Salzburg is an enchanting city near Austria’s western border with Germany. It is nestled amongst hills and mountains and bisected by the Salzach River. Salzburg’s baroque old town is UNESCO World Heritage Listed. If you only have a single day to visit this Austrian gem follow our ideas to create your perfect itinerary to spend one day in Salzburg.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit the city many times in my life. My grandparents lived in a suburb of Salzburg when I was growing up. I spent my childhood holidays in the city, and during this time Salzburg felt like home to me. I was as familiar with how the streets were laid out in Salzburg’s old town as I was in my own local area in London.
I have revisited Salzburg a few times as an adult and last summer I took my children there for the first time. We were in Austria for a family celebration, staying in an apartment in nearby Mondsee with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We chose to go into Salzburg for one day and I knew exactly which highlights I wanted to show my kids. Here are my suggestions for how to spend a perfect day in Salzburg with kids.
The Sound of Music and Mirabellgarten
It’s impossible to visit Salzburg without seeing references to the The Sound of Music, whether you like it or not. I love the film. I even had my own dirndl when I was a young girl, and yes, I wore it while standing on the steps of the Mirabell Gardens pretending to be Liesl. My boys have seen the film, but they aren’t big fans. The Sound of Music connection aside, the Mirabell Gardens are a lovely place to visit for views up to the fortress, running around the Pegasus fountain and exploring the different levels of the gardens.
Cross the Makartsteg footbridge over the Salzach from the Mirabell Gardens to enter the Altstadt (old town). The bridge is lined with ‘love locks’. This is a somewhat controversial tourist activity with some claiming that the weight of so many padlocks can be damaging to a bridge’s structure.
Mozarts Geburtshaus (Mozart’s Birthplace)
Salzburg is also famous for being the city where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born. A visit to Mozarts Geburtshaus not only gives the visitor an insight into the great composer’s early life and work, but it gives a sense of life in 18th-century Salzburg. A number of Mozart’s instruments are in the museum’s collection. With its connection to Mozart it’s unsurprising that Salzburg has become known internationally as a place to see exceptional musical performances. If your visit is in late July and August you’ll coincide with the Salzburg Festival and have the chance to join the city’s glitterati gathering at the Festspielhaus before the evening concerts. During the festival, performances happen across the city during the day and in the evenings. Check out the programme before you visit.
Festung Hohensalzburg / the fortress on the hill
No visit to Salzburg is complete without taking in the views from the castle. You can reach it by walking up the path that starts behind the cathedral, or use the funicular. (In summer the queues for the funicular take at least 30 minutes.) There are a number of ticket choices to visit the castle. It’s best to check the website before you go and make your decision based on time and budget. On our most recent visit we chose the Panorama ticket which covered our funicular ride (which the boys were keen to do), access to the castle grounds and the observation tower, but not entry into the museums.
The path up to the castle runs behind Salzburg’s cathedral, the Dom zu Salzburg, which is well worth a look inside to marvel at its early baroque interior. The copper domes of the cathedral dominate the city. This area is also near to Petersfriedhof (St Peter’s cemetery) which makes for an interesting walk-through to view its highly decorated graves and family tombs. Nannerl, Mozart’s sister is buried here. In The Sound of Music the Von Trapp family hide in the cemetery before escaping to Switzerland.
Salzburg’s iconic shopping street, the Getreidegasse, is usually jam-packed with tourists. It’s where you’ll find Mozarts Geburtshaus but people come here to look at the tightly-packed buildings and the wrought-iron shop signs which line the street. The shops on the Getreidegasse are a mixed bag of tourist items (don’t miss the Christmas shop), specialist food and drink (seek out the schnapps shop – Sporer), high-end high street and designer clothes and shoes. A number of restaurants can also be found here.
Kaffeehaus / Coffee House
Your walk around Salzburg should be punctuated by at least one visit to a coffee house. My long-term favourites are Café Tomaselli and Café Fürst which face each other across Alter Markt. Tomaselli has a grand exterior, lavish interior and an upper balcony with views across the square. Fürst is smaller and more unassuming, but home to delicious cakes and the “Original Salzburger Mozartkugel” which is a speciality chocolate of marzipan, pistachio and nougat centre surrounded by dark chocolate. Grab a table outside and order your coffee from a long list (more choice than Starbucks, my favourite is an Einspänner which is espresso topped with lots of thick whipped cream) before going inside to order and pay for your cakes. Sachertorte has to be a top choice, but for me a Linzertorte comes a close second.
Würstl / Sausages
My top tip for a quick, easy and relatively cheap lunch is to head to Universitätsplatz (University Square) where there’s usually a market on and a number of sausage and pretzel stands. You’ll have your choice of currywurst, käsekrainer (sausage infused with cheese) and regular frankfurters amongst many other options. The 6yo was awed by the machine which punched a frankfurter-shaped hole in his bread bun! The 8yo had a bit of an obsession with brezen (pretzels) so we added two of those to our lunch choices.
If you don’t fancy sausages for lunch, our recommendation for a traditional Austrian meal in the centre of Salzburg is the Sternbräu. Set in a courtyard between the Getreidegasse and buildings facing the river, it has a choice of relaxed café outdoor seating and a more formal restaurant indoors.
If you have time
Salzburg is a small city and it’s possible to experience many of its highlights within just a few hours. There are countless ways to fill your time in the city including visiting one of the city’s many art museums (we especially recommend the clifftop Museum der Moderne on Mönschberg), going to a concert and checking out the Stiegl beer brewery, but if you have an additional day or half-day we suggest exploring a little further afield.
Wasserspiele / Trick Fountains – 1/2 day
Visit the trick fountains in the gardens of Schloss Hellbrunn which have been amusing and surprising visitors since 1615. Make it a really special afternoon by taking the boat from the centre of Salzburg.
Salzwelten / salt mines – 1/2 day
Drive out of the city to experience the extraordinary salt mines at Hallein. Whizz down the slides, experience what it was like to work in the mines and learn about the importance of salt to Salzburg’s fortunes. The entrance to the mines is by train, which is almost worth the entrance fee itself – that and all having to be dressed in protective gear!
Salzkammergut – 1 day
If you join a Sound of Music tour it’s likely that you’ll be taken to Mondsee to see the church where Maria and Captain von Trapp were married. This will give you a taste of the glorious lake district to the north of Salzburg known as the Salzkammergut. To see a little more of this beautiful region we suggest a day trip which involves taking a ferry across Wolfgangsee from St Gilgen to St Wolfgang, then jumping on the cog railway to the top of the Schafberg. Read more about how to do this here.