We spent two days in Salzburg toward the end of our Austrian tour, which wasn’t enough, but when you’re trying to visit three cities in 10 days, you do what you can. It seemed ridiculous to go all the way to Austria and not visit Salzburg—home of the Von Trapps!
If you are at all a fan of The Sound of Music, you must take one of the tours! I’m always a bit skeptical of blatantly touristy things like group tours, but I looooove The Sound of Music, and in this case, it was well worth it. We reserved ahead of time through Panorama Tours for €42 per person for the 4-hour tour. They have an 8-hour tour option as well, which includes lunch, but I thought 4 hours would be sufficient.
Some of that time is spent traveling on the bus up to the Lake District outside of Salzburg. While you could reasonably easily see some of the locations from the movie in and around Salzburg proper, the only way to get up to the Lake District is to rent a car or take a tour. And the Lake District is BEAUTIFUL! Austria has thousands of lakes surrounded by mountains, which make for particularly picturesque scenery. The town of Mondsee is also home to the cathedral where Maria and the Captain were married.
The tour takes you to visit highlights of the exterior locations from the movie: the lake that served as the Von Trapp’s “backyard,” the gazebo where Liesl and Franz danced and kissed in the rain, the grove of trees from which the Von Trapp children were hanging as the Captain drove by with the Baronness. Funny story about the gazebo: you used to be able to go in and take photos inside, but it’s now permanently locked because some dumb woman fell and hurt herself while attempting to re-create Liesl’s jumps from one bench to another. The tour guide didn’t tell us her nationality, but I would be willing to bet she was American. It sounds like something an American would do.
Speaking of tour guides, ours was excellent. He was quite funny and obviously really knows a lot about The Sound of Music and Salzburg generally. He gave us a lot of history about the city during the tour.
Another great way to learn some history is to tour the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which towers over the city and is the largest fully preserved fortress in Central Europe. You can walk up to the Fortress, but unless you are prepared for quite the workout, I recommend taking the funicular instead. For €12 per person, you get admission to the Fortress, the audio-guide, and a round-trip funicular ticket. The audio-guide is very informative and puts everything in context.
One of the most interesting things I learned is that for hundreds of years, Salzburg was an independent church-state (similar to Vatican City in Rome), ruled by a Prince Archbishop. Thanks to the favorable positioning of the Fortress on high ground, Salzburg was able to resist invasion for centuries. My favorite part of touring the Fortress was the view from the top. You can see all of Salzburg sprawled out below and get some great photo opportunities.
Salzburg is sometimes called the “city of music,” not only because of The Sound of Music, but also because Mozart was from Salzburg. There are actually two Mozart homes in Salzburg—his birthplace and his residence. We only had time for one, so we chose the residence. The €10 admission price includes the audio-guide, which again, is very useful. In addition to providing information and context, it also plays excerpts from Mozart pieces after telling you about certain instruments or artifacts. The tour includes a great deal of information about Mozart’s family, including his sister, who was also a musical prodigy.
The most ubiquitous sign of Salzburg as “Mozart’s city” is the Mozart chocolates. They. Are. Everywhere. I didn’t buy any because they’re milk chocolate. (Pffft. If it’s not dark chocolate, it’s not real chocolate.) And they’re ridiculously overpriced. Even the Salzburg Christmas market (which was still open post-Christmas) was in on the racket. Believe me, there are way more interesting sweets to buy at the Christmas markets.
One of the downsides to being in Salzburg around Christmas is that all the charming shops were closed when we were there. Small European towns take their Christmas holidays seriously. Christmas was a Friday in 2015; we arrived into Salzburg that night, and nothing was open until Monday morning. I showed up at a shoe store right at 9 a.m. while they were still vacuuming so I could get in before catching our train and try on a pair of boots I’d been drooling over all weekend. Alas, they didn’t fit, so no boots for me. We would have spent considerably more money had the shops been open—at least on Saturday!
If I ever get a chance to go back to Salzburg, I think I would like to go during the summer. The city is so picturesque and has a number of outdoor spaces and gardens, most notably, Mirabell Gardens, where parts of The Sound of Music were filmed. Gardens are always better in the summer, and it would be wonderful to wander around in pleasant weather.