decided to outfit the gardens with fountains that would sporadically shoot water at unwitting guests. With some built into guests’ seats, one can imagine the comical results. Hellbrunn remains almost completely unchanged nearly 400 years later, complete with trick fountains along with an incredible Mechanical Theatre, added in 1750, and displaying a bustling baroque town with 200 moving figures, repeating their clockwork motions to water-powered organ music.
Fürstenweg 37 / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
In a country not short of magnificent homes and palaces, Schloss Mirabell is one of the finest, attracting huge numbers of visitors each year. It was once frequented by Mozart and his family, who used the palace as inspiration for creating music, while its baroque pleasure gardens also featured heavily in the legendary movie The Sound of Music. To this day the palace attracts thousands of fans who come to witness where the Von Trapp Family became immortalised on the silver screen. There’s also an on-site theatre which, during summertime, serves as the venue for folk-heritage events and other special events.
Mirabellplatz HOURS Mon-Sun 8am-6pm
Explore Mozart’s former homes
Of all the city’s Mozart-related landmarks, perhaps the most resonant is Hagenauer Haus, the house in which he was born on 27 January 1756. Now one of the most frequently visited museums anywhere in the world, no other place makes the person behind the artist Wolfgang Amadé Mozart and his music as palpable as the site in which he entered the world – before changing it forever. While exploring the museum’s three stories of exhibition space, visitors learn details of Mozart’s life – the domestic circumstances in which he grew up, when he began to play music, who were his friends and patrons, his relationship with his family, his passion for opera, and much more.
Another former residence of the great Amadeus, the Tanzmeisterhaus, can be found on the Markatplatz and has also been converted into a museum. Where Mozart lived as a young man, from age 17 to 24, the building is also known as the Dancing Master’s House. It was destroyed during the bombing raids of the Second World War, before eventually being rebuilt in 1996. Today it displays a huge range of artefacts dedicated to the composer’s life, ensuring the spirit of Mozart still burns brightly for those who wish to continue celebrating his incredible life and career.
Join a private food tour
Complementing Salzburg’s magnificent cultural heritage is a rich culinary scene that similarly dates back centuries. One of the best ways to discover this foodie landscape is by joining the kind of organised tour run by Salzburg-Experience, a renowned local company that organises themed Salzburg tours. Among them is the Private Salzburg Food Tour, during which your select group of family or friends will be shown around the best cultural sites of the Old Town, stopping off for authentic food tastings in several indoor eateries and markets. Along the way your expert guide will regale you with stories and historical background about the city’s food culture. Tours end in a notable local restaurant or coffee house.
Take a trip out to a rural paradise
The resort area of Salzkammergut is a popular day-trip destination for visitors to Salzburg. Stretching eastwards from Salzburg along the Austrian Alpine Foreland and the Northern Limestone Alps, extending to the peaks of the Dachstein Mountains, it oozes natural beauty and charm, with its numerous lakes flanked by pretty small towns and villages. Some are surrounded by rolling hills, others by tall mountains, and many still recall the glory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with their historical buildings boasting ornate façades. The area is still popular with Europe’s aristocrats and moneyed elite, many of them owning hideaways far off the tourist trail. Whether basking in the sun by the lakes or hiking secluded trails, the Salzkammergut captivates all who visit.
Discover a world-class museum
Salzburg’s rich legacy of arts and culture can be seen across the city, but nowhere more so than at the DomQuartier UNESCO World Heritage Site, an expansive Baroque architectural complex containing a cathedral, an Abbey and five separate museums. Housed within one of them – the famous Dom Museum – is the Kunst und Wunderkammer, a lovingly-restored collection once belonging to the Archbishops Max Gandolf von Kuenburg und Guidobald von Thun. Here, visitors will find a huge assortment of intriguing, esoteric items including stuffed animals, fossils, scientific devices and rock crystal grinding works, all nestled within their original cabinets and arousing curiosity among all who see them.
DomQuartier, Residenzplatz Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
In an age of selfie sticks and digital cameras, the traditional ‘panoramic painting’ seems somewhat antiquated. In Salzburg, however, visitors come in their droves to observe a masterclass of the genre, offering a unique insight into everyday life in the city two centuries ago. Nestled in the Old City, the Panorama Museum is home to a huge variety of large-scale paintings by Hubert Sattler, a widely-travelled painter who captured unusual views of cities and landscapes during the 19th century. But the museum’s centrepiece attraction is a giant circular painting – 26 metres in circumference – presenting Salzburg and its environs in all of their bygone glory.
Residenzplatz Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Enjoy a music and cooking class combo tour
In Salzburg, it’s not just the hills that are alive with the sound of music, but the entire city, with numerous landmarks ensuring this musical legacy continues to burn brightly. Visitors can tap into this heritage and also enjoy a unique culinary experience with the Music Tour & Edelweiss Cooking Class combo package. Run by Panorama Tours, guests follow the traces of the Trapp Family, stopping off at famous filming locations while your guide entertains you with background stories about the making of one of the most famous musicals ever. Later you’ll join the 1.5-hour Edelweiss cooking class where you’ll learn how make your own apple strudel, as well as Salzburg’s iconic dessert “Salzburger Nockerl”, an airy and light soufflé representing the three mountains surrounding the city.
Attend a fun-packed festival
Every summer, the Salzburg Festival transforms the city into one giant stage, drawing around a quarter-of-a-million visitors from around the globe. Established in 1920, the festival has grown to become an internationally-acclaimed showcase of culture, featuring a broad artistic program that spans opera, drama and concerts and incorporates everything from modern works and classical interpretations to avant-garde experimentation. Among the main highlights each year is the annual performance of the play Jedermann by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, founder of the Salzburg Festival.
While Salzburg’s heritage of high culture is never less than fascinating, a touch of respite is also a good thing. Step forward Winterfest, which has earned global renown in the contemporary circus world and is now the biggest festival for modern circus artistry in the German-speaking region. Around 30,000 visitors descend on the city every winter to be captivated by captivating acrobatics. There’s also gentle poetry and bizarre tales, along with an exciting fringe program and a wide selection of mouth-watering culinary opportunities.
Dine in Europe’s oldest restaurant
Nestled in the heart of Salzburg’s Old Town within the monastery walls of St. Peter’s Archabbey, St. Peter Stiftskulinarium is widely claimed to be Europe’s oldest restaurant, dating back over 1,200 years. As one may expect, its walls have plenty of stories to tell, including the time it was forced to close due to Napoleon’s invasion. Spread across 11 distinct dining rooms, it has hosted countless dignitaries over the years, including cardinals, kings, and, in more modern times, former US President Bill Clinton and Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood. Today it is most regularly frequented by tourists drawn by its fabled history – not to mention its excellent brasserie-style food. The restaurant also hosts weekly Mozart-themed dinners with staff and musicians fully kitted out in period costumes.
Sankt-Peter-Bezirk Mon-Sun 11.30am-11pm
Check out a fascinating transport collection
An airport hangar would not ordinarily feature on a list of recommended tourist attractions – but this is no ordinary airport hangar. Owned by the founder of energy drink company “Red Bull”, Dietrich Mateschitz, Hangar-7 is located at Salzburg Airport and is home to the billionaire’s private vehicle collection, featuring aeroplanes, helicopters and racing cars. Housed under a striking glass dome, the site attracts large numbers of visitors each year who come to marvel at its eye-catching homage to transport. The hangar also hosts regular art exhibitions and there’s a high-end restaurant and two bar areas here too.
Salzburg Airport Mon-Sun 9am-10pm