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Salzburg without the Mozart
Enjoying Austria's most lovely city without its most famous citizen
If you visit Salzburg, Austria — and you should — you find yourself couched between two great musical icons: Mozart and Julie Andrews. Salzburg is Mozart’s birthplace and you can build an entire itinerary around his presence. Salzburg also provides the setting for both the original story and much of the movie of The Sound of Music.
But what if you are not inclined to music, even though the hills are alive with it? What if Mozart Balls (don’t ask) are not to your taste? Never fear, gentle reader. Based on a recent visit I’ve curated a short Salzburg guide for amusical curmudgeons like myself.
Walking in and around the city
Salzburg is easy to get to by rail from Munich or Vienna. We had a few days to spend in Austria with kids in tow, and Salzburg felt a little more kid-friendly than Vienna, which remains in my mind a beautiful, elegant, and slightly boring museum on a city scale.
The obvious starting point in Salzburg is the Fortress Hohensalzburg, the military bastion which dominates the city skyline. Construction began almost a thousand years ago. You can take a funicular up, and once there are gifted with some extraordinary views of the city and surrounding Alps, as well as a restaurant where you can take in those views over classic Austrian fare. (Austrians are good not just at building stuff on top of great heights, but imbuing those locations with the basic comforts of life, like beer).
Another opportunity for great views is to head up to Museum Der Moderne in Mönchsberg (Monks Mountain). The Museum is worth a visit in its own right, but also surrounded by cliffside and wooded walks. One exit down takes you to St. Peter restaurant, which is pretty good! It should be, since it has been in business since 803 AD, claiming the title of oldest restaurant in the world.
Walk in the other direction along the Salzach river for about 20 minutes and you end up at Augustiner Brewery, a Johnny-come-lately having opened in 1621. In the summer months it has a large beer garden, but even when its chillier, there are multiple large beer halls inside, making it the largest beer hall in Austria. It also offers more than half a dozen meat-heavy food stands, but just one beer: a marzen, which is excellent. No hoppy west coast or hazy New England IPA, no overwhelming chalkboard of choice. Locals of every age were hanging out there when we visited. The vibe was joyous enough that we went back a second night.
Another short hike from Salzburg takes you out to Schloss Leopoldskron, which probably would have been a better choice to stay at then the mildewy AirBNB we actually ended up at. (Here is one suggested hiking route that incorporates much of the town and Schloss Leopoldskron).
If all that hiking makes you thirsty, it is only about 15 minutes to the Stiegl brewery. If you’ve had a Stiegl, chances are it is one of their delicious, thirst-quenching grapefruit radlers. But they have an extensive range of good beers. Even with all of those additional options, I still missed the atmosphere of the Augustiner Brewery.
Day trips: Untersberg and Hallstatt
We were traveling through Europe primarily via train, but rented a car to see the are surrounding Salzburg. This turned out to be a smart decision, allowing us to reach two great spots we otherwise would have missed. Simply driving through the Alpine countryside was in itself a pleasure.
A bit further afield is the impossibly picturesque Hallstatt. Again is accessible via public transport, including a train/boat combo. We drove, but had to scramble for parking, which is in short supply.
(Unlike the other images posted, this image above is not from me, but travel blogger Ashlea Wheeler, since it was better than anything I took on my phone, which looked like this):
There are a lot of tourists in Hallstatt, and taking pictures seems to be the primary activity. It feels like a platonic ideal of an Alpine village, which has figured out how to profitably remain stuck in a lovely past.
You can also take a boat ride on the lake, or, do as we did, and head to the oldest salt mines in the world (Austrians also good at claiming oldest-in-the-world status, and it seems churlish to try to verify these claims). A funicular takes you up to spectacular views, and if you are limited for time, you can limit yourself to walking around the exterior of the mine, or take in even more breathtaking views like this at the restaurant.
If you have a couple of hours, the salt mine tour is well worth it, with a reasonable mix of wonderment (you go deep underground), information (how did mining become the most efficient way to get salt), and fun (miners slides and trains).
Both my kids recounted the salt mine as the highlight of their trip, which probably makes sense when the other main cultural options explored were breweries. As for me, if I could go back I would head further out of Salzburg to do more serious hiking in the one of the many smaller towns and villages nearby. And go to more beer halls.
Thanks for reading. This series is part of a failed effort to become a travel writer. See previous posts about Portland, ME and Italy. Comments are open, so please offer your own Salzburg suggestions.
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