14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Salzburg
One of Europe's most beautiful cities, Salzburg is admired equally for its architecture as it is for its magnificent setting. It also enjoys a special place in the world of music as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a fame reflected in such attractions as the museum in the home of his birth and various festivals showcasing his music. This picturesque city occupies both banks of the River Salzach, which emerges here from the Salzburg Alps into an expanse of lower land. Dominating the city and valley is the 1,853-meter Untersberg, from which you can enjoy beautiful views of the city with its towers and domes.
The romantic Altstadt (Old Town) is an area of narrow medieval streets and arcaded courtyards, filled with attractions and things to do, as are the spacious squares of the residential area between the Neutor and the Neugebäude districts. Not far from Salzburg, lies the world's largest system of ice caves (Eisriesenwelt), a fascinating attraction that is popular with tourists. If many of the places you see look familiar, it may be because most of The Sound of Music was filmed in and around Salzburg.
See also: Where to Stay in Salzburg
1 Altstadt (Old Town)
From Universitätsplatz, a number of wonderful passages known as Durchhäuser weave northward to Getreidegasse, a busy pedestrian area lined with old merchant homes dating from the 15th to 18th centuries. Stroll through this area for its old-world atmosphere, its wrought-iron shop and inn signs, and its beautiful old courtyards, as well as numerous galleries, boutiques, workshops, and cafés. At the eastern end of Getreidegasse lies the Kranzlmarkt with the old Town Hall (Rathaus) surrounded by more well-preserved medieval houses, some as high as five stories. In the Old Market (Alter Markt) stands the 13th-century Court Pharmacy (Hofapotheke), while in the middle of the square is the 17th-century St. Florian's Fountain with its octagonal basin and an even older spiral grille from 1583. Other Old Town sights are Judengasse, with its narrow, twisting lanes, and the Chiemseehof, built in 1305 and the residence of the Prince Bishops of Chiemsee until 1806; its arcaded courtyard is decorated with coats of arms.
2 The Residenzplatz and Fountain
At the very heart of Salzburg's Old Town (Altstadt) on the left bank of the Salzach is the Residenzplatz, one of the city's largest squares and a good place to begin exploring the many tourist attractions in this beautiful city. The focal point of the Residenzplatz - and a landmark of the city - is the stunning Residenzbrunnen, a masterpiece of marble made by an Italian sculptor in 1661 and the largest and finest Baroque fountain north of the Alps. It stands 15 meters high with splendid figures of bold horses, along with dolphins and the god Atlas bearing dishes. Crowning the whole display is a Triton with a conch shell. The square is frequently used for concerts and celebrations such as public New Year's Eve parties and a large Christmas Market that fills it in December.
Address: Residenzplatz, 5020 Salzburg
3 Hohensalzburg Castle
Salzburg is dominated by the picturesque fortress of Hohensalzburg, on the southeastern summit of the Mönchsberg. Accessible by a pleasant 20-minute walk from the Old Town center or via a funicular railway from Festungsgasse, the original castle was built in 1077, with much of what's seen today dating from the early 1500s. The approach to the fortress passes through a number of impressive arched defensive gateways under the 17th-century Fire Bastion to the Reisszug, a unique hoist dating from 1504 once used to haul supplies, and through the Horse Gate into the Haupthof (outer ward), with its ancient lime tree and a cistern from 1539. Other highlights include the courtyard, with its tiny Church of St. George (Georgskirche) from 1502 and the famous Salzburg Bull (Salzburger Stier), an organ from 1502 that still plays daily and seems to echo the carillon in the Neugebäude. Also of note are the sumptuous Princes' Apartments, with their Late Gothic décor and fine painted wainscoting; the Golden Room (Goldene Stube), with its marble doorways; and the Golden Hall, with its gold bosses on the blue coffered ceiling and red marble columns. The Fortress Museum displays weapons and torture devices, and the Rainer Regiment Museum contains artifacts from the old Salzburg household regiment.
Address: Mönchsberg 34, 5020 Salzburg
4 The Salzburg Residenz and the Residenzgalerie
Dominating the western side of Salzburg's Residenzplatz is the Residenz, the former palace of the city's once-powerful Prince Bishops. Built between 1596 and 1619, this huge palace is laid out around three courtyards; the large main front with a marble gateway was added in 1710. Tours of the property take in the spectacular State Apartments, lavishly decorated in Late Baroque and Early Neoclassical style and with numerous exquisite wall and ceiling paintings, rich stucco ornaments, and handsome fireplaces. Of particular note are the Knights' Hall (Rittersaal), the Conference Hall (Konferenzsaal), and the splendid Audience Hall (Audienzsaal) containing Flemish tapestries from the 1600s and fine Parisian furniture. Other highlights include the White Hall (Weisse Saal), with its superb stucco ornaments in Louis XVI style from 1776; the Function Room (Gesellschaftszimmer), with its 18th-century silk carpets; and the Imperial Hall (Kaisersaal), with its portraits of Holy Roman Emperors and Kings of the Habsburg dynasty. The Residenzgalerie, an art gallery established in 1923, contains works of European painters from the 16th to 19th centuries, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Brueghel.
Address: Residenzplatz 1, 5020 Salzburg
5 St. Peter's Church (Stiftskirche St. Peter)
One of Salzburg's oldest and most beautiful churches, St. Peter's was completed in 1143, altered in 1625, and decorated in Rococo style between 1757 and 1783. It was then that its distinctive helm tower was added. Inside the porch under the tower is the Romanesque west doorway dating from 1240, while in the interior, the original plan of the Romanesque basilica can still be detected. Highlights are the painted altarpieces on the 16 marble altars and the Lady Chapel (Marienkapelle) from 1319, which contains a stone figure of the Virgin. Many of the frescoes decorating the church are from the Early Gothic period; later frescoes date from 1755. The rock-hewn tomb of St. Rupert bears an epitaph from 1444. Other notable monuments are those dedicated to Mozart's sister Marianne (Nannerl), who died in 1829, and to JM Haydn, brother of the composer Joseph Haydn.
Address: Postfach 113, A-5010 Salzburg
6 St. Peter's Abbey
On the western side of Salzburg's Kapitelplatz, the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter (Erzabtei St. Peter) was founded by St. Rupert in 690 AD and served as the residence of the Archbishops until 1110. While the present buildings date mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries, they remain an impressive testament to the order's architectural skills, as can be seen in the building's tall onion-shaped tower, one of the first of its kind in Europe. Highlights include St. Peter's Churchyard (Friedhof St. Peter), an impressive burial ground surrounded on three sides by arcades and family tombs from the 17th century. To the south, it backs onto the sheer rock face of the Mönchsberg where you'll find Early Christian catacombs and St. Maximus' Chapel, hewn from the solid rock. A passage leads from the churchyard into the outer courtyard graced by St. Peter's Fountain (Petrusbrunnen) built in 1673, as well the Haydn memorial depicting the life and work of Johann Michael Haydn, brother of famed composer Joseph Haydn.
Another important Salzburg landmark is Nonnberg Abbey, founded in AD 714, the oldest in German-speaking Europe. This is the abbey where the real-life Maria was a novice and where she married the Baron von Trapp in 1927. Some opening scenes of The Sound of Music were filmed here.
Address: Sankt-Peter-Bezirk 1, 5020 Salzburg
7 Salzburg Cathedral (Dom)
A prominent building thanks to its twin 79-meter towers, Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom) was completed in 1657 and is famous for its Italian style and its role as the location of Mozart's baptism. The building's west front, facing the Domplatz, has four colossal marble statues, the outer ones representing St. Rupert and Virgil, patron saints of the province, while the inner ones depict Peter and Paul. Notable features include its three massive bronze doors with their symbols of Faith, Love, and Hope; the high altar with its Resurrection painted in 1628; and the superb frescoes in the vaulting. The burial vaults and artifacts in the crypt are also worth seeing, as is the Cathedral Museum with its collections of liturgical objects and objets d'art from the Salzburg archdiocese, including the 8th-century Carolingian Cross of St. Rupert, Gothic statues and paintings, and items from the Cathedral Treasury.
Address: Domplatz 1a, 5020 Salzburg
8 Schloss Mirabell and Gardens
In Salzburg's lovely Mirabellplatz, Schloss Mirabell was remodeled in Baroque style between 1721-27 before being restored in the simpler Neoclassical style of the period after a fire in 1818. Highlights of a visit include the spectacular Grand Staircase, built in the 18th-century, with a number of statues by Georg Raphael Donner and his pupils. Other interesting features are the Marble Hall (still used for concerts and functions) and the Schloss Mirabell Baroque Museum housed in the Gardener's Building (the Gärtnergebäude), part of the estate's Orangery, and exhibiting European art of the 17th and 18th centuries.
To the south of Schloss Mirabell stretches the Mirabellgarten, an excellent example of Baroque landscape design laid out in 1690 with numerous terraces, marble statues, and fountains, as well as rose gardens and colorful flower beds. The "Do-Re-Mi" scene from The Sound of Music was filmed here. The former 18th-century aviary is now used for exhibitions, and at the southwestern corner of the gardens stands a small open-air theater.
Another important villa from this period is Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn), built in 1619 and popular for its exquisite gardens.
Address: Mirabellplatz 4, 5020 Salzburg
9 Mozart's Birthplace
Number 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg is the house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27th, 1756 (he died on December 5th, 1791 in Vienna). Today, Mozart's Birthplace (Mozarts Geburtshaus) includes rooms once occupied by the Mozart family and displays interesting mementos, including portraits, original scores, and the young Mozart's violin. On the second floor is an exhibition called Mozart in the Theater with a number of illuminated miniature stages depicting his many achievements.
Address: Getreidegasse 9, 5020 Salzburg
10 Salzburg's Festival Theaters
Salzburg has long been famous for its music festivals, which are held in a number of historic theaters and concert halls. Collectively known as the Festival Theaters (Festspielhäuser), these buildings include the large Festspielhaus and the smaller Haus für Mozart, between which is a foyer with fine frescoes. In addition is the Karl-Böhm Hall, used for exhibitions and receptions and also decorated by superb 17th-century frescoes.
It's here that the famous Salzburg Festival has been held since 1925, a five-week-long summer event showcasing the best of European music and drama. Other notable Salzburg festivals include Mozart Week, a weeklong winter event focusing on the works of the great Austrian composer, and Salzburg Cultural Days, an annual two-week festival in October that includes symphonic and chamber concerts and opera performances. For a completely different theatrical experience, check out the Salzburg Marionette Theater, established in 1913 and one of the oldest puppet theaters in Europe.
Address: Hofstallgasse 1, A-5010 Salzburg
Opposite the Salzburg Residenz is the New Building (Neugebäude), erected in 1602 as the Archbishop's guesthouse and enlarged in 1670. Now home to provincial government offices and the Salzburg Museum, the building is famous for its carillon (Glockenspiel). Built in 1702, it contains 35 bells that play tunes from Mozart's vast repertoire three times per day (7am, 11am, and 6pm). A highlight of the experience is hearing the famous Salzburg Bull, the organ in the Hohensalzburg Palace, respond to the carillon with a chorale. Also, be sure to visit the lovely 18th-century St. Michael's Church (Michaelskirche), on the north side of the Residenzplatz at the corner of Mozartplatz, with its Mozart Monument from 1842.
12 The Franciscan Church
To the north of St. Peter's Church stands the Franciscan Church (Franziskanerkirche), the town's parish church until 1635. Notable features of the exterior are the high roof of the choir and the tower on the south side from 1498, while inside, the dark 13th-century Romanesque nave contrasts with the high, bright 15th-century Gothic choir. In front of a ring of Baroque chapels dating from 1606 stands the high altar, added in 1709 and notable for its late 15th-century carved Madonna. In the central chapel behind the altar is a winged marble altar from 1561 from the old cathedral. Opposite the church is the still-operating Franciscan Friary.
Address: Franziskanergasse 5, 5020 Salzburg
13 St. Sebastian's Church and Cemetery
A highlight of Salzburg's more modern district on the right bank of the Salzach is St. Sebastian's Church (Sebastianskirche). Built in 1512 and completely remodeled in Rococo style in 1753, the church features a flight of steps leading to St. Sebastian Cemetery (Friedhof), established in 1595. In the middle of the cemetery stands St. Gabriel's Chapel (Gabrielskapelle), with its ornate ceramic decoration, completed in 1603 as a mausoleum for Archbishop Wolf Dietrich. On the path to the chapel lie the graves of Mozart's father, Leopold, and his widow, Konstanze, while, to the west of the church is a passage leading to the Loreto Convent (Loretokloster) and Paris-Lodron-Strasse.
Address: Linzer Gasse 41, 5020 Salzburg
14 Hallein and the Celtic Museum
The old Celtic town of Hallein on the River Salzach, a ten-minute-drive from Salzburg city center, is filled with quaint little streets, gateways, and statues, as well as the historic homes built in typical Salzach style. It is the birthplace of organist Franz Xaver Gruber, composer of Silent Night, and also where you'll find the Celtic Museum (Keltenmuseum Hallein). In a former 17th-century orphanage, this reconstructed Celtic farmstead includes buildings and tools used by Celt settlers, as well as an ancient burial chamber. Other highlights include displays of finds from the Hallstatt and La Tène (Iron Age) periods from 800-15 BC, as well as exhibits portraying local customs and the history of town guilds.
Address: Pflegerplatz 5, 5400 Hallein
Where to Stay in Salzburg for Sightseeing
Perfect for touring on foot, the picturesque streets of Salzburg's old town, almost directly under the walls of the formidable Hohensalzburg fortress, contain the cathedral; St. Peter's Abbey; and the palace, with its state apartments and museums. The funicular to the fortress is nearby, and just across the river is Mirabell Palace and gardens. Here are some highly-rated hotels close to these Salzburg attractions:
- Luxury Hotels: Spacious rooms at Hotel Goldgasse offer historic charm and modern facilities in the center of the pedestrianized old town. Equally well-located, within steps of attractions, is the elegant Hotel Goldener Hirsch, a Luxury Collection Hotel. Sister hotel to the landmark Hotel Sacher Vienna, the lavishly furnished Hotel Sacher Salzburg overlooks the river, a short walk from the old town and from Mirabell Palace.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Across the river, a block from the bridge leading directly into the center of the old town, Stadtkrug Hotel is also close to the Mirabell. Boutique Hotel Am Dom is in a restored historic building in the center of the pedestrianized old town. If old town charm is not important, Crowne Plaza Hotel Salzburg - The Pitter is near the train station, behind Mirabell Palace, and a 15-minute walk from the main attractions.
- Budget Hotels: Star Inn Hotel Salzburg Zentrum has pleasant, plain rooms in a residential neighborhood on the other side of the Hohensalzburg fortress, a 10-minute walk to the old town through a pedestrian tunnel. The nearby family-run Haus Wartenberg has the character and charm of a traditional building with modern facilities and larger rooms that are ideal for families. Close to the rail and bus station, Pension Adlerhof has limited free parking and free continental breakfast, but you'll have a 30-minute walk or a bus ride to the Old Town.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Salzburg
- Sound of Music Tour: If you're a fan of The Sound of Music, you can reminisce about your favorite scenes at some of the movie's best-known locations and sing along to the soundtrack on The Original Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg. But you don't have to be a fan of the movie to appreciate the history and beauty of Salzburg's top attractions and architectural gems, which are also included on this tour. Top it off with a visit to the beautiful Lake District and the quaint town of Mondsee, where the movie's wedding took place.
- Day Trip Tours: To soak up some fascinating history and see the spectacular scenery of the Bavarian Alps at the same time, sign up for the Eagles Nest in Berchtesgaden Tour from Salzburg. On this half-day guided tour, you'll see Hellbrunn Castle and the Königsee River Valley before heading up to the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's former mountain retreat in Bavaria, where you can learn about its history and admire the views. Before heading home, you'll have a chance to explore the quaint German mountain town of Berchtesgaden. Another tour that blends history with striking scenery is the Bavarian Mountains and Salt-Mines Tour. After a scenic drive along the King's Lake River, this half-day guided tour takes you deep into an underground salt mine, where you can learn about its 450-year old history, take a tour on a mini-train, and cruise around a subterranean salt lake. This tour also ends with a stroll around Berchtesgaden before you head home.
More Must-See Destinations near Salzburg
Salzburg sits close to the border between Austria and Germany, almost equidistant from Munich and Innsbruck. Passau, in northern Bavaria, is about the same distance to the north, and farther east on the Danube is Linz. Just across the border to the west, the German town of Berchtesgaden and the idyllic Königsee are easy day trips from Salzburg. To the southeast is the beautiful town of Hallstatt and the Hallstätter Sea, part of the Dachstein/Salzkammergut Alpine UNESCO World Heritage Site. About halfway between Salzburg and Innsbruck is the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbuhel.