Things to do in Salzburg

As one of the most beautiful cities in Austria, it’s easy to lose yourself in the heritage and music of Salzburg.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

Updated:

The best things to do in Salzburg

The centre of Salzburg is a World Heritage Site and it's easy to see why, with gorgeous streets capturing centuries of rich culture.

But beyond the obvious sights in Salzburg, there are also wonderful pockets of local life to discover, embracing music, food, and the surrounding landscapes.

Just the name ‘Salzburg’ is enough to conjure up images of a European modern fairytale – majestic churches, colourful facades, quaint shops on quiet streets, and narrow bridges over a wide river.

Even if you have never been, you probably have a feeling of Salzburg, regardless of whether you have a mental picture.

The Austrian city is one of those places that’s talked about as an iconic destination for a trip in this region – and, I can tell you, it’s justified.

Beautiful from the approach, beautiful from above, and beautiful from within, Salzburg creates a consistent panorama of style. Zoom in further and each building, plaza, and restaurant is captivating on its own.

Salzburg, Austria

In a moment, I’ve got lots of tips for what to do in Salzburg, but I just want to quickly tell you about what I found in one of them – the Salzburg Museum.

In the final exhibition space, taking up an entire floor, it poses a question about something called ‘the Salzburg Myth’. Talking about the 19th century, the introduction puts it like this:

On the one hand, Romantic painters, writers and scientists publicise their overbrimming enthusiasm for the region of Salzburg in words and pictures throughout the whole of Europe.

On the other hand, the political situation is changing: the prince archbishops lose their power, Salzburg is annexed to Austria – now the citizens themselves can determine public life.

The city and the Province of Salzburg place their stakes with great success on tourism and culture, the population grows, the pressure to modernise increases.

Salzburg, Austria

The early nineteenth century was a big period of change in Salzburg. In some ways, though, what’s written in this exhibition could be about today – a point that it goes on to make.

The city now relies on tourism as its main source of income. It’s a situation that fortunately creates the need to preserve the history… but also presents some challenges.

As the exhibition’s conclusion says:

Salzburg remains a projection surface for historical clichés, individual fantasies and cultural dreams within the charged polarities of Romantic transcendence and commercial exploitation of the prince archbishops’ baroque heritage.

The Salzburg myth lives on. But does it really live on everywhere?

Salzburg Museum, Salzburg, Austria

I know this isn’t the usual introduction to a story about the best things to do in Salzburg, but I wanted to bring up the issue that there are many layers to this city beyond the alluring facades.

There are centuries of stories of industry, aristocracy, religion, technology and economy. Salzburg should not be looked at simply as a snapshot of a bygone era, even if it now presents itself as a tourist fairytale.

But, having said that, you’re going to love your time in Salzburg, exploring the beautiful sights around the historic centre, and then seeing the landmarks that are easily accessed around the region.

If you’re planning to see a lot of sights, you may be able to save some money by using the Salzburg Card.

From the churches and palaces to the streets and squares, you’ll easily find the main sights in Salzburg. But you’ll also be enchanted by the music, delve into the history, and hopefully try some local sweets.

Main sights

Although you’ll want to see as many sights in Salzburg as possible, it helps to know the most important ones. From the fortress at the top of the hill, to the large district around the cathedral, these are the things not to miss on any visit to Salzburg.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Looming over the city, Hohensalzburg Fortress sits at the top of a hill and is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.

Construction of the castle began in 1077 and was gradually expanded over the years, with the current bastions from the 17th century. What’s particularly impressive is that it was barely attacked so the fortress complex has been well preserved.

Hohensalzburg Fortress, Salzburg, Austria

To get up to the top, you can climb the stairs or use the cable car. The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive at the summit is that there are excellent views of the city from up here.

Other than wandering around, there are two main things to do at Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Hohensalzburg Fortress, Salzburg, Austria

The first is to go into the museum which has lots of exhibits that show life in the castle and Salzburg. The other is to take the 30-minute tour through some of the rooms and up to the roof of the tower.

If you like, you can buy your entry ticket in advance here.

Hohensalzburg Fortress is open at the following times:
January to April: 9:30 – 17:00
May to September: 8:30 – 20:00
October to December: 9:30 – 17:00

A standard ticket is €10.80 and €4.40 for children.

Salzburg Cathedral

Salzburg Cathedral is hard to miss. In the centre of the historic town, its spires rise above almost everything else. It’s not just the physical centre of the city, but also the spiritual.

It’s free to go inside the main part of Salzburg Cathedral (although there’s a donation box) and you won’t be disappointed, with an enormous cavernous space with elaborately decorated chapels continuing the Baroque style that defines the exterior.

Salzburg Cathedral, Salzburg, Austria

The current version of the cathedral was built in the 17th century, with a mighty dome and two tall towers. Artwork fills the walls and the paintings on the ceiling are particularly noteworthy.

Salzburg Cathedral also houses several important treasures, including the bronze baptismal font where Mozart was baptised, as well as the imposing organ, the main gates, and seven bells.

DomQuartier Salzburg

A museum complex so magical that you could spend half a day here, make sure you leave plenty of time for Salzburg’s DomQuartier.

Referring to it as a museum might be a bit of an understatement, as you technically have access to four different showrooms and exhibitions for just €13. The DomQuartier Salzburg is comprised of lavish staterooms, the exceptional Residenzgalerie, the Cathedral Museum, as well as St. Peter’s Museum.

Salzburg Cathedral, Salzburg, Austria

I think you’ll find the staterooms where the Prince Archbishops once lived especially impressive. Not only is each room the epitome of all things opulent and regal, but this also has the room where Mozart once performed as a youngster.

Next up is the Residenzgalerie, where art buffs will have the chance to admire a host of incredible artworks from dozens of European painters. The collection includes pieces from the 16th century right up to the 1800s.

Prepare to be blown away by the Cathedral Museum. As stunning as it is from the outside, the inside is just as impressive. Between the huge organ, beautifully designed dome, and collection of religious treasures, there’s plenty to see here.

Last but not least is St Peter’s Museum, a monastery that’s been around for over 1,400 years. Having been renovated numerous times, you’ll notice a unique mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Rococo architecture here.

To save some time, you can buy your entry ticket in advance here.

Salzburg Cathedral is open daily from 10:00 – 17:00 except Tuesday. In July and August, from 10:00 – 18:00, and in December to 6 January from 10:00 – 17:00.

A standard ticket is €13 and a concession is €10.

Old Town

From the Middle Ages until the 19th century, the centre of Salzburg continued to grow with grand buildings projecting its wealth.

First, it was the city’s Flamboyant Gothic art that attracted craftsmen from around Europe, and later it was influences from Italy that led to the Baroque style that dominates today.

Many of the most important things to do in Salzburg are found in the Old Town, and you’ll likely spend a lot of time seeing the sights here.

The City Hall and the vibrant shopping street of Getreidegasse are focal points but make sure not to also miss squares like Residenzplatz, Kapitelplatz, and Mozartplatz, which each bring something different to the table.

City Tour

I’m a firm believer that nothing beats a walking tour when you touch down in a new city, and this definitely rings true for Salzburg.

While you can easily make your way around the Old Town by yourself, you gain so much insight and knowledge by joining a tour with a guide. Plus, these locals will be able to share anecdotes and tips you won’t be able to find otherwise.

For one of the best options, I would recommend this 2.5-hour tour will take you to spots like Mirabell Palace, Getreidegasse, and Mönchsberg Hill.

Or there are some other excellent tours here:

Mirabell Palace

Even if you don’t join a tour, make sure to take yourself to the elegant Mirabell Palace, which is surrounded by the most perfectly manicured gardens you could imagine.

A popular wedding venue today, the Mirabell Palace was originally built by the prince-archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his mistress Salome Alt in the 17th century.

Salzburg, Austria

Inside the palace, you’ll have the chance to admire the Angel Staircase and the Marble Hall, but make sure you give yourself ample time to wander the gardens, all of which are free of charge.

Mirabell Palace is open Monday to Saturday from 8:00 – 18:00.
It is closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Admission to the Mirabell Palace is free.

Nonnberg Abbey

Nonnberg Abbey dates back to the 800s and continues to operate as a nunnery today, placing it among the world’s longest-running communities of nuns.

Perched on the Festungsberg (the mountain that has the fortress at the top), Nonnberg Abbey overlooks much of Salzburg and is home to a lovely little Gothic church and peaceful grounds.

Sound of Music tour, Salzburg, Austria

Fans of The Sound of Music might even notice that Nonnberg Abbey was actually a shooting location for one of the film’s musical numbers.

This is the perfect pocket of Salzburg to visit when you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Old Town.

Nonnberg Abbey is open from 6:30 – 18:00.

Entrance to the Nonnberg Abbey is free.

Catacombs at St Peter’s Abbey

Near Salzburg Cathedral is another beautiful church, St Peter’s Abbey, which is free to enter. It also has a graveyard around it which is actually quite pretty and worth having a look at.

On the cliff to one side are catacombs where important people were once buried. They are quite small and it doesn’t take long to look around them, but they offer some insight into the traditions of previous centuries.

Catacombs at St Peter’s Abbey, Salzburg, Austria

Hopefully, you’ll be lucky enough, like me, to see a group of elderly German women holding crystals over the tombs, trying to detect spirits!

The Catacombs at St Peter’s Abbey is open at the following times:
May to September: 10:00 – 12:30 and 13:00– 18:00
October to April: 10:00 – 12:30 and 13:00– 17:00

A standard ticket is €2 and €1.50 for 6-18 years old.

Music

Music has always been an important part of Salzburg’s story and you’ll still find concerts and other events regularly taking place in the city.

Most famously, though, the city is known as the home of Amadeus Mozart and a primary filming location of The Sound of Music – both of which can be explored at some of Salzburg’s landmarks.

Sound of Music tour

Salzburg, musicals, sightseeing – these are a few of my favourite things. And, of course, they all come together with the Sound of Music, much of which was filmed around here.

I always find it odd to be reminded that Austrians really don’t know much about the movie, but it’s a huge deal for many people. So much so, that there are quite a few tours that will take you to the filming locations.

Sound of Music tour, Salzburg, Austria

The most popular option is this half-day tour, where you’ll be whisked away to the rolling hills of the Lake District; visit the Leopoldskron Palace, which was used as the von Trapp family home; as well as other locations from the movie, like the Mondsee Cathedral and Nonnberg Abbey.

I also really enjoyed this Sound of Music tour by bicycle. When we’re not admiring the scenery or listening to the guide, there are plenty of opportunities to sing along to the biggest hits from the soundtrack.

Mozart’s Birthplace

Salzburg is famous for being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and you’ll find references to him all throughout the city (including a large statue in Mozart Square).

But there are two main sites I would recommend seeing if you’re interested in learning more, and the first is Mozart’s Birthplace.

Mozart's Birthplace, Salzburg, Austria

Now a museum, Mozart’s Birthplace is the house where he was born and spent his early years. The focus of the exhibits here is on his family life and his transformation into a musical genius.

There is also a lot of information about the life of people in Salzburg during his time – particularly those of a higher social class. So it’s worth getting the audioguide to learn a lot more.

Mozart’s Birthplace is open from 9:00 – 17:30.

A standard ticket is €13.50 and a concession is €10.50.

Mozart’s Residence

The second Mozart site is called Mozart’s Residence. This is where his family moved to later in his life.

The emphasis of the exhibits at Mozart’s Residence is much more on his music and there’s an excellent collection of instruments. The museum also looks at how his image has been used in popular culture since his death.

Again, the audioguide adds a lot of value to the visit.

Personally, I’m not convinced that the entry prices for both museums are justified because they really feel like half a site each (there is a combination ticket available).

Mozart’s Residence is open from 9:00 – 17:30.

A standard ticket is €13.50 and a concession is €10.50.

Mozart concert

To something a bit more classical – and one of the most iconic things to do in Salzburg is attend a concert of Mozart’s music. As fascinating as it is to learn about the life of Salzburg’s most revered native, it’s really something else to hear his work brought to life by a team of talented musicians.

The performance itself is a fine display of classical music, but it’s also set in the marble hall of the Mirabell Palace, giving it an unmatched atmosphere in the most stylish of settings.

Lasting for around 90 minutes, this concert typically starts around 8:00 pm and runs almost every night of the week.

Museums

Although the city itself can sometimes feel like a huge gallery, Salzburg still has lots of museums showcasing the art, music, and history the city is known for.

To help you choose what to visit, these are my tips for the best museums in Salzburg.

Salzburg Museum

NOTE: The Salzburg Museum is currently closed for renovations.
It is due to reopen later in 2024.

If you want to get to know the city, from its origins to the influences on modern culture, a good place to start is the Salzburg Museum.

The Salzburg Museum tells the tale of the history of the city – with some archaeological evidence of the Roman Empire, the period of wealth when the sale of the region’s salt brought money flowing in, the transfer of ownership between neighbours and self-rule, and the blossoming of the Baroque architecture.

Salzburg Museum, Salzburg, Austria

As well as having lots of great information, it is put together with some really innovative display techniques. Even if you’re not normally much of a museum person, this is one I highly recommend.

Panorama Museum

NOTE: The Panorama Museum was closed in March 2023.
From 2025, the Salzburg Panorama will become the centrepiece of a new museum in the south wing of the historic Orangery in the Mirabell Gardens.

The Panorama Museum is connected to the Salzburg Museum with an underground passage and you can get a combined ticket. It is basically just one room that has a 360-degree panorama of how Salzburg looked in 1829.

With so much detail in the artwork, you can even use the telescope to magnify particular scenes to see examples of everyday life.

Panorama Museum, Salzburg, Austria

Unless you are particularly interested in this kind of thing, I don’t think it’s worth the individual ticket price but it can be a nice addition to the Salzburg Museum.

Museum of Modern Art (Mönchsberg)

Up on the city’s hill, you’ll find Salzburg’s Museum of Modern Art, an interesting building hosting a good variety of art exhibitions.

The galleries are spread over several levels and there are a lot of temporary exhibits, so you’ll also find something new here.

Museum of Modern Art (Mönchsberg), Salzburg, Austria

When I visit the Museum of Modern Art, I’m particularly impressed with the variety of media that has been included and the way the themes and stories of the works are linked together.

To get up there, you can use a lift. Alternatively, you can walk along the crest of the hill from the Hohensalzburg Fortress. There is also another section of the museum about five minutes away, down in the old part of town.

Museum of Modern Art (Mönchsberg) is open at these times:
Tuesday to Sunday: 10:00 – 18:00
Wednesday: 10:00 – 20:00
Closed on Mondays.

A standard ticket is €14 and a concession is €11.
Admission is free for ages 19 and below.

Toy Museum

The Toy Museum will be a lifesaver if you’re travelling with little ones and they’ve had their fill of classical music and baroque architecture.

Almost like a cross between a museum and a play area, you’ll find train sets, marbles, slides, building blocks, and everything in between.

Best of all, the Salzburg Toy Museum caters to toddlers right up to older children of around 10 or 11 years of age.

Toy Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 – 17:00.

A standard ticket is €5 and a concession is €4; €2 for children 4-15 years old, and €2.50 for 16-26 years old.

Around town

If you manage to check all of the above spots off your list, you’ll be glad to know that Salzburg has even more to offer beyond these attractions.

Take your pick from brewery tours, tranquil boat trips, and scenic cable car rides.

Hellbrunn Palace

On the outskirts of Salzburg (about 40 minutes walk, if you choose to do it that way), is Hellbrunn Palace. Designed in the baroque style, it was intended as a day residence in the summer months, which is why there are no bedrooms.

Hellbrunn Palace, Salzburg, Austria

The palace building itself is an interesting and well-designed museum but I was a bit disappointed that you can’t see more of it in its original interior design.

The real highlight at Hellbrunn Palace is the ‘trick fountains’ and they’re great for visitors of all ages.

Hellbrunn Palace, Salzburg, Austria

You have to see the fountains as a tour where the guide will show you all the interactive parts of the display. I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say you should be prepared to get a little wet (which is nice and refreshing on a summer day!).

Hellbrunn Palace is open at these times:
23 March to April: 9:30 – 17:30
May and June: 9:30 – 18:30
July and August: 9:30 – 19:00
September: 9:30 – 18:30
October to 3 November: 9:30 – 17:30

A standard ticket is €15 and €6.50 for children 4-18 years old.

Salzach cruise

The river is one of the defining features of Salzburg and there’s no better way to see it than on a river cruise.

The standard trip starts in the historic centre and goes for about eight kilometres along the river towards Hellbrunn Palace. You’ll get some wonderful views of the city and the surrounding landscapes, including the mountains.

During busy periods, I would suggest booking in advance here.

Salzburg, Austria

The standard Salzach cruise will probably be enough for most people, but there are a few other options here that offer a combined experience, that may suit your itinerary:

Seeing as the boat almost goes to Hellbrunn Palace anyway, it can be quite convenient to see the palace at the same time.

Untersberg

One of the most important parts of Austria is its legendary mountains, and thankfully you can get to them with just a 20-minute drive from the heart of Salzburg.

Nestled between Austria and Germany, Untersberg is a small cluster of mountains that gives easy access to some beautiful peaks, offering hiking or skiing and plenty of other outdoor activities (and some indoor eating and drinking).

Here, you’ll find the Untersbergbahn, a gondola that takes you over a kilometre up to the summit. Along the 8-minute ride, you’ll witness some staggering views of the surrounding hills and Salzburg, with either picturesque snow-capped peaks or vibrant green landscapes.

Single trips come in at €18, while round-trip tickets go for €28.

Food and drink

Have you ever really been to Austria if you haven’t sampled schnitzel, strudel, and Viennese coffee?

In addition to these classic culinary delights, Salzburg has a couple of its own tasty treats, including Salzburger nockerl and the much-loved Stiegl beer.

Things to eat in Salzburg

Of course, heaps of restaurants around the city serve their own take on Salzburger nockerl, a soufflé-like dessert that’s perfectly fluffy and delicious, but you can try your hand at crafting your own at a cooking class.

Beer drinkers will undoubtedly have a Steigl Brewery trip on their to-do list. Uncover the crafting process and lengthy history of this brewhouse with a tour and tasting.

Day trips

Salzburg’s convenient location in the centre of Austria makes it a wonderful base for a range of day trips in the region.

There are neighbouring towns, historical sites, and scenic hotspots easily reachable by car, or there are some great guided tours that’ll give you an even deeper experience.

Hallstatt

Even if you’re not too familiar with the name, it’s very likely you’ve seen images of this beautiful alpine village that’s set on the side of a lake.

Hallstatt lies just an hour away from Salzburg and has become the standard by which all quaint alpine villages are now judged. With a fairytale-like centre and jaw-dropping viewpoint, it’s even said it was the inspiration for the town in Disney’s Frozen.

If you don’t want to drive (and parking is a nightmare!) you can get to Hallstatt from Salzburg on this popular half-day tour. Or, if you’re in a group, you may find that this private tour is a better choice.

Eagle’s Nest

The German border is just a few kilometres from Salzburg and, once you’ve crossed over, it’s just a short 30-minute drive to the Eagle’s Nest, Adolf Hitler’s former mountaintop hideout.

Besides the stellar views from every corner of the property in the Bavarian Alps, the infamous Eagle’s Nest is brimming with not-so-ancient history. In fact, the tunnels you’ll walk through and the elevator you’ll take to the top are the very ones used by Hitler during the 1940s.

To get the best out of this day trip, I recommended joining this good small-group tour, as the parking situation gets chaotic, especially in the afternoon.

Or there are some private tour options here:

St Johann am Pongau

For a wonderful Austrian experience that’s a little off the typical foreign tourist trail, I would suggest the town of St Johann am Pongau, about 50 kilometres south of Salzburg.

In winter, it’s a popular skiing destination with locals and you could certainly join them if that’s when you’re in town.

Things to do in St Johann im Pongau

But I think things really shine in the warmer months when there are so many things to do in St Johann am Pongau. In particular, the hiking trails amongst the mountains are gorgeous, leading to incredible views and inns.

A highlight here, though, is the impressive natural landmark called the Liechtensteinklamm, the longest and deepest gorge in the Alps. You can descend to the bottom and walk along the ravine for some spectacular sights.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN SALZBURG

I would recommend staying in the historic centre – and there are wonderful options on either side of the river.

BACKPACKER

You’ll find very comfortable and modern dorm rooms at the cool Wolfgang’s managed by a&o.

BUDGET

For great value right in the Old Town, check out Institut St Sebastian, which is in a historic building.

BOUTIQUE

With an interesting design and very comfortable rooms, I would recommend Small Luxury Hotel Goldgasse.

LUXURY

And if you’re looking for something special, Hotel Schloss Mönchstein is pure luxury with a stunning mountain location.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by the Austrian National Tourist Office in partnership with Captivate but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

UNESCO logo

This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

10 thoughts on “Things to do in Salzburg”

  1. I’ll put Salzburg on my itinerary to visit for a weekend next year! I didn’t really consider visiting this town in Austria, until I saw your post. I never knew it was so rich in history!

    Reply
    • Oh, you’ll love it there! Not only is it full of history, but it’s just so pretty and such a pleasure to spend time in! It’s perfect for a weekend for people who are based in central Europe!

      Reply
  2. great post!! wow, that looks truly incredible. Great pictures. Looking forward to reading more of your post! Cheers. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    Reply

Leave a comment