Salzburg in 10 Hours

Salzburg really is alive with the sound of music – from the locations that played a starring role in a certain iconic movie to its celebrated hometown composer and the many unassuming street performers playing melodies in public spaces throughout the Austrian city.  While many visitors automatically flock to organized Sound of Music tours in Salzburg, there is so much you can see and do on your own (and on foot) in this city.  We found that a full day was just the right amount of time for a first taste of Salzburg, and since it’s less than 2 hours away from Munich by train, it proved to be the perfect daytrip.  Here’s a snapshot of our day in Salzburg.

9:00am – Mirabell Gardens
The train ride to Salzburg seemed to fly by since we used the time to map out our route for the day.  After arriving at the Hauptbahnhof train station, it was a short 10-15 minute walk to our first stop, Mirabell Gardens.  The meticulously manicured gardens and accompanying 17th century palace were once the home of the Prince-Archbishop and now house the office of Salzburg’s mayor and municipal council.  Mirabell Gardens have been open to the public since the 1850s and are filled with fountains, mythological statues and other hidden treasures.  Remember the “Do-Re-Mi” number in The Sound of Music?  It was partially filmed here, providing the perfect setting for Maria and the von Trapp children to dance around and use its steps as a musical scale.

“Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music

10:00am – Old Town Squares
After leaving the gardens we walked along the Salzach River and crossed over to the Altstadt, Salzburg’s Old Town.  Most sights in the heart of historic Salzburg are easy to explore on foot since this area has been completely pedestrianized.  While it was transformed with Christmas markets when we were there, it’s also home to a handful of interesting sights scattered throughout its interconnected squares.  We began at Mozartplatz, named after Salzburg’s resident son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Here you’ll find a statue paying homage to the composer, which was erected in the square in 1842 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death.

Continuing on to Residenzplatz, this square was heavily influenced by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau (1587-1612) who set out to make Salzburg the “Rome of the North”.  He is responsible for the Baroque buildings here including the Alte Residenz and Neue Residenz (the latter palace houses the Salzburg Museum and 35-bell Glockenspiel that rings at 7am, 11am and 6pm daily), as well as the Salzburger Dom (the cathedral where Mozart was baptized).  Stand at the back of Domplatz across from the cathedral and notice how the 2 angles on its façade are “crowning” the statue of Mary in the middle of the square.

By contrast, the neighboring Kapitelplatz is home to modern art – a giant chess board and golden orb with a statue of a man on top – which was commissioned in 2007.  Follow the statue’s gaze upwards for a pretty magnificent view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress.  Also nearby is St. Peter’s Cemetery, with its carefully tended graves that are leased for a duration of 10 years (if the rent isn’t paid, then the graves are exhumed).  The cemetery dates back to the Middle Ages and was the inspiration for the scene in The Sound of Music when the von Trapp family hid from the Nazis.  The adjacent St. Peter’s Church also plays hosts to regular Mozart dinner concerts.

11:00am – Universitätsplatz
Just as we were starting to think about finding a place to stop for a quick lunch, we were lucky enough to stumble upon an amazing little market at Universitätsplatz.  The Grünmarkt as it’s called (which means “green market”), is a traditional farmers market that dates back to the 18th century and operates in this square daily except for Sundays.  With stalls selling everything from fresh flowers to produce, meats, cheeses, bread and more, we grazed enough to constitute a small lunch, which included a gigantic soft pretzel and fresh-baked gingerbread and Linzer cookies for dessert.  I made it a point to hunt down a recipe for traditional Linzer cookies when I got home (coming soon!).

12:00pm – Hohensalzburg Fortress
After our carb-heavy lunch we were energized for the steep walk up the mountain footpath to the Hohensalzburg Fortress.  There’s also a funicular that will take you to the top in less than a minute (included in the price of the Fortress Card combo ticket), but the walk is not as hard as it may look and includes some pretty great vantage points along the way.  What’s interesting about this 11th century foreboding fortress is that it was mostly for show.  It was built to protect the city from attack, but never actually faced a seize and the royal family instead opted to live in their palace in the Old Town below.  Inside you can tour various rooms and exhibits, the inner courtyard as well as the castle’s museum, or return at night for an evening concert at the fortress.

2:00pm – Getreidegasse
After walking back down the mountain to the Old Town, we made a special stop at Cafe-Konditorei Fürst on the corner of Getreidegasse.  In 1890, Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst created the Mozartkugel (“Mozart balls”), which he later debuted to the world and won a gold medal for at the 1905 Paris Exposition.  Fürst still uses the original recipe today to make these delicious chocolate truffles with pistachio and hazelnut marzipan centers.  Trust me, they are too good to pass up.  As you continue down Getreidegasse, notice the beautiful wrought iron guild signs above the narrow shopping street, which use pictures rather than words to describe the goods or services offered at each establishment.  This “advertising” practice dates back to a time when the majority of the population couldn’t ready, but is still upheld today by modern occupants ranging from McDonald’s to Louis Vuitton, as well as other smaller artisans and restaurants.

Towards the end of the crowded street at Getreidegasse 9 is Mozart’s Birthplace, where the composer’s family lived for 26 years (Mozart was born here on January 27, 1756).  The museum guides you through the third floor rooms previously inhabited by the family, as well as extensive exhibits with artifacts ranging from Mozart’s childhood violin to original scores, portraits and other personal items that bring his story to life.  In 1773, the family outgrew this house and moved across the river to what is now known as Mozart’s Residence.  This new home was spacious enough for the entire family and as well as the musician’s high-society entertaining, and today’s museum features even more original documents and interesting artifacts like Mozart’s piano.

4:00pm – Steingasse 
Around the corner from Mozart’s Residence is Steingasse, a quite cobbled lane that offered a nice respite from the crowds across the river.  Walking down this street is like a treasure hunt thanks to all of its unique doors, each one different than the one before it, plus every once in a while we were treated to a postcard-worthy view of the Old Town, peeking out from in between the pastel colored buildings.  There are also a few noteworthy sights on Steingasse to keep an eye out for like the birthplace of Joseph Mohr who wrote the timeless Christmas song “Silent Night” (#9) and the workshop where Mozart’s first violin was made (#25).  Read more about Steingasse here.

5:00pm – Panorama Museum
When we reached the end of Steingasse we crossed the steel Art Nouveau-style Mozartsteg (“Mozart Bridge”) to get back to the Old Town.  Since we had a little more time to kill before we could go to dinner, we snuck in a quick visit to the Panorama Museum (they let us in right at closing time, so check the regular hours).  Before the wide use of photography, the practice of creating paintings that showed full panorama landscapes of great cities was very popular.  Grab an informational card and try to guess the location of each panorama as you make your way around the museum.  In the center is a circular room with a giant painting that offers a 360-degree perspective of what Salzburg looked like in 1829 (save this for last).

6:00pm – Dinner
After the museum, we had just enough time for an early dinner at Zirkelwirt before our train back to Munich.  The restaurant is only a few steps from Mozartplatz but felt a world away from the tourist crowds.  From the moment we walked in the door, Zirkelwirt’s charm was apparent – it’s rustic, wood interior made you feel as if you were dining in someone’s home rather than in the center of a popular tourist destination.  I learned that Zirkelwirt is an old Gasthaus (German-style inn or tavern with a restaurant, bar and hotel rooms) dating back to 1647.  Like much of Salzburg, it was destroyed during WWII bombings but was quickly rebuilt in the 1950s.  Its current owner has kept with the tradition of offering home-style cooking at reasonable prices, catering to the local student crowd.

On the cold December night we visited, the warm and cozy corner table we sat at was perfect (there’s also outdoor patio seating for warmer weather), our warm and friendly waiter was perfect and our warm traditional food was perfect.  We ordered a Franziskaner dark beer and a glass of house white wine, which was shortly followed by my beef broth with semolina dumplings and my husband’s plate of roast pork with beer sauce sauerkraut and homemade bread dumplings.  The food was hearty but not heavy, so we still had room for dessert – apricot dumplings served with a rich orange-vanilla sauce.  We could have lingered here longer after our delicious meal had we not had a train to catch, although that’s something that could definitely be said about Salzburg as a whole.

This violin player on Staatsbrücke melted my heart!


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