I may be a city girl at heart but I’ve always been a sucker for a mountain. It’s true; I’ll take snow-capped peaks and alpine views any day over white sands and palm trees. So it’s no surprise that Salzburg should win me over with its perfect balance of old city charm and outstanding natural beauty.
Austria’s fourth largest city may be best known for Mozart and those iconic hills in ‘The Sound of Music’ but this fairytale city has much more to offer than your standard tourist traps. From fascinating history and architecture to idyllic mountain scenery, here’s everything you need to know to plan your perfect weekend in Salzburg.
The best time to visit Salzburg:
Salzburg is a year-round destination with a hot and busy tourist season throughout the summer months of July and August. April to October is generally seen as the best time for exploring some of the nearby lakes and attractions. But if you don’t mind the cold, the winter months can be beautiful. Plus, visiting in December brings the added bonus of the Christmas markets.
We visited in early March and enjoyed mild weather, fewer tourists and cheaper rates. The only down-side? Some of the nearby attractions are still shut at this time of year, such as the The Eagle’s Nest and organised tours to Hallstatt and other neighbouring towns. But if you’re happy to stick to the city, March is a great time to explore Salzburg without breaking the bank.
Getting around Salzburg:
Salzburg is a fairly small city and the best way to get around is on foot, exploring the charming narrow alleyways and colourful streets as you go.
If you’re planning to visit a few of the main tourist attractions, then it’s worth buying a Salzburg Card for €23, which also gives you free use of public transportation (even to the airport). You can buy a 24, 48 or 72 hour pass from most hotels, attractions or online.
Top things to see and do on a weekend in Salzburg:
A weekend in Salzburg is just enough time to see the city’s main attractions and even to venture a little further out into the mountains. Here’s a few things you can’t miss during your weekend break in Salzburg.
Explore the Old City
Wandering around the narrow alleyways of Salzburg’s historic old town, or ‘Salzburger Altstadt’, is like stepping into a medieval fairytale. Lined with pastel-coloured houses and dotted with church spires, it’s easy to see why this historic city centre has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many of the city’s attractions are based within the Old City itself, including Mozartplatz, Residenzplatz and Salzburg Cathedral. But you could easily spend a few hours just wandering the quaint streets and markets, stopping for the occasional coffee and strudel or window-shopping in one of the many boutique shops.
Visit Salzburg Cathedral
As you make your way around the Old City, it’s impossible not to be struck by the beautiful green dome and towers of Salzburg Cathedral, towering over the city. It’s an iconic symbol of the Old City itself and a must-stop during any visit. For a small donation, you can step inside to admire the magnificent artwork and architecture.
Be sure to spend some time wandering around Domplatz, the Cathedral Square, and the beautiful streets surrounding this area. Salzburg’s rich musical heritage can really be felt here with classical musicians taking busking to a whole new level!
Step back in time at Fortress Hohensalzburg
Dominating the city’s iconic skyline, Fortress Hohensalzburg is one of Salzburg’s most popular attractions and for good reason. This 11th century fortress is the largest preserved castle in Central Europe and can be spotted from pretty much anywhere around the city.
Take the funicular up to the Fortress from the Old City or if you have more time, you can journey up by foot. A basic ticket, including the audio-tour and the funicular to the Fortress, is €12 or is included in the price of a Salzburg Card.
Once at the top, you can explore the rooms of the castle by audio-tour and take in some of the most incredible views of the surrounding mountains and the city below.
Indulge in the Coffee Culture
Coffee Culture may have taken its time coming to the UK but it all started right here in central Europe. For a classic Austrian experience, visit Café Tomaselli – Austria’s oldest coffee house serving up a fine selection of cakes brought to you on a trolley (and a rather eye-watering bill to match…)
Or for something a bit more laid back, 220 Grad has a great, modern vibe and serves up some of the best coffee in town, with its very own selection of roasted beans. The desserts alone are to die for but there’s also a great breakfast menu to start off your day. This little place is quickly gaining popularity though, so be prepared to queue!
Explore Mirabell Palace and Gardens
These world-famous gardens can be found just across the river from the Old City. Entry is FREE and it’s a beautiful place to spend an hour, or so, on a sunny day. As you enter the gates to the gardens, be sure to look back and you’ll be treated to one of the most spectacular views of the Fortress, high above the city.
If you’re a fan of ‘The Sound of Music’, you’ll be sure to recognise the famous steps and fountain, as featured in the film.
The Marble Hall of the Palace is where Mozart used to perform for Salzburg’s royalty. The palace still plays host to some of the city’s finest musicians and, if you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a concert during your visit.
Top tip: The gardens are beautiful all year round but really come to life in the Spring and Summer when the colourful flowers are in full bloom.
Journey to the top of The Untersberg
If you’re lucky enough to get a clear day, then a trip to the top of The Untersberg might just be the highlight of your whole trip. Just a short 40 minute bus ride away (no. 25) and a rather stomach-lurching 10-minute cable ride up the side of a mountain will bring you to the summit of Mount Untersberg. You’ll be rewarded for your bravery with the most incredible panoramic views of the Northern Alps and valleys below.
The cost of the cable car fare is €23.50 therefore if you’re planning a visit to The Untersberg, it’s definitely worth purchasing a 24 hour Salzburg Card for €23. This will also cover your bus fare to the cable car – plus if you combine another attraction on the same day (e.g. Festung Hohensalzburg), you will save even more money!
It really is as jaw-droppingly beautiful as it looks at the top… and as cold! So make sure you wear good shoes and warm clothing if you want to explore. There’s a cafe and restaurant at the cable car centre, where you can warm up with a hot chocolate. Or if you’re looking for something more adventurous, there are a load of activities on offer depending on the time of year – from skiing, hiking and even paragliding.
So there you have it, everything you need to know to plan your perfect weekend in Salzburg. Travelling elsewhere in Europe? Check out my short break itineraries and European travel guides here.