Salzburg, how do you even begin to write about such an enchanting place where the sound of horse drawn carriages leaves you feeling as though you’ve stepped back in time? I’ve had the good fortune of spending summer in Salzburg but having just retuned from my first European Christmas in Austria, I have fallen more in love with this little place. Austria is a very diverse country and having now visited Vienna, Innsbruck, Graz and Salzburg it is clear this small country has a lot to offer tourists all year round. Out of all the places mentioned above, Salzburg is by far my favourite, not only because I am a huge Sound of Music fan (just call me Mrs Von Trapp) but I prefer to lose myself exploring smaller cities and being surrounded by natural beauty whilst doing that is always a bonus.
The Quick 5
Salzburg tips, tricks and advice?
As a child I was always taught to not judge a book by its cover and it’s a lesson I not only apply to my encounters with people but my initial encounters with the places I stumble upon throughout the course of travels. When you arrive in Salzburg you will be surrounded by a fairly well blended contemporary setting and I remember when I first emerged from the central station feeling a little disappointed and confused as to where all the baroque architecture had gone. I’ve come to learn and accept that many European cities are designed in this fashion whereby the historic quarters are surrounded by modernity. Don’t be thrown by this because once you stumble across the old city all that initial minor disappointment will fade.
If you are visiting Hohensalzburg Fortress, and I strongly recommend that you do, wear sturdy shoes and try to brave the hike to the top. There is cable car service which will set you back roughly €12.00 inclusive of entry if you can’t make the climb. These prices do vary according to season, time of visit and method of booking. The ascent by foot will really make you appreciate the design of this fortress. Its steepness is the perfect military tactic and you can appreciate why that since it’s construction in 1077 this fortress has not been breached.
The journey too the top is marked by gravel pavements so without appropriate footwear you risk slipping, blisters and just generally making it more difficult for yourself. That was the one and only day I decided to wear fashionable summer sandals and by the end of the day it felt as though my feet had been worn down to mere stumps. Going to the top of Hohensalzburg is a must and entry without use of the funicular is €8.00, however more details on admission prices can be found by clicking here as prices do vary as mentioned above. You might just be content with views over the city at the half way point but if you go in and climb a little further you will be rewarded with fantastic panoramic views of Salzburg and the mountains which surround it.
How did you get there?
In the summer of 2015 my brothers and I embarked on a backpacking adventure through Central and Eastern Europe using the Eurorail service, one of the best times of my life that also left me with a deeper appreciation of the continent. These countries, though so close to each other and so readily accessible, offer such diversity amongst themselves historically, linguistically and culturally. I find that quite impressive even more so in such a globalised era. This diversity is evident even within countries the size of Austria as those making the 2.5 hour train journey from Vienna will notice a difference in size, architecture, culture and overall grandeur.
When you arrive in Salzburg by train you will disembark at the central station or Hauptbahnhoff. This mobility friendly station is well equipped with paid lockers (though small), bathrooms, eateries and information help points. However, free wifi was not available during my visits so should you need this service venture outside to the McDonald’s clearly visible in Südtiroler Platz. As Salzburg is a UNESCO well heritage site, the train station sits outside the old town and can roughly be reached on foot within 15 minutes. However, should you wish to catch public transport city buses operate from Südtiroler Platz found directly in front of the station, this is also the drop off point for the airport bus. The station also serves as the departure/arrival point for international bus arrivals which operate from the opposite side of the central station, Lastenstraße.
Later in the year for Christmas, I flew into Salzburg from London Gatwick with one of my favourite airlines, British Airways. Despite my tardiness in booking I managed to secure an early morning flight for €150.00. Routes across Europe are much cheaper when booked in advance, but I found this price very reasonable nonetheless given I was flying out on Christmas Eve. For my fellow Australians who are part of the Qantas Frequent Flyer program be sure to enter your membership number upon booking to earn reward points when flying with partner airlines like British Airways.
For those arriving by plane the buses operating from the airport to the central station are not direct and due to local stops being made they do get crowded. Keeping this in mind, if you’re travelling with anything larger than cabin luggage you might find this method of transport difficult to navigate given the amount of passengers on board. In addition, there isn’t a lot of seating room available even by way of design. Therefore, if mobility is a concern or you just have large suitcases to handle, a taxi might be more suitable and should not cost too much as the airport is close in proximity to the city centre. The buses operate frequently both to and from the airport and will take up to 20 minutes if catching the number 2 or 10, or 40 minutes if catching the number 27. An adult single ticket will cost €2.50 and can be purchased upon your arrival in the terminal, from the ticket machine near the bus stands or by the driver. Just don’t forget to validate your ticket when you board via the little machines scattered throughout the bus!
Would you recommend visiting Salzburg in the summer or winter months?
As stated above I spent some time in Salzburg in the summer of 2015 and most recently returned from this charming town after deciding to spend Christmas in Austria after years spent pinning to experience their world famous Christkindl Markt. Both experiences were special due to the people I was travelling with but Salzburg though beautiful, truly comes alive in winter.
The atmosphere is romantic and cozy, lights adorn the winding ally ways and Christmas decorations envelop the town. From a practical standpoint, I found the crowds in both summer and winter almost on par with each other and no difference in seasonal prices. Though it was quite warm for December I didn’t get to experience a true white Christmas, but having been in Iceland only a few weeks prior I was secretly a little snowed out. With that said, I firmly believe that snow or no snow won’t affect your experience because Salzburg epitomises a magical city in the lead up to Christmas.
Christmas Markets survival guide
Salzburg is home to many Christmas markets but you will want to venture into the old town for the main markets in Salzburg, known as the Christkindl-Markt. The markets are truly a sight to behold and an experience not be missed. As a german language student during my high school years, my teacher Frau Gee, made me fall in love with the idea of a European Christmas. Frau Gee was so descriptive you could almost smell the gingerbread and taste the gluwein. The markets commence mid November and typically end December 26 and the romantic setting makes for a great holiday destination for couples.
They are incredibly popular so you will want to organise flights and accommodation as early as possible. Many tour companies also offer Salzburg package deals during this time which can make for a stress free experience. Keep in mind that Austrians celebrate Christmas on December 24 so the markets will close early on this day as with may other local shops and restaurants. However, if like me you celebrate Christmas on the 25th you will be delighted to experience the magic of the markets on this day. Also, given all the mouth watering food available you don’t even have to worry about making Christmas dinner, just spoil yourself silly on bratwurst, apple strudel, gingerbread, warm pretzels, gluwein and much much more. Just remember that Chrsitmas in Salzburg is where diets go to die, so live in the moment and don’t worry about earning a little extra winter insulation.
Where did you stay?
During summer, not really aware of our surroundings, my brothers and I booked a room at the Meininger Hotel Salzburg City Centre which is found in the modern part of Salzburg. The price was fantastic for three people, but location might be problematic for some as it is about a 30 minute walk from the central station which sits in one direction and about 25 minute walk to the old town which sits in the opposite direction. In the heat of summer, combined with carrying our backpacks around, this was quite exhausting. I’ve used Meininger many times now as they are low cost, clean and secure. However, during summer I repeatedly noticed that nearly every Meininger I went to was also used by school groups which can get a little noisy and chaotic. If you elect to stay at Meininger Salzburg you will have some fantastic Austrian beer gardens within close proximity to your accommodation but far enough away from the old city to be used by locals.
Second time around I wanted something more personal and closer to the old town. I found a fantastic apartment through Airbnb situated within 5 minutes walking distance of the central station and a huge grocery store in Südtiroler Platz. More importantly the old town was easily accessed by foot in 15 minutes and the Mirabell Gardens in ten. As my second visit coincided with Christmas I especially wanted an apartment that was homely and well equipped in the event I needed to cook due to restaurant closures over the holiday season. It was my first Christmas away from home and I firmly believe my accommodation choice combined with just generally being in place as charming as Salzburg made for an incredibly special experience and kept my homesickness at bay.
So if like me you need some help finding the spirit of Christmas you won’t have to look any further than Salzburg.
*Note: Thank you to Yasir Badani for his assistance with the images of myself featured. Follow his adventures around the globe @yasirbad*