Salzburg is often associated with a romantic idea of mountains. In the Sound of Music film, for example, it also looks as if there are mountains in the center of Salzburg. While there are mountains in the city of Salzburg, these mountains are not the alps and would rather be called hills by us locals.
To get to the mountains from Salzburg, you have to venture out on a day trip. The area around Salzburg is literally called the Salzburg Alpine foothills (Alpenvorland or Voralpenland). That refers to the alps beginning in the surroundings of Salzburg but how do you get to the mountains from Salzburg?
To get to the mountains from Salzburg, either take a train to the south of the city which takes you right into the alps or you take a bus into the Salzkammergut which still counts as the pre-alpine zone but has mountains just as impressive as the actual alps. But there are also easier to reach mountains from Salzburg City. Let me explain the geography of Salzburg in more detail and give you the options!
Three City Mountain: What mountains can you see from Salzburg?
From Salzburg, you can see two smaller mountains and one large hill in the distance. We call these the Salzburg City Mountains. The city mountains are the reason you can’t see the alps from the city center. Salzburg is only half an hour by car south of the mountains, but the view is blocked by Mönchsberg, the smallest of the three city mountains, which surrounds the old town on the left side of the Salzach river.
To see the Alps from the city center, you would have to hike Mönchsberg or visit the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The mountain on which the fortress is located is called the “Festungsberg” (fortress mountain), but it is actually the extension of Mönchsberg.
Do the Alps run through Salzburg?
The Alps run south of Salzburg. Therefore, the further you go south, the larger the mountains. The closest mountains that are part of the Alps are located in Golling half an hour by train from Salzburg but if you would like to reach a mountain top in Golling you would have to hike. More viable options to reach one of the Alps mountains peaks are about an hour south of the city of Salzburg.
How far is Salzburg from the Mountains?
While the Alps begin about 40 kilometers south of Salzburg, there are alpine foothill mountains like Untersberg, Gaisberg, and the mountains of the Salzkammergut in Fuschl much closer to the city. These mountains are not only close to the city but also much more convenient to reach from Salzburg.
We’ll look at a few mountains near Salzburg, beginning with the easiest ones to reach.
Mönchsberg: Sightseeing Hike in Salzburg
Mönchsberg is not a mountain near Salzburg but a mountain in Salzburg. Mönchsberg surrounds the old town of Salzburg on the left side of the river. Mönchsberg rises only 100 meters above the city, with an altitude of just over 500 meters. We actually can’t even call the top of Mönchsberg a peak since the mountain surrounds the old town like a wall and is flat on top.
Therefore, it’s great for an easy sightseeing hike. As you walk Mönchsberg from end to end of the old town, you will get to see Salzburg from several different perspectives in one hour. Here is an article on hiking the city mountains in Salzburg on the Free Walking Tour Blog.
Kapuzinerberg: Recreational Area of the Locals
Kapuzinerberg is in the old town on the right side of the river, across the river from Mönchsberg. Kapuzinerberg is only 100 meters higher than Mönchsberg, but it feels much more like a real mountain.
There are times in my life when I hike the Kapuzinerberg every day to clear my head. I live at the Platzl, in the center of the old town, less than a minute from the hiking trail but once you reach the forest behind the monastery on Kapuzinerberg, after about 10 minutes, you feel like you are not in the city anymore.
Among tourists, Kapuzinerberg is more famous for being the best sunset spot in Salzburg but I would highly recommend the hike on Kapuzinerberg if you would like to experience a mountain but don’t have the time to get to the mountains from Salzburg.
Gaisberg: The Third City Mountain
Gaisberg together with Mönchsberg and Gaisberg counts as one of the three city mountains but Gaisberg is considered a real mountain. Gaisberg is 1300 meters in altitude and requires a 3-hour hike, if you hike from the city center, a 2-hour hike if you hike from the bottom of the mountain, or a 30-minute bus ride. That’s right, there is a direct bus from Mirabell Square in the city of Salzburg to the top of Gaisberg.
Bus number 151, the Gaisberg bus, is a public bus, making it very affordable. Tourists aren’t too familiar with the bus, but locals have become very fond of it. As a result, the intervals between bus runs were drastically increased during the summer. During the mid-seasons, Gaisberg offers the chance to experience snow, if you desire it, but there is no snow yet or not in the valley.
Untersberg: Cable Car or Hike
While Untersberg is still not a part of the Alps but a detached mountain massif between Austria and Germany. Untersberg is more than 1800 meters high but only 17 kilometers from the city of Salzburg. Untersberg is the closest mountain from Salzburg that could no longer be called a hill. Untersberg is also by far the easiest mountain to get to from Salzburg.
If you hike Untersberg, it shouldn’t be your first mountain hike. I worked in a hostel in Salzburg for almost a decade and more than once had guests coming back from an Untersberg hike saying they thought they are going to die. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Every year, thousands of people hike Untersberg without dying, but you should have proper shoes, shouldn’t be afraid of heights, and should check the weather conditions before you go.
Doesn’t sound like the easiest way to get to the mountains from Salzburg. Well, the hike isn’t but there is a cable car to the top of Untersberg. To get to the cable car, you take bus 25, the same bus you would take to reach the starting point of an Untersberg hike. The bus stops right in front of the cable car and the cable car takes less than 20 minutes to reach the top.
The Free Walking Tour Blog has detailed instructions on how to get to Untersberg from Salzburg and if you decide to take the Cable Car, you should also read this article on why the Salzburg Card is worth it since the Cable Car alone makes the Salzburg Card worth buying.
Lake District: The Salzkammergut Mountains
Although Salzkammergut is officially part of the pre-alpine zone, the foothills of the alps, its mountains are no less impressive than the actual Alps. The first Salzkammergut mountain you get to from Salzburg is the Elmaustein on Fuschlsee. However, the Elmaustein, which is about 1000 meters above sea level, can only be climbed on foot.
If you venture just one village further into the lake district, you get to St.Gilgen where you can either take the Zwölferhornbahn, a cable car that takes you up Zwölferhorn mountain to 1500 meters above sea level, or take the boat across the lake and catch the Schafbergbahn, an epic steam train that climbs 1200 meters of altitude on the way up Schafberg mountain.
The Lake District offers endless possibilities to get to the mountains from Salzburg. If you venture even further into the area and cross from the state of Salzburg Land into upper Austria, the cable car to Katrin mountain is one of the things you can do in Bad Ischl, and the Dachstein-Krippenstein Cable Car to the five fingers is one of the most epic things to do in Austria.
Kitzsteinhorn: The Top of Salzburg
While the name suggests that Kitzsteinhorn is the highest mountain in the state of Salzburg, it’s actually not but Kitzsteinhorn is the highest mountain in Salzburg you can reach by cable car. To be precise, you can reach the high-tech mountain top station of Kitzsteinhorn at 3029 meters by taking 3 cable cars.
But the price of cablecars tends to correlate with altitude, therefore, the ride to Kitzsteinhorn is twice as expensive as for example the cable car to Untersberg. Also getting to Kitzsteinhorn is much more of a hassle and takes you an entire day trip if you travel by public transport.
Here are detailed instructions on how to get to the Top of Salzburg on the Free Walking Tour Blog.
If you travel by car, it would be easier but if you travel by car I would recommend going for the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße instead. By the way, you can also see the peak of Großglockner, the highest mountain in Austria, from one of the viewing platforms at Kitzsteinhorn.
Großglockner: The Alpine Road to Austria’s Highest Mountain
With 3798 meters in altitude, Großglockner is the highest mountain in Austria. Großglockner is a fantastic way to get to the mountains from Salzburg but only if you are traveling by car. The high alpine road to Großglockner was established in 1935. The road winds for 48 kilometers to Franz Josefshöhe, from where you can see the glacier and the peak of the mountain.
It takes 2-3 hours to get to the high alpine road from Salzburg by car. The toll per car is €38,- in 2022 with electronic cars being discounted to €28,50. Tours to Großglockner are only available as private tours which would be a viable option if you are traveling with a group or if you are willing to spend the money.
Flachau: Skiing from Salzburg
Some of you will not only wonder how to get to the mountains from Salzburg but also where to go skiing from Salzburg. While the ski resorts are about an hour from Salzburg, the way to get there couldn’t be easier. In winter, there is a free shuttle bus from Mirabell square to Flachau which is a popular skiing resort.
To take the shuttle bus, you need to purchase a day pass which you can buy on the bus. You also need to reserve the shuttle bus the previous day before 6 pm. Since you need the ski pass, the free snow shuttle is unfortunately not a way to get to the mountains from Salzburg for free.