The Hohensalzburg Fortress is not only the landmark of Salzburg but also its namesake. The fortress overlooks the city of Salzburg and Salzach River, and with a million visitors a year is the second most popular tourist attraction in Austria.
On the Free Walking Tour, I always advise my guests to see the fortress if they can only pay for an entrance to one sight of Salzburg. As soon as you visit two or more paid sights, you should already consider getting a Salzburg Card.
You will learn all about the Hohensalzburg Fortress in this article, from its history to how to take the funicular, visit the fortress grounds, and get insider tips from a local tour guide for saving money and making the most of your time there.
The History of the Hohensalzburg Fotress
The Hohensalzburg Fortress dates back to 1077, which was the year of Emporer Henry IV’s trip to Canossa. Henry was previously excommunicated by the Pope in the investiture dispute. The Salzburg Archbishop Gebhard took the side of the Pope in that matter, while neighboring rulers took the side of the Emperor. As a result, Salzburg had to be fortified.
The first fortification consisted of a wall and a tower and in order to complete the fortress as we know it today, it took another 600 years, not continuously building but occasional upgrades and adaptations to more modern times.
Chapter 1: The Last Medieval Ruler
Construction of the fortress progressed most rapidly during the 1500s when Leonhard von Keutschach was the archbishop of Salzburg. Because of his authoritarian style of leadership, he angered his population. In order to gain distance from his underlings, Leonhard turned the fortress into a residence. His coat of arms, consisting of a turnip, can be found 58 times on the walls of the fortress.
The revolt occurred with Leonhard’s successor Matthäus Lang. After he was besieged by his own people for three months, he expanded the Hohensalzburg fortress again. Among other things with an even larger cistern. The one you can see in the main yard.
Chapter 2: The Thirty Years’ War
Another archbishop’s coat of arms can also be found throughout the city, not just in the fortress. Archbishop Paris Lodron owned the lion with the pretzel tail during the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict of faith between Protestants and Catholics during the first half of the 17th century. In spite of being Catholic, Salzburg did not participate in this war thanks to the clever policies of Paris Lodron, who ruled the city during the 30 years of war.
In parts of Europe, 30% of the population perished, while in Salzburg, Paris Lodron built the cathedral, founded the university, and further fortified the fortress and the city. At the Hohensalzburg fortress, bastions were created, platforms on which the ever heavier guns could be moved around at ground level. These bastions are the viewing platforms you find at the fortress nowadays.
The last change to the Hohensalzburg Fortress is the Kuenburgbastei. This massive bastion facing the cathedral features a huge coat of arms of the Kuenburg family. It was constructed because the Turks threatened to advance to Salzburg.
Chapter 3: The best-preserved Fortress in Europe
In 1800, when Napoleon defeated the Habsburgs at Walserfeld near Salzburg, the fortress was handed over to the French without a fight. The Hohensalzburg Fortress was never successfully attacked, making it the best-preserved fortress in Europe.
The Habsburg emperor inherited the fortress of Salzburg when it became part of Austria in 1816. Until 1860, the fortress was a restricted military area. Once the walls became unusable for military purposes, the civilian population could visit the fortress.
With the end of the Habsburg monarchy, the fortress became the property of Austria. Then Austria gave it to Salzburg for its 200th anniversary as a part of Austria. The fortress became a tourist attraction after it was abandoned as a military restricted area.
What to do at the Salzburg Fortress
I especially like the fortress for its views and for the building itself, but the museums are also worth a visit and a must since they are included in the entrance fee. Kind of an entire autonomous city used to exist within the city walls of the fortress.
300 soldiers and their families were stationed on the fortress at one time, and they needed a church, an eating hall, food storage, and everything else needed for self-sufficiency. Many of these places are preserved so you can imagine that there are many things to do inside the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
The Viewpoints of the Hohensalzburg Fortress
There is a total of 4 places with stunning views on the Salzburg Castle.
Three of them are bastions with the one in the south of the fortress providing a unique view of the Alps. Two more are facing the old town. You shouldn’t miss any of these three amazing views.
Another great view is provided from the Look-Out-Tower which is part of the Panorama Museum. More on the in the next chapter. The Look-Out-Tower provides an excellent 360-Degree-View of the City as well as the Alps in the south of Salzburg.
The Museums of the Hohensalzburg Fortress
- Hohensalzburg Castle Museum: The Fortress Museum is the main museum at the Hohensalzburg Fortress. It’s run by the Salzburg Museum and tells the history of the landmark of Salzburg through historic artifacts and media installations. The history of the fortress is inevitably linked to the history of Salzburg but also to the topic of the middle ages. Therefore, the Hohensalzburg castle museum is one of the best places in Salzburg for history geeks.
- Rainer Museum: the Rainer Museum is actually a part of the fortress museum, but it is not part of the Salzburg Museum. The Rainer Museum existed as an independent museum on the fortress since 1924. During your visit, you will probably not even notice that it is an independent museum. The Rainer museum has always alienated me a bit.
The museum was established to preserve the memory of the former Salzburg house regiment, “Archduke Rainer”. The Rainermarsch, a military march, is like the second anthem of Salzburg, except that its composer was linked to national socialism, and the hymn was often used by certain nationalist groups. In this context as well as on the cemetery memorials for WWI and WWII in Austria, the museum-like anthem attempts to portray the soldiers of the first world war as heroes, something that is seen as controversial and rightly so.
- State Rooms (princely chambers): The staterooms were built around 1500 right above the private chambers of the archbishop. They were not meant to be for a living but were representative rooms for guests. They comprise 1000 golden dots that represent a stary sky and marble pillars that carry the weight of the wooden ceiling and the walls. The highlight of the staterooms is the golden rooms with the tiled stove.
The staterooms are a must if you are into art history but can be safely skipped by the average traveler since they require an additional entrance fee, even with a Salzburg Card.
- Panorama Tour: The Panorama tour used to be my favorite part of the fortress and still is in some regards. It used to be my favorite part because it had an audio guide and because it takes you up the highest point of the fortress. That latter is still true and the Panorama museum is included in the entrance fee for the fortress, so it still is a must-do during your visit. On your way through the Panorama Museum and up to the Reckturm, one of the towers and the highest point of the fortress, you pass historic parts of the fortress, such as the torture chamber and the mechanical organ called the Salzburg Bull.
- Armory: Since there is too much vacant space on the fortress (there are even apartments inside, rented by local residents) the administration came up with another museum in the old armory in 2019. The armory is included in the entrance fee and is especially great with kids but also for adults who like to play. It features video games, interactive quizzes, a photo booth, and more.
- Marionette Museum: Maybe you remember the string puppets from the Lonely goat heard the song in the Sound of Music movie. These string puppets are not an invention of Hollywood but an actual string puppet theater exists in Salzburg since the 19th century. Despite the theater in Schwarzstraße (which comes highly recommended), the fortress is another place where you can see the fascinating artwork of handcrafted historic string puppets. The museum is not a highlight since it’s only two small rooms but certainly worth a visit since it’s included in the entrance fee to the fortress.
If you have enough time, you should visit all the museums (perhaps except the staterooms) since all of them are included in the entrance fee to the fortress. If you are generally into museums, here is a list of the 6 most popular museums in Salzburg.
Mozart Dinner Concert in the Salzburg Fortress
Although touristy, the dinner concerts are definitely an experience to remember. From the ascend with the funicular in the evening, to the unique setting atop the city in the former archbishop’s staterooms and the 3-course dinner served while being entertained with Mozart’s music by an orchestra. If you would like to book the dinner concert, Click this link!
How to visit the Hohensalzburg Fortress
Opening Hours: When is the Hohensalzburg Fortress open?
If you pick up a Salzburg Card, I recommend either visiting the fortress first thing in the morning or the Untersberg Cable Car. The fortress, because it gets crowded during the day but it opens early, especially in the month from July to September. Here are tips for making the most of your Salzburg Card.
Visiting the fortress in the evening, however, has great advantages as well. In the morning, all year, the fortress opens too late to catch the sunrise. In the evening, on the other hand, you can get the most fantastic sunsets from there. But how does that work in July when the sun sets at 10 pm?
Well, the fortress closes but after the closing time, you can stay inside the fortress for as long as you want. You would have to walk down if the funicular doesn’t operate anymore but there is a small door inside the big gate that you can only open from the inside. You can, therefore, enter an hour or two before the museums close, and then head to one of the bastions and enjoy the sunset before walking down to the city. For an insider tip on how to access the fortress for free, read below about the ticket prices.
|May – June
|July – September
|October – April
Exception: The Museums, staterooms from July-September are only open between 9 am and 7 pm.
How much is the entrance fee to the Hohensalzburg Fortress?
There have been several changes to the ticketing system in the past year, and it remains quite confusing. Online, you might read about an early bird ticket or other soon after introduction abolished solutions.
Here is a breakdown of the prices of the fortress in 2022:
|Basic Pathway Ticket
|Basic Railway Ticket
|All-Inclusive Railway Ticket
Online Tickets to the Hohensalzburg Fortress
The website of the fortress indicates separate prices for online tickets, but the price of online tickets seems to be exactly the same as the price at the cashier, either at the funicular or along the footpath. Therefore, the only advantage of buying a ticket online is that you get fast-track access and do not have to wait in line. This can make a difference during July and August or in December since waiting times could be as much as 10-15 minutes. With the online ticket and also with a Salzburg Card, you can just pass the ticket counter and scan a bar code to enter the funicular without any human contact at all.
Difference between Basic and All-Inclusive
The fortress website states that the difference between the Basic and the All-Inclusive ticket is the princely chambers (formerly known as staterooms) and the Magic Theater. That’s actually one and the same thing. The Magic Theater is part of the Stateroom. More on that in the part about museums above. Short summary: the all-inclusive is not a must but an option, if you are interested in art history and in seeing a gothic chamber or if you just want to explore every corner of the fortress. In my opinion, the staterooms should be included in the entrance fee, but that’s just my opinion.
Group tickets and the Panorama Ticket
The tourist information still states the availability of a Panorama Ticket that seems to be an equivalent of the early bird ticket. The “Panorama” refers to the Panorama Museum which is supposed to be included in the price of €11,- with the funicular ride either from 8:30 am to 10 am or from 6 pm to 8 pm but there is no more information on that on the Hohensalzburg Website. Therefore, I doubt, that such a ticket is still available.
Also, there are group ticket prices stated but as far as I know, the group tickets for a minimum of 10 people are only available to us as tour guides but maybe I am mistaken. The group tickets are in any case not available on the website, so if you are 10 or more people, check with the person at the ticket counter on site.
How to get to the Hohensalzburg Fortress
You best reach the Hohensalzburg fortress on foot if you are in the old town. The fortress is no more than 15 minutes walking from anywhere in that area. No matter if you walk to the Hohensalzburg fortress or you take the funicular, you start your ascend at the funicular valley station in Festungsgasse 4.
How to walk to the Hohensalzburg Fortress?
Why would you want to walk up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress instead of taking the funicular? By hiking the Hohensalzburg fortress, you can save a few euros but I would only recommend it if you feel like walking and are not at all excited about the funicular ride. The funicular railway ride is a fun activity in itself.
The Hohensalzburg fortress hike is short but steep. It takes no more than 10-15 minutes to hike from the bottom station of the funicular into the fortress. You still need to pay the entrance fee, even if you walk to the fortress, but you pay a little less and all the museums are included just the same.
How to take the funicular ride to the Hohensalzburg Fortress?
To take the funicular, you just head to the valley station in Festungsgasse 4, only 2 minutes from the Salzburg Cathedral in the old town. At the valley station, you either line up to purchase your ticket or scan your online ticket or Salzburg. The Salzburg Card, if you have not heard about it yet, comes highly recommended. As soon as you visit the fortress and one more paid attraction, it’s cheaper to get the Salzburg Card instead of paying individual entrance fees. Here are all the included attractions.
What are other recommended attractions near the Hohensalzburg Fortress?
The fortress is located in the heart of Salzburg. The bottom station of the funicular is 2 minutes walking from the Salzburg Cathedral, another one the 3 must-see sights of Salzburg, and 5 minutes walking from Getreidegasse where Mozart’s birthplace is located. You should include the Salzburg Fortress in your overall visit to Salzburg. If you are still wondering how to spend your day in Salzburg, here is the perfect one-day itinerary.
How to book the Salzburg Fortress Concert & Dinner
If you wish to attend the Fortress Concert and the Dinner at the Hohensalzburg Fortress, you could purchase your tickets upon arrival at the tourist information or right now online through this link. If you would only like to attend the concert at the fortress that is also possible by clicking this link.
What Restaurants are near Fortress Hohensalzburg?
While you could opt for lunch or dinner at the Hohensalzburg Fortress, there is a better place with a similar view right below the fortress. The Stiegl Keller in terms of food is average, the prices are okay, the staff is not overly friendly but at times annoyed since the place is large and crowded but Stiegl is the most popular bear in Austria and the Stiegl brewery below the fortress one of the restaurants with the best views in Salzburg.
To get there, you either take the funicular down and then walk uphill (instead of into the old town) for about 50 meters. If you walk down from the fortress, you find the entrance to the Stiegl Keller 50 meters before your reach the funicular.
If you walk down, you could alternatively also continue your walk along Mönchsberg and stop by at the Stadtalm Restaurant instead. The Stadtalm has an even better view than the Stiegl Keller and is far less touristy. To do so, you would have to continue walking straight after coming down from the ticket counter instead of turning right.
Hotels near the Fortress Hohensalzburg
The Hohensalzburg fortress is located in the most central location in the old town of Salzburg. If you chose any accommodation that is not in a particularly remote location, it will be no more than 10-20 minutes walking from the fortress. Here are a few hand-picked recommendations for hotels that are especially close to the Hohensalzburg Fortress:
- Boutiquehotel am Dom
- Townhouse Weisses Kreuz
- Altstadthotel Wolf
- Altstadthotel Weisse Taube
- Hotel Goldener Hirsch
- Hotel Goldgasse
More Questions & Answers
Was the Hohensalzburg Fortress in the Sound of Music movie?
Since the Hohensalzburg fortress is visible from anywhere in the old town and the old town of Salzburg was the background for many of the Sound of Music scenes, you see the Hohensalzburg fortress several times in the Sound of Music but only as a background. To find out about the Sound of Music filming locations, read this article!
Is there Parking near the Hohensalzburg Fortress?
Parking in the old town of Salzburg is a problem. The nearest parking spots from the Hohensalzburg fortress are the Mönchsbergparkgarage (the parking inside Mönchsberg mountain) and Tiefgarage Barmherzige Brüder but also the Mirabellparkgarage is only 10 minutes walking from the fortress. It is more likely that you visit the fortress as part of your exploration of Salzburg’s old town than as an individual excursion. Salzburg’s old town requires you to pay for parking, which can be quite expensive. Read this guide to parking in Salzburg to find your best parking options in Salzburg.
Does the Hohensalzburg Fortress have falcons just like Hohenwerfen?
The Hohensalzburg fortress doesn’t have falcon shows like they do at the Hohenwerfen Fortress. If you would like to see a falcon show, Hohenwerfen about an hour south of Salzburg is your only option. The fortress in Werfen is especially great with kids not only for the falcon shows but because it’s an event fortress with games and other activities for kids. For history and in other regards, the Hohensalzburg fortress is preferred. Otherwise, Werfen is famous for the world’s largest Ice Cave which should be combined with the Hohenwerfen fortress. You can read about the things to do in Werfen in this article.