My hometown, Salzburg, is located in northeastern Austria, just five kilometers from the German border. Salzburg is known as the city of music and as a filming location for the Sound of Music. Photos of Salzburg most often show the beautiful architecture and the surrounding mountains. You may wonder: What is all the fuss about?
What is Salzburg famous for and what are the reasons to visit Salzburg? What is tourist fiction and what are the real reasons to visit Salzburg? That’s what we will clarify in this article. In this article, we’ll find out if Salzburg is worth visiting and why it’s a truly unique place to visit.
1. The Sound of Music
Yes, the Sound of Music despite its fame, is the most touristy, least Austrian reason to visit Salzburg. In fact, most Austrians have never even seen the movie. I have seen it many times as a child but only because my father is from the Netherlands. Every time I visited my grandmother as a child, she showed the Sound of Music to me but I know few Austrians who have actually seen the movie and 90% of Germans on my Free Walking Tours of Salzburg have never even heard about the movie.
However, if your bucket list includes singing and dancing like Julie Andrews in the original filming locations, don’t let Austrian ignorance deter you from touring the Sound of Music.
You might opt for the most popular original Sound of Music Tour, take a Sound of Music Walking Tour with the Free Walking Tours Leo, a local expert on the Sound of Music, take a bike tour to explore the Sound of Music filming locations paddling the surroundings of Salzburg or just find the Sound of Music filming locations with the complete guide to the Sound of Music in Salzburg.
In case you have not seen the movie, you could spend the evening at the Yoho Hostel, where I worked for many years, and where they show the Sound of Music 365 days a year at 7 pm or 8 pm.
Studies showed that for about 1 million travelers a year the Sound of Music is the reason to visit Salzburg, so you might as well include the movie in your list of reasons to visit Salzburg.
2. Salzburg’s Unique History
Though the Sound of Music echoes in the minds of travelers, there are more important things to understand about Salzburg and its history. If you are visiting Vienna, you maybe know that Vienna is all about the Habsburg empire. In Salzburg on the other hand you won’t hear much about the Habsburgs.
Why is that? That’s because Salzburg was not a part of the empire until 1816. Salzburg instead was an archdiocese ruled by prince-archbishops. Salzburg was an independent state and the term prince archbishop refers to the archbishop as secular and ecclesiastical ruler. Salzburg was a church-state like the Vatican.
The word “Salz” in Salzburg means salt. Salt mines were the reason why Salzburg was rich and “Burg” means fortress which refers to the landmark of Salzburg, the fortress Hohensalzburg. The history of Salzburg is unique in many different ways and learning about that history is another one of the reasons why Salzburg is famous and another one of the reasons to visit Salzburg. To prepare yourself for your visit, have a look at this article about the history of Salzburg before you arrive.
3. The Birthplace of Mozart
Mozart is widely regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest classical musician of all time. Obsessive practice coupled with the rare ability of an absolute pitch made him a child prodigy and labeled him the greatest. But that didn’t only make him famous but in the 19th century also made his birthplace Salzburg famous as “The City of Mozart”. Now we need to set the record straight. Salzburg was Mozart’s birthplace, but he moved to Vienna when he was 25 because he didn’t particularly like Salzburg.
As a church-state, Salzburg was too conservative for Mozart, but the building where he was born, another place where he moved when he was 17, and several monuments commemorate him. His legacy also reverberates in the elite classical music scene at the Mozarteum University, the Mozarteum Foundation, and the Salzburg Festival. Here you find a list of all the sights related to Mozart in Salzburg.
However, while these are all world-renowned institutions, it can be surprisingly hard to find well-priced quality concerts in Salzburg, especially when it comes to contemporary music. Here is a detailed guide on where to find concerts in Salzburg.
4. The Salzburg Festival
The slogan of the province of Salzburg reads “Stage of the World”. That mainly refers to the Salzburger Festspiele. The Salzburger Festspiele (Salzburg Festival) emerged from the legacy of Mozart but soon became a force on its own. For a quarter of a million visitors, attending the Salzburg Festival is the reason to visit Salzburg. Now that sounds like a lot but compared to the number of people visiting Salzburg every year is not that many after all.
The Salzburg Festival, however, is the largest classical music festival in the world. During its six-week run every July and August, the festival takes place all over Salzburg, including outside the city in places such as Hallein. The performances include Opera, Concerts, and Theater with the famous Operas being the main reason to attend.
During the festival period, the vibe in the city is completely different but for most travelers, the festival still remains irrelevant. That’s because you would have to purchase the tickets months in advance, they are expensive and you should dress up for the shows.
Those who are into classical music can use the festival as a reason to visit Salzburg, but simply soaking up the atmosphere is reason enough to stay. If you arrive outside of the festival season but still want to get a glimpse of what it’s about, attend one of the guided tours at the concert hall. You can also read an article about the Festival on the Free Walking Tour Blog before coming to Salzburg.
5. The Original Mozart Chocolate
The Mozart Chocolate is sold every in Austria and even in neighboring Germany. In fact, the biggest producer of Mozart chocolate is Reber, a German company. The original Mozart chocolate, however, was invented in Vienna by Konditorei Fürst. Paul Fürst invented the Mozartkugel chocolate for the 100th anniversary of Mozart’s death in 1891.
The original Mozart chocolate by Fürst is still today produced by Paul Fürsts descendants, still handmade and only sold at their shops and the cafe in Salzburg. Therefore, the original Mozart chocolate is another unique reason to visit Salzburg.
In fact, Fürst does not sell the original to any other shops, but many imitate it, which is why you need to read this article to learn the truth about Mozart chocolate and to avoid buying fakes.
6. Baroque Architecture
Salzburg is not only nicknamed the “City of Mozart” but also famous as the “Rome of the North”. Why is that? That nickname stems from the Baroque architecture imported from Italy by the archbishops around 1600. Most historical art styles have their origins in Italy.
Wolf Dietrich, one of the archbishops of Salzburg and one of the most important historical figures of Salzburg studied in Italy before becoming archbishop of Salzburg. There he was exposed to Italian Baroque art. It was there that he conceived the idea of having his own baroque buildings in his archdiocese. When Wolf Dietrich became archbishop of Salzburg he immediately started taking down many medieval buildings to make space for his new idea of a new architecture inspired by Rome.
He, in fact, took down so many buildings and started so many constructions that the city was basically a construction site when he passed away. The most prominent of the baroque buildings is the Salzburg Cathedral and here is why the Salzburg Cathedral is a must-see. It took other archbishops a hundred years more to finish what he has started but nothing, besides the fortress, shapes the face of Salzburg more than the baroque buildings of the 17th century.
Its baroque face is not only one of the reasons to visit Salzburg for those interested in art history, but Salzburg is also a scenic jewel, a highlight for romantics, and an Instagram hotspot because of its baroque heritage.
7. World-famous Day trip Destinations
Salzburg is a unique destination in many ways. There are countless reasons to visit Salzburg, and this list is not complete. This list, however, would not even be scratching the surface, if we wouldn’t mention places in the surroundings of Salzburg. Salzburg is the most popular starting point for a day trip to Hallstatt for example. Hallstatt is widely regarded as the most photographed and most beautiful village in Europe. Did you know, that the Chinese built an exact replica of the entire Austrian village?
If you are planning to visit, here is how to get to Hallstatt by public transport.
Another unique day trip destination from Salzburg is the Werfen Ice Caves, the largest Ice Caves in the world. The Werfen Ice Caves are on only an hour by train from Salzburg, at 1700 meters of altitude in the middle of an alpine valley south of Salzburg. Public transport to the Ice Caves is convenient and reliable so there is nothing holding you back from a visit.
Berchtesgaden is another of the three best day trip destinations from Salzburg. The town of Berchtesgaden is located across the border in Germany, but it is just as easy to reach Berchtesgaden from Salzburg as other popular day trip destinations. Germans attending my Free Walking Tours of Salzburg often told me, that Berchtesgaden is often considered the most beautiful place in Germany overall. The best things to do in Berchtesgaden include a visit to Hitlers Eagles Nest and Lake Königssee.