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!
A Self-Guided Tour of Salzburg Old Town
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.
Attractions 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 when walking in Salzburg Old Town. 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 Old Town 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 to Visit Outside Salzburg’s Old Town
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 Old Town
• 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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Great tip on the Salzburg card, thanks! I can’t imagine trying to tackle Salzburg in one day though. Looks like a week’s worth to see it all? Love the splashes of modern art mixed with so many historic sites. The Sphaera and the 900-year-old Hohensalzburg Fortress are quite a contrast!
We stopped in Salzburg to see Mozart’s residence as well. I’m so glad you included it. THe Old CIty is just so beautiful and I agree Salzburg is a great walking city to visit these spots
The Salzburg Fortress looks like an awesome place to explore! My kids would make me stay and place chess on the large board for hours! Salzburg has so much to do, I am definitely adding it to my bucket list.
I would love to tour the grounds of the Mirabell Palace, It looks so elegant and romantic! There are so many historical places to see! xo – Kam
I visited Salzburg 2 years ago, and like you described the laidback atmosphere of the city is surely a winner. I covered all the sites you mentioned above except the Hellbrunn Palace, the Trick Fountains sounds fun, haha. Strolling Getreidegasse was the favourite part of the city, the signs are very unique and creative.
I will be in Salzburg in 2 weeks. This information is so helpful. I love the street signs on Grain Lane and the view from Hohensalzburg Fortress. I will for sure stop in the cathedral too. Thank you for the information
Have a safe trip, Sherianne. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Salzburg a lot.
Those catacombs give me shivers but am still keen on seeing them. Loved the Salzburg castle – not just for its history but the views. DomQuartier Museum sounds like a treasure trove. Love this guide to the place. Thanks for sharing it.
The catacombs look scarier than they really are.
Although I visited Salzburg ages ago, I have great memories of the town. I love the St. Peter’s Cemetery (I have this thing with cemeteries everywhere I go…) and Getreidegasse is super pretty – great job pointing out that shops close at 5pm, though!
Salzburg has so many to see! I was there in winter and it was covered with snow. But it still looked so gorgeous! It is easily to spend several days there. The photos are very beautiful as well.
I should’ve guessed this beautifully written piece would be fashioned by someone equally as lovely. 😉 Wow! Salzburg is gorgeous. I’ve been to Austria and really wasn’t that big of a fan. Salzburg is much more my speed. Hohensalzburg Fortress looks amazing and the palace that you listed outside of the city would be my next stop. I need more (Eastern) Europe in my life.
I’m surprised you didn’t like Austria that much, Melody. Eastern Europe is amazing, but Austria is actually Central Europe.
Love your photo behind the Trick Fountain. That would have been so much fun. Heilbrunn Palace looks amazing, I am impressed with the architecture. Definitely one of my must do’s would be to visit Mozart Square to see his statue, his house and also to sit down and enjoy a coffee and people watch.
I’ve a very good friend from Salzburg, who keeps inviting me to visit, and I’ve still not been even though it’s not far from us. There are clearly so many great things to do in Salzburg, and I’d like to see everything if I could. I particularly like the look of Salzburg Fortress, and your meal at St Peter’s Cellar. Everything sounds wonderful, and your photos do the food justice!
I highly recommend a meal at St. Peter’s Cellar, Lisa. But I have to say, it’s an expensive restaurant.
This was like a walk down memory lane for me. I only been to Salzburg once in my life back in 2007 and really enjoyed walking around the old town, seeing Mozart’s stuff everywhere, checking out the castle. The only thing I didnt do was the ‘Sound of Music’ tour, which didnt interest me but I also love the fact Salzburg made a great place for a base to see the mountains, waterfalls nearby. Fantastic guide here and its making me want to come back to the region again.
I can’t get over how many beautiful places there is to visit in Salzburg. Of course, one that I would love to visit is Mozart’s Residence. To think that the composer created many of his famous works there. Amazing! Also, loved the story behind the Mirabell Palace. Your guide is super well done. Congrats!
Thank you, Marlene!
There are so many places I want to see here after your post. I didn’t expect to love Austria so much when I visited Vienna but it’s truly one of the most beautiful countries I’ve been to! I love the view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress and mountains in Salzburg and the buildings are so stunning. I’d love to see inside the Cathedral, DomQuartier Museum or Mirabell Palace. Definitely adding this to my list — pinned!
I visited Salzburg in the winter and absolutely loved the city, although it does look a bit different in the summer, but equally magical. I absolutely loved walking the streets of Getreidegasse, some very cute and cozy cafes attracted my attention. Also, the views from the Salzburg Fortress were breathtaking, I remember there was snow all around and it was blanketed in white, what a lovely scene!
It must have been really beautiful in winter, I’m sure.
Wow, this is the most complete post on Salzburg I’ve ever read – it’s actually like a guide book. I’ve been to Salzburg on a short half day trip and was then like ‘yeah, well, if I have nowhere else to go, I could come back…’. But after reading this, I really want to visit for a couple of days.
One question: Is the statue on the golden ball by Balkenhol? Looks very much like it.
Yes, Renata, the statue on the golden ball is by Balkenhol. It is mentioned in the text, but you probably didn’t notice.
This is definitely reigniting my urge to visit Austria again ASAP. I was there last summer and I haven’t stopped dreaming about those impeccable views! I love that you actually toured many of the museums that Salzburg has to offer. I think this is important to understand culturally the city and its folk have developed over time. It gives you a better understanding of why things are. Often times these places are highlighted in a Sound of Music tour, but tourists don’t take the time to slow down and see how this city is more than a set for a beautiful musical. Knowing that Mozart loved Salzburg as well was also a great treat! I didn’t tour the Mozart residents, but now I wish I had. I would have loved to see his fortepiano.
I definitely want to go back too, Martha.
I also fell in love with Salzburg during my first visit. We stayed there for a workshop/ seminar for 2 weeks and we just enjoyed it. There was so much to see and do and the food was great. It is definitely one of my recommended places to visit at least once in your lifetime. Thank you for sharing this post. It brought me back good memories.
Thanks for giving vivid descriptions and a virtual guide of Salzburg. The fort looks so very well-maintained in spite of being 900yo. Just wow! Would love to visit the museums for sure. The interiors and artefacts look exotic, again all credits to your wonderful photographs 🙂
Your post interest me because everyone mentions the Sound of Music tours but I didn’t know what else is there. I would love the fort and the catacombs. I’m glad to know there are historic places to explore (not sure I would be up for a Sound of Music tour — ha ha!).
The Sound of Music tour actually revolves around the city’s historic sites.
We prefer self-guided tour whenever possible, and from your article I can see us wandering around Salzburg like chasing waterfalls from one spot to another spot. Obviously the old town of Salzburg is so pretty! Salzburg Cathedral is incredibly beautiful, both from outside and the inside. Pretty impressive! A trip to Mozart’s Residence and Monument will be a wonderful experience.
Oh what a nice guide – in all honesty there are so many things to see that I didn’t know how to start writing but you did it so well and covered all the places I would have named. I especially liked the trick fountains in Hellbrun. I liked that you listed the photogenic places because there are no lack of them in Salzburg.
Salzburg is one of the places I really want to visit in Europe. I have never been to that place and I really want to see the Love-Lock Bridge (Makartsteg). It’s so romantic! I really hope I can leave a pari of locks there too. I want to experience the food too in Salzburg.
Hope you will, Emman.
Oh my gosh, I missed so much of Salzburg like the Grain Lane. And I desperately wanted to eat at St. Peter’s Cellar, but it wasn’t open! Now I have to return!
Salzburg Old Town looks so beautiful with many interesting attractions. I’d love to visit St. Mary’s Church and explore the Catacombs at St. Peter’s Cemetery. Also, getting a view of the city and surrounding area from Salzburg Fortress would be on my list too. Stieglkeller sounds like a great stop for beers and a pretzel!
You have really made it grea guide! It’s been so well explained and now I feel like seeing the movie Sound of Music again just for the fountain, which I didn’t notice so well earlier. I also feel like listening to more Mozart. India’s old towns are beautiul too., but they could do with some upgrading. I really hope to see the great composer’s home one day.
Thank you, Ambica.
Wow what a detailed guide! I absolutely love Salzburg and have been several times but have not seen all these great spots! I agree with you that you do not have to spend anything on the Getreidegasse to enjoy its beauty.
We also loved Salzburg. We opted for a self-guided Sound of Music tour when we were there, plus many of the sites you mention here. We also went up to the castle. Your photos are lovely and brought back so many memories.
Thank you Rhonda. I also loved The Sound of Music movie and visited many of its locations while in Salzburg.