Rick Steves is my constant travel companion. I take him everywhere I go and consult him on most of my travel plans. That being said, I frequently disagree with his opinions and recommendations. In his 2011 guidebook “Vienna Salzburg and Tirol”, he calls the sights in Salzburg “mediocre” but adds that the old town is a “touristy stroller’s delight”. I did enjoy wandering around the old town, but I didn’t find anything mediocre about the sights. A recent weekend in Salzburg ranks among the top visits I have made in Europe.
Salzburg is a lovely Baroque Austrian city nestled in the mountains, with the Salzach River dividing the old section from the new section of the city. While the architecture is stunning, what really impresses me about Salzburg are the cliffs that the city seemingly springs from. A steep hike up the Mönchsberg offers spectacular views and a respite from the noises below. People may know Salzburg as the hometown of Mozart, or as the setting for the Sound of Music, but what we discovered on our recent trip to Salzburg were the magnificent trails and views that skirted the city. It is a city that lends itself very easily to exploration by foot.
One full day is definitely not enough time to see everything the city has to offer, especially if you are planning to do it on foot. We managed to squeeze a lot of exploration into our limited time, and it left us wanting to get to know the city, and its friendly residents better. While we did consult with Rick during our visit, some of our favorite things were not high on his list of activities in Salzburg.
These were our favorites:
Both kids agreed that their favorite part of our visit to Salzburg was the Spielplatz near the Eisarena. This playground is fairly sizeable and includes a carousel, a sandbox, a rock climbing wall, a small jungle gym, swings, a bird’s nest swing, and something that can only be described as a giant rubber band mounted between poles. We had the most fun trying to balance and bounce one another off of this. The playground has something for kids of all ages.
My favorite was hiking along the trails in the Mönchsberg, taking in the spectacular views of the city. It seemed a bit more secluded and magical in these forested hills. I also enjoyed walking along the Salzach River, with its tree-lined pedestrian and biking paths. I must admit, I was also thrilled to stumble across places I recognized from the Sound of Music.
My husband enjoyed the atmosphere and the food of the Augustiner Bräustüble. He also enjoyed beating the lunch crowds up the hiking trail and getting one of the best seats at the Gasthaus Stadtalm. This was a particular feat, because with two children who enjoy a slow meander and an avid picture taker (me) we rarely beat the crowds anywhere.
Where we stayed:
The Villa Trapp – the original home of the family Von Trapp http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g190441-d1232851-Reviews-Villa_Trapp-Salzburg_Austrian_Alps.html
When I was searching for hotels I discovered that the original von Trapp family home was converted into a bed and breakfast. It had rooms available, within an acceptable price range. There was no question about it, this was where we were staying. The reviews of the hotel are mixed, and I feared that it wouldn’t live up to our expectations, but the kids were excited to stay at the “movie house” as they called it. I found it definitely worth a visit, we had a lovely stay and I would recommend it.
We arrived late Friday afternoon. The first thing we noticed was how built up the area around the Villa is. Original pictures show the house in the middle of a vast open space, but today it is surrounded by modern homes and one street over from a very commercial street. We finally saw a low wall, took a wrong turn and ended up in the neighboring Josef College. A short drive down the street and we reached the gates of the Villa.
There is no grand entrance, no ballroom, no gazebo and no lake in the backyard. In short, the movie takes A LOT of poetic license, and that’s ok. The house, while not a grand mansion, is a stately old family home. It’s not a palace, it is a real home converted into lodging. The film shows wrought iron gates at the front entrance of the estate. According to the movie “Villa Trapp the True Story”, the more ornate original gates were replaced by Heinrich Himmler when he used the house as his Salzburg headquarters.
We stayed in the wing side suite, two bedrooms and a sitting room on the third floor. This floor was added as servant’s quarters, but after the economic crisis of the 1930’s the family moved to the upper rooms and rented out the lower floors. The house was later sold to The Missionary of the Precious Blood, who recently rented it to the people now running the bed and breakfast. Each of the bedrooms are named after a family member, and our bedrooms were Hedwig and Eleonore two of the von Trapp children. The real von Trapp included ten children; Rupert, Agatha, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna, Martina, Rosemarie, Eleonore and Johannes.
The Villa von Trapp is located on the outskirts of the city. There are nearby train and bus stops, so transportation isn’t really a problem. We decided to walk the near 2.5 miles into Salzburg along the river. The route to the river takes you directly to the train station at the back of the property where the family took the train to Italy on their way to America.
Breakfast is not included in the price of the room. The food was good, but at 12 Euros per adult I thought it was a bit overpriced for a continental breakfast. We ate out the first morning and ate there the second morning. While we were enjoying our breakfast, the Palm Sunday service was being conducted from the sitting room next door. The church goers gathered around the outside of the house for the service. The Palm Sunday service concluded with a procession, complete with a lederhosen wearing band, to the church at the conclusion of the service.
A nice overview of the true story of the von Trapp family can be found in the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/winter/von-trapps.html
Where we went:
Spielzeug Museum (toy museum) http://www.salzburgmuseum.at/spielzeugmuseum.html
We found this museum on our winter visit, and we were grateful to find a place to warm up where the kids were content to spend hours exploring and playing. My kids give two enthusiastic thumbs up to the Spielzeug Museum. Upon admission, you remove your street shoes and don one of the many pairs of Crocs available for visitors. There are also lockers available to hold your bags while you explore the museum. If you have children, it is definitely worth a visit. While the museum has many interesting permanent and seasonal displays, the real draw is the multitude of interactive games and activities throughout the building. The kids were especially impressed with the first floor, which is full of building and design activities. They could have spent hours just putting the balls through the gravitational maze.
Museum of Modern Art Rupertinum http://www.museumdermoderne.at/en/the-museum/rupertinum/
We visited this museum over the winter also, in our attempt to find a warm space. It was a rather small museum, and while there were some interesting photographs, I wouldn’t visit it again.
Festung Hohensalzburg http://www.hohensalzburg.com/main.htm
We made the long hike up to the castle overlooking the city of Salzburg on our most recent visit. There is also a funicular that makes the steep trip up and down. We paid the admission and continued the steep climb to the center of the castle. We didn’t make it all the way through the castle, but we enjoyed the views of Salzburg and the exhibits in the castle. The children were enchanted with the rooms dedicated to marionettes the displays historic artifacts in the castle museum.
The shop signs make this street difficult to miss. Mozart’s birth house is also located on this street.
We took a bus trip to the Christmas market in December. Salzburg during Christmas is beautiful, but the Christmas market was so crowded that I had a difficult time enjoying it, and by midday, we had seen it all. The food was great, I recommend trying the Kaiserschmarrn, a deliciously rich pancake dessert.
Where we ate:
The Augustiner Bräustüble is located on the outskirts of the main tourist center. The first thing you’ll notice about the Augustiner is the size, it is huge. The second thing you’ll notice is the noise. We could hear voices echoing through the corridors as soon as we started down the stairs. This indoor / outdoor beer hall is run by Augustiner Monks, who brew the beer there. We found the inside too crowded and smoke filled, so despite the chilly evening, we sat outdoors. This isn’t a regular restaurant, you won’t find a waiter arriving at your table to take your order. Instead, you assemble your dinner from the food venders that line the main hall inside. This is also one of those places with a fountain for rinsing your beer mugs before you fill it, so it may be worth a visit just to try that. We had a varied assortment of food, between us we had schnitzel, wurst, fried shrimp, fried calamari, roast chicken, and pork off the bone. I thought that the food was mediocre, but the beer was good and the atmosphere was festive.
Gasthaus Stadtalm http://www.stadtalm.at/en
It is a steep hikeup to the Gasthaus Stadtalm. The Goulash soup was very tasty, the kids went with the schnitzel and pommes, of course. I had a mixed green salad with grilled chicken, and my husband had a cold plate of mixed porks and cheese. I thought the main dishes were average, but we’d eat there again. It was the view from the restaurant that made the hike there worthwhile. We beat the lunch crowds and sat at a table on the edge of the cliff, allowing us to gaze out over the city and the castle as we ate. After we finished our lunch, we hiked along the remnants of a medieval fortification wall nearby. There are several trails in the forest behind the restaurant, connecting the Museum of Modern art on the northern end to the Festung Hohensalzburg on the southern end.
Gasthaus zum Wildeman http://www.wildermann.co.at/index.php?id=4
This was the best of the restaurants we tried in Salzburg. It is located in the Altstadt, off of Getreidgasse. It has both indoor and outdoor seating. Rick Steves recommends the indoor seating for the atmosphere, but we chose the outdoor seating so we could enjoy the beautiful spring day. Fresh wild garlic was in everything on the seasonal menu, and the garlic soup was supreme. My husband had the lamb with garlic spätzle, which he enjoyed. The kids had pommes and schnitzel, go figure. I had the Bauernschmaus – the farmer’s plate, with pork, potato, sauerkraut and Knödel. The food was tasty and filling, the servers were efficient, and warmed up to us the more German we used.
What I hope to do on our next visit:
Haus der Natur
This was recommended to us by a frequent visitor to Salzburg. She said that her children always look forward to this museum and have a wonderful time here. We walked past this museum and got a glimpse of the child friendly displays inside, but unfortunately we ran out of time.
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is located at the northern end of the Mönchsberg. One of the staff members at our hotel recommended the café, she said that the food was good and the views were spectacular.
A small town located just outside of Salzburg, it is home to the Silent Night Chapel. I am mildly obsessed with this story, as my fourth grade class did a play about silent night. I remember my line to this day, “It sounds just like Christmas”.
The Sound of Music Tour
While we’ve been to the city twice now, stayed at the von Trapp family home, and seen a few of the settings from the film, we’ve yet to do the actual tour. The bus tour is the best way to visit all of the filming locations, which are scattered throughout the city and the surrounding areas.