Mozart on one corner, Maria on the next – Salzburg’s two biggest exports have made a massive mark on this city, whether you’re into high culture or Hollywood. And Salzburg offers plenty of high notes in terms of sights and setting, with baroque finery, a fortress of your wildest childhood dreams, fountain-splashed parks and a parade of Alpine peaks to explore and admire. Embrace the kitsch, hear classical music of world renown, go off-piste in quiet medieval backstreets, climb a mountain, dip into a modern art gallery, drift from abbey to palace to cathedral, and you’ll fall for a city that moves from urban to outdoors without missing a single beat.
Left Bank: Altstadt
Climb to the high-on-a-hill castle
There are castles and then there are castles, and this medieval fortress, strategically plonked on a hill above Salzburg’s baroque Altstadt, is one to outshine them all. Visits at Fortress Hohensalzburg present a fascinating romp through 900 years of history, whisking you back to when the prince-archbishops ruled the show. Top billing goes to the opulent Golden Hall – so named because of its gilded, coffered ceiling – where classical concerts are held year-round. The ramparts afford grandstand views over the city’s spires and domes to the mountains beyond.
Insider’s tip: You can cheat by taking the lift, but a more memorable approach the fortress is the hike up Festungsgasse, ramping up the anticipation and views!
Contact: 00 43 662 82585851; salzburg-burgen.at
Be floored by baroque finery
Salzburg’s historic centre is so architecturally impressive it has been stamped with Unesco World status, and the jewel in its baroque crown is the DomQuartier. This cultural colossus of a district brings together the copper-domed, lavishly frescoed cathedral, the Residenz palace state rooms and gallery, bankrolled by the prince-archbishops, the Dommuseum’s stash of sacred art, and St Peter’s Abbey, racing you through 1300 years of history.
Insider’s tip: A single ticket gives you access to everywhere, or you can get in with a money-saving Salzburg Card. Check out the website for the latest on events and themed guided tours.
Contact: 00 43 662 80422109; domquartier.at
Get into the Mozart groove
You can’t move for Mozart in Salzburg. Austria’s A-list composer was born and bred here – a fact celebrated at a double whammy of museums. First up is the yellow house on Getreidegasse where he was born in 1756, which explores his early days through instruments, portraits and memorabilia (look out for his miniature violin). On an operatic spin of his residence, you’ll see his original fortepiano. He could play both by the tender age of five!
Insider’s tip: Save by buying a combined ticket for both museums. Intimate chamber concerts of Mozart’s music are held regularly in the lavish baroque Marble Hall at Mirabell Palace.
Contact: 00 43 662 844313; mozarteum.at; Schloss Konzerte chamber concerts schlosskonzerte-salzburg.at
Right Bank: Altstadt
Do a Maria as you cycle the city
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a Julie Andrews – or even if you can’t sing for toffee – Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tours are a blast. The fun-loving guides lead sing-as-you-pedal tours of The Sound of Music film locations, including the Mirabell Gardens of Do-Re-Mi fame, Nonnberg Abbey, and the gazebo at Leopoldskron Palace where Liesl and Rolf croon Sixteen Going on Seventeen.
Insider’s tip: Advance bookings are highly recommended and the 3½-hour tours take place no matter the weather (ponchos are provided for sudden downpours). The meeting point is on Mirabellplatz – look out for the sign just left of the entrance to Mirabell Palace.
Contact: 00 43 65 03 42 62 97; mariasbicycletours.com
Waltz around palace gardens
In terms of photo ops, there’s no finer place to see the fortress hovering above the domes and spires of Salzburg than from the immaculately landscaped gardens of the baroque Mirabell Palace. Bring a picnic and enjoy those wide-screen views as you take a wander through the ornamental rose gardens, parterres and along tree-lined avenues. Folk music bands blast out oompah-pah on summer weekends in the hedge theatre.
Insider’s tip: Sound of Music fan? Then you’ll certainly recognize the steps where the von Trapps practised Do-Re-Mi, the Pegasus fountain and the Dwarf Garden.
Contact: 00 43 662 80720; salzburg.info
Walk along medieval Steingasse
Just back from the river, tucked-away Steingasse is one of the city’s most endearing back alleys. The twisting lane’s cobblestones, arches and slender, pastel-hued houses have changed little since medieval times when potters, tanners and dyers plied their trade here. Back then it was the main north-south route through the mountains to Italy. The alley is at its prettiest in the soft light of morning or when lantern lit by night.
Insider’s tip: Right at the start of the lane (close to the Imberg steps threading up to the wooded peak of Kapuzinerberg), look out for a plaque commemorating one-time resident Joseph Mohr, the lyricist of the Christmas carol Silent Night.
See marionettes perform on a miniature stage
Puppets just for kids? Not at Salzburg’s Unesco World Heritage Marionette Theatre, where puppeteers perform marionette magic with such finesse you barely notice the strings. The costumes and stage sets are every bit as intricate as in a real theatre, and the repertoire leaps from classics like The Sound of Music to Mozart’s Magic Flute and family favourites like Peter and the Wolf.
Insider’s tip: Arrive in plenty of time to appreciate the neo-baroque beauty of the building. The theatre is surprisingly grand, with stucco, chandeliers and even a miniature red curtain!
Contact: 00 43 662 872406; marionetten.at
Admire cutting-edge art on a clifftop
A lift whizzes up to 540m Mönchsberg, whose sheer cliffs rise like a theatre curtain above Salzburg. Sitting astride this modest peak is the Museum der Moderne, which presents a cracking line-up of contemporary art exhibitions in a stark white-marble rectangle. There are free guided tours at 6.30pm on Wednesdays. For fabulous views across the city to the fortress, check out the terrace at M32 café and restaurant.
Insider’s tip: The gallery is only the beginning. Go for a stroll up here and you’ll encounter a number of public art works. Or hike all the way to the Augustiner Bräustübl beer hall, taking the woods and dreamy mountain views in your stride.
Contact: 00 43 662 842220351; museumdermoderne.at
Hitch a ride to the Alps
Getting from the city to the peaks is a breeze in Salzburg, where the sensational Alpine backdrop will have you itching to head into the hills. At 1972m above sea level and grazing the German border, Untersberg is high enough for a proper mountain fix, with walking trails, paragliding and mountain lodges dishing up hearty Austrian grub in summer, and skiing and snowshoeing in winter. There are phenomenal views of the Berchtesgaden Alps and Salzburg from above.
Insider’s tip: Bring sensible footwear if you’re planning on hiking. It’s a quick and easy stroll to the cross-topped viewpoint at Salzburg Hochthron (1853m). Memorable half-day hikes include the one to the Schellenberger ice caves over the border in Bavaria.
Contact: 00 43 6246 724770; untersbergbahn.at
Enjoy a regal soaking at Hellbrunn
The trick fountains are the icing on the fantastical baroque cake at Schloss Hellbrunn, the grand 17th-century summer palace where Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus gave flight to his humorous fantasies. Go on a day when the sun’s out and you won’t mind when you get drenched in the shell-bedecked grotto, mock Roman ruins and water-driven mechanical theatre. Hook onto one of the half-hourly tours.
Insider’s tip: The landscape gardens are delightful, sprinkled with fountains and sculptures and lawns perfect for summer picnics. Keep an eye out for the Sound of Music pavilion of Sixteen Going on Seventeen fame.
Contact: 00 43 662 8203720; hellbrunn.at