Our arrival at our hotel in Salzburg set the tone for our stay there! I had again struggled with the decision where to stay in Salzburg. Almost two years earlier we had spent an afternoon in Salzburg, exploring the city between trains. I remembered the small streets in the centre of the city, so decided to find somewhere with parking further out and catch the bus in. I eventually chose the Oekotel Salzburg Messe. They were on the right side of town (meaning towards Munich), had free parking, the bus stopped right outside, and they were cheap.
We arrived about 45 minutes before check in though, and were turned away and told to come back later. Everything at this place was like that – it was here, but there was absolutely no extra! Our room was basic, but had everything we needed. There was a tv, but with very few channels. Wifi existed, but it didn’t work so well on the third floor where our room was. Breakfast kept you fed, but there wasn’t a huge choice. We noticed later that evening that the carpark had filled up with vans and small trucks. It looked like this hotel’s main clientele were not tourists, but drivers staying away from home overnight. Honestly, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. If you want to take advantage of the cheap prices here, keep your expectations low and realise you get what you pay for and your stay will be fine.
Once checked in, we got straight on a bus into the centre of Salzburg. I had decided I to get a 48 hour Salzburg Card to cover a lot of the attractions we wanted to see, and we wanted to get started as soon as we could. The Salzburg Card covered dozens of attractions for free (more than we could visit!) and then it also overs discount on even more attractions in and around the city. It also includes free public transport too.
The first place we visited was the Hohensalzburg Fortress that looms over the city, large and white. The Salzburg Card also included the funicular, so luckily we didn’t have to walk up, since it was freezing cold and raining (surprise, surprise!). We probably ended up allowing too much time for the fortress. It’s such a central attraction is Salzburg that draws the eye no matter where you are so it seems like it is the one place you NEED to visit. I had it on my list from seeing it towering over the town on our brief visit previously. We knew it was open until 7pm so even in the late afternoon we would get to see it all. But we only needed about 90 minutes here, so in hind site, we could have visited another attraction that closed at 5pm then gone up to the Fortress.
As it was we were finished there at about 5:15pm, but all of the other attractions in the centre of Salzburg had now closed. At least the rain had stopped, so we enjoyed exploring the narrow, winding streets for a while until our stomachs told us it was dinner time.
We went into the Sternbräu bierhaus. Sternbräu looks like the perfect location to sit and enjoy a beer or a meal when the weather is nice as it has a great outdoors area. There are multiple small areas around it to eat in, but only a few were open for meals when we went. The area we choose was a little dark, with lots of timber and dark red colours, and our meal was decent German-style food, but really, nothing special. That kind of sums up the whole experience – there was nothing really wrong, but nothing stood out and made it amazing.
As we crossed the road to get our bus back to the hotel, the sun came out, just before it slid below the horizon. There was no warmth in it, but it did make everything look pretty and golden for a while as we waited.
When we woke up in the morning there were some blue patches in the sky. I decided then that we had to take the Untersberg Cable Car (Untersbergbahn) up the mountain first thing before the clouds came over. The cable car is included in the Salzburg Card attractions, and I had put together a whole day taking advantage of everything the card had to offer.
While it is possible to catch public buses to the cable car, for us it was easier to drive. We arrived at the cable car at 8:30am for the first trip up of the day – we were the only ones in the cable car apart from employees heading up to work. We were lucky the weather was still being relatively good. There were a few clouds, but still patches of blue sky and we could still admire the view over Salzburg.
There wasn’t a lot for us to do at the top of the cable car because they were still setting up for the day. The entire area outside was covered in snow, obscuring anything else that was around. Employees were clearing paths and the outside terrace. It was also still too cold to spend a substantial amount of time outside. We enjoyed the view, then caught the next cable car back down again. This time there were others waiting to go up, but the clouds were coming in and we were glad we had made the effort to get there when we did.
Not far from the Untersberg Cable Car is the Salzberg Zoo. As I have said before, I am very cautious about going to zoos and other animal attractions. I find it difficult to see see animals housed poorly, but my hubby really wanted to go and I believed Austria would be forward-thinking enough to have decent conditions.
The Salzburg Zoo is quite a small zoo. It is long and thin, stretching along the base of a hill. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they don’t have a huge amount of animals, so that means that the ones they do have are living in deceivingly big enclosures.
The highlight of our visit was definitely the lions. In the past when I have visited other zoos it’s been fairly common to see the lions lazing at the back on their enclosures, not wanting any anything to do with the visitors. At Salzburg Zoo the lion enclosure has a big glass panel in one area for an unobstructed view into the enclosure. As we stood there, both of the lions came right up to the glass! They came so close it was almost a little bit unnerving. The boy just looked at us and wandered off again, but the girl stood there, only a metre away from us and just stared. It was incredible to be so close, and I was really hoping that glass was the extra strong kind in case she decided we were dinner.
Located almost right nest door to the zoo, Hellbrunn Palace and the trick fountains were next. Hellbrunn was built back in the 1600’s as a summer house for the rich and famous of Salzburg. It was never intended that people would stay the night, so when touring through the house there are no bedrooms to be seen. As soon as we arrived we booked our time slot to see the trick fountains. Tours are run every hours or so, and this is the only way to see them. Entry is included in your ticket to the palace.
We had 25 minutes before our tour, and decided we would look through the palace – even though the time recommended for the palace was an hour. In hindsight we possibly should have left it until afterwards, because we were a little rushed and couldn’t listen to all the information from the audioguide given to us as we entered. Having said that, the palace itself wasn’t all that different (apart from the lack of bedrooms) than many other European palaces of the time. The real attraction here are those fountains.
During the tour it was explained that the builder of the house – Mark Sittich von Hohenems, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg – was a bit of a joker and he loved to play practical jokes, and these fountains were a great way to do it. The engineering behind many of the fountains must have been at the forefront of technology at the time, and certain pieces such as the musical theatre run entirely by water were fantastic.
By the end of the tour I ended up slightly wet, half from the rain, half from standing in the wrong spot at some of the fountains as the tricks were demonstrated! Our guide did only briefly turn the water on since it was so cold, but because of the nature of the tour, no matter how cold it is, expect to get a little wet also. It’s all in great fun though. It is absolutely worth a visit to Hellbrunn Palace just to see the fountains.
The palace has some lovely gardens that I am sure are well worth exploring, but the drizzle discouraged us. These gardens can be visited for free without touring through the palace too if you would simply like a nice place for a picnic in the summer. There is also another reason to visit, but I will get to that a little later in this post.
It was time to drop out car back to our accommodation and catch a bus back into the city centre for some lunch before we visited some more attractions in the afternoon.
For lunch we couldn’t help ourselves. After walking past Burgerista a few times already and smelling the delicious aromas wafting out, we just had to get a burger. The store looks like a cross between a mass produced burger place and a gourmet one, but I can say the burgers are made to order and are actually quite delicious. Since we have been trying to watch our calorie intake, we didn’t test out any of the extras, but by sneaking a peek at some of the other orders, the fries and other sides looked pretty good too. For a quick easy meal, this was a tasty option.
After lunch we planned to go on the river cruise included on the Salzburg Card, but once we got over to the ticket office we were told the boat wasn’t running due to technical reasons. They couldn’t tell us if it would be running later, just to come back just before it was going to check if it was fixed. We decided we would try to make the 5pm cruise and would come back and check then. Strangely, even though they didn’t know if the boat was going to be working, they were still selling people tickets and said we could purchase them now if we wanted. We decided to wait!
A quick look through the Salzburg Card brochure to find something nearby that we could go to to fill in the time we had been expecting to be on the boat. Much to Simon’s delight it was off to the Haus der Natur – the natural history museum. This is quite a large museum with a whole range of exhibits ranging from a recreation of the moon landing to a small aquarium, to a section that looked like it hadn’t been touched for fifty years. We only had about an hour to look around, and it was quite a rush in that time, but there were other things I had on my list to do.
Then we took the Mönchsberg Lift up to the terrace over looking the centre of Salzburg. After the Fortress, this is a great place to get some panoramic photos of the city. We timed it just right in between bouts of rain so had some nice views.
The Mönchsberg Lift is also the way into the Modern Art Museum. I am not a huge art fan, but the last modern art museum I went to (MONA in Hobart, Australia) was amazing so I wanted to check this one out too. My fledgling interest in modern art was soon extinguished. I was not at all impressed by the current exhibitions here. One was okay, but the other two just confused me and were boring. This visit ended up being a lot quicker than we expected, and really, we should have spent more time at the Haus der Natur.
We went back to check on the 5pm cruise, but it was only about 4:15 and they said they would only know either way 5 minutes before. We didn’t want to wait around in the rain and we could squeeze in one more museum if we hurried, so it was off to the Panorama Museum.
This is a 360 degree panoramic view of Salzburg as it was around 1829. The picture itself was interesting, but I was also reading about the history of the town as it related to the skyline, the destruction of buildings and the new ones being built. There is a lot of information about how fires shaped the city over the years and the procedures and services put in places to combat it. All in all, another worthwhile museum that we could have spent a little more time in.
It had been a busy day, all the attractions were closing, and to be honest, the cold was getting to me (yes, I’m a wimp when it comes to the cold!). We decided to grab a quick dinner and retreat to our hotel.
For dinner we ended up going to My Indigo. It’s a tiny little place right on the riverbank and it drew us in with the promise of hot, healthy soups and curries. Only about ten people can sit in here and eat at a time, so we were glad to get a seat to enjoy our meal while we defrosted a little. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, prices were good and it was clearly popular as many people came in and out to pick up meals to go.
Just as we got back to our hotel the rain started in earnest, with thunder and lightning too. We were glad we had returned when we did, and spent the evening in, drinking cheap wine and cheering on Australia in Eurovision. We had a good laugh as we were trying to figure out what was going on since the broadcast in Austria was, of course, in German.
We woke in the morning to – yes, you guessed it! – RAIN! I was so glad we jumped at the chance to do the cable car the day before because yesterday we would not have seen a thing!
As soon as we got into the city centre we again went and asked about the river cruise, and recieved the same vague responses we got the previous day. At this point we decided enough was enough – we would not be running back and forth all day to see if the cruise was actually happening, so no cruise for us this trip.
We had three museums on the shortlist for the morning, and first up was Mozart’s Birthplace. This museum not only is located in the house where he was born, it talks a lot about Mozart’s family and life, who he was as a person. I actually found it quite interesting. Unfortunately there was a bit of an issue with some of the other visitors who were taking photos inside the museum. Even once told by security it was not allowed, they continued on and the museum staff we getting quite irate.
Before the photo issues, we were chatting with one of the staff members who was telling us a little about the museum as well as the second Mozart museum in Salzburg. She mentioned there was a lot more to see in the other museum and so we should give ourselves plenty of time. After being short of time at a couple of the attractions the day before, we decided to take her advice, so we skipped the Salzburg Museum.
It was kind of lucky we did, as I received a message saying there was an issue with some of our upcoming accommodation. We ducked into a coffee shop, grabbed a warm drink and used their wifi to try to come up with a solution. As we were searching for the best of the expensive last minute options available to us, the original issue was resolved and we got another message letting us know they had found a work around and all would be okay after all. Thank goodness, because none of the alternatives were really appealing.
With a sigh of relief we ventured over the bridge to the other side of Salzburg to Mozart’s Wohnhaus (Mozart’s Residence). This is a much grander house where Mozart’s family moved to as Mozart (and his sister) performed all over the world and they became a family of means. This museum is more about Mozart’s music, performances, etc. At the time of our visit there was also an exhibition happening focussing on the life of his father, who was quite an accomplished and interesting person in his own right. There is an audioguide here, and there was a lot of information as well as music and even a short film about Mozart’s life. We didn’t need quite as much time as we were told, but it was nice to not rush and take as much time as we liked.
Then lunch was in another nice warm restaurant called Innergebirg with hearty Austrian food to fortify us for what was to come – a Sound of Music Tour. The food and wine were again delicious (does anywhere here do bad food?) and I would happily recommend this place.
Now I have to admit – I’m a bit of a Sound of Music rookie. In fact, I only watched it for the first time a couple of months before our visit to Salzburg and only because I knew we were coming here. Of course I knew most of the sounds, I mean, it was difficult to avoid them since the movie was such a big hit. I am kind of embarrassed to confess I didn’t know some of them actually came from Sound of Music though.
So why do a tour about a movie I barely knew? Well, it’s so iconic and central to the town and I felt like I really wanted to do it. Simon had also seen the movie many times as a kid so was keen to go.
It was still really cold and drizzly as we boarded the bus. We then spent four hours visiting various sights that were used as the set for the movie. We visited a lake near Schloss Leopoldskron where we could see the front of the house. This was where many of the lake scenes were filmed. Next we drove past the Nonnberg Convent, which is still being used today and can be visited more closely at certain times.
We went back to Hellbrunn Palace to see the gazebo used in the movie. This was not the original location of it, but it was moved here after the owners of the private home that had the gazebo got sick of people invading their backyard to see it. It is no longer open to visitors after someone decided to mimic the actress leaping between the seats and ended up with some broken bones for her trouble.
The final stop on the tour was a bit of a drive out of town, the church in Mondsee where the main characters were married in the movie. By this time it really was freezing (almost literally, it was about 3 degrees according to the display in the bus), so we quickly visited the church and had a look around then made our way to a cafe to spend the rest of our 45 minute visit warming up with a warm drink.
Throughout the whole tour, the time on the bus was spent learning little bits of information about the movie, the actors and the filming locations. Surprisingly almost no one in Austria knows much about the movie as it was not a hit there – they have really only become aware of it thanks to the many tourists who now come to do these tours. When our guide was not talking he was playing various videos from the movie, and of course the whole bus was having a great sing a long.
Overall the tour itself was quite good. It would be lovely on a nice summers day to explore the cute little town of Mondsee a bit more, and to not get so cold at each stop that it felt like we listened to the guide, took a couple of photos then bolted straight back to the bus.
Once back in Salzburg our guide walked with us to the Mirabell Gardens and pointed out some of the areas used there too, such as the steps at the end, the fountain and the dwarfs. Many of our group – and other groups that were also around – wanted their moment of dancing up the steps, but it was too cold for me and we started back towards our bus stop.
We were so happy with our dinner the previous night we again ate at My Indigo. It was close to our bus stop, so convenient too. It had been a couple of busy days in Salzburg, and we knew the next day was going to be more of the same, and I was looking forward to getting to a new country – the fiftieth I have been to.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.