To prepare for our day in Salzburg, we did what any rational person would do: stayed up way too late watching (& singing to) The Sound of Music. Luckily, Viking River Cruises stocks their cabin TVs with movies that are relevant to their itinerary (we watched Amadeus the night before, in preparation of our trip to Vienna), so we were all set to go visit this beautiful Alpine city. We would soon find out that even though scenes from the popular movie were shot in Salzburg, there’s so much more to the city than Do-Re-Mi.
The day we visited happened to be one of the busiest of the year, as it was both a public holiday (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) & the day of a huge football game vs Germany. This combination meant that the streets, restaurants & Christmas Markets were absolutely packed, but that definitely didn’t detract from our enjoyment of this charming Austrian city.
You might not know Mirabell Palace & Gardens by name, but they are instantly recognizable: this is where the majority of the Do-Re-Mi scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed. Julia Andrews & the Von Trapp children skipped around the Pegasus Fountain, hopped up & down the stairs & ran through the trellis (bare in the December cold) while singing their hearts out. Mirabell Gardens is where our visit to Salzburg began &, yes, I might be guilty of doing a little signing & skipping of my own. The nearby Palace was built in the early 1600s by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau as a token of love for his mistress (quite the scandal at the time!) & was used as city hall for a time after WWII.
Looming high on the hill over Salzburg is the Hohensalzburg Castle. Built in the late 1400s, it’s one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Easily accessible by funicular (€6.80 roundtrip for an adult ticket), the views of Salzburg, the surrounding areas & the eastern edges of the Alps are absolutely spectacular. The entire castle complex is open for touring, with winding passageways, stone stairways & sweeping views. There’s also a small cafe, serving up beverages with a view.
Strongly influenced throughout its history by the Catholic Church, it’s no wonder that Salzburg’s skyline is dotted with church steeples. From the well-known Salzburg Cathedral, with its iconic dome (& during the holidays, with its giant Christkindle Market), to the ancient St. Peter’s Monastery & Church (with its catacombs built into the side of the hill, overlooking one of Europe’s most beautiful cemeteries) to the Church of the Holy Trinity (on the right bank of the old city). Don’t let any sneaky tour guides or visitors fool you though: the church used for the wedding scene in The Sound of Music isn’t actually in Salzburg – it’s in the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes away. When touring Europe, the number of churches can get a bit monotonous (there are so many that look so similar), but touring Salzburg’s was truly a treat.
A Brief Taste of Salzburg
Our five hours in town only gave us a brief taste of Salzburg – just long enough to know that the city is quintessential Austrian (actually the fourth-largest city in Austria). The birthplace of Mozart, the city shows off its classical roots with a number of delightful cafes, restaurants & romantic strolls along the waterfront. Be sure to pick up some Mozart chocolates as a souvenir (the silver wrapped ones means they were hand, not machine, made). Salzburg is especially charming to visit during the holiday season & we were treated to one of my favorite moments of our entire Christmas Market trip: an impromptu Alpine Horn concert.
Know if you go….
– our visit to Salzburg was a day trip offered by Viking River Cruises as part of their Danube River itineraries. It included a nearly four hours on a coach bus back & forth from our ship’s dock in Germany, but was still worth it. The tour also included lunch in Austria’s oldest restaurant; however, we elected to skip lunch because our city tour had run at a bit of a slow pace & we wanted more time to explore. The sausages we had at the holiday market more than made up for it!
– if you’re visiting Salzburg not on a river cruise, the easiest way to get there is to take the train from Munich (it’s about a two hour ride) or flying to the small Salzburg airport, which offers connecting flights throughout Europe
– if visiting during the holidays, make sure to leave plenty of time to visit Salzburg’s several Christmas markets. The Stern Advent market is known for its small silver wings, which children believe belongs to the Christchild Angel who delivers their Christmas presents.