I had the extraordinary pleasure of being interviewed by Chris Christensen on the topic of Salzburg. Chris' Amateur Traveler podcast is far and away one of my favorite travel podcasts because each episode focuses on a single destination, and its vast archives cover an incredible amount of territory across the globe.
In the pod, I touched on some of my favorite things to do in Salzburg and why I love it so much, but here, where I am much less awkward in writing than in speech, I can give you some extra details and visuals. I made two mistakes in talking about this place on the podcast, and for that I am covered in shame for the rest of my life. First, the restaurant Bärenwirt is north—not south—of the Altstadt. And though I distractedly said "yes" when asked whether Wienerschnitzel is a kind of sausage, I do actually know and have long known that it is actually a breaded veal cutlet. God, the embarrassment, I can't tell you.
So anyway, if you're planning a trip to Salzburg, here's what you need to know. And you can listen to the podcast here.
Getting to Salzburg
Salzburg's W.A. Mozart Airport is the second-largest international airport in Austria. You can fly in there, but if tickets are cheaper, fly into Vienna or Munich and then hit the rails. Depending on which train you take (ÖBB—Österreichische Bundesbahnen—has a train called railjet, which is the speediest option), the trip from Vienna to Salzburg takes about 2.5 -3.5 hours. From Munich to Salzburg, you're looking at about 1.5-2 hours. Trains will leave you off at the Hauptbahnhof, which is on the northwest side of the city and a relatively short walk (along Rainerstraße) away from things like Mirabell Palace and Linzergasse. From the airport, public buses will take you to the Hauptbahnhof or the city center. Taxis are available, too.
Accommodations in Salzburg
There are plenty of hotels and Airbnb options across all budgets, but it's pretty safe to say that $40-60 per night will qualify as a bargain (unless you go the hostel route, at about $20-30) and $70-120 is the middle range. Let's break this out into three areas:
Right Bank | This is the opposite side of the river from the Altstadt and fortress. Right along the banks of the Salzach is Salzburg's outpost of the Hotel Sacher, the Vienna-based originator of the famous chocolate cake with a midlayer of apricot jam. I like to stay along Linzergasse, which hugs the northern side of the Kapuzinerberg and is a major pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops and restaurants. Right at the top of the street is my pick, the affordable, well-situated Hotel Hofwirt Salzburg.
Altstadt | Expect an incremental upward tick in prices for Altstadt accommodations—it makes sense, since they're all located in the thick of things. Smack on Getreidegasse are Arthotel Blaue Gans (aesthetic: updated Austrian-modern) and the luxurious Goldener Hirsch (for those seeking something with more traditional flavor). Hotel Elefant, on Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse, just up from Getreidegasse, is one of the better deals in the Altstadt.
Over the Mountain and in the Meadows | Want to stay in a classic Austrian house surrounded by green meadows and mountain views? Head away from the Baroque heart of the city, either over the Monchsberg or further afield on the right bank (beyond the Kapuzinerberg). Places like Haus Wartenberg are gemütlich to the max, even if they require a little extra walking or a ride on public transport. You can also stay at Schloß Leopoldskron, where some Sound of Music exterior shots were done.
Eats and Drinks in Salzburg
I could go on for days about restaurants in Salzburg. I won't. I will give you a few categories and then a couple recommendations for each.
- Bärenwirt | Go to Bärenwirt because it's cozy and gemütlich and the food is both good and not outlandishly priced. As you'll see above, I am incredibly excitable about their rindgulasch mit knödel in bärengröße—gulasch with a bear-sized dumpling.
- Zum Fidelen Affen | I kind of have to recommend this based on the name alone. I mean, the "Jolly Monkey"? Try the national dish, tafelspitz—beef boiled in broth, served with horseradish.
- Fingerlos | If I'm going to tell you about this place, I need something from you in return. Promise me you won't turn it into a tourist circus. It's too good. Fingerlos, on the right bank, a few blocks from Mirabell Gardens on Franz-Josef-Straße, is a neighborhoody sort of place, serving breakfast, lunch and the best pastries in Salzburg. The vibe is modern-meets-traditional, and the high-ceilinged dining room is filled with light. During warm weather, grab a streetside table.
- Fürst | You kind of have to go to one of the traditional Altstadt cafés when you're in Salzburg. Luckily, these cafés aren't just landmarks that have given up on actually trying to make good food and drinks. Fürst gets my vote because they make a stellar hot chocolate. They also turn out the best Mozartkugeln—Salzburg's famous marzipan-filled bonbons with the dubious distinction of translating to "Mozart balls"—in town.
Fast & Cheap
- Augustiner Bräustubl | This monastery-brewery-beer hall, established in 1621, is a Salzburg icon. The beer, which is still made according to a 1516 purity law, is cheap and truly good. Buy a token, grab a mug (in half-liter or liter size), rinse it out with cool water from the fountain and then step up to have your stein filled. Food and snacks, from whole trout and piles of roast meat to pretzels and sausages, are available from multiple food vendor stalls. If you want to save some extra cash, you can bring your own food from the supermarket.
- Universitätsplatz Market | This daily Grünmarkt (green market) fills Universitätsplatz in the Altstadt, in the shadow of the Kollegienkirche. Vegetables, fruits, breads and cheeses are all available, but there are also options for grabbing a bite on the go. Lovers of tube-form meats, rejoice: sausages predominate. The käsekrainer, a lightly smoked, cheese-studded pork sausage, is my go-to wurst.
Things to Pack for Salzburg
Logically, what you put in your suitcase will all come down to the season in which you're traveling. And this obviously isn't a complete list—just a few particular things you'll want while you're there.
- A waterproof or water-resistant jacket. It's not for nothing that Salzburg has a reputation for rain.
- A smart wardrobe. Salzburg is a tidy, elegant place. Try to look the part. When I got stuck here with my headed-to-Uzbekistan adventure wardrobe, I felt so ridiculous that I had to go hit Zara just to make my shame abate.
- Sunglasses. That mountain light can be blinding.
Shopping in Salzburg
There's no shortage of made-in-China junk flooding Salzburg. Do your best to buy something locally made—it'll give you bragging rights. A few suggestions:
- Folk art | Wood carving, decorative iron work, decorative candles and hinterglasmalerei are all wonderfully Salzburgian art forms. The latter of those, hinterglasmalerei, which is a favorite of mine, translates to "behind-glass-painting." You can find a slew of hinterglasmalerei options, along with all the wood carvings you can shake a stick at, at Gertraud Lackner (Badergasse 2).
- Alpine remedies | The hills are alive with marmots and alpine herbs in addition to twirling nuns. Maybe the weirdest and most wonderful thing you can buy is marmot oil, which you can find as both a straight-up oil (for massage) or as a balm or salve. It's an effective natural analgesic that's been used for centuries in treating joint and muscle pain. Teas, salves, baths and other remedies made with arnica, mountain pine (latschenkiefer), hayflowers (heublumen) and other alpine herbs can be found in markets and apothecary shops. Head to the Alte f.e. Hofapotheke, Salzburg's oldest apothecary (dating to 1591) at Alter Markt 6 for a one-of-a-kind experience.
- Snacks and schnapps | Touristy though it is, I advocate bringing home Mozartkugel (provided you actually like them). Austrian ham and cheese (provided they are professionally packaged for export) aren't particularly easy to find back here in the States, so consider those more savory options. And I mean it about the packaging—U.S. customs will abduct your stuff if the packages aren't exactly right. If you like to gamble with bringing liquids home, go for Austrian schnapps (pear or apricot are particularly yummy) or pumpkinseed oil (kübiskern öl), which has a beautiful, nutty flavor.