The storybook city of Salzburg offers so much more than I ever expected. It was never supposed to be a big stop on my whirlwind tour of Central Europe, but it ended up being my absolute favourite stop on the road trip.
Salzburg lies in the north-west corner of Austria, north of the Alps, on the banks of Salzach and dates back to the 5th century BC. (I love this part about visiting Europe everything is older than dust.) Salzburg is famously known for the setting of The Sound of Music and the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Mozart
The old town’s architecture is boasted as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Here are five free things to do in Salzburg, Austria:
The massive Mirabell garden rest at the base of the Mirabell Palace. From the famous Do-Re-Mi steps of the Sound of Music, you can see the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Inside you can stroll along the hedges and flowerbeds and spy on the statues in the Zwergerlgarten. Other sculptures are modelled after the Roman gods.
Even in winter, the gardens are sure to impress. The doors to the gardens open at 6am but close at dusk. This place is the perfect thing to see first thing in the morning, especially if you want to pull a Julie Andrews and belt Sound of Music on the stairs. Fewer people will judge you in the morning.
Related: Packing for an Alps road trip
Explore the old churches like Dom Quartier Salzburg
Salzburg was a mystery to me at first. It was a place to rest my head on my bigger journey, but that made it even more impressive. Exploring in the evening was special. There wasn’t a tonne of people, and around every corner was something to explore. I stumbled upon the Dom Quartier Salzburg, a stunning baroque Cathedral.
This place is super old (check), super large (check) and super churchy (check). My eyes lit up like that heart-eye emoji. Can you marry buildings? Don’t answer that.
In front of the Dom is the statue of Mary. In the winter the city covers these delicate statues in sort of glass enclosure.
Around the corner, you can find the Franziskanerkirche and St. Michaelskirche all gorgeous structures that weave a tale of Christianity in Austria.
Explore the old town
Old Town of Salzburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans both sides of the Salzach River. Walk the river’s edge or stumble down its narrow pathways. Of the places you need to hit up check out these:
Mozart’s residence – aka where Mozart did his thing – is now the home of a museum dedicated to the brilliant composer. You can go inside the museum for 10 euro, or just explore the outside and take in the pink hue of this giant house where music was made.
Makartsteg – aka the love lock bridge – is a pedestrian bridge that will take you over the Salzach River. If you’re in love, buy a lock and chain it to the fence to show how much you care about each other. If you’re single like me, just take photos and attach a lock to show your love of the beautiful Salzburg.
Views of Hohensalzburg – towering over the city is the Hohensalzburg Fortress, a mighty symbol of the city. It is the largest intact fortress in Central Europe. And I mean it was built in 1077 (I repeat, everything in Europe is OLDER THAN DUST) so apparently it was built to last. You can check it out free from anywhere in old town, just look up and there it is. It costs around 10 euro to look at the inside, and you can take the Funicular to get there!
Related: All about Hallstatt, Austria
Shop and eat at a Christmas or Winter Market
There’s something about the lights around Christmas time that makes everything more magical. I stumbled upon the Wintermarkt, a Christmas market that runs until Epiphany. Here you can taste mulled wine, explore the beautiful crafts and stuff your bag with souvenirs.
Salzburg offers festivals year round, so research before you go and enjoy the celebrations.
Spot the signs on the famous Getreidegasse
Is that McDonalds? Is that the third H&M I’ve seen? Is that a Chinese restaurant? Yes, times three. All of these things and more can be found on the Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s famous shopping street.
Mozart was born on this street – ON THE STREET GUYS – okay maybe not on the street, but you can visit his bright yellow birthplace while perusing the shops and restaurants. The street is 350 metres long full of shops that you might recognize – like H&M and Swarovski – and some you might not.
Above all the neatly decorated windows, rod iron guild signs mark each shop. These signs are works of art.
BONUS: Enjoy the best Hot Chocolate you’ve ever had at Café Mozart on Getreidegasse!
Salzburg is an unsuspected gem, someplace I never expected to enjoy, but its stunning architecture, expansive history and rich culture make it a must see place in Central Europe.
Q: what’s one place you never expected to love? Let me know below!
Do you like to explore at night or in the morning? Pin your answer: