Salzburg lies at the intersection of Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Munich. For many travelers, the city of Mozart is a stopover, and that's what Salzburg is perfect for. Despite the many daytrips destinations surrounding Salzburg, Salzburg is a great place to explore in a day or even in a few hours.
In this article, you will find out about the must-do and must-see attractions and activities during your time in the city of Salzburg. All of these must-see places are within a few minutes walking from each other.
If you are a backpacker, chances are, you are arriving from the train station, or you get off a bus (from the airport or the international bus terminal in the south) at Mirabell square.
Either way, you are walking distance from the historic center and set up to explore.
While the old town on the left side of the river is part of the UNESCO world heritage, Mirabell Palace is the only attraction on the right side of the river listed as a cultural heritage monument.
To understand Salzburg, you have to know that the river's right side was where the lower class people were living. In contrast, the left side of the river was archbishops' territory.
However, the palace on the right side of the river was a countryside residence, still outside of the city walls when it was built in 1606. Nowadays, the marble hall at the palace is famous for weddings, but the rest of the building is the city government. Therefore, you may attempt to get a glimpse at the marble hall. It's usually open, and it's free. Otherwise, Mirabell is about the garden. Take a look around before crossing the river!
Besides becoming more and more famous as the Sound of Music's filming location, Salzburg is most well known for being the birthplace of Mozart. Mozart's birthplace is also located in the most famous shopping street in Salzburg.
Therefore, there is no way around the birthplace. I wouldn't necessarily go to the museum unless you get a Salzburg Card (more on that at the end of this article). The museum in the birthplace is overrated and pricey. But stroll down Getreidegasse shopping street, look at the yellow facade of the building where Mozart was born, and if you want to know more, visit the Free Walking Tour Salzburgs Blog to read about the birth of Mozart and maybe even join a Free Tour in Salzburg to get more insights on Mozart!
Another iconic place related to Mozart is the Mozart statue at the square of the same name. You find Mozart square at the end of Getreidegasse, minutes away from the birthplace. That's where you certainly want to click that selfie. Now Salzburg was not always the city of Mozart.
The people of Salzburg forgot about the genius for a while after his death in 1791. Only for the 50th anniversary of Mozart's death did they remember and commemorate him by erecting a statue.
A statue that is notorious for being inaccurate. Mozart was left-handed, only 1,50 meters tall, and even his sister said that his god-given talent in music doesn't match his appearance.
Salzburg was independent, owned by the catholic church, and ruled by archbishops until the 19th century. Therefore, there are more than twenty churches in the tiny area that is the old town. However, none of them even comes close to the magnificence of the Salzburg Cathedral.
The Salzburg cathedral was the first baroque church in what is Austria today. The cathedral is magnificent, not like many other baroque churches because of gold ornaments. In fact, it's relatively simple, but the size, the paintings, and the three-dimensional stucco will take your breath away.
Built by Italian architects, the cathedral is part of why Salzburg is also known as the Rome of the North. Salzburg first imported baroque art from Italy. Besides being the center of religion and art, the cathedral is also where every cultural event happens. The Christmas market, traditional festivals, the Red Bull x alps, music festival, and more happen on the squares surrounding the cathedral.
The Hohensalzburg fortress, the cities landmark, towers above the roofs of the old town. While "Salz" in German means salt and salt was why the archbishops were rich, the word "Burg" in German means fortress. Therefore, the fortress is the most prominent landmark of Salzburg and part of the namesake.
When visiting, you either take the funicular, which is an attraction by itself or climb the Festungsberg mountain on foot. Inside the fortress, you find several museums, restaurants, churches, and even art galleries, but an essential part of the experience is the views. In the old town, the view is blocked by Mönchsberg, one of the city mountains. But from the fortress, you get a perspective beyond the city and thereby a picture of the alps.
Besides the culinary experiences I recommend in this article, the fortress is the only activity that requires you to pay. It's therefore not a must if you are on a budget. A substitute would be a walk along Mönchsberg mountain from where you get similar views. More on that later. And if you want to go all-in on sightseeing in Salzburg, you might want to get a Salzburg Card. More on that at the end of this article or on this article on the Salzburg Card.
Saint Peter's Abbey is the place where Salzburg was founded in 696. The abbey is still active today and is the oldest continuously active monastery in the German-speaking region. While you can't visit the Benedictine Abbey itself, the church and the cemetery of Saint Peter's are must-sees sights in Salzburg.
The church of Saint Peter's unites centuries of art history. At the same time, the cemetery is known as one of the oldest and most beautiful graveyards in Europe. Furthermore, like so many other places in the old town, the cemetery is known as one of the Sound of Music's filming locations. But don't let Hollywood fool you. They were not allowed to film at the cemetery and therefore rebuilt it in a Hollywood set.
Austrian street food is sausages. Sausage stands are everywhere. Some of them open during the day and others only at night. Therefore, you get sausages at any time of the day. You would find those sausages anywhere in Austria. In fact, Vienna is much more famous for its sausage stand culture. There is, however, one specialty you only find in Salzburg. One dish typical to my hometown.
What I am talking about is Bosna. Bosna was invented in the 1950s by a Bulgarian at the Augustiner brewery in Salzburg (which is, by the way, the largest beer hall in Austria). Bosna is like a hotdog with two sausages. Still, it contains raw onions and curry powder, which is not typical to Austrian food. Initially, it also had a Bulgarian name, which natives had a hard time remembering.
Therefore, and because Bosna was a fusion of eastern and Austrian food, people have given the newly invented dish the name of Bosna (or Bosnia), a Balkans country even if the origins of Bosna had nothing to do with the Balkans.
The newly invented street food dish quickly gained popularity. Therefore, its inventor, after a year of serving Bosna at the brewery, opened his street food booth in Getreidegasse. That's where you should go to get one. And you might want to read these articles on the Free Walking Tour Salzburg Blog if you fancy more information on the best street food in Salzburg or more information on Bosna in particular.
Austrian or Viennese Coffee Houses are far more than mere places to get your caffeine boost. The author Stefan Zweig called them democratic clubs where, for the price of a cup of coffee, you could participate in discussions, playing, and writing. For artists like him, coffee houses in the 19th century emerged as their office as well as their extended living room.
Now, long gone are the times of artists and intellectuals like Stefan Zweig. Authentic Austrian coffee houses, however, do their best to preserve the spirit of the previous centuries. That's why you might want to stop by an Austrian coffee house during your stay in Salzburg.
But while Vienna is full of historic coffee houses, there are only two options for authentic coffee houses in Salzburg. Cafe Tomaselli is the oldest cafe in Salzburg, dating back to the year 1703. Because of that, it's more of a tourist attraction. It's not where locals would go to but if the oldest coffee house in Salzburg is on your bucket list, go for it!
My favorite is Cafe Bazar. In fact, I would talk about Cafe Bazar on most of my Salzburg Free Tours because it's next to the meeting point. I am not affiliated with them, but the topic of coffee is a passion of mine. You might also want to visit the Free Tour Salzburg Blog for more facts and thoughts on Austrian coffee house culture.
What if you don't drink coffee? Hang on! You might still want to visit an Austrian cafe or at least a pastry shop (which often has similar features).
Except for the historic environment and the coffee (which is, by the way, not the best coffee you find), coffee houses are also recommended if you like sweets. Every coffee house offers a variety of pastries. For example, you might want to visit the Sacher hotel for a piece of the original Sacher cake or Konditorei Fürst for the original Mozart chocolate.
Especially the original Mozart chocolate is worth trying. While the industrially produced Mozart chocolate is available in every supermarket, the original is still hand-made by Fürst and only sold at their shops. Therefore, the original is only available in Salzburg. For more on the Mozart chocolate history, you can read this article on coffee house culture on the Free Walking Tour Salzburg Blog.
I tell each of my guests that Salzburg's city mountains' views are a must-see when visiting. Luckily these mountains are not hard to climb. There are ways to get to the top that doesn't require any climbing at all.
Two mountains surround the old town of Salzburg.
Mönchsberg, the mountain on the left side of the river, the more historic part of Salzburg, is flat once you overcome a hundred meters of elevation. You want to hike along Mönchsberg if you wish to be close to Salzburg's sights and are not up for a real mountain.
As a photographer, I love Mönchsberg for morning photo walks. Suppose you climb the mountain from the north. In that case, you are facing the sun and do not only get gorgeous images but are certainly up for a serene experience as well. During the day, the elevator to the museum of modern art or the funicular mentioned above to the fortress provides a way to reach the top without climbing.
While Mönchsberg on the left side of the river doesn't feel like a real mountain, Kapuzinerberg on the right side does. There are no cheats here. You have to walk every step of the way. Kapuzinerberg is only forest, and despite a hand full of the best panoramic viewpoints in Salzburg, let's you forget that you are in a city at all.
While Kapuzinerberg feels like you are away from the city, yet you are right in the center. While Salzburg pre-2020 became infamous for overtourism, these parts of the town always remain uncrowded. The starting point for a Kapuzinerberg hike is only a minute from the starting point for the Free Walking Tour Salzburg, a most central location next to the main bridge.As with many other topics, we also have an article about the city mountains of Salzburg. Check it out when you are planning your adventure.
The list of must-see things to do in Salzburg is inexhaustible, but I assume your time is limited. If you are lucky and not confined by time, I recommend spending a day in the city and then take as many day trips as possible. In particular, there are three areas you might want to visit on day trips.
You might want to head into the lake district for lakes and mountains and cute villages. The most popular of these cute villages is Hallstatt, which became the most popular place to visit in Austria overall. But there are many more places worth visiting in the Austrian lake district. You might also want to cross the German border to visit Kingslake and/or Hitlers' Eagles Nest in Berchtesgaden. And the third place I can recommend is Werfen where the world's largest Ice Caves are located.
The only place on this list that requires an entrance fee is the Hohensalzburg fortress. What if you want to visit more museums and other paid attractions in the city. If that's the case, you have to look into the Salzburg Card. The Salzburg Card is a 24-, 48-, or 72-hour card that includes all of the entrance fees.
As soon as you visit the fortress and another museum, the entrance fees are more than the price of a Salzburg Card, but the card includes all the museums in a particular time window. Here is an article on the Free Walking Tour Salzburg on how to make the most of your Salzburg Card.
Another example of a Salzburg Card's worth and a recommendation for stunning nature without spending a whole day is the Untersberg Cable car. The cable car is only thirty minutes south of the city and takes you to an elevation of nearly 2000 meters. Here is how to get to the Untersberg Cable Car.
And while the cable car and the bus to reach the cable car would cost you more than 30 euros, the Salzburg Card includes both for about the same price but also includes every museum in the city, the elevator as mentioned earlier to the museum of modern art, the fortress, a river cruise and more.
Article by: Gerhard, the founder and guide at Free Walking Tour Salzburg