Oh, Salzburg. This town, nestled at the foot of the Austrian Alps, is a fairy tale. Go out of your way to visit, if you can. Go ahead and move here, actually.
The drive from Vienna took almost three hours, so we had about a half a day to explore this gorgeous Medieval town before we drove to Munich the next morning. We could have spent a week here. Fortunately, it was relatively warm (for November), so we happily spent most of the day out and about, retracing the steps of Mozart and the Von Trapp family.
We recommend staying right in the Altstadt area (“Old Town”) to get the full experience. If you’re willing to splurge, go for the historic Hotel Goldgasse. We opted for the Hotel Markus Sittikus, across the bridge in the “New City.” It was fairly inexpensive and about a ten-minute walk from Old Town (but nothing to write home about).
Here’s what we did and what we suggest if your time is limited in this enchanted city:
12pm: Explore the Mirabell Gardens and the Altstadt
Spend the first couple of hours getting acclimated and strolling around the Mirabell Gardens and across the bridge to the Old Town (“Altstadt”) area of Salzburg. Don’t miss Mozart’s birthplace, the Residenzplatz, the Salzburg Cathedral, and St. Peter’s Abbey and the cemetery behind it. Grab a pick-me-up at Cafe Tomaselli, just around the corner from the Residenzplatz, and spend some time getting lost in the cobblestone streets.
2pm: Hike up to the Festung Hohensalzburg
Head up the hill behind Old Town towards the fortress. The views from the top are completely worth the climb. On your way up, you can follow the signs and detour to check out the convent (Stift Nonnberg) where the Von Trapps hid from the Nazis in at the end of Sound of Music. Check out the museum inside the fortress, but make sure to leave plenty of time to take in the view from the balconies surrounding it. The front of the fortress offers views of the entire city of Salzburg and the countryside beyond it. On the back side, grab a cup of mulled wine or coffee and take in the staggering Austrian Alps. Win-Win.
5pm: Roam through the Christmas market at the Residenzplatz
The picturesque Christmas markets in Salzburg open in the middle of November. We loved the market at the Residenzplatz, a baroque square situated in the middle of the Alstadt. Order a crepe, and do a little Christmas shopping while listening to carolers and laughing children. If you haven’t filled up on brats and hot chocolate, head down the road to grab dinner at Bärenwirt for huge (and I mean HUGE) portions of hearty Austrian food.
8pm: See a Mozart Concert
What better way to experience the magic of Salzburg that hearing a tribute to the man who made it famous? We bought €20 tickets to see a string quartet play at the Mozartium. Did I (Ruth) fall asleep? It doesn’t matter. Who can blame me for enjoying the perfectly relaxing music? The point is that the music was beautiful, the fortress was lit up in the background, and perhaps one day I will learn how to master jet lag.
10pm: Make like a monk and grab a brew at Augustiner Braustubl
You must end your night here. This gigantic beer garden used to be a monastery, and Augustinian monks were the first ones to brew beer within its halls. I’m sure that tourists overrun this place during the high season, but we were surrounded by Austrians getting their Monday night drank on with coworkers. Eat before you get there because the food tastes like it’s been on a heater since the 17th century. The beer, however, is fantastic. When you walk in, grab a stein, wash it off, and hand it to the bartenders who won’t stop filling it under the barrel until beer is spilling all over your Frye boots.