My personal recommendation: don’t go to Salzburg! Ok, to be fair, the Salzburg fortress is quite impressive, but the rest of the city is boring as hell. From my perspective, it’s somewhere between Vienna and Prague: better than Vienna, less interesting than Prague. However, if you want to just check Salzburg off, this is a list of the least boring (and some pretty cool) places to visit in Salzburg.
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Lucky for you, most of the churches, residences, and squares you’re supposed to visit in Salzburg are at one place: the Old Town (Altstadt). Once you manage to get to Residenzplatz (the Residence square), you have all the mandatory “school trip” sights at your fingertips:
I know, all of this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I wasn’t impressed. Maybe it’s because in the Czech Republic we have this kind of baroque monstrous buildings at every corner. Anyhow, on the corner, next to the Residence Palace (the new one with bell tower), you can find a true gem for Christmas freaks, or children: Salzburger Weihnachtsmuseum. A small museum (30 minutes visit) with a historical collection of Christmas decorations, toys, and various Christmas-related this and that.
At the other side of the Cathedral is the Kapitelplatz with the famous golden “Sphaera”, and artwork by Stephan Balkenhol. You’ll cross the square anyway on your way to St. Peter’s Monastery or to the funicular to Hohensalzburg Fortress. Speaking of which, the square is a perfect spot to take pictures of the fortress towering over the Old Town.
Tip: Salzburg is full of both older and contemporary sculptures. For an art lover, it’s beautiful to just walk through the city and try to spot all of them. However, for LOTR fans, there’s also a Nazgûl sculpture right in the city center! Well, actually it’s called Pietá and it represents Il Commendatore, the character from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. You will find it on the right side in front of the Salzburg Cathedral entrance.
Across the bridge, on the other side of the Salzach river, Mirabell Palace and gardens are situated. Yawn…The Mirabell Palace with its baroque gardens makes Salzburg a signature postcard view. As I said, I’m not really a fan of baroque things, but even though I have no idea why people seem to love it there. True is the gardens are situated in a way that allows you to take a good pic of the fortress and the gardens. However, I know a better place I will disclose later in the article.
Fun fact: You may know the gardens from the Hollywood classic “The Sound of Music”, as several parts of the film were shot on this spot.
Opening times and prices:
Tip: Opposite the gardens on the Makartplatz, stands the Mozart Residence housing the exhibition dedicated to his life. Mozart is a Salzburg icon, so you can find references to him all over the city. Including his birth house across the river. Funny that the world-known, well-traveled composer lived just a few streets from the place he was born.
When you’re in Salzburg on a family trip, I bet the kids won’t particularly enjoy the stucco decoration and baroque statues. What they will appreciate is a trip to Hellbrunn Palace and Salzburg Zoo. It’s a bit further from the city center (13 minutes by car), but it’s worth it.
The Hellbrunn Palace was built in the 17th century as a “pleasure palace” for the archbishops of Salzburg. It was basically a party house in the woods, for hunting, celebrations, banquets, and so on. The biggest draw is the “trick fountains”. A collection of fountains and water-based mechanical sculptures with moving figures are related to Greek and Roman mythology and the history of the Salzburg region. Especially in the summer, the walk among (and under) the fountains can be refreshing. I recommend visiting the palace as well as the fountain gardens, there are magnificent well-preserved frescoes and even a unicorn inside the palace!
The Salzburg Zoo is a 15-minutes' walk from the castle, set on the verge of the forest and full of cute and dangerous animals. Including a rare Snow leopard, or Irbis as it’s called.
Our tips for Salzburg:
One of the Salzburg highlights is the Museum of Modern Art on the Mönchsberg rock high above the Salzburg rooftops. You don’t have to be a modern art intellectual to enjoy this site (I’m not either), but I strongly recommend getting up there if only just because of the view. There’s a lift leading to the top, so you have no excuse. Although the hike up to the hill offers nice scenery along the way, including the city walls and towers which would be a shame to miss. You can refresh yourself in the bistro on the top or have a cup of coffee on the terrace and enjoy the Salzburg landscape.
That’s what we are all looking for at Austria vacation—Beer Museum! And not some ordinary boring museum. You can enjoy your beer journey with all senses, you can watch it in a Brewery Cinema, tickle your taste buds in the tasting cellar, touch it and smell it everywhere in the building. Of course, the Czech beer is much better but as boring as Salzburg is, this museum is a pleasant surprise.
At Salzburg Airport stands the large stylish hangar filled with airplanes, motorbikes, rally cars, and Formula 1 exhibition. It’s a real gem for technology enthusiasts. Apart from the boy-paradise display, there’s also a café and Michelin Icarus restaurant present on the premises. In a nutshell, it’s sort of a something-for-everyone combo. In the end, every girlfriend/wife will happily escort you to a technical exhibition if you promise to take her to a Micheline restaurant for dinner afterwards. ?
Fun fact: The whole exhibition is under Red Bull patronage. That’s because the brand’s headquarters is at Fuschl am See in the Salzburg region. And because the company’s marketing is mainly linked to extreme sports. Read more about the Austrian brands and background in 7 Things About Austria You Should Know Before You Go (History, Culture, Politics, and More).
And finally, to the jewel in the crown of Salzburg—Festung Hohensalzburg, in other words, Salzburg Fortress. It’s the first thing that catches your eye when you arrive in Salzburg. The landscape dominant has been guarding the city gates for centuries from the top of the hill. It’s one of the largest (still existing) 11th-century fortress complexes in Europe.
One would think it used to be a royal residence. Well, that’s partially true. Although it was not the king’s castle but a fortress of the prince bishops. All this only shows the importance and the power of the bishopric in the Holy Roman Empire. They represented both secular and ecclesiastical power, granting independence for the whole Salzkammergut region. The archbishopric independence lapsed in 1805 when Salzburg became a part of Austria. Then shortly it was under Bavarian jurisdiction, until 1818 when the archdiocese was reestablished as a part of Duchy of Salzburg. Nowadays, Salzburg is the capital of the eponymous federal state of Austria. Now, let’s move to more beneficial tourist information.
Fun fact: This grandiose fortress was in fact never sieged, so the bishops and archbishops spent most of their time living in the Residenz palace at the center of the Old Town.
Once upon a time, there was a dashing young man on his quest for the best places to see in Austria. He took his beautiful, graceful wife on a tour of Hohensalzburg Fortress in great anticipation of fairytale adventure. They bought the tickets and marched in through the gates. Then suddenly, after passing several gates, they found out one ticket is missing!
Jan thought they must have lost it somewhere on the way, so they got back to the first gate asking the service for the ticket revival, explaining the situation. It cannot be a problem when we already got through so many gates, he thought.
What was his surprise when he found out his wide smile and charming approach weren’t reciprocated! The staff at the fortress probably hadn’t changed since medieval times and they still were on the warpath. They were extremely obnoxious, acting like they don’t speak English at all and making a drama out of the situation.
Long story short, finally we got in after a very long and irritating scene. I was so pissed I rate it on Google with one star (which I normally don’t do at all) and I even bothered with writing a review (which I never do). To top off the disappointment, there was nothing really to see inside. The exhibition is poor, maybe except for the armory room. There’s a nice view from over the walls, but there are definitely more interesting places in the area.
I found this city really boring, so I’m probably not the best person to make the itinerary. I think 1 day is more than enough. But you could go like this:
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I hereby present to you a Detailed 1-day Dresden itinerary! It’s packed to the brims—you can stretch it out to 2 days by visiting all of the museums I mention (but no more than that, it’s not that amazing).
I want you to enjoy Dresden without rushing around the city, so right off the bat I’m going to tell you that you won’t be able to see everything on this list if you only have a day in Dresden. Keep reading.