With its backdrop of snow capped mountains, elegant Baroque architecture and narrow cobblestone streets, Salzburg’s Old Town stole my heart right from the start. After all, it’s hard not to fall in love with the town that was the cradle of one of the world’s greatest composers: Mozart!
Table of Contents
- 1 Salzburg Old Town – First Impressions
- 2 What to See in Salzburg Old Town
- 2.1 Love-Lock Bridge (Makartsteg)
- 2.2 Grain Lane (Getreidegasse)
- 2.3 Salzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg)
- 2.4 Mozart Square (Mozartplatz) & Mozart Monument
- 2.5 Mozart’s Residence
- 2.6 Residenz Square (Residenzplatz) & Fountain
- 2.7 DomQuartier Museum
- 2.8 Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom)
- 2.9 Chapter Square (Kapitelplatz)
- 2.10 St. Peter’s Cemetery & Catacombs
- 2.11 Mirabell Palace & Gardens
- 2.12 Franciscan Church (Franziskanerkirche)
- 3 Historic Restaurants in Old Town Salzburg
- 4 Attractions Outside of the Historic Center
- 5 Tips for Visiting Salzburg
Salzburg Old Town – First Impressions
What will probably strike you when you first see Salzburg is its magnificent setting. Almost anywhere you turn, you’ll find something pleasing for the eye. The city stretches along both banks of the River Salzach, emerging from the Salzkammergut Mountains. This beautiful location allows visitors to use the city as a home base for many beautiful day trips in the area around Salzburg.
Another thing that you’ll notice is the town’s calm and relaxed atmosphere. Unlike Vienna’s historic center which is dominated by lavish palaces and imposing buildings, Salzburg’s historic town is quaint and romantic. A labyrinth of narrow streets lined up with Medieval and Baroque buildings, arched portals and charming squares.
What to See in Salzburg Old Town
For the most part, Old Town Salzburg is a pedestrian zone crammed with cafés and restaurants. Most of Salzburg’s attractions are located in this area (also known as the historic center) and are within walking distance from each other. Here is where you will find the fortress, the cathedral, the lovely squares, St Peter’s cemetery, Mozart’s birthplace and Nonnberg Abbey (featured in The Sound of Music). Therefore, the best way to explore this area is on foot.
Love-Lock Bridge (Makartsteg)
Several bridges link the historic center with the more modern part of Salzburg. One of these bridges is the famous “Love-Lock” Bridge (Makartsteg), a pedestrian overpass that you will probably cross at least once, going into the Old Town. About 20,000 pedestrians cross this bridge every day.
The Love-Lock Bridge is nothing out of the ordinary, other than the fact that it has a ton of padlocks attacked to its rails. It is however a great spot to photograph the river with the city in the background.
Grain Lane (Getreidegasse)
Getreidegasse is the main shopping street in the historic center. This place surely didn’t disappoint me! First of all it has an abundance of designer stores and small gift shops, all waiting to be explored. Secondly, it has a plethora of cafés and restaurants serving some of the most delicious dishes, specialty coffees and deserts.
Prices are higher on this street compared to other areas in Salzburg. However, spending money on Grain Lane is not a requirement for having fun here. Simply walking up and down the street and observing the quirky signs above the stores is delightful. One thing to remember while visiting the old town is that while the restaurants and cafés are open till late in the evening, all shops close at 5 pm. Therefore, if you want to do any shopping here, you should do it earlier in the day.
Salzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg)
You can’t fail to notice the Hohensalzburg Fortress if you are in Salzburg. The mighty 900-year-old citadel sits proudly atop a high cliff, watching over the town below. The castle is visible from far away.
Salzburg Fortress was built in 1077 for defense purposes and was never conquered by enemy troops. Over the centuries, the fortress had many roles, serving as a prison, an army camp, and a military stronghold.
You can easily spend half a day at Hohensalzburg, exploring the interiors and the three museums of the citadel. It’s interesting to notice that despite its robust aspect, the fortress has beautifully decorated interiors. You’ll see wood paneling, arched ceilings and elaborate door frames. At the top of the compound there is a beautiful terrace overlooking the the city. From up here, you have the most spectacular views of the entire city and the area around it.
Mozart Square (Mozartplatz) & Mozart Monument
Right after you cross the River Salzach to enter Salzburg’s historic center, you’ll find yourself in Mozartplatz (Mozart Square). Mozart Square is relatively small and because it’s so close to the edge of the town, most people just pass by it on their way to other old town attractions. If you decide to stop here, there are a few cafés around the square where you can sit and relax for a while.
At the center of the square you’ll notice Mozart’s statue which was unveiled on September 5, 1842, in the presence of his sons. Mozart’s wife, Constanze, didn’t live to see the statue. She passed away a few months before the unveiling, on March 6th, in the house at Mozartplatz 8.
Also in Mozart Square is the house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived with his family between 1773 and 1781. This is different from the house where the composer was born, which is also in the Old Town, but in a different area. The house at Mozartplatz was rented by Mozart’s father, Leopold, for his son’s growing family. At the time the house was known as the Dance Master’s House (Tanzmeisterhaus), but it later became known as the Mozart’s Residence.
After World War II the house underwent some serious renovations, but remained closed to the public till 1996, when it became a museum. Mozart composed many of his famous works in this house. Among the exhibits, you can see the composer’s original fortepiano and some other instruments.
Residenz Square (Residenzplatz) & Fountain
As you continue your walk through Altstadt Salzburg you’ll come across the much larger and imposing Residenz Square (Residenzplatz). The Square was named after the Residenz building of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg (Alte Residenz) that sits on the west side of the square.
At the center of Residenz Square you will see the Residenz Fountain (Residenzbrunnen). This is the biggest Baroque fountain outside of Italy. Notice intricate design of the fountain. At the base there are 4 beautiful horses supporting a big rock decorated with marine animals and plants. Four male figures carry the first bowl and 3 dolphins carry the second one. In the middle of the second bowl is Triton, the demigod of the sea. The Sound of Music fans will recognize this magnificent marble fountain from the movie.
DomQuartier is a large complex with over 180 extravagant rooms, a church, art galleries and a collection of religious artifacts. If you decide to visit the complex, you’ll need to take an audio guided tour. The DomQuartier tour starts with the Baroque state rooms at Alte Residenz (Old Residence). This was the official place where the prince-archbishops of Salzburg conducted business. It was also the place where Mozart gave his first concert, at the age of 6!
Like most palaces, Alte Residenz has been altered and redesigned many times over the centuries by the rulers of Salzburg. The current building is mostly what Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau started around 1600.
From the state rooms, the tour continues through the Residenz Gallery, the Cathedral Museum and then into the museum of St. Peter’s Abbey. The DomQuartier is an interesting tour which I can strongly recommend, if you are in Salzburg.
Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom)
Although not as impressive as Vienna’s churches, Salzburg Cathedral cannot be ignored. It’s hard to miss this beautiful church in the center of Salzburg Old Town. Its distinctive two-towered façade and the mighty building are visible from afar.
The original church was founded by Rupert, the first Bishop of Salzburg, in 774 on the remains of a Roman settlement. Over its history, Salzburg Cathedral went through some rough times. Fire destroyed it almost completely twice. During World War II, a bomb crashed through the central dome causing it to collapse and destroying the floor and the burial vaults underneath the cathedral.
The exterior of the cathedral is massive and it looks like it was carved out of the living rock. The entrance is flanked by four monumental statues representing the Apostles Peter and Paul and the two patron saints of Salzburg – Rupert and Virgil.
The interior is highly ornate with Baroque features and a very impressive barrel vault. Salzburg Cathedral still displays the original baptismal font where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized. Also very interesting to visit is the crypt below the cathedral. Nearly all the deceased prince-archbishops of Salzburg have been buried here, beginning with Markus Sittikus, the Prince-Bishop who erected the cathedral.
Chapter Square (Kapitelplatz)
On the south side of Salzburg Cathedral is the beautiful Chapter Square. The square which marks the center of the Old Town, was once the site of the Cathedral Abbey. You’ll pass through Chapter Square on your way to the fortress, the funicular, or to St. Peter’s Cemetery.
At the center of the square is the beautiful marble fountain of Neptune, god of the sea, holding a trident and crown. The other two highlights of Chapter Square are the Sphaera, an interesting work of modern art, and the huge chessboard with life-size pieces. The 9-meter high Sphaera representing a boy on a golden sphere is the creation of German artist Stephan Balkenhol.
The huge chessboard is often the scene of tight games between very tensed adversaries. If you are a chess fan, definitely don’t miss the chance to play a game here! Not sure about your next move? No worries. There are always plenty of kibitzers around to offer you free advice.
St. Peter’s Cemetery & Catacombs
St. Peter’s Cemetery is one of Salzburg’s most popular attractions. There are two ways to enter the cemetery. The one that most visitors use is through St. Peter’s Abbey, at the corner of St. Peter’s Restaurant. We missed this entrance because the monastery was under renovation and the scaffold was totally obstructing the cemetery gate.
The other entrance is through a big iron gate right below the fortress, on the way to the funicular. We found this one totally by accident, after going in circles for about an hour. The gate seems locked, but if you push hard it will open.
St. Peter’s Cemetery is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the 700s. The small and picturesque graveyard has quite a few tombstones and burial vaults. Among the famous people buried here are Michael Hayden, Joseph Hayden’s younger brother and Maria Anna Mozart (Nannerl), Mozart’s older sister. Their tombs are next to the entrance of the catacombs. In the middle of the cemetery is the beautiful St. Mary’s Chapel, a small late Gothic church.
Also on the cemetery grounds, perched up on a granite wall, are the mystical catacombs. This is a series of small caves that served as burial site in antiquity and later on as a refuge for the early Christians. Today, on the site of the catacombs there are two small chapels dating back to 1178.
Mirabell Palace & Gardens
When Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, the young Archbishop of Salzburg set eyes on the beautiful Salome Alt, a textile merchant’s daughter, it was love at first sight. But marrying her required a special dispensation from the Pope, which he did not receive. The result was the beautiful Mirabell Palace, which the archbishop built for his mistress. The two lived secretly in this castle for 22 years. How romantic!
Today, the palace is the venue for the most romantic weddings, as well numerous musical events. The Marble Hall, which once served as the banquet hall of the prince-archbishops of Salzburg, is one of the most beautiful halls in the world! In the past, young Mozart and his sister, Nannerl, performed in this hall.
Another thing not to miss at Mirabell is the beautiful Pegasus Fountain, featuring a sculpture of a horse. The fountain was added to the palace in 1913.
Franciscan Church (Franziskanerkirche)
Every time I think I have just seen the most beautiful church, I walk a few blocks and find another one even more spectacular. The slender tower of the Franciscan Church is an unmissable point on Salzburg’s skyline.
The grand large church is one of the oldest ones in the city, dating back to 1408. Franziskanerkirche sits at the intersection of Franziskanergasse and Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse opposite the Franciscan Friary. The church is the venue for many wonderful concerts.
Historic Restaurants in Old Town Salzburg
Stieglkeller Beer Garden & Restaurant
Another noteworthy Old Town attraction is Stieglkeller. This is one of Salzburg’s oldest and most famous biergartens. As it appears, they have been brewing beer in this location for more than 500 years!
Stieglkeller has two beautiful terraces that hang high above the town’s rooftops. If you only go for the view, you should climb up to the top terrace to enjoy some of the most spectacular views of Salzburg’s. You will however have to carry your beer up there. The terrace below also serves food and it’s covered.
We only stopped here for a couple of beers and a pretzel, but Stieglkeller also has a good restaurant on the premises that serves authentic Austrian specialties. Stiegl beer is one of the best that you’ll ever have (my husband’s favorite) and a must try when in the area.
Saint Peter’s Cellar (Stifskulinarium)
The best place to eat in Old Town is undoubtedly St. Peter’s Cellar (Stifskulinarium). The restaurant is located in St. Peter’s Abbey, next to the cemetery gate. If you want to experience not just good food, but also a place with a long culinary tradition, you should come to St. Peter’s Cellar. This restaurant has true class in every sense of the word!
St. Peter’s Stiftskulinarium is expensive, so expect to leave a few hundred Euros behind. Nonetheless, the sublime food and wine and the outstanding service will make you feel it was money well spent. Truth is that you don’t come to St. Peter’s Cellar just to eat a good meal. You come here for the entire experience: for dining in one of Europe’s oldest restaurants, whose doors have been continuously open for more than 1,200 years.
We’ve spent an unforgettable evening at St. Peter’s Cellar celebrating my husband’s birthday. It was an evening we won’t forget very soon. Something that we’ve only experienced in Budapest, at Gundel’s.
Over its long history, St. Peter’s Cellar has hosted countless dignitaries, including cardinals, kings, and state presidents. The restaurant often presents Mozart dinners with food and musicians dressed in period costumes.
Attractions Outside of the Historic Center
Pretty much everything you’ll want to see in Salzburg is within the compact area of the Old Town. However, if you want to venture outside the historic center, you may want to visit the Hellbrunn Palace.
Hellbrunn Palace & Trick Fountains
The 400 years old Hellbrunn Palace is in my opinion one of must-see attractions in Salzburg. What makes this palace very special are its funny “trick fountains,” something that you’ve probably never seen before.
Hellbrun was the summer residence of Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus, who planned the palace as an oasis of pleasure for himself and his friends. He hired architect Santino Solari (who also designed the Salzburg Cathedral) and asked him to create something fun and entertaining for his guests. The result were the beautiful and unique trick fountains.
The Trick Fountains
The Trick Fountains are as fun today as they were back in 1612, when they were built. The water pressure founts start pumping water totally unexpected, watering the surprised and unsuspecting visitors. Since Hellbrunn was a summer palace, the prince’s guests probably didn’t mind getting a little wet while visiting the gardens. And even if they felt somewhat uncomfortable, they probably didn’t dare complain to their host.
Today’s visitors will not be caught entirely by surprise, like in Markus Sittikus’ time. Certainly, the palace administrators don’t want to be responsible for expensive cameras getting wet! Therefore, the guides will give visitors a little warning about the possibility of being sprayed. They won’t however disclose the exact location of the nozzles. Therefore, the element of surprise is always present, which makes it a lot of fun.
Tips for Visiting Salzburg
• Start Your Day Early
Salzburg is one of Europe’s most sought after destination. Therefore, its small Old Town is almost always packed with tourists. Starting your day early will give you an edge and allow you to enjoy the beautiful sites before visitors start pouring in. We prefer to visit Europe off-season, when the crowds are somewhat smaller, but even then there may be crowds at the attractions at the peak of the day.
• Buy the Salzburg Card
If you plan to spend more than a day in Salzburg, I suggest you buy the Salzburg Card, which has many benefits. The card will give you free admission to all the city’s attractions. Also, it will give you free public transportation (incl. Festungsbahn funicular and Salzach River Tour I). You can buy the Salzburg Card for 24, 48 or 72 hours here.
• Best Viewpoints in Salzburg
If you are a passionate photographer, like me, you are probably constantly looking for the best vantage points for your shots. The good news is that Salzburg has quite a few of them.
- Salzburg Fortress (both terraces);
- The Bastion Trail lookout (a peaceful trail leading up to the fortress);
- The Mirabell Gardens;
- Chapter Square;
- Stieglkeller Beer Garden;
- St. Peter’s Catacombs;
- New Residenz Bell Tower (in Residenz Square);
- “Love-Lock” Pedestrian Bridge.
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