The perfect weekend in Salzburg, Austria’s musical mountain city


If you had to dream up the perfect city, Salzburg might well be it, with its stately baroque centre, pop-up medieval fortress and insanely beautiful Alpine backdrop. Legends? You bet. This is where Mozart was born and rose to fame as a violin-playing prodigy, and where the prince-archbishops gave flight to lavish fantasies in palaces galore. Its cinematic looks haven’t escaped the attention of Hollywood movie producers, either: The Sound of Music was filmed here and you’re not likely to forget it.

Such a cultural legacy still enthralls today. Sitting astride the fast-flowing Salzach River, the city is small enough to walk, yet has concert halls, museums and forward-thinking galleries to rival those in world capitals. Beyond the tourists and twee, you’ll find backstreets harbouring third-wave coffee houses and deliciously intimate bars for cocktails, craft beer and biodynamic wines. Not to mention an outdoors so great that you suddenly realise what put the twinkle in Mozart’s eye and the spring in Maria’s step.

For further Salzburg inspiration, see our guides to the area’s best hotelsrestaurantsnightlife and things to do.

In this guide

How to spend your weekend

Day one: Morning

Rise early to delve into the warren of baroque streets and plazas in Salzburg’s Altstadt as the city begins to wake up. High on your list should be the fancy Residenzplatz, where horse-drawn carriages line up in front of the eponymous palace. The square anchors Mozartplatz, where the bewigged composer perches on a pedestal and the Salzburg Museum spills the beans on the citys’ history.

Speaking of beans, pause for a barista-made, freshly roasted coffee and brunch at minimalist-cool 220 Grad in the Rupertinum, a quick walk away, before tackling the big sights. One ticket gains you entry to the treasures of the central DomQuartier, including the impressively domed cathedral where Mozart was baptized, the lavishly frescoed staterooms of the Residenz Palace and its gallery festooned with Old Master paintings.

Time permitting, squeeze in a visit to Mozart’s Birthplace nearby for the inside scoop on Salzburg’s superstar composer.

DomQuartier Salzberg Austria

Salzburg’s DomQuartier is filled with architectural, cultural and artistic treasures


Go for the lunch special at artsy bistro Triangel. The pavement terrace faces the festival hall, centerpiece of the summer’s headlining Salzburg Festival. A short stroll from here is St Peter’s Abbey, where you can admire the rococo-in-overdrive church and the cemetery’s eerie catacombs hollowed out of the cliff face. 

Exiting the cemetery you come to Stiftsbäckerei St Peter, which has been supplying the city with warm-from-the-oven sourdough loaves for the past 700 years. On the same square you’ll be drawn to giant golden globe sculpture, Sphaera, and glimpses of Salzburg’s showstopper of a medieval fortress. This is where you’re heading next – either by lift or on a short climb up Festungsgasse.

When the sun shines, Salzburg’s beer gardens are wunderbar. Grab a cold foamy one at the likes of Stieglkeller. Here you can peer across the Altstadt’s domes and spires while sipping house brews and nibbling on meaty snacks.

From the castle, stride Mönchsberg’s cliff tops, admiring views over Salzburg’s domes and spires, as you make your way to the Museum der Moderne, a strikingly minimalist repository of contemporary art.


The Museum der Moderne is a strikingly minimalist repository of contemporary art

Credit: 2011 Getty Images/Martin Schalk


From the Museum der Moderne, either take the lift down or walk along wooded trails with uplifting Alpine views until you emerge at Augustiner Bräustübl. You’ll have a grand old time guzzling beer in vaulted halls or under the chestnut trees at this monastery-founded brewery and beer garden.

A heart-warmingly trad pick for dinner, Bärenwirt is just a merry two-minute trot away. Full of timber and charm, this old-school tavern has been dishing up gut-busting Austrian classics like Backhendl (fried chicken) and Bierbraten (beer roast) since 1663. Try the river-facing terrace if the weather permits. For more suggestions of the best restaurants in the area, see our guide

Bärenwirt, Salzburg

Delicious, substantial portions of traditional Austrian fare are the norm in the cosy and popular Bärenwirt

Day two: Morning

Grab an espresso or chai latte at mobile coffee cart We Love Coffee before crossing the Mozartsteg bridge that straddles the turquoise Salzach River. The morning sun beautifully lights up the cobbles and pastel townhouses on medieval Steingasse nearby, where you can take a quiet wander before the crowds rock up.

Sound of Music fans won’t want to miss the chance to hook onto one of the cycling tours of the film locations with Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tours, which kick off at 9.30am sharp from Mirabellplatz, with additional tours at 4.30pm from June to August. Now you can hit the high notes like Maria – go on, you know you want to! – as you pedal past Salzburg’s most scenic spots: from Nonnberg Abbey to Leopoldskron Palace.

If that doesn’t float your boat, opt for walk in the fountain-splashed Mirabell Palace gardens instead. The steps of Do-Re-Mi fame afford ludicrously pretty views of the fortress thrusting up above the historic centre. 

Mirabell Palace gardens, Salzburg, Austria

Mirabell Palace gardens are just as beautiful as the regal building they surround

Credit: bluejayphoto/bluejayphoto


Back on Steingasse, Salzburger hankering for lunchtime spice make for South American snackeria Bistro de Márquez for arepas (maize crêpes) and açaí smoothies. Or try Uncle Van for authentic Vietnamese grub on the hoof. This afternoon, you have choices.

First option is hop on a bus at Mozartsteg for a 20-minute ride to Hellbrunn, a riotous baroque fantasy of a summer palace, built in the 17th century for Markus Sittikus, a prince archbishop obsessed with follies and fun. Here you can take a romp around the immaculately landscaped gardens and join a splash-happy tour of the trick fountains.

Option number two is to take a bus from Mirabellplatz to Untersberg where a cable car trundles up to the cloud-grazing elevation of 1972m. Sidling up to Germany, the peak offers knockout views of the Berchtesgaden Alps. Providing you’ve brought walking boots, there are some  truly excellent hiking trails, including a two-hour stomp to the Schellenberger ice cave in Bavaria.

Untersberg, Salzburg

Even if heights are not your strength, the magical 360-degree views from Untersberg mountain are well worth the effort


Back on Salzburg’s right bank, there are some terrific picks for pre-dinner drinks. For a touch of mixology magic and a spritz of evolutionary genius, swing over to stylishly vaulted Darwin’s. Or for a cocktail with a spritz of glamour and ringside views of Salzburg’s castle-topped Altstadt, there’s the Steinterrasse on the rooftop of Hotel Stein.

Sticking with the high-rise theme, the views and season-driven food are a treat at glass-walled, minimalist-chic Imlauer Sky. If you’re still up for more, head to Jazzit for late-night gigs and good vibes. For more suggestions of the best nightlife in the area, see our guide

Imlauer Sky Bar & Restaurant, Salzburg

Appreciate Salzburg’s spectacular panorama from Imlauer Sky Bar & Restaurant on the Crowne Plaza’s top floor

Credit: (C)2015 Michael Schultes, all rights reserved/Michael Schultes

Insider tips

City hack

The cost of visiting attractions can quickly notch up, so save by purchasing a Salzburg Card (24/48/72 hours €31/40/46). The card gives you access to all of the city’s big-hitters, plus use of public transport, entry to day-trip hotspots like Hellbrunn Palace, and a round trip on the cable car to Untersberg. Buy it online at


This is – and has always been – a city of song. Many of its major attractions bring this musical heritage spectacularly to life. The fortress hosts regular concerts in opulent surrounds, as does the baroque cathedral and the Marble Hall at Schloss Mirabell, former banquet hall of the prince-archbishops.

Neighbourhood watch

Salzburg gets swamped in peak season, but it’s easy to waltz away from the crowds with walking trails threading along the river and into the mountains. A great city centre hike leads from Nonnberg Abbey (where Maria was a postulant nun) along the clifftop of Mönchsberg to the fortress and Museum der Moderne. There are terrific views of the city from on high.

Did you know?

The real story of the Von Trapps differs from The Sound of Music legend. There were 10, not seven, children for a start, there was no Kurt and no Liesl, and in 1938 they all upped and left for America (not Switzerland, as those closing film credits would have you believe). The movie was actually a flop in the German-speaking world and few Austrians have even heard of it. A new Sound of Music museum is in the pipeline for Schloss Hellbrunn – watch this space! 

When to go

Salzburg really comes into its own in the shoulder seasons. Spring and autumn are ideal, with fewer crowds, mild days, plenty of seasonal colour and comparatively good deals on hotels. If you want to squeeze in some outdoor activities (riverside bike rides, Alpine hiking, picnics in the parks, etc.), May, June and September are great months to visit. 

The city gets rammed and room rates skyrocket during the peak summer months – especially during the school holidays in July and August. And if you’re planning on visiting the Salzburg Festival then, be sure to book your tickets and hotel months in advance. 

Winter has its own beauty, with snow on the peaks and skiing close by. The city is full of festival Christmas market sparkle in December, but again this is a popular (read: crowded) time to visit.

Where to stay

Luxury living

Hotel Bristol, opposite Mozart’s former home in the heart of Salzburg’s right bank, is all about timeless grandeur, with its chandelier-lit interiors, refined dining, polished service and antique-filled rooms. Breakfast is served in palatial surrounds – the wow-factor Crystal Ballroom.

Rooms from £313 per night

Hotel Bristol Salzburg, Salzburg

Find timeless grandeur at Hotel Bristol

Boutique beauty

Right opposite Salzburg’s Festival Hall, the artHOTEL Blaue Gans is Salzburg’s oldest inn, looking proudly back on more than 600 years of history. Interiors cleverly blend tradition, bespoke craftsmanship and fresh-faced design, and chefs put creative riffs on Austrian cuisine in the highly regarded restaurant.

Rooms from £132 per night

artHOTEL Blaue Gans, Salzburg

The artHOTEL Blaue Gans is opposite Salzburg’s Festival Hall

Budget bolthole

Hotel Meininger offers stylish, modern accommodation in a convenient location in the centre of Salzburg. With doubles as well as larger family rooms and dorms, it makes a great place to stay for couples, families and small groups, whether eating out or self-catering – and it’s excellent value.

Rooms from £55 per night

Hotel Meininger, Salzburg

Hotel Meininger offers stylish, modern accommodation

What to bring home

Mozart’s legacy even extends to chocolate balls, in particular the famous pistachio and nougat filled ones found prettily gift-wrapped at Fürst. Stock up on sweet treats at this venerable Salzburg chocolatier.

Keeping everyone in good spirits since 1903, Sporer is a cute hole-in-the-wall store for trying and buying homemade punch, schnapps and liqueurs. Flavours like gentian, pine and rowanberry are a burst of the Alps.

Essential information

  • Tourist board information:
  • Emergency fire, police ambulance: 112
  • Mountain rescue: 140
  • British Embassy:
  • Flight time: Around two hours from London 
  • Currency: Euro (€)
  • International dialling code: +43

Local laws and etiquette

Salzburg is a safe, relaxed, easy-to-navigate city, but it’s worth bearing a few dos and don’ts in mind to make your stay even smoother. 

  • While many people speak good English, a little German goes down a treat. Greet people when entering an establishment with grüss Gott – or less formal Grüss di – then say auf Wiedersehen (goodbye) when you leave.
  • Public transport, operated by Salzburg Verkehr (, is efficient and inexpensive, with a single/day ticket costing €3/6.40. Tickets purchased from vending machines or using smartphones are significantly cheaper. The airport is a 20-minute bus ride from the centre.
  • Much of the Altstadt (historic centre) is pedestrian only. Make sure you pack some flat, comfortable shoes for cobbles and uphill climbs.
  • Few places impose strict dress codes, but take the lead of the locals and dress smartly for upscale restaurants, bars, theatres and the like. 
  • ATMs are widely available. While most hotels and restaurants accept major credit cards, make sure you have cash for smaller cafes and shops. 
  • Service charge (around 12.5 per cent) is typically already included, but it is customary to round up the bill, tipping between 5 per cent to 10 per cent in restaurants, and having some small change handy for bar staff, hotel porters and taxi drivers.

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