The classic, baroque-styled Salzburg Old Town is layered in history between Salzburg’s rolling hills and mountains. The city looks much like it did when Wolfgang Mozart graced its streets over two and a half centuries ago. Standing atop the towering Gaisberg mountain peak, your gaze will sink into the evergreen valleys and float along the lively Salzach River. There are numerous things to do in Salzburg whether you are a history buff or an outdoor enthusiast; there’s a Salzburg itinerary that’s right for everyone.
There’s even more to Salzburg than Mozart and hiking. Have you ever seen The Sound of Music? Take a Salzburg walking tour down the narrow streets of Salzburg Old Town to find a plethora of locations from scenes of the popular film. Anything from its rapidly growing art scene, to its flavorful traditional food, to the quaint cobblestone roads, to a very happening nightlife; you will notice that your Salzburg itinerary will be packed!
I’ve backpacked around over half of Europe in the span of three years (check out how to travel Europe on a budget), and I still believe the landscape, the European-culture, and its long history makes Salzburg one of the top European backpacking destination. The best advice I can give is to invest in a Salzburg Card which I will talk about later.
Austria is a country geographically placed in south-central Europe. It borders its German neighbors to the north, Italian neighbors in the south, and shares a bit of its border with six other European countries. It is, truly, very well-located for any American tourist backpacking through Europe routes. Its capital, Vienna, is located only four hours to the east of Salzburg. Vienna, together with Bratislava and Budapest, hold the distinction of being the most closely located capital cities in Europe. Any of these capital cities can be easily reached from Salzburg using the European Interrail system. Now, all you need to do is prepare for your trip.
Things to do in Salzburg
There are plenty of things to do in Salzburg that can keep you busy for as long as you want to stay. If you only have 24 hours in Salzburg, you can see Salzburg in a day or stay for a whole week – that’s part of the reason Salzburg makes an excellent stop on anyone’s ‘Euro Trip’.
Here are a few must-see places that should be on everyone’s Salzburg itinerary:
Hohensalzburg Castle – This castle is a huge 11th Century fortress complex on a hilltop with views over Salzburg Old Town all the way to the Austrian Alps. It’s the icon of Salzburg and can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city. The tour of the castle was thorough and is one of the top things to do in Salzburg Old Town. It’s almost impossible to skip this place on a trip to Salzburg, and you shouldn’t!
Hellbrunn Palace – Austrian palaces are absolutely stunning and this one is no different. It was built as a 7th Century Renaissance palace; that’s old! Make sure to check out the botanical garden with grottos and royal fountains. Their sophistication makes them one of the best things to do in Salzburg. It’s even got a theater! By the way, photogs will love this place.
Nonnberg Abbey – Built all the way back in the year 1009, it’s unbelievable to think a building this old is still standing! Nonnberg Abbey is one of the more impressive cathedrals in Austria. It is the oldest continuously existing nunnery in the German-speaking world. The opening scene of The Sound of Music was shot right here where the nuns go to Mass and Maria returns too late.
Hangar-7 – Red Bull fanatics unite! This is the home of the infamous Flying Bulls display team and is an excellent option as far as best day trips from Salzburg go. Salzburg is considered the birthplace of Red Bull. It’s a futuristic building with a plethora of restaurants, bars, and art shows to keep you busy for an entire afternoon. With just one look at the place, you’ll be glad you went.
Mozart, Mozart, Mozart – Any Mozart enthusiasts? Find everything you could ever want to know about Wolfgang (including locks of his actual hair) in his birth home that has been transformed into a museum. If you still haven’t had enough Mozart, check out Mozart Wohnhaus and Mozartplatz. Obviously, as you can tell by the numerous things to do in Salzburg revolving around their beloved famous composer, the city loves Mozart.
Stiegl Brewery – A part of many tour packages offering free admission to numerous things to do in Salzburg. Stiegl certainly isn’t your average brewery tour. You’ll get a lot of included beer here, and that should be a good enough reason to get there during your stay! If you need more incentive, the brewery also has an impressive futuristic video room that threw me for a loop.
Gaisberg – The tallest mountain in the Salzburg area. It’s solid for hiking, paragliding, rock climbing, and cycling. Gaisberg is over 3,600-feet above sea level. A road takes you all the way to the top, so rent a car and make it up there! Hopefully, you’re luckier than me and get clear skies when you’re at the top.
The Sound of Music Tour – While here, you must check out the Salzburg Sound of Music locations. Choose a Salzburg walking tour that fits your budget and see it all. There are more than plenty of tours to choose from that will take you to all of the Salzburg Sound of Music locations. Along with Mozart, Sound of Music is what Salzburgians are most proud of.
Untersberg – The modern Untersberg lift carries you in comfort to the top of Salzburg City’s most legendary local mountain. As you step out of the lift, you will be greeted by imposing views that stretch out to the far horizon. Untersberg is known as the “hometown” mountain of Salzburg. It’s excellent for photos up there, as well.
Mirabell Palace and Gardens – The gardens are where the von Trapp children sang “Do-Re-Mi” in the Sound of Music. Baroque Austrian palaces are one of the many things to do in Salzburg that cannot be missed. It’s listed as a cultural heritage monument and a UNESCO World Heritage site; just to give you an idea of its beauty.
Hallein Salt Mine – My pick for best day trips from Salzburg
I was visiting one of my good friends, Ben, who is a Salzburg native. He spent a week of his time showing me around the best local spots and things to do in Salzburg. However, he also showed me the places that don’t get enough attention from tourists.
One day, he took me to the Hallein Salt Mine. Hallein is a small town right outside of Salzburg – no more than a twenty-minute train ride from Salzburg Old Town. I wasn’t too enthused by the thought of walking around a Salt Mine for an afternoon; however, I completely underestimated it.
It ended up being one of my favorite things we did while I was in Salzburg. Everything from the mountain view you get at the mine, to the ridiculous white lab-coat get-up they make everyone wear to protect your clothes from the salt, to riding 100-foot-long cave slides that take you down into the mountain in the blink of an eye; it is certainly worth a visit as it is one of the best day trips from Salzburg.
I had my “long way from home” moment while we were buried hundreds of feet into the mine where we actually crossed the border into Germany. It was the least secure and simplest border crossing you will ever see but I thought it was a unique experience to cross country borders deep inside a cave.
The Tale of the Tape on Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg is the fourth-largest city in the country of Austria with around 150,000 citizens within its city limits bordering Germany. Salzburg is known worldwide for multiple things. It’s renowned “Salzburg Old Town” is one of the best-preserved city centers in Europe with its baroque architecture. In addition, Salzburg is home to one of the greatest composers of all time; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (as mentioned). Also, if you have ever seen the musical/movie “The Sound of Music”, you will notice that Salzburg is the setting of that film (also mentioned).
What to eat in Salzburg
If you want a taste of the local cuisine further than drinking a Red Bull, try these traditional foods:
A wiener-schnitzel is the Mecca of Austrian cuisine. It’s a large, battered, flattened, breaded and fried slab of veal. Despite what Germans will tell you, wiener-schnitzel comes straight from Austria.
You’ll find all sorts of strudels almost anywhere in Austria. A typical strudel is a pastry which usually has a layer of creamy goodness inside. You can have peanut strudels, chocolate strudels, strawberry strudels… but if you’re in Salzburg, it’d be a sin not to stick with apple or cheese.
Mozart Balls or ‘Mozartkugeln’, as locals call them (good luck pronouncing that), are Salzburg’s signature sweet. Note: They’re extremely addicting so don’t eat one unless you’re committed to eating at least a handful of them afterward.
Pretzel bread – otherwise referred to as a budget traveler’s best friend – is large, filling, and can usually supplement fruit as a perfectly fine budget lunch. You can find pretzel bread anywhere in Salzburg for around $3.50.
Best time to travel to Salzburg
Salzburg is a great place to travel year round. The nearby mountains offer an excellent ski destination in the winter time. In addition, the Salzburg Christmas Market is one of the most popular in Europe.
A Salzburg summer brings with it budding nature, a typically cool climate, and excellent hiking opportunities.
However, my favorite time to visit Salzburg is early fall. Particularly in September and October when there are fewer tourists, lower prices (in the traveling ‘off-season’), and less heat than the summer months.
Where to stay in Salzburg?
Ideally, to maximize your time, try to stay near the Salzburg Old Town. It’s certainly the best place to see Salzburg in a day. However, as summer months can be very busy around the city (especially if you don’t book your accommodation in advance), I found another great neighborhood to stay in is the Linzer Gasse area. It is a pedestrian street with lots of interesting places and less touristy than the old city. Plus, it’s just a short ten-minute walk to Old Town Salzburg.
How to get there/get around:
I used Uber in Salzburg multiple times and found it to be the best way to get to places that may be off the beaten path. It’s very common and easy to find a ride.
If Uber in Salzburg isn’t your thing, the city has a top-notch public transportation system. For most visitor’s Salzburg itinerary, a Single Ride Ticket or a 24-Hour Ticket will suffice, but there are other options available like a Week Long Pass or Salzburg Card.
Personally, I saw it fit to purchase a Salzburg Card at the beginning of my stay in Salzburg. With it, you’ll receive unlimited use of public transport and free access to museums, among many other benefits.
You can purchase a ticket directly from the bus driver when hopping on or find passes at over 130 tobacco shops around Old Town Salzburg.
If you are arriving by train at the Salzburg Central Train Station, I highly recommend sticking to public transport to take you to the Salzburg Old Town. It is a twenty-minute ride by train, but about thirty by car (Uber).
American Survival Guide
Traditional Austrian Meal
A traditional dinner near Salzburg Old Town will cost you nothing out of the ordinary; $10-$12 will usually cover a delicious traditional entrée. I recommend the Augustiner Brewery for an unforgettable night of hometown beers and traditional Austrian dishes.
A Night Out
A beer in the heart of Salzburg Old Town isn’t exactly cheap, but it also won’t break your budget. You can drink as many pints as you’d like for around $3.50-$4 per.
A Bratwurst stand in the middle of Salzburg Old Town will cost you about $5.80 for a nice budget lunch. The price is even a little lower as you get further out from Salzburg Old Town.
Bus or Train
Public transport is fairly inexpensive in Salzburg when compared to other cities more regularly on a backpacking itinerary. It costs $1.20 for a short ride or $2.40 for a regular ride. Alternatively, you can pay $6.70 and get a pass that will give you unlimited rides from Salzburg Public Transport for 24 hours in Salzburg. The pass is not a bad idea for some of the best day trips from Salzburg.
From Salzburg Airport (Innsbrucker Bundesstraße) directly to Old Town Salzburg you can call an UberX for less than $10 – or an Uber Van for the whole family under $20.
An all-inclusive Salzburg Card is the ideal offer to see this city in its entirety. The card is available for 24, 48, or 72 hours.
Salzburg doesn’t have the widest AirBnB selection. Generally speaking, you can usually find an entire apartment in Salzburg Old Town for anywhere from $80-$100 on a nightly basis.
For an individual room, one person can normally find a bed for less than $40 per night.
However, if you journey outside of the heart of the city just a bit, prices drop dramatically and you can find a bed for as cheap as $13.
Austrians are German speakers with their own dialect. Check out this basic German language guide before you go! However, overall, everyone can speak pretty clear English in this region of Europe.
If you want cell service, it’s important to check with your provider about international charges. In addition, it’s always a good idea to alert your provider (and your bank) that you’ll be traveling internationally.
Credit Card Transaction Fees
It’s important to check your credit company’s policy on international transactions before using it abroad. There are plenty of credit cards available that advertise “No International Transaction Fees”. If you want to get a new card before leaving, find one like this.
Things to have before you arrive
It’s not imperative; however, I’ve always found travel much more relaxing when you arrive without a dire need of any essentials. Here are a few of them:
- Electrical Adaptors
- Power Bank
- Offline Map (app)
- Directions to your accommodation
Salzburg – or Austria, in general – is a country a part of the European Union – which means Americans are granted 90-days in a 180-day period to travel freely throughout the E.U. This means if you plan to be in Europe for longer than three months, you should take a look at this.
There are a lot of stereotypes that Americans have adopted over time. There are, also, a lot of stereotypes we have made about Europeans that just aren’t true. For example, not all Austrians are friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger!
With that being said, there are some cultural differences in everywhere you go. Embrace those – they’re the best part about traveling because those differences educate you.
In Austria, tipping is common. A 5% tip is an acceptable amount as waiters tend to make a higher salary in Austria. Be careful that gratuity isn’t already included on your bill!
Discover Salzburg Old Town
Salzburg left a very inviting impression on me and I will certainly be back in the future. If you want to find out more about how to travel Europe on a budget, and all that it has to offer, click on over to our Europe travel blog page dedicated to tips for backpacking Europe and an all-inclusive backpacking Europe packing list! You will find these to be informative, giving you excellent insight into planning a trip through this multi-cultural continent.
Travel Europe with Adam: an American’s Guide to Europe
Adam has been traveling and living abroad, telling stories on his blog Wanderway for the past three years as a digital nomad. He is a perpetual experience-seeker and self-proclaimed adrenaline-junkie. Adam has written two autobiographical novels (or Roman à clef) pulling stories from his iconoclastic lifestyle.