I tried to visit Salzburg on my first 2006 trip to Europe, but I was incredibly ill when I arrived, so I just caught the first train out to Munich, where I could sleep.
It was a pleasure to finally make it back! I must say that I’m not surprised that the French came up as worst at English in the EU recently – despite speaking more French than German now, it has been more relaxing to be in Austria so far because I can get by with limited German since people are generally fluent in English. While I don’t expect this, it certainly is nice! It was also nice to discover that my “single” room here was quite an upgrade from Vienna!
When I arrived in Salzburg, I bought a 24-hour transit ticket, which is the price of two single tickets. Even if you’re buying the Salzburg Pass, this was a good plan because I needed to get to my hotel and to the first attraction to activate it. Beyond that though, this is certainly a city where the Salzburg Pass is a great idea if you’re staying at least 2 days! The initial price is a little high for a 24 hour pass, but bumping it to 48 or 72 is quite cheap (only 5 Euro to add the 3rd day). It offers free entry to a huge number of tourist sights, plus free public transportation. Get the Pass!
Once I decided to buy the pass (available at your hotel, but activated at the first attraction), I knew that I didn’t want to burn out on any single type of activity. I avoided museums in Vienna because I feel like I’ve seen SO MANY of them, so I thought selecting a little of everything here would be best – not too many palaces, museums or Mozart sites! So, for Day 1, I decided to really get my money’s worth by taking the Untersberg cable car! I’d expected a white Christmas in the Austrian Alps and was disappointed to discover that Austria is not completely buried in snow in December, so it was time to get that “Alps” experience!
Before I arrived here though, it occurred to me that my comfy black sneakers and lack of hat or gloves might be a problem. At first, I figured, “how bad can it be?” and thought I’d just tough it out. Don’t do it folks!!! You aren’t even seeing the VERY top that we went to in this photo and, in December, the conditions are exactly what you’d expect on TOP OF A GIANT MOUNTAIN. Fortunately, on the way there, I noticed a bus stop in front of a shoe store and shop selling winter gear next door – convenient! If you find yourself in the same boat, the Quick Schuh store in Anif had a nice selection of winter boots on sale, so I found a pair that looked nice, were good quality and were comfortable . . . yet were on sale for 40 Euro! I have no winter boots, so they weren’t a wasted purchase either. They kept my feet perfectly dry and warm in appallingly cold conditions.
After you crest what you think is the top, then see how much further up you’re going, you realize that winter gear is mandatory. Even outfitted in better gear, the cold was so intense that my legs hurt with only having jeans on. I’ve never really traveled in the winter before, so needing full “mountain snow” gear hadn’t occurred to me before I left!
I enjoyed the experience overall though and liked the display that explained how the local mountains and lakes formed. It was a nice place to stop and have lunch as well, but at low prices, I expected the food not to be that great. Surprisingly, the wiener schnitzel had great flavor – the breading was actually the most flavorful that I’d had so far (third version to date). I was shocked, at the end of my meal, to see that the server was smoking at the register though! I didn’t notice this in Vienna, but I did notice in Salzburg that people can still smoke in restaurants! It completely grossed me out, although the ventilation at the first place was good enough that I’d never smelled it – I walked out of a couple of other places where I could clearly smell it when I walked in.
I’d clearly arrived at the right time because I walked outside again and could barely see in front of my face! I decided it was time to move on to the next activity – the Dom Quartier. Having went through the various sites now, I’d recommend seeing the Salzburg Museum first as it gives a more general overview of the city and its history. You can see the nasty storm cloud that came in at the top of the photos below:
My hotel ended up being in a perfect spot and on both the bus line out to the zoo, Hellbrunn Palace and the cable car, but on that line and another, more frequent, one to the city center (in about 5 minutes). I was surprised when the bus dropped me off on the other side of the river though! Turns out, the roads near the river are one way, so I had to cross it (with an excellent view) to reach the old town, which is a UNESCO site. I started off by crossing Mozartplatz.
Once you’re there, you realize that the old town is a pedestrian area and made up of interlinking squares and small passages. Many of the tourist sites are here with cathedrals, museums and nearby are Mozart’s birth house and the funicular to the fortress. While the buildings have a similar green, domed look as the Prussian ones, they are distinctly different. The style is “Baroque,” but Salzburg was influenced both by Germany and Italy in the styles and building structures.
The Dom Quartier includes several different tours. The first takes you through the Residence Palace, which was used by the Prince-Archbishops. This is a key piece of history that is introduced in this part of the tour because Salzburg was ruled by someone who was both prince AND archbishop, meaning he controlled the civic and religious parts of the state. Due to this, Salzburg was an independent city-state for a very long time; technically, Mozart was not Austrian because Salzburg was not part of Austria then! This combined secular-and-spiritual leader model continued until the Napoleonic Wars.
I wanted to share this one photo, which shows the hidden passages that servants used to keep the fires burning without disturbing the nobles. This was a skilled job since a mistake could cause a fire, like one that destroyed part of the palace. The Residenz was interesting to visit, although the majority of the contents are gone now. It was built in 1604 by Wolf Dietrich, who I heard a lot about in other tours later! He was also responsible for the Baroque remodeling of many of the buildings near the Residenz.
The next part of the museum is an art museum. Here, you learn that Salzburg is really trying to improve the tourism in the city and to attract people outside of the Salzburg Festival (music festival). I have one recommendation that I could make – don’t shut so many things down in the winter! Or open them over winter break at least – Hellbrunn Palace, a couple of the smaller museums and the boat cruises are all included in the pass, but are all closed in November-March. The museum was showcasing an exhibit about how this painting of Rembrandt’s was drawn and painted. I was drawn in by the detail! Look at how realistic the back of her hands are – incredible.
I don’t have many photos from inside the Dom Quartier because most of the areas had signs indicating that no photography was allowed. I’m not sure why places do this – if somebody isn’t going to ever travel to a place, then photographs share a little bit of the world with them. If they *are* going to travel to your place, I’ve never looked at photos and thought, “well, I don’t need to go there and see it myself now.” If anything, it’s often photos that make me want to see the place myself. If you want to see a brief tour (3 minutes), you can do so here: Dom Quartier Official Video
The tour also takes you through a museum for the church, through the church on the organ balcony (where you will watch little flashes go off repeatedly – used by people who clearly lack the understanding that flash only helps when something is close and in the range of the flash . . . and that it is inappropriate to use in an operational church) and through a recreated “museum of curiosities,” where they have gathered items to mimic cabinets of curiosities that would have existed at the time. These used to be a way for rulers to show their knowledge by displaying artifacts from all over the world and natural items, such as large gems or taxidermied animals.
None of the museums really stand out as SUPER spectacular on their own, but I like the combined ticket that shows you just a small taste of several different things. The total tour takes about 1 1/2 hours and is included in the Salzburg Card.
Now, I will leave you with pictures of the breakfast buffet, which I decided to splurge on for one of my mornings in Salzburg! My hotels after this include breakfast, so we’ll see what I’m getting there. This one also included scrambled eggs, eggs you could boil soft or hard, sausages and bacon (along with the usual bread, cereals, juices and coffee). Be aware that German-speaking places have a bad tendency to list “sausages” in English when they actually mean deli meats. I’ve had this happen in Germany and Austria. In this case, I mean ACTUAL sausages.
I’ll be back tomorrow with my visit to the Fortress, a HUGE Google Maps fail, a little more history about the unique city-state of Salzburg and the Mozart part of my visit! And I’ll wrap up my final day in Salzburg with a “Sound of Music” tour. 😀