Salzburg, Austria isn’t typically included when people talk about the top tourist destinations in Europe. However, if you do plan on passing through Austria, or Central Europe in general, Salzburg is undoubtedly a city worth visiting.
While the city is probably most well known as the birthplace of famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, there are so many other things to experience throughout Salzburg. The city is divided down the middle by the Salzach river, with the baroque and medieval architecture of the Altstadt (Old City) on its western bank, and the 19th century Neustadt (New City) on its eastern bank. If you stand on one of the hills overlooking the city, you can see the stark difference between the architectural styles from the different time periods.
While exploring Salzburg is certainly a historical journey, the city also has plenty to offer in terms of great food, live music, and friendly locals who are typically very welcoming towards tourists. It is also probably one of the safest cities in the world, so you won’t have a single worry as you explore all the beautiful sights it has to offer.
Here are the top 8 things to do in Salzburg, Austria:
#1: Fortress Hohensalzburg
In terms of the most visually spectacular sites in Salzburg, Fortress Hohensalzburg is at the top of the list. Upon arriving in the city, this is probably the first thing you’ll notice, as it sits proudly atop a mountain overlooking Salzburg. You can reach the fortress with a short uphill walk from Old City, or by a railway that takes you straight to the entrance.
The original structure was built in 1077, and while it still retains some of its original structures, the majority of what you’ll see is from the early 1500s. Hohensalzburg is the oldest fully preserved castle in Central Europe, and there’s seemingly no end to the amount of history you can learn simply by walking around, taking a guided tour, or by visiting the Fortress Museum located within the walls.
Historical significance aside, Fortress Hohensalzburg is a massive and magnificent structure, and is quite possibly the best place in the city to look out over the Old City and admire the extravagant baroque architecture.
#2: Mirabell Palace and Gardens
Another one of the more surreal features of Salzburg is the Mirabell Palace and Gardens. The grounds are one of the finest examples of baroque landscape design in the entire world. It’s so beautiful, in fact, that it was used as a backdrop for several scenes in The Sound of Music. Mirabell Palace and Gardens is located on the Neustadt side of Salzburg, not far from the Salzach river.
Visitors can enjoy walking around the beautiful landscape of the Gardens and admire its many marble statues and fountains. You can also go up the incredible Grand Staircase and into the Palace, which features the awe-inspiring Marble Hall, which is still used for events and concerts.
You can also check out the aviary, which is used for exhibitions, or get a taste of European baroque art from the 17th and 18th centuries at the Schloss Mirabell Baroque Museum inside the Palace.
#3: Stieglkeller Salzburg
Central Europeans take great pride in their ability to make some of the world’s finest beer, and it would be a shame to visit Salzburg without having a sip or two at Stieglkeller Salzburg. Located in Salzburg’s Old City just below Fortress Hohensalzburg, Stieglkeller Salzburg is a great place to try some fantastic food and experience Central European beer garden culture.
Beer brewing in Salzburg goes back as far as 500 years, and Stieglkeller Salzburg is true to the tradition, while still adding a little modern flair of their own. You can enjoy a Stiegl beer with traditional Austrian dishes such as wiener schnitzel or schweinsbraten, all while taking in views of the beautiful Old City from their outdoor terrace seating.
Stieglkeller Salzburg has the feel of an upscale dining hall, while staying true to the fun and welcoming character of an Austrian beer garden.
#4: Mozarts Geburtshaus
Salzburg’s claim to fame is being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And while the city has so much else to offer, it’s certainly still worth taking a walk over to Mozarts Geburtshaus. Whether or not you’re a fan of classical music, seeing the childhood house of perhaps the most famous composer in history is sure to be a cool experience.
The museum within Mozarts Geburtshaus features interesting mementos from Mozart’s childhood, the young composer’s violin, original scores of his compositions, and more. The museum also offers tours that will teach you all about Mozart’s remarkable life.
Mozarts Geburtshaus also offers you the opportunity to get a sense of what life was like at the time of Mozart’s birth back in 1756, as most of the rooms have been kept as close as possible to their original condition. This site is an absolute must for anyone interested in music or history.
If you visit Mozarts Geburtshaus, you’re already in one of the most splendid areas of Salzburg. Getreidegasse is the heart of the Old City, and is a bustling thoroughfare filled with eye-catching storefronts and beautiful architecture. This is the best place in Salzburg to do some upscale shopping, and maybe even treat yourself to some delicious Austrian ice cream.
The best way to experience Getreidegasse is to let yourself get lost in the many alleys that branch off the main street. You’ll find well-known brands as well as independent vendors, making Getreidegasse the perfect place to pick up a souvenir.
At the eastern end of Getreidegasse, you’ll come to the Kranzlmarkt, where you can see Salzburg’s Town Hall and the medieval houses that surround it.
#6: St. Peter’s Church and Abbey
St. Peter’s is one of the most attractive among Salzburg’s many churches, and the surrounding abbey is a sight to behold all by itself. The abbey served as the home of the Archbishops up until around 1110 and shows just how skilled they were in architecture. The iconic onion-shaped tower of the abbey served as an inspiration for many buildings constructed in Europe after it.
St. Peter’s Church was first completed in 1143, making it one of the oldest churches in Salzburg, as well as one of the most impressive. Between 1757 and 1783, the church was redecorated in the Rococo style, and the robust ornamentation all throughout the church today is absolutely breathtaking.
In the back of St. Peter’s Church lies an impressive burial ground that’s worth taking a walk through. The burial ground is surrounded on three sides by arcades and features elaborate tombs that date back to the 17th century.
If you’d prefer a more modern experience after all your visits to historical sites in Salzburg, it’s definitely worth checking out Hangar-7. Located at the Salzburg Airport, Hangar-7 was designed to be far more than your average airport food court.
Hangar-7 features a revolutionary hydrofoil dome design, and inside, it’s bustling with plenty of things to see and do. There are numerous exhibits showing off airplanes such as a Cobra Helicopter and an Alpha Jet Aircraft, in addition to motorbike and Formula 1 exhibits.
If you happen to be catching a flight at Salzburg Airport and you need to get some refreshments before boarding, Hangar-7 is a phenomenal place to do so. There are rows of bars, restaurants, and cafes, and even the Michelin star restaurant Ikarus.
From stunning views of the Eastern Alps to medieval castles to quality dining, Salzburg is filled with experiences that will satisfy any traveler. While it may be one of the lesser-known destinations in the area, it is absolutely worth visiting. You’re guaranteed to leave Salzburg with photos of beautiful landscapes on your camera, interesting tidbits of history in your brain, and delicious Austrian food in your belly.