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How to plan your perfect trip. The top tourist attractions, must-see and things to do in Salzburg.

Salzburg is one of the most fascinating towns in Austria. It’s Mozart’s birthplace, most of The Sound of Music was produced here and of course, there is a beautiful old town just waiting for you to explore. In short, there are quite a lot of things to do in Salzburg. In fact, I ranked it as one of the top day trips from Munich!

The Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria
The Mirabell Gardens

The fourth-largest city in Austria is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997 and the second you see the impressive fortress looming over the Baroque old town of the city you know why. The whole setting just spells perfection and it could be a lovely addition to your Austria itinerary, after or before you continue onwards to Innsbruck (read my guide).

And the best part: Almost all of Salzburg’s tourist attractions are within easy walking distance. Which is exactly why I recommend buying the Salzburg Card for free admission to basically all highlights in the city (you can buy it here). Normally, I am not a big fan of tourist cards, but in this case, it really IS a big bargain because you can see many places in one day in Salzburg.

As an alternative, you could also book a guided tour that includes all entrance fees and transportation. But, let’s start with my list of the top things to do in Salzburg, shall we?

Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article

1. Fortress Hohensalzburg

View of Fortress Hohensalzburg & the old town of Salzburg
View of Fortress Hohensalzburg & the old town

Walking through Salzburg, you cannot escape seeing the magnificent medieval fortress on the hill behind the old town. Hohensalzburg fortress is the most iconic sight in the city. It also gave the city, quite literally, its name. Salzburg translates to “salt fortress”, and it guarded the important salt mines in the vicinity.

View from the ramparts of the fortress Hohensalzburg
View from the ramparts of the fortress Hohensalzburg

It’s the largest completely intact fortress in central Europe and the biggest tourist magnet in Austria outside of Vienna. Construction started in 1070 AD, though most of what you see today dates back to the late 15th century when Leonard von Keutschach, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, transformed the fortress into a late gothic seat of power.

The famous Golden Chamber inside the Fortress Hohensalzburg - one of the best things to see in Salzburg, Austria
The famous Golden Chamber

A funicular connects the old town with Hohensalzburg, so you don’t need to climb all the way to the top (even though that little hike IS interesting) and you can actually tour the fortress grounds for free – you’ll only need a ticket if you want to go inside. Which, admittedly, you really should. There is a reason over 1 million people visit each year and you really have to put it at the top of your list of things to do in Salzburg!

View of Salzburg's old town through the embrasures of the wall around castle Hohensalzburg
View of Salzburg’s old town through the embrasures

Note: Don’t get the basic ticket. Only the all-inclusive tickets give you access to the Golden Chamber – the true highlight of the fortress.

Tip: The famous horn organ from the 15h century (called the ‘Salzburg bull’) plays every day at 7 and 11 am and 6 pm. So, this is the best time to visit.

2. Mirabell Palace & Gardens

Mirabell Gardens with Fortress Hohensalzburg in the far background
Mirabell Gardens with Fortress Hohensalzburg in the far background

Another famous site is the outstanding Mirabell Palace on the other side of the Salzach River. The palace is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Historic center of Salzburg” and another must-visit. The gardens in front of the castle are beyond beautiful – especially as they offer a fantastic view of the fortress.

The famous staircase of Mirabell Palace
The famous staircase of Mirabell Palace

You can also go inside. In fact, there’s no entrance fee, so don’t shy away from stepping through the door and climb the magnificent staircase to the first floor. You can’t really tour the rest, as the city council still uses the palace, so it’s off-limits for tourists.

The Marbel Chamber inside Mirabell Palace
The Marbel Chamber inside Mirabell Palace

In the evening, you may even want to book a classical concert inside the famous Marble chamber (you can do so here). It’s quite the special place a lot of locals favor for their wedding and it’s also free to visit on most days.

3. Schloss Hellbrunn

Castle Hellbrunn from the backside
The backside of Hellbrunn Palace

Salzburg was quite a rich city during the 17th century. No wonder, salt was basically the only reliable way to preserve meat back then, and they also mined for gold. Prince-Bishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems used that money to build a marvelous manneristic pleasure palace on the outskirts of Salzburg: Hellbrunn Palace

The Table of the Prince water games at Hellbrunn palace - one of the best things to do in Salzburg
The Table of the Prince

The palace is particularly famous for its water games (jeux d’eau) and it’s one of the most unique places to visit in Salzburg! It’s a whole garden filled with trick fountains. Some of them power fantastic machinery (like a huge wooden puppet theater), there are underground grottos and of course, there is the grand table of the prince, where fountains are hidden in the seats of the guests (not of the prince, of course).

An underground grotto below the palace Hellbrunn
An underground grotto below the palace

It’s hard to describe with words just how much fun a tour of Hellbrunn is (and pictures hardly do it justice), as these historic trick fountains were built to surprise the guests even back then in the 17th century. So, while casually enjoying a grotto, water will suddenly sprout from the floor or a hidden orifice in a statue. You will get wet (just a little bit, no worries), and it sure brings back the most pleasant childhood memories.

Note: You can only tour the famous water fountains on a guided tour. Tours start every 15 minutes.

4. Salzburg Cathedral

Salzburg Cathedral (with a local festival in the foreground)
Salzburg Cathedral (with a local festival in the foreground)

Another fantastic place to visit in Salzburg it the baroque Cathedral (“Salzburger Dom“) right in the center of the city. It’s quite the huge ensemble with a length of 101 meters, while to cupola is 79 meters high. It’s also quite the ancient site. The first cathedral was finished in 774 AD on that very site. Sadly, altogether 6 fires ravaged Salzburg Cathedral over the ensuing centuries.

Inside Salzburg Cathedral
Inside Salzburg Cathedral

The current building dates back to 1628 (though the cupola was destroyed during World War II) and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Salzburg Cathedral is part of a huge complex called the “Cathedral Quarter“, so you should definitely reserve some extra time to explore the outstanding museums and the former residence of the Prince-Bishops.

5. Getreidegasse

The many shops in the famous Getreidegasse in Salzburg
The many historic shops in the famous Getreidegasse

The Getreidegasse (“grain alley“) is Salzburg’s historic main shopping streets. It’s probably the best place to buy a lovely souvenir or get a traditional Austrian outfit. Most importantly perhaps: The long winding street with its baroque houses is extremely pretty, with many golden trade signs hanging into the street like it was still the 19th century.

6. Mozart’s Birthplace & Living House

Mozart's birth house in the Getreidegasse in Salzburg, Austria
Mozart’s birth house

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is probably Salzburg’s most famous son. Even though the musical genius only spent his younger years in the city (and traveled almost a quarter of his life), the residents are still extremely proud of him. There are two museums dedicated to the life and work of Mozart you can visit.

The living house of the Mozart family - one of the best places to visit in Salzburg if you are a fan of classical music
The living house of the Mozart family

You’ll find his birth house in the middle of the aforementioned Getreidegasse, which is quite lovely. And then there is Mozart’s living house on the other side of the River Salzach where you’ll find another small museum dedicated to the everyday life of the family and of course Mozart’s musical legacy.

7. St. Peter’s Abbey

Courtyard of the St. Peter's Abbey in Salzburg, Austria
Courtyard of the St. Peter’s Abbey

Stift Sankt Peter is the oldest still existing Benedictine abbey in the German-speaking countries. It was founded by Saint Rupert in 696 AD and there is evidence the site was used as a monastery as early as the 5th-century, can you believe it?

Inside the church of St. Peter's Abbey
Inside the church of St. Peter’s Abbey

As of 2019, only 18 monks are in residence, but it’s still one of the most interesting places to visit in Salzburg. The church of the abbey is a baroque masterpiece and has only been recently renovated (opened again in September 2019).

8. The Catacombs

One of the chapels inside the catacombs in Salzburg, Austria
One of the chapels inside the catacombs

Creepy or not, the catacombs are one of the most fascinating places to visit in Salzburg. It’s actually more like a beautiful cemetery with a couple of tombs hewn into the mountain behind it.

View of the old cemetery from the catacombs in Salzburg
View of the old cemetery from the catacombs

Still, the St. Peter cemetery truly is a special place. I totally recommend you to climb the stairs into the catacombs at the back (it costs like 2 euros) as the view of the old town and the cathedral is quite wonderful from up there.

9. Franciscan Church

Inside the Franciscan Church - one of Salzburg's hidden gems
Inside the Franciscan Church

The Franciscan Church is my personal favorite place to visit in Salzburg. The gothic choir vault is just so amazing. Despite being pretty much the oldest church in the old town, it hardly sees any tourists. Unlike the cathedral, it’s pretty much still a place for silent introspection and prayer!

The gothic choir vault of the Franciscan church - my favorite place in Salzburg
The fantastic gothic choir vault of the Franciscan church

Take special note of the high altar. Sadly, the gothic masterpiece by Michael Pacher was replaced in 1709 – only the Madonna still dates back to the 15th century. The original altar was said to be the largest and most opulent of it’s kind in central Europe. Most of the parts can now be found in different collections throughout Europe.

10. Makartsteg

Love locks on the Makartsteg bridge crossing the Salzach River - one of the best view point in Salzburg
Love locks on the Makartsteg bridge

The Maartsteg is a small pedestrian bridge across the River Salzach. It’s probably the single best spot to shoot a panorama of Salzburg and that’s exactly why you need to go there. Chances are pretty high you will have to cross it on your walking tour through the old town anyways.

View of old town & the fortress from Makartsteg - one of the iconic photo spots in Salzburg
View of Salzburg & the fortress from Makartsteg

You’ll also find quite a lot of love locks lining the railing. So, if you are traveling with the love of your life, you might want to plan ahead and leave a little memento here.

11. Museum der Moderne

The main building of the Musem der Moderne in Salzburg
The main building of the Musem der Moderne

Depending on how long you are staying and how interested you are in modern art, the Musem der Moderne might be a wonderful place to visit in Salzburg. The got pretty interesting changing exhibitions, so why not check the schedule ahead of your visit.

View of Salzburg from the viewing platform in front of the Museum der Moderne
View of Salzburg from the viewing platform in front of the Museum der Moderne

And even if you don’t want to spend your time in Salzburg visiting a museum, you still might want to take the elevator to the viewing platform in front of the museum. It’s included in your Salzburg card (otherwise it’s 2,50€ each way) and will award you with a different view of the old town.

Tip: There’s also quite a nice café at the top in case you want to combine enjoying the view with some Austrian coffee and cake.

12. Pferdeschwemme Salzburg

The famous Pferdeschwemme fountain  - one of the top The Sound of Music spots in Salzburg
The famous Pferdeschwemme fountain

I’m sure you have seen The Sound of Music? Well, then the Pferdeschwemme (roughly “water basin to clean the horses”) is a must-visit for you. The ornate fountain was built in 1603 and was featured in the famous film. On their carriage ride through Salzburg Maria and the Trapp kids marvel at the unique ensemble – and so should you!

13. Festspielhaus

The famous Festspielhaus at the far back of the old town where the Salzburger Festspiele are held each Summer
The famous Festspielhaus at the far back of the old town

Long before Mozart, Salzburg has already been famous for its music. These days, the annual music festival “Salzburger Festspiele” draws thousands of classical music fans to the famous opera house at the far back of the old town. The current building is somewhat new, so there are no historic rooms you could explore.

If you are visiting in July or August, consider buying a ticket for one of the world-famous opera production and concert! Here’s the official website.

14. Toy Museum Salzburg

The toy museum inside the old hospital
The toy museum inside the old hospital

Are you looking for fun things to do in Salzburg with kids? Well, then you really have to visit the Toy Museum in the historic hospital of the city. Salzburg is famous for its puppet theater, but this museum puts an emphasis on interaction and actually playing the games rather than just “boring” exhibition rooms.

15. Sound of Music Museum & Tour

The entrance of the Sound of Music World in Salzburg
The entrance of the Sound of Music World

Last, but certainly not least, you really should consider going on a World of Music tour through Salzburg (book it here). There is are so many iconic places to explore in the city, and as a fan, you don’t want to miss them, eh? At the far end of the Getreidegasse, you will also find the Sound of Music World. So, why not take a look while you are there?

Other things to do in Salzburg

The park along the banks of the River Salzach in Salzburg
The park along the banks of the River Salzach

Salzburg is an ancient city and a UNESCO World Heritage site for a reason. You can basically tell a fascinating story about almost all the houses in the city. A lot of them are 500 years or older – despite the immaculate facades. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll be able to find the houses of famous residents like the physicist Doppler Zoo, conductor Herbert von Karajan or Paracelsus.

There are also a couple of museums I did not mention on this list of things to do in Salzburg yet. The Panorama Museum might be a lovely place to visit with kids, and the Salzburg Museum will certainly give you a better understanding of the history of the city.

Quite close to Salzburg you could also visit the famous Eisriesenwelt – the largest ice cave in the world. There are also three old mines now turned into a museum, where you can (excuse the pun) dig deeper into the salt trade that made Salzburg rich. (here’s the official website).

And then, you should definitely take a bit of time to explore the culinary side of Salzburg. Austria, and Salzburg, in particular, is famous for its desserts. You’ll find many cafés and bakeries throughout the old town where you should definitely sample these Austrian specialties.

If you plan to stay a bit longer, you could even plan a day trip to picturesque Hallstatt!

Where to stay in Salzburg

The Hotel Bristol - one of the best hotels in Salzburg
The Hotel Bristol Salzburg

There is no shortage of hotels in Salzburg. No matter if you want to stay at a luxury hotel or a budget-friendly hostel, you’ll be able to find a nice place for you. Salzburg is not exactly the cheapest city in Austria, but prices are still mostly reasonable. Hotel Goldener Hirsch in the old town is quite famous, but am not sure if this is a bit too touristy. So, here are the best hotels in Salzburg:

Luxury Hotels in Salzburg

The famous luxury hotel Sacher in Salzburg
The famous luxury hotel Sacher

Mid-price hotels in Salzburg

The Imlauer Hotel Pitter in Salzburg
The Imlauer Hotel Pitter

Budget hotels in Salzburg

Best time to visit Salzburg

The park of  Hellbrunn palace with the famous two unicorn statues in the foreground
The park of Hellbrunn palace

The best time to visit Salzburg is July or August. The weather will be pleasantly warm with not too much rain. As an alternative, December can be an excellent time to visit, as you get to experience the famous Salzburg Christmas market.

Other than that, you really shouldn’t worry too much about it. In winter, you can go skiing, while spring and autumn also got their allure. Sure, you will have to dress differently, but I couldn’t think of a single reason why a particular season would be truly better than the other.

The only thing I really have to mention is that the city will be extremely crowded in summer and the same applies to the festive season. It’s mostly still manageable, but don’t expect an empty old town. On the plus side, there are a couple of local festivals in summer which can be fun (like the Rupertikirtag in September).

How to plan a day trip to Salzburg from Munich

Salzburg central station - if you are wondering how to plan a day trip from Munich to Salzburg, then just take the train, it's fast and cheap!
Salzburg central station

Are you staying in Munich? Then make sure to read my guide to the top things to do in Munich. But more to the point – a day trip from Salzburg to Munich is entirely feasible. If you take the high-speed train, it only takes 90 minutes from one central station to the other central station. Just check the schedule on the official website of the Germany Railway Service.

There is just one thing you should know. There are quite a lot of cruises and travel agencies featuring Salzburg in their itineraries. Hence, I do recommend you to start your day trip as early as possible because the big crowds will arrive around 10:30 to 11:00 am. It really pays off to be in Salzburg a little bit earlier.

So, that was my list of the top things to do in Salzburg Austria. I hope I was able to help you with planning your itinerary. Got any questions? Leave a comment below and I will get right back to you!

The 15 best things to do in Salzburg, Austria. A detailed Salzburg travel guide with all the main tourist attractions and points of interest. When to visit, where to stay and the best places to visit in Salzburg.

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