24 Best things to do in Salzburg

pair of cyan domes beside a gigantic black painted dome on baroque style building

Despite being such a small city, are there many things to do in Salzburg for a week-long week? Surprisingly yes! Hikers to history buffs, shopaholics to “cake-aholic”, Salzburg feels like it is designed to keep all kinds of visitors happy.

Let me give you an assorted list of the Best Things to do in Salzburg.

PS: Buy a Salzburg card to enjoy most of these attractions and take public transport at the lowest price.

1. Taste cakes in centuries-old bakeries.

“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.” – Said a famous author. Not every place in the world lets you enjoy a leisurely breakfast, but Salzburg does. My favourite thing in Salzburg is to be out on the street by 7.30 and follow the baking aroma and have tasty cakes. It took me to many cafes.

What should you not miss in Salzburg?

  • Cafe Tomaselli since 1700 – Their old-style decor with wooden furniture, pretty window box flowers on the balcony and an unlimited option for cake is my “true love.”
  • Stiftsbäckerei is the oldest bakery in Salzburg (more than 700 years old). They let you peek inside their old vaulted building and briefly tell you their history while packing that freshly baked brioche. Their woodfire bread is baked using :
    • Rye flour brought from their own stone mill,
    • wheat flour from the Salzach mill and monastery-
    • Most importantly, the hydropower mill is located right outside their bakery, which is the source of their energy that comes from Almkanal.
  • Kaffeehaferl – When you need a contemporary breakfast in a nice setting surrounded by arcades in the garden, you head to Kaffeharfel.

  • Cafe Leimuller – Salzburg’s laid-back nature inspires many cafes and restaurants to shut early. Cafe Leimuller is Perhaps one of the few eateries in Salzburg that remains open till 10PM. Their cakes and coffee are great to start your day or end.

2. Climb to Fortress Hohensalzburg.

The Christian religious leader “Archbishop” built the castle in the 1070s and ruled Salzburg undefeated until WW2. The grandeur and the fort’s security made me realise why Martin Luther wanted to reform Christianity.

The fort is vast and contains a store of ancient weapons. The most remarkable feature is the “Bull-roar” music instrument that makes a deep, dusky, high-pitched sound that feels like a bull’s roar. Prince-Archbishop used it to wake the population with the 135 pipes in the morning and to remind them of their bedtime in the evening. A prison still has some torture instruments used back in the 1100s.

The free guided tour that starts at 9.30 in the courtyard is a must to understand some facts and funny stories. Apparently, some prisoners and night guards saw a lady in white floating in the air from this fort!

The fort has a cafe, toilets and a gift shop. Make sure to spend at least two hours wandering in the castle, because the aerial view of the city is fantastic. You can either climb up or take a funicular to the fort. I recommend going up by cogway and walking down along the trail.

3. Hike around the castle

Hiking around the castle gives you an idea of how small the old town was and how the city has sprawled all over.

The castle’s surroundings prove why Salzburg is where nature meets history.

4. Enjoy streetside buskers.

Salzburg isn’t simply called the “Stage of The world”. The old town has many ornate courtyards, and it becomes a performing place for musicians. Violinists are most common, and you find guitarists also sometimes. Mozartplatz and Residenceplatz are famous places to find good music until 6PM.

I observed many people approaching them to get their contact numbers and learn more about them. You never know whom you are listening to until they become famous. Ed Sheeran was a busker before he became “the” Ed-Sheeran we now know him as.

5. Visit St Peters Cemetery, which feels like a Garden.

After travelling through Wachau Valley, I understood that Austrians had mastered the art of window box flowering. But at St Peters’s cemetery, I realised they know the art of gardening, even at a graveyard!

There are several things to observe here: granite gravestones and Iron cross. The statues and figurines are everywhere – A lady wearing a veil sits in a tuck position, two little angels consoling each other and so on. All are contained within Monchberg’s rocky mountain walls on one side and many more religious buildings on the other. When you see well-maintained graves, it is common to wonder how and who maintains them.

In Austria, grave space is rented.

The rent bill is sent to the family every ten years. If nobody cares to make the payment, the grave is emptied, and I am unsure where they are sent.

Why are graveyards peaceful?

I am describing walking in the cemetery as walking in a beautiful garden – Blissful and cheerful.

It remained so until we saw a lady watering a tomb with a water kettle and sobbing. We merrily appreciated the beauty of space for the dead full of flowers. Meanwhile, we saw someone weeping for their departed ones! We may have admired the beauty of the cemetery garden for 30 minutes. But we spent 15 minutes in the nearby chapel and two hours near the Salzach riverfront to brush off the sober mind.

6. Bask by the Salzach river.

The “Salzach” name comes from ancient times when the boats carried salt and passed through the river. Now, there are no salt carrier boats on the river. But you can enjoy a peaceful evening here. Or cross the bridge observing those locks on the side rails, and wish “X & Y” a happily ever after life.

The best part for me is kids who behave like Indian Jones while searching for a perfect pebble to throw!

The stunning view of churches with tall towers and domes lines the tall castles on hilltops is another reward when you sit by the river.

7. Hike to Maria Plain.

There is a saying, “You don’t come to Salzburg to avoid people; you come to meet them”. The town would feel deserted if there weren’t that many people. The historic old town is wonderful for travellers. But where do Salzburgians go when they need a break from their city? A jewel shop owner from whom I bought enamel earrings told me she loves going to Maria Plain.

Take bus 21 from Salzburg city and get down at the Bergheim bus stop.

The hike from Bergheim is scenic throughout. You pass by a beautiful cemetery and enter a meadow from where you can see Salzburg fort. The thick forest is home to animals like deer – You will see one with antlers if you are lucky. I could see the one which galloped inside at the speed of light even before I could register it in my mind wholly. The meadows beside the yellow church and a giant tree are wonderful places to relax in the evening.

8. Spend a day at the prettiest village, Saint Gilgen.

Saint Gilgen is one place that surprised me most in Austria. If you want to swim with swans, turquoise green lake Wolfgangse is for you. Suppose you want to go on hiking. Zwoelferhorn is a hiker’s paradise. Let us say you can’t hike but wants to see the lake from above – you can take a cable car. Or even fly like a bird by paragliding. After all this, you can devour local Austrian delicacies in the pretty town and later go shopping beside the lake. If you do not swim, you can even take a cruise ride and cross to the other side of the lake.

After doing all this, you end your day by sliding down a Summer Tobogganing like a kid with an enchanting view of mountains and that green lake. Read the post “Why Saint Gilgen can be the best of Salzkemmargut” to know more.

9. Have a floral Bonanza at Mirabel Gardens.

This is a palace complex with one of the finest gardens designed in geometrical patterns and the perfect visual orientation towards the Salzburg castle. It feels like the garden ensembles the most historical monuments in one frame.The kaleidoscopic range and the fragrance can be enjoyed for hours together with a fantastic vista in front.

Are Mirabell Gardens free?

Entry to Mirabel garden is free, and it is open 24/7.

The Love story behind the garden.

The Mirabel derives from the Italian word that translates to “Beautiful Bella.

You remember the prince archbishops built the castle and ruled Salzburg, right? This palace complex was built for one of the prince archbishop’s mistresses in 1606! The catholic ruler couldn’t get permission to marry his love of life, whom he met during a festival. So he built a palace for her outside his city wall. They had 15 kids together, and it is believed that there was a secret door in the fort that opened to the prince archbishop’s room directly.

10. Make a day trip to Konigssee Lake and Eagle’s nest.

I am taking you on a day trip from Salzburg to one of Germany’s most beautiful lakes. When you go on a “non-motorised” boat that hardly makes any noise on the crystal clear water, you will surely lose yourself to nature. Plus, the boatmen play bugle midway on the journey, which reflects and creates an unimaginable echo of the music. Finally, at the end of the trip, you see something “Too perfect to be existing” – From a postcard kind of a location by the lakeside where you can wander for hours together listening to birds and ducks quack.

Read my post “Day trip to Konigsee lake and Eagle’s nest” for more details.

11. Walk in Getreidegasse.

This street is a powerhouse for tourists. From traditional businesses to the house where Mozart lived, scientist Doppler was born; you find many things here. I can blabber about how awesome it feels to walk in the historical alleys filled with classy shops for an hour. But, I say – Always look up when you are here.

The shops along Getreidegasse have a unique way of displaying their name board! Most of them are of wrought iron, and all are a piece of art. When you see them, you are sure to think of ancient times when this was the only form of advertisement.

12. Interpret “Sphaera” in Kapitelplatz, and play chess.

When we were heading to St Peter’s cemetery, the thing that caught our eye was the gigantic sculpture of a golden sphere with a man standing on top of it! “The interpretation of this statue is left to the viewer,” says the creator from Germany who installed it in 2007. So we observed the man’s face to draw our own opinion – He seemed worried standing on that giant golden ball!

So we both decided to call him “A worried standing on a giant ball.”

There is an installation by the same artist, “Woman in the rock”, on the stone stairway near Dom quarter. If you are keen on observing it, you must consciously look around when you enter the courtyard there.

13. Dine fine by the sidewalks.

Fine dining and sidewalks usually are two different contrasting words! But when everything in Salzburg becomes so expensive, you must try to manage things like this.There are amazing century-old restaurants in Old Salzburg. If you want to save money, yet experience good food, come to Linzer street or Schwarzstreet on weekdays before 10pm.

Some of the good restaurants in Salzburg which I recommend are –

  • Cafe Bazar by the Salzach river bank – I loved their panfried fennel with Mozarella cheese.
  • Spicy Spices – An Indian pure veg restaurant that prepares delicious food only using organic products. I don’t try and recommend Indian restaurants usually. But this is special. There were many Salzburgians here munching on Indian delicacies. A family of four said this is the best place to eat in Salzburg!
  • Gasthof Alter Fuchs (Old Fox) – Salzburg generally doesn’t give vegetarians many options. So does Old fox. But the spaghetti and soup served to me were hot, healthy and delicious.

14. Take the Steepest cog railway in Austria at Schafberg.

Austria is famous for its scenic train journeys. But taking a steam engine locomotive to climb up 1.2km over a 6km journey between the mountains is breathtaking. At one point, the steep reaches almost 45 degrees.

For a person like a mom who couldn’t have enough lakes in Austria, the top of Schafberg gives you a view of four lakes – All look like a thick paint of bright turquoise!

15. Dine with locals at Augustiner brewery.

As they say, “Since 1621, Austria’s biggest beer tavern.” Having a beer is a thing, but getting it poured from the wooden barrel into your stone pitcher makes it special. The uniqueness here is you can sit in the lovely garden. Or gulp your beer in the halls once part of a church. You see holy wordings on the wall with every sip of your beer. Christian hermits built this place after their archbishop permitted them! Getting food from various shops for low prices under the vaulted hallway that feels like a church’s transept is fun!

All the things you need to know before you go to Augustiner brewery are listed here.

16. Drive along the winding road to the Grossglockner.

Nothing could have been better than Austria’s highest point by the glacier to celebrate my mom’s 58th birthday. The journey from Salzburg to the Grossglockner is never dull. The straight roads charm you with quintessential alpine villages with meadows. Towns like Pinggau bring you the sound of cowbells.

The snow-capped mountains appear slowly (in summer), and waterfalls cascade down. Once the winding road begins, drying glaciers remind you of global warming; Vrooming bikers make you dream of going on a bike trip here. The serpentine road is lined with rich flora, bringing colour to the green and blue palette of earth and sky.

17. Shop till you drop in Salzburg.

Learn the art of controlling your mind before you step out to go shopping in Salzburg – Because Salzburg is an amazing place for shoppers and is freaking expensive! The historic streets house their products so well that it is alluring. When you hear the price, your heart starts soaring. So if you plan well, you can always shop without going bankrupt. I recommend Linzer street and Schwarzstrabe, better than the old town.

18. Have dinner by the canalside in Almkanal.

When you feel like taking a break from the tourist crowd, head to Mostwastlweg. There are neither baroque structures nor archbishop stories here. It is purely a rural area where you can listen to the sound of the water canal and walk around typical alpine houses. A cornfield and high mountains surround the village. Watching the sunset here at 8.30 PM and having dinner at Mostwastl restaurant is one of the offbeat things we did in Salzburg.

With not too much of the advent of tourists, locals happily appreciate fewer tourists. It is a small village where neighbours know each other. While a grandma who was chilling on her balcony tried to talk to us, a cyclist passing by stopped by us and translated the discussions for each other.

Take Obus 5 from Salzburg. After 30 minutes, get off Grodig Pflegerbrucke. You see the canal right beside the main road, and you know you are in the right place when you see the cornfields spreading to infinity.

19. Visit Dom quarter.

Dom quarter in Austria is like the central node of Salzburg. Every historic significance starts from here. The quarter houses a museum for museum lovers. There are plenty of spaces for people like me to walk around and sit to watch people. The main cathedral and central plaza are adorned with interesting sculptures.

20. Visit Salt Mines.

Salzburg translates to “Salt Castle”. So visiting an ancient Saltmine in Salzburg is a must-do ritual for all tourists. You can visit one of the oldest salt mines in the world at Hallein near Salzburg.

Seeing the cave and salt formation is fascinating. But sliding down metres long miner’s slide is the best thing to do in Salt mines. Ensure you carry your camera or phone to take pictures inside. I assumed it wasn’t safe to bring the camera or phone inside and dumped it in the luggage locker. Not having a camera bag made it easy for me to wear the “overalls” given, though.

Hallstatt is another famous place for lakes and salt mines. I suggest you avoid the place – Read here to know why.

21. Wander in Flea Markets.

Once you know how costly it is to shop in Salzburg, you will likely look for cheaper markets. Most plazas will have flea markets open from 10 to 6. What I recommend is Grunmarket and Aftermarket in the old city.

Grunmarket is operating in the 1870s and is the place to witness the wide variety of veggies in Austria. Here you find a fountain which all shop owners use to fill the buckets of water to drink or flower their plants. Near the vegetable garden, you even find a weighing scale to determine what you bought.

The Salzburg Schranne is a weekly market held on the square opposite St. Andrew’s Church (Opp to Mirabel Garden). This is a place for finding arts and crafts made by local communities.

The one thing that disappointed me is Kajetanerplatz – I read that it is a huge gathering of organic farmers every Friday between 6 to 2. But, shockingly, I found only one van selling their farm products and homemade cakes that day.

22. Head out of the old town and see how new Salzburg is.

As a history buff, It fascinates me to know how things change over time. The only way to see that in Salzburg is by going out at least 2km from Salzburg’s historical centre!

The 8-storey apartment buildings in new Salzburg have neither groves nor architraves to add life to the plain facade like their big Baroque brothers in the old town. You hardly see any window box flowering in these houses. The buildings here are like any city; floors are stacked like a cube. Salzburgians are fortunate to have mountains around them to make any normal neighbourhood charming.

23. Take a break at not-so-famous churches.

How many churches are in Salzburg?

When you get to the Monchberg’s top, you will see dozens of crosses adorning the domes. You will soon realise Salzburg has at least a dozen churches and cathedrals. St Peter’s cathedral is the most famous one. I visited Collegiate Church in the university area. The interiors are simple when compared to other barque churches. But it was a nice place to grasp energy.

24. Visit Mozart’s house.

Honestly, I wasn’t keen to go to Mozart’s house. I thought all I would see were the things he used and the pianos he played. Fortunately, I gave it a shot when mom was busy shopping.

The house gives you a glimpse of 1760’s Salzburg life. The mud-floored kitchen and narrow alleys connecting different levels are reconstructed, showing the middle-class apartments of that time. Mozarts were considered privileged to have a drain pipe through the window sill to dispose of wastewater!

What I learned during my walking tour in Vienna for one hour is basic.

I am not saying I am a “Mozart-ologist” now. But I could learn more in Mozart’s house. The wigs and hairstyles with which Mozart is always associated seemed to be a little different from reality. But his hair ends did curl like cones! There were many interesting things to hear about his father, Leopold Mozart, a composer.

There were handwritten music notes and some letters. I found a letter written by Leopold Mozart most interesting. He subtly yet sharply condemns how an artist has drawn him in a pencil drawing. The summary of that letter is he didn’t like the way he was portrayed – He felt he was painted too old and fat!

Which of these things do you think is the best thing to do in Salzburg? Let us know in the comment section below.

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