Salzburg and Surroundings
The birthplace of Mozart — and everyone's Sound of Music fantasies — Salzburg is a Baroque jewel of a town. It's also the springboard for lots of alpine fun — from thrilling summer bobsledding, to idyllic boat rides in the Salzkammergut lake district, to exploring the delightful romantic town of Hallstatt.
- Read the script from the show.
Mozart's Residence (Wohnhaus)
This reconstruction of Mozart's second home (his family moved here when he was 17) is the most informative Mozart sight in town. The English-language audioguide (included with admission, 90 min) provides a fascinating insight into Mozart's life and music, with the usual scores, old pianos, and an interesting 30-minute film (#17 on your audioguide for soundtrack) that runs continuously (Makartplatz 8, tel. 0662/8742-2740).
Built on a rock (called Festungsberg) 400 feet above the Salzach River, this fortress was never really used. That's the idea. It was a good investment — so foreboding, nobody attacked the town for a thousand years. The city was never taken by force, but when Napoleon stopped by, Salzburg wisely surrendered. After a stint as a military barracks, the fortress was opened to the public in the 1860s by Emperor Franz Josef. Today it remains one of Europe's mightiest castles, dominating Salzburg's skyline and offering incredible views.
Augustiner Bräustübl, a huge 1,000-seat beer garden within a monk-run brewery in the Kloster Mülln, is rustic and raw. On busy nights, it's like a Munich beer hall with no music but the volume turned up. When it's cool outside, you'll enjoy a historic setting inside beer-sloshed and smoke-stained halls. On balmy evenings, it's like a Renoir painting — but with beer breath — under chestnut trees. Local students mix with tourists eating hearty slabs of schnitzel with their fingers or cold meals from the self-serve picnic counter, while children frolic on the playground kegs. For your beer: Pick up a half-liter or full-liter mug, pay the lady (schank means self-serve price, bedienung is the price with waiter service), wash your mug, give Mr. Keg your receipt and empty mug, and you will be made happy. Waiters only bring beer; they don't bring food — instead, go up the stairs, survey the hallway of deli counters, and assemble your own meal (or, as long as you buy a drink, you can bring in a picnic). Classic pretzels from the bakery and spiraled, salty radishes make great beer even better. For dessert — after a visit to the strudel kiosk — enjoy the incomparable floodlit view of old Salzburg from the nearby Müllnersteg pedestrian bridge and a riverside stroll home (Augustinergasse 4, tel. 0662/431-246). It's about a 15-minute walk along the river (with the river on your right) from the Staatsbrücke bridge. After passing the pedestrian Müllnersteg bridge, just after Café am Kai, follow the stairs up to a busy street, and cross it. From here, either continue up more stairs into the trees and around the small church (for a scenic approach to the monastery), or stick to the sidewalk as it curves around to Augustinergasse. Either way, your goal is the huge yellow building. Don't be fooled by second-rate gardens serving the same beer nearby.
Schnapps Pit Stop: At Getreidegasse 39, Sporer serves up homemade spirits. This has been a family-run show for a century — fun-loving, proud, and English-speaking. Nuss is nut, Marille is apricot (typical of this region), the Kletzen cocktail is like a super-thick Baileys with pear, and Edle Brande are the stronger schnapps. The many homemade firewaters are in jugs at the end of the bar. Austrian wines are sold by the Achtel (eighth of a liter).
If you're driving between Salzburg and Hallstatt, you'll pass two luge rides. Each is a ski lift that drags you backward up the hill as you sit on your go-cart. At the top, you ride the cart down the winding metal course. It's easy: Push to go, pull to stop, take your hands off your stick and you get hurt.
Each course is just off the road with easy parking. The ride up and down takes about 15 minutes. The one near Fuschlsee (closest to Salzburg, look for Sommerrodelbahn sign) is half as long and cheaper (1,970 feet, tel. 06235/7297). The one near Wolfgangsee (look for Riesenschutzbahn sign) is a double course, more scenic with grand lake views (4,265 feet, each track is the same speed, tel. 06137/7085). Courses are open Easter through October — but will generally close in bad weather. These are fun, but the concrete courses near Reutte are better.
If you have yet to tour a salt mine, consider Hallstatt's — which claims to be the oldest in the world. First you'll ride a steep funicular high above the town (closed Nov–April). Then you'll hike 10 minutes to the mine (past excavation sites of many prehistoric tombs and a glass case with 2,500-year-old bones — but there's little to actually see). Report back 10 minutes before the tour time on your ticket, check your bag, and put on old miners' clothes. Then hike 200 yards higher in your funny outfit to meet your guide, who escorts your group down a tunnel dug in 1719. Inside the mountain, you'll watch a slide show, follow your guide through several caverns as you learn about mining techniques over the last 7,000 years, see a silly laser show on a glassy subterranean lake, peek at a few waxy cavemen with pickaxes, and ride the train out. The highlight for most is sliding down two banisters (the second one is longer and ends with a flash for an automatic souvenir photo that clocks your speed — see how you did compared to the rest of your group after the tour). The presentation is very low-tech, as the mining company owns all three mine tours in the area and sees little reason to invest in the experience when they can simply mine the tourists. While the tour is mostly in German, the guide is required to speak English if you ask...so ask (no children under age 4, arrive early or late to avoid summer crowds, dress for the constant 47-degree temperature, tel. 06132/200-2400). If you skip the funicular, the scenic 40-minute hike back into town is (with strong knees) a joy.
At the base of the funicular, notice train tracks leading to the Erbstollen tunnel entrance. This lowest of the salt tunnels goes many miles into the mountain, where a shaft connects it to the tunnels you just explored. Today, the salty brine from these tunnels flows 25 miles through the world's oldest pipeline — made of wood until quite recently — to the huge modern salt works (next to the highway) at Ebensee.
For up-to-date specifics, see the latest edition of the Rick Steves' Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol travel guide — or join us on one of our free-spirited Germany and Austria tours.