Salzburg and the Salzburgerland … to see and do

Published on:  | Last updated: 27 December 2019

For almost 500 years, up until the early nineteenth century, Salzburg was an eccle­si­astical state: the Archbishop of Salzburg also had the rank of Prince in the Holy Roman Empire. The territory of the princip­ality was roughly similar to that of the present-day Austrian state of Salzburg (Salzburgerland). It stretched along the Salzach river to the Radstädter Tauern Pass. 

The Salzach river and valley were one of the major trading routes over the Alps between northern and southern. As you’ve maybe guessed from the names, salt was a crucial part of that trade. Not only did they name the town after salt but the river as well.

The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. According to UNESCO:

Salzburg is the point where the Italian and German cultures met and which played a crucial role in the exchanges between these two cultures. The result is a Baroque town that has emerged intact from history, and excep­tional material testimony of a particular culture and period. 

The Salzburg skyline, against a backdrop of mountains, is charac­terised by its profusion of spires and domes, dominated by the fortress of HohenSalzburg. It contains a number of buildings, both secular and eccle­si­astical, of very high quality from periods ranging from the late Middle Ages to the 20th Century.  There is a clear separ­ation, visible on the ground and on the map, between the lands of the Prince-Archbishops and those of the burghers. The former is charac­terised by its monumental buildings - the Cathedral, the Residence, the Franciscan Abbey, the Abbey of St Peter - and its open spaces, the Domplatz in particular. The burghers’ houses, by contrast, are on small plots and front onto narrow streets, with the only open spaces provided by the three historic markets. Salzburg is rich in buildings from the Gothic period onwards, which combine to create a townscape and urban fabric of great individu­ality and beauty.

Two archbishops played a major role in shaping the city we see today. Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau and his nephew, and successor, Mark Sittich von Hohenems. Between them, during the course of the second half of the 16th century, they were responsible for the Residentz palace and the rebuilding of the Dom (cathedral), as well as the Mirabell Palace (built for Raitenau’s mistress and their 15 children) and the Schloss Hellbrunn built by von Hohenems as a summer day residence for entertaining.


Salzburg’s other famous son is Mozart who was born in Salzburg in 1756. He worked for four years at the Archbishop’s court before resigning in 1777 and going to Paris. He returned, reluct­antly, at the beginning of 1779. The relationship with the Archbishop deteri­orated as an ambitious Mozart sought to pursue a career beyond the confines of the Archbishop’s court. Mozart tried to resign in May 1781, but his resig­nation was refused, only to be literally, given the boot the following month, when he was dismissed “with a kick in the arse” by the Archbishop’s steward. Mozart then left Salzburg for Vienna. 

Servus Salzburg (Hi Salzburg) — witty time-shift video of Salzburg that makes clever use of Mozart’s music. (Credit Little Big World/SpoonFilm)

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The Sound of Music

Salzburg’s other major claim to fame is that it was the setting for The Sound of Music. In 1966 it became the highest grossing film of all time, and was only knocked off the number one position five years later by Gone With the Wind. Adjusted for inflation, The Sound of Music is the fifth highest grossing film of all time ( List of highest-grossing films).

According to the, more than 300,000 visitors every year make the pilgrimage to Salzburg because of the film. Not surpris­ingly there are lots of Sound of Music-themed activ­ities: there’s Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour, or you could go on a rickshaw ‘Round of Music’ tour listening to the soundtrack of the film while someone else does the work, or there’s The Singing Tour Guide.

And if you’re still none the wiser here’s a clip:

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You can find a hand page about the Top 10 sights in Salzburg on the city’s tourist inform­ation website Top 10 Sights in Salzburg.

I wasn’t in the mood for acres of baroque, so I gave the DomQuartier and Mirabell Palace a miss. The Festung Hohensalzburg (Salzburg Castle) is well worth the trip, but be sure to go early before the crowds arrive (turning up early also means you can see the Prince’s Chambers).

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The Salzburg Panorama was also an unexpected gem. The panorama is a big circular painting, and stepping inside it, you can see Salzburg and the surrounding countryside as it looked in the first half of the nineteenth century.

My favourite sight was the Schloss Hellbrunn). And in particular the wasser­spiele. The word is almost impossible to translate, or at least impossible to translate without running the risk of appearing in all the wrong search results (spiele trans­lates as ‘games’ or ‘play’) — so I’ll settle for the official ‘trick fountains’.

According to

Mysterious grottos, water-powered figures and hidden water jets waiting to surprise unsus­pecting visitors promise splash­ingly good times for big and small. Especially on hot summer days, the Hellbrunn fountains are a welcome source of refreshment!

The palace is a short bike or bus ride out of town; it’s also close to the route as it leaves Salzburg. There is bike parking, but it isn’t super­vised — although if you are arriving with a bike and luggage, you might be able to find a quiet corner where you can hide it.

The Salzburgerland

Salzburg is the major tourist draw on the route, and defin­itely worth a day of anyone’s time but there’s a lot to see along the way. The official website has an excellent section giving an overview of the things to see and do ( Points of Interest), but my list of highlights would be:

For more about these see the individual sections of the guide.

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