Medieval castle perched high atop a hill… Dense alpine forests clinging to rocky mountain peaks… Pastel-painted buildings on the banks of a lazy, winding river… Salzburg, Austria is like a page out of a fairytale.
The heart of Salzburg is its Old Town, the Altstadt—a warren of narrow cobblestone streets and extravagant, baroque architecture. The first time I visited there was in the summer after graduating college, but I was fortunate to return during winter a few years back.
Salzburg at Christmastime is nothing short of magical; the whole town is decked out with twinkle lights, fragrant pine garlands, and actual, living Christmas trees. A festive holiday market (Salzburger Christkindlmarkt) is held every year at the public square in front of the Cathedral. You can buy locally-made Austrian handicrafts and ornaments, hot roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, and my favorite, warm Himbeergeist—a delicious raspberry brandy, its name literally meaning “raspberry ghost.” It packs a punch and helps to warm you against the crisp winter air. Nothing gets you in the Christmas spirit like strolling down lanes lightly dusted with snow, with the melodic sounds of choirs and tolling church bells all around you.
Salzburg has many tourist sights worth visiting, including the posh shopping alley of Getreidegasse, Mirabell Palace with its beautiful manicured gardens, the baroque Salzburg Cathedral, and the birthplace and residence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In fact, I was there exactly 2 months before the city celebrated the 250th anniversary of the birth of its favorite son. His image is on everything from t-shirts and chocolates to shot glasses and ashtrays. The city is internationally recognized for its classical music scene, especially during the Salzburg Festival held every summer.
Looming high over the city is the eleventh-century Hohensalzburg Castle. Accessible by a steep road (or funicular), it’s one of the largest fortresses in all of Europe.
From the ramparts you can see for miles across the Austrian Alps, with the Altstadt nestled below and the meandering Salzach River cutting a swath through town. The Cathedral’s copper dome, green with patina, along with many other church spires, dominate the city’s picturesque skyline.
Of course, Salzburg was also the setting for the film The Sound of Music. The movie was based on a true story but, as I learned on a tour, at the end of the film when the Von Trapp family hiked over the mountains to escape the Nazis, they were actually hiking toward Germany. And surprisingly enough, most Austrians have never even heard of the movie, even though there are dozens of tours promoting it.
You can find out more about Austria here!