Salzburg’s setting is quite something to behold. Surrounded by mountains, divided by the curving Salzach River, this historic city in eastern Austria has an exquisite old town that more than holds its own against a dramatic Alpine backdrop. The magnificent 11th-century Fortress Hohensalzburg lords it over the Altstadt (old town), looking down on a sprinkling of spires and handsome medieval townhouses. One of these stands out as the birthplace of Mozart, whose presence you’re not allowed to forget in Salzburg. Frankly, he’s everywhere—from Mozart rubber ducks to those addictive little Mozartkugeln chocolate balls you see in enticing displays in shop windows. But even the schmaltz has a certain classiness to it, surrounded as it is by such immaculate prettiness.
Mozart is also a star of the Salzburg Festival, which marks its 100th anniversary in 2020 and is one of the biggest summertime tourist attractions in Salzburg. And where Mozart leaves off, The Sound of Music takes over. The 1965 Hollywood take on the Von Trapp family story was shot in and around Salzburg, attracting fans from all over the world ready to follow in the fleet footsteps of Julie Andrews. And to add to all the fun, Salzburg brews some of the best beer in Europe. City breaks to Salzburg aren’t complete till you knock back a giant stein at a beer hall, preferably with a wurst or a pretzel in hand.
Austrian cuisine takes the word “hearty” to a new level, with meat in all its forms the star of the show. While some vegetarian options—such as risottos and pumpkin soup—are on most menus, carnivores are catered for royally here. Expect generous portions of Wienerschnitzel—breaded pork, veal, chicken or even turkey—along with the traditional Austrian tafelspitz, a hefty dish of boiled beef and root vegetables with a large dollop of horseradish. Tender chunks of goulash usually appear on menus too, borrowing from Austria’s Hungarian neighbours.
Salzburg isn’t exactly lacking in traditional restaurants where you can try all of the above, as well as delicious beefy soups and lighter consommés. For a cosy dinner, sit under the vaulted ceiling of Zum Fidelen Affen and tuck into their huge plate of grilled pork steak, or chicken that’s been braised in dark beer. Along the same street, the pedestrianized Linzer Gasse, is the equally warm Gabler Bräu, where you can feast on venison stew or grilled river fish.
If you’re after more sophisticated takes on Austrian classics, head to the Imlauer Sky Bar. Here in this airy rooftop restaurant you can have delicate bowls of beef consommé with truffle ravioli, or a truffle pasta laced with mushrooms and garlic. When the weather warms up, tables are set on the roof terrace that surrounds the restaurant, and the city views are wonderful all year round. It’s also one of the places to attempt to finish one of Salzburg’s most famous desserts, the Salzburg nockerl. This enormous soufflé has three mounds to signify the three mountains that ring Salzburg, so make certain you’re dining with at least two other friends to help you finish it.
Having a sweet tooth comes in handy in Salzburg, especially with all those tempting displays of Mozartkugeln everywhere. These balls of marzipan, pistachio and nougat are covered in chocolate and were first made by Paul Fürst. While other confectioners jumped on the bandwagon, you can still enjoy the original in the various Fürst cafés and shops around the city.
One of the most pleasurable things to do in Salzburg is to linger over a coffee and a cake—preferably a rich, chocolatey sachertorte—in a coffeehouse. Café Bazar has relaxing views of the river to go with its selection of snacks and cakes, and in the centre of the Altstadt, Café Tomaselli has been a popular Salzburg meeting point for 300 years.
After the sweet, it’s time for the savory, preferably foaming steins of Salzburg beer in the cavernous Augustiner Bräu brewery. This enormous beer hall and brewery is a Salzburg institution: first you collect your ceramic stein and fill it up from the beer pumps, then head to the many food stalls offering everything from wurst to roast pork.
After all that food, Salzburg offers many entertaining ways to work it off. You can join an official tour of The Sound of Music locations in and around Salzburg, but it’s just as amusing to do it yourself. Start in the Mirabellgarten, the landscaped gardens in front of Mirabell Palace where Maria led the Von Trapp children merrily around the fountain singing “Do-Re-Mi.” Near Salzburg Cathedral is the atmospheric St. Peter’s Cemetery, where the family nervously hid from the Nazis. Hike up the hill to the Nonnberg Convent where Maria—both the film and real versions—was a novice nun.
Ask any Salzburger about The Sound of Music and they’ll tell you how much the film differs from the real story, and how the movie was never a hit in Austria. Discover this for yourself at the Sound of Music World, which is at the upper end of the main shopping street, Getreidegasse. Here you can find out the true story of the Von Trapp family without the many liberties taken in the film.
While you’re at the Nonnberg Convent, you can visit the Hohensalzburg Fortress and soak up sublime views of the city and the countryside. There’s a funicular that takes you straight there if you don’t want to trek up the hill. But once you reach the fortress, follow the locals as they stroll along the beautiful footpath that eventually leads to the fascinating collection of contemporary art at the Museum der Moderne overlooking the city.
You don’t have to be a Mozart fan to enjoy a visit to his birthplace, which is in a handsome townhouse above a Spar supermarket, of all things, on the main shopping street of Getreidegasse. Mozarts Geburtshaus has recreated interiors of when the composer and his family lived there in the mid-18th century, and displays priceless artefacts and compelling details of what their lives were like.
Hotel & Villa Auersperg is a stylish hotel with a separate annex for apartments. Its modern rooms are thoughtfully designed, with a delightful mingling of the decades in its furnishings. The rooftop spa is as lovely as the large courtyard garden where a bar sets up in the summer. Its excellent organic breakfasts are included in the room rate.
If you want to stay in the Altstadt, the Radisson Blu is a pretty pink concoction in the heart of things. Traditional rooms have all the wooden beams, parquet floors and polished wooden furnishings you would expect from this 14th-century building.