Salzburg has secured a permanent spot on my list of favorite places. The UNESCO-protected city is located fewer than 100 miles from Munich, yet it feels much more removed to me, like a fairytale village untouched by the modern age. Surrounding Salzburg, snow-peaked purple mountains rise above the rooftops, old clock towers, and patinaed church domes. History pervades this special city, as evidenced by the famed Baroque architecture and the enduring sound of classical music gifted to Salzburg by its most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Indeed, the sounds of music are everywhere here. Mozart aside, the Academy Award winning musical drama, The Sound of Music, helped solidify Salzburg as a city with a momentous musical legacy. Filming for the movie, which was based on the lives of the real Captain and Maria von Trapp, was shot in and around Salzburg. Should you find yourself in the city, don’t miss the popular Sound of Music Tour for its little-known trivia and glimpses into some of the film’s original shooting locations, including the manicured Mirabell Gardens, the Hellbrunn Palace, and the Nonnberg Abbey, the latter of which is the oldest of its kind in Europe. The tour also ventures to the lake district, with stops at the Basilica in Mondsee and the charming town of St. Gilgen.
On our last trip to Austria, we spent a few days in St. Gilgen, which is located 30-minutes from Salzburg on the Northern banks of Lake Wolgangsee. Driving to the village, Baroque buildings give way to a patchwork of fields colored citrine and chartreuse. I loved passing all the manicured homes with their window boxes abloom in red, pink, and white flowers. Life in St. Gilgen is unhurried and quaint, yet the town’s scenic landscape and proximity to water make it an attraction for lovers of sports and outdoors. On a sunny day here, the lake is dotted with paddleboards and small boats. Overhead, the candy-colored wings of paragliders turn the sky into a moving canvas. Don’t miss a ride on the Zwölferhorn Mountain Cable car with its soaring views from St. Gilgen peak or a trip on the ferry to the neighboring village of St Wolfgang. Here, you can pick up a carved cuckoo clock among other souvenirs before visiting the famed Pilgrimage Church with its renowned winged altarpiece. I was blown away by this holy site, unprepared for its beauty and ornate detail. Other day trips from Salzburg include a visit to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and to the town of Berchtesgaden (my grandfather stayed in the latter during the war.)
One of the Austrian customs I love most is their distinctive, dapper clothing. Walk into any beer hall or Austrian restaurant and there is a good chance that someone will be wearing a dirndl, lederhosen, or a traditional wool jacket with horn buttons. Dressing well is a cornerstone of the Austrian lifestyle. Shops like Stassny and Dschulnigg offer the best quality should you be looking to purchase your own hunting jacket or traditional dress. Just across the River Salzach from these shops awaits the famed Hotel Sacher, where I consumed a shameful number of Sacher Tortes on my last visit. I like to think of these decadent chocolate cakes as Austria’s equivalent of apple pie – a national treasure to be sure. I highly recommend grabbing a seat in the hotel bar and enjoying a slice of cake while taking in the city views from the river-facing windows. From this perch, you will see the Makartsteg bridge, which is famed for the colorful love locks that hang from it by the thousands. This bridge is testament to the love people have for this special city. After all, Salzburg is a romantic place, with its crowned fortress, tolling church bells, chocolate cakes, and classical music. These things and more compose the song of Salzburg.
– St. Peter’s Abbey + Cemetery & Catacombs: Perhaps the most notable landmark — from the 7th century — and one that demands a few hours of time.
– Honensalzburg Fortress: Crowning the hilltop overlooking Salzburg, this structure, which dates to 1077, is accessible by foot or funicular and offers entry to medieval chambers, a fortress museum, and sweeping views of the city below.
– Hagenauer House: Mozart’s birthplace, which is home to portraits, memorabilia, and Mozart’s own violin and clavichord.
– Mozart Residence: Located in Makartplatz Square, the residence is home to Mozart’s fortepiano among other items.
– Red Bull’s Hangar-7 is made up of 1,754 panes of glass and 1200 tons of steel, all of which encase the historic Flying Bulls aircraft fleet, a collection of Formula One cars, helicopters, modern art, an upscale restaurant, café, two bars, and an outdoor lounge. The hangar also has the original carbon fiber wings used by Felix Baumgartner in 2012 when he became the first person to freefall across the English Channel.
– Mirabell Palace & Gardens: I love this gorgeous garden which is home to the famous Do-Rey-Mi scene from The Sound of Music. It’s a great place to sit with a cup of coffee and take in the flowers and the quiet.
TOURS / DAY TRIPS:
– St Gilgen: Paragliding, Zwölferhorn Mountain Cable car, and dinner at the historic Hotel Gasthof Zur Post, where Mozart’s sister was married (try to secure a private dinner in the wine cellar.)
– St Wolfgang: a more touristy version of St Gilgen but worth it for a stop at the exquisite Pilgrimage Church.
– Eagle’s Nest: A short half day trip from Salzburg, a visit to Eagle’s Nest is a real out-of-body experience. A coach takes you outside of the city and into the vast countryside. I’ll never forget winding up the hairpin roads and loading the original brass elevator for the summit. Gorgeous 360 degree views of the German-Austrian border await.
– Sound of Music Tour: A comprehensive tour of the sites and surrounding towns that were a part of the film and the real life von Trapp family history.
– Schloss Monchstein
– Schloss Restaurant (Located at Hotel Schloss Fuschl outside of Salzburg)
– Restaurant Goldener Hirsch
– The Polo Lounge at The Hotel Bristol: This cozy bar is a great place to post up with a pot of tea or to have a nice dinner in an unfussy, yet intimate setting. Bonus: there’s a great pianist who plays in the bar every weekend.
– Stassny: Located just a stone’s throw from the Hotel Goldener Hirsch, this quaint shop has a solid selection of quality-made dirndls for sale in different fabrics and patterns, along with tailored jackets and men’s apparel. I bought my dirndl here.
– Dschulnigg: Open since 1946, this family-run business has served customers including the Prince of Wales and the Queen mother of Spain. Inside the store, cashmere and wool sweaters are tucked into warm wooden cubbies next to carved hunting plaques, silver hat pins, tailored jackets with horn buttons, and gilded cuff links. This is a special place if you’re looking for something beautiful in quality to take home.
– Goldener Hirsch Hotel: Dating back to 1407, this 5-star, 70-room hotel is conveniently located on the celebrated Getreidegasse Road, tucked amidst quaint shops and lively eateries. The hotel serves authentic Austrian cuisine from its two in-house venues, Restaurant Goldener Hirsch and Restaurant Herzl. Ice cold beer and drinks of all kinds are served in the Bar Goldener Hirsch, a cozy white-walled space accented with warm wood details and stag trophies.
– Hotel Schloss Fuschl: Located just under 30 minutes from town, this is a superlative choice for those looking for quiet respite. The property, which was built in the 15th century as a hunting castle and is perched on a peninsula of Lake Fuschl, is known for its scenic surroundings, serene spa, and the French-Austrian gourmet cuisine of Chef Johannes Fuchs
– Hotel Sacher: This famed hotel, which began in Vienna, is the birthplace of the delicious Sacher Torte. Since its conception in 1832, the recipe for this chocolate cake remains highly guarded by its purveyors. It’s basically a chocolate sheet cake with a thin blanket of apricot jam in the center – it’s divine and not to be missed.
– Hotel Bristol: A family owned hotel on the fringe of the Mirabell Gardens. We stayed here and enjoyed the cozy atmosphere and attentive, friendly concierge.