Salzburg, where the streets are alive with the sound of music … Well, not really, but a visit to Austria’s Sound of Music city could well send you into a musical reverie that could take a week to shake off. I set aside a couple of days before my recent Viking river cruise for a visit to Salzburg, and it was a great choice: in a trip that included stops like Vienna and Budapest, it’s still one of the warmest memories.
Salzburg is famous for two things: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born here in 1756, and The Sound of Music, which was filmed here in 1964. And the city’s only too happy to remind you of both. The old part of town is chock-a-block with pictures and souvenirs and chocolate boxes bearing Mozart’s image — even a store window dummy taking a selfie. And buses cruising the centre of town bear huge ads for Sound of Music city tours. Add to that an annual music festival, which brings music lovers from far and wide (July 22-Aug. 31 this year), and you have a city dedicated to the musical arts.
But even with the constant stream of tourists these things attract, Salzburg still manages to be one of the most pleasant – in fact, beautiful – places you can visit in Europe. It’s a place you could imagine living in, even when the snow comes blowing down from the mountains that surround the city.
Like a lot of European cities, Salzburg is divided in two by a river – in this case the Salzach, a tributary of the Inn River. On the south side is the altstadt, or old city, where most visitors find themselves spending their time. It’s filled with narrow, cobblestoned streets where the ancient shop houses still have the old guild signs hanging out front – a pair of boots for a shoemaker, a clock for a watch maker, and so on.
This is where Mozart was born — and as you’d expect, his birth house is a major attraction. And the old town still looks much the same as when he was a boy. It’s a pleasure to walk down its old streets, dotted with lovely cafés where people sip a beer or a coffee on the patio, and to admire the wide public squares, lined with stately palaces and churches. Every corner seems to bring another classical scene, like this medieval sundial, or a lovely building seen through a graceful arch.
The showpiece of the old town is the grand Dom, or cathedral, surrounded by a whole district of official buildings. The church itself looks like a Roman basilica from the outside, and the inside is even more impressive.
There’s a little whimsy here and there, too, like this statue of a man on top of the world, located in Kapitelplatz, a square just around the corner from the Dom itself. This is where the city sets up a beer tent to serve up steins of the local brew, with a little accordion music to help it go down easy.
In some cities, the new side of town suffers considerably in comparison to the old. But stroll across one of the many bridges to the new town of Salzburg, and it’s just as lovely. Picnickers enjoy their food and wine on the green river bank, enjoying the view, while the well-heeled diners have theirs in the patio restaurants lined along the Salzach.
Turn the corner and you’re in another historic district, with lively bars and restaurants set in centuries-old buildings. There are quaint shops to browse in while you’re working up an appetite, too.
But even the central city has its bit of wonder. Cross the street from the farmer’s market on the main street and you enter the beautiful green gardens surrounding the Mirabell Palace. Once the palace was reserved for the high and mighty; now it’s a wonderful place to stroll in the shade of giant trees, right in the middle of downtown. More importantly, this is also the place where Maria and the children sang ‘Do-Re-Mi’ in The Sound of Music.
To really see the Sound of Music city, though, you need to get above it. And to do that, you hop the funicular up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, set on a rocky cliff high above the old town (that’s it at the top in the river scene, above). It’s a fun place to spend an hour or two, imagining you’re back in the middle ages as you wander through stone courtyards and down half-lit passageways. There are vestiges of the original castle on the site, dating from the 12th century, and a cannon here and there, set to rain shells on any marauders coming up the river.
You can have dinner at the fortress, or just relax over a beer or an ice cream on one of its patios. But what you came up here for is the views. From the castle’s front ramparts you get a brilliant overview of the city, curved around a bend in the blue Salzach. Below you, the Dom and the historic district lay themselves out like a living map. And everywhere, a little green punctuates the scene, setting off the old buildings.
From the rear deck, the scene is just as beautiful, lovely green pastures dotted with patches of woods, and behind them the mountains, with their snow-covered peaks rising into the clouds. Looking at it, you have a little epiphany: this really is the Sound of Music city.
Then it’s back down the funicular to town, and if you want to see what that ride is like, here’s a live look, which you may remember from my review of the Panasonic DMC-G7 camera.
And then, dinner, in one of the restaurants near the waterfront. On my last night in Salzburg, I sampled some typical Austrian dishes — and,of course, a local beer — in a truly authentic dining hall, nestled up beside the old-style ceramic room heater.
I was leaving in the morning to join my river cruise, but when my train pulled out, a little of the Sound of Music city stayed with me. And writing this, I can almost hear the melody again …
The photos in this post were taken with the Panasonic DMC-G7 and Sony DSC-WX500 cameras.