Salzburg. The city of the classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Home to the renowned Salzburg Festival, an annual cultural event held in July and August, with music and drama and the play Jedermann (Everymann) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal as the annual highlight. A city with magnificent architecture and many great Baroque examples. The shooting location of the classic movie The Sound of Music that isn’t even that famous or popular in Austria. Apparently Salzburg is a place for everyone during every season. Despite actually liking The Sound of Music a lot, my last visit to this town was during a school visit around 10 years ago. So a while ago. At the end of summer I decided that it was time to change that. I hopped on a train and spent an afternoon in Salzburg and also met up with a friend of mine (Moscow Reunion #?).
Salzburg is close to the border with Germany, and is divided by the river Salzach. The Oldtown underneath the Mönchsberg and the Hohensalzburg Fortress is located on the left side of the river, whereas the ‘New Town’ is on the right side, south of the Kapuzinerberg. With a population of around 150,000 people the city is the fourth largest one in Austria (after Vienna, Graz, and Linz). It is also the capital city of the federal province Salzburg. The city’s name derives from ‘salt castle’ and comes from the salt mining done around the city.
Salzburg actually has quite a long & rich history, reaching back to the Stone Age. Key events that made the region and city important happened during the Middle Ages, especially in the Baroque times of the 17th and 18th century when many great buildings were erected. A former independent country – a prince-bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire with Salzburg as the seat of the Archbishopric – Salzburg was annexed to the Habsburg Monarchy in 1816 because the Archbishops lost their secular power as a result of the Napoleonic wars and lost much of its economical cultural prosperity. At the end of the 19th century the city was finally able to recover, and after WW1 the famous Salzburg Festival was founded. It started to become a fashionable place to be during summer, especially because of this event. The city became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in honour of the unique baroque architecture in 1997. Besides that and being the home of Mozart and the shooting location of The Sound of Music there is a lot to discover in Salzburg – the rich art scene, the many restaurants and cafés, manicured parks, and the narrow streets with many shops and boutiques make it a wonderful place. And the many tourists that venture to this city can agree with me on that. Salzburg is Austria’s second most visited city after Vienna.
After arriving at the central train station one of the first sights that one encounters en route to the old town is the Mirabell Palace. The name derives from mirabile & bella – admirable & beautiful – and is a perfect description for the palace and its garden if you ask me. Erected in 1606 for the archbishop and his mistress as a pleasure palace, it can now be booked for weddings and is also home to municipal offices.
The Mirabell Garden in its underlying geometric form (typical for Baroque) is perfect for taking a stroll on a warm sunny afternoon. And on all other days as well. It is one of the shooting locations of The Sound of Music movie. Sounding like a modern fairy tale but it actually happened: the story of the Trapp family. A young woman leaves a convent to become the governess to the seven children of a Naval officer widower in the 1930s. They get married (surprise surprise), found a family choir, emigrate to the US (because of the growing popularity of the Nazis in Austria) and gain international success and fame. The ‘Sound of Music’ movie portrays this story, and even won five oscars. It is loaded with stereotypes about Austrian people, and no, we (the Austrian people) don’t sing that much.
Crossing the Salzach via the pedestrian bridge (that always reminds me of the Harry Potter Bridge – the Millenium Bridge in London – even though it has no similarity to it at all) one already gets a glimpse of the old town with its baroque buildings and of course the Hohensalzburg Castle on top of the Festungsberg. This is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe and was built in the early 11th century. My friend Viktoria and I decided not to go up there and spend the afternoon in the old town instead.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and grew up in this city, visitors bump into Mozart around almost every corner of Salzburg. Almost the entire old town is a walkable Mozart museum: his birthplace, former residence, a monument, the grave of his sister and so on. In my opinion both his former residence and birthplace are rather unspectacular from the outside (I’ve never been inside though), but it’s still a tourist attraction nonetheless. The funny thing to me was that in the house of his birthplace there is now a super fancy looking supermarket that is actually just a regular one.
One of the most pompous places in Salzburg is the Residenzplatz, a large square in the historic centre. Its name derives from the residence of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. The Salzburg Cathedral, founded in 774 and rebuilt in the 12th c., is located in the south and the Alte Reisdenz in the west. There is also the Neue Residenz with a bell tower, a Renaissance building that was erected in the 16th century. Also around the corner is the rather prominent statue of a huge gold ball on top of which a man is standing. This is part of an art installation – the Sphaera – by the German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol.
The food & sweets
A restaurant chain that was founded in Salzburg is my Indigo. They offer food that is healthy, versatile and perfect for those that do not have that much time to eat but still want to grab something healthy for lunch or dinner. Sushi, salads, curries, and soups are on their menu. Many of their dishes are either vegetarian or vegan, and they also have a lot of gluten-free options as well. I went for a vegan curry (low carb option – so with more veggies and no rice or couscous) and it was truly delicious. Feel good food for everyone. The restaurant that we went to is located near Staatsbrücke on Rudolfskai, and is open Mo–Sa 11:00–23:00 & So 12:00–21:00.
The go-to souvenir and typical confectionary of Austria – the Mozartkugel – has its origin in Salzburg. The small round confection made of pistachio marzipan, nougat, and dark chocolate was first created by the Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst in 1890, then known as Mozart-Bonbon. Fürst’s descendants still manufacture this confectionary and sell it in their bakery in the heart of the old town. For 1.30€ per piece one can buy one of those and go into Mozart-heaven. Even if one doesn’t like marzipan (I don’t) one should definitely try them at least once.
A coffee and a piece of cake is a must in a city like Salzburg. The Café Fingerlos is a great place for doing that. It’s a very typical and rather traditional coffee house (actually it’s a patisserie and confectionary) that also offers breakfast and lunch. They have a great assortment of cakes that look really exquisite which makes it the perfect location for a person with a sweet tooth like me. Oh, and they even have a vegan cake of the day, so of course I had to try this one with a cup of good old-fashioned ‘Verlängerter’ (a typical Austrian coffee – espresso prepared with double amount of water).
The bottom line
Unfortunately, Salzburg faces a similar problem as Prague, Venice, Barcelona and many other places do. Like them, Salzburg has too many tourists and no added value is created for the city (because of the types of tourists coming to the city and the way they consume hardly anything to nothing). The city reports many traffic jams and most of the parking lots are occupied because of the hoards of tourists coming to the city. Many tourists are brought to the city via organised bus tours and only spend 2-3 hours in the city and don’t consume much but still overcrowd the historic old town. Many of the locals avoid going to this place at certain points of the day because of the many tourists. (read more about the problem here)
This should in no way discourage you from visiting this beautiful city though. However, I must admit that this was also a reason for me why I haven’t visited this city in such a long time: everyone’s always talking about the hoard of tourists roaming the city, making it less enjoyable. Nevertheless, I like the city, especially because of its wonderful architecture. I’d never want to live there though, but for a day visit it’s a great place. And you should pick a weekday and not a weekend to visit, there are definitely less people there. Oh, and it helps if it’s a rather gloomy day :)
Here’s my favourite Sound of Music song. I couldn’t withhold it from you. A great end to a blogpost, don’t you think? Enjoy. ;)