When it’s winter in Salzburg, the alpine city takes on a fairytale quality. Aside from its charming streets and cozy cafes, few other places have an iconic castle sitting on top of a mountain.
There are plenty of things to do in Salzburg in winter, but December is particularly delightful – thanks to all the Christmas markets in Salzburg. We planned a one-week Salzburg itinerary just so we could see them all. Why so many days? We had fewer daylight hours for sightseeing, but we didn’t want to miss any of the best things to do in Salzburg.
So here is our guide to Salzburg, Austria winter trip, based on our own experience. We hope it will help you see the best of this beautiful city yourself.
Salzburg winter weather
This is a beautiful city to visit throughout the year, but winter in Salzburg has a romantic, snowy appeal. The city really turns into a fairytale setting around December, with snow capped buildings and a festive chill in the air.
If you can handle the cold weather in Salzburg in December, and enjoy walking through snowy streets, then winter here is particularly special. For those worried about the icy temperatures – there's always plenty of mulled wine around to keep you warm!
Just be wary that daylight hours are reduced significantly during winter here. Salzburg in January is also perfect for a winter experience.
Where to stay in Salzburg
The city center in Salzburg is pretty compact and easy to explore on foot. Staying in the city center, or within walking distance of it, is advisable.
The most popular area to stay in Salzburg would be the Old Town, or Altstadt. The Old Town spills over onto the North and South sides of the river, but the Northern side is probably the most popular. You can find a wide range of accommodation options here, and you will be within a convenient distance of most major attractions.
If you are looking for more budget friendly accommodation, there are many wonderful places to stay on the outskirts of the city. Just make sure that these are located close to a bus line that heads into the Old Town.
Getting to Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg is a well connected city that caters to tourists coming from all directions. You have a number of options for getting there.
You can choose to fly straight into Salzburg’s W.A Mozart Airport (code: SZG), which is only 4km from the city center. From there, the city center can be reached via taxi, bus, or train from the airport.
Arriving by train is a popular option if you are coming from another European city. The trains arrive in the Hauptbahnhof, which is the main station here. Trains in Austria are particularly efficient.
Otherwise, you can choose to drive in by car, or ride in by bus. Austria’s motorways are easy to navigate.
Day 1: Arrival + Sound of Music tour
A morning arrival leaves the afternoon free for sightseeing. Movie lovers know Salzburg as the city where The Sound of Music was filmed, and the film crew chose some of the most beautiful parts of the city as film locations.
Makes sense to use a half-day Sound of Music tour as a way to get oriented to the city.
The tour begins with a drive through the section of Austrian Alps known as Salzkammergut. This region of lakes and Alpine ranges is so scenic that it a UNESCO world heritage site. If you remember the opening scenes or if you’ve seen photos of Hallstatt, you already know that this is an extraordinarily beautiful part of the world.
On the way, we learned more about the movie’s filming locations and the famous Von Trapp family. And of course, the soundtrack kept us company as well!
Destination: Mondsee Church, where they filmed the marriage scene in the movie. (In real life, the Captain and Maria married in the church of Nonnberg Abbey.)
The next stop is Hellbrunn Park, home of the gazebo that has become a prevalent part of the Sound of Music.
Afterward, you move on to Nonnberg nunnery, where real-life Maria was a novitiate. While filming wasn't permitted inside the Abbey, several scenes of The Sound of Music were filmed just outside. It’s the oldest of its kind in Europe.
The tour then takes you to The Mirabell Palace and Gardens. You will take a short walk through these stunning gardens, admiring the Pegasus fountain that became so popular after the film.
Other famous Sound of Music attractions that you will then get to see include the Horse Pond, Residenzplatz fountain, the Rock Riding School, and Saint Peter’s Monastery – the oldest cemetery in Austria.
We loved this tour as our first-day introduction to visiting Salzburg, as we got to witness some of the most beautiful sights and iconic landmarks around the city. Of course, if you are a fan of The Sound of Music, then this tour is an absolute must.
Day 2: Mozart, schnapps + Salzburg landmarks
Salzburg is loaded with historic landmarks and fun attractions. We devoted our second day in this city to some of the most famous points of interest in town.
Here are all of the fantastic places that we visited on our second day in Salzburg.
Mozart University (Universitat Morzarteum)
This revered university was established in honor of Salzburg’s most famous musician – Mozart. It is one among three affiliated “Mozarteum” institutions. Mozart University focuses on music and the arts.
The building dates back to 1841, so there is a fair deal of interesting history here. This place is full of some of the world's most promising musicians.
Holy Trinity Church (Dreifaltigkeitskirche)
Of all the beautiful old buildings in Salzburg, the Holy Trinity Church is a definite highlight.
This church was built between 1694 – 1702, making it a historical gem in the city. While the impressive facade will be sure to take your breath away, the interior of the church is just as wonderful.
We loved quietly wandering around the inside of the church, taking in all of the fine artistic details and the building's rich history.
The Salzburg Landestheater is one of the top landmarks to see in the city. Whether you are just passing by, admiring the building from the outside, or are lucky enough to watch a performance, stopping here is one of the best things to do in Salzburg, Austria.
The theater dates back to 1893 and has hosted all kinds of amazing performances. Most importantly, this is where Mozart held regular performances of his repertoire.
Besides the important history that this theater holds, it is also a beautiful building to admire. Seeing it in wintertime just adds to the fairytale charms of this city, as snow adorns the old-style architecture.
Marionette Theater (Marionettentheater)
The Salzburg Marionette Theatre opened up in 1913, making it one of the oldest marionette theaters in the world that is still operating.
The theater is actually a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site due to its long-standing marionette tradition. If you have the chance to see one of these brilliant stringed puppet shows, then we highly advise grabbing the opportunity. If not, the Marionette Theater is still an interesting stop while exploring the city.
Mozart is one of the most famous and celebrated Salzburg citizens. Today, his birthplace is an interesting museum – and one of the most popular museums in Austria.
If you are interested in learning about the various stages of Mozart and seeing some great artifacts in his home city, then we highly recommend this museum. The museum teaches you all about the life and works of Mozart. It also gives you some great insights into some of Salzburg’s history.
Click here to get tickets to Mozart’s Birthplace.
After visiting Mozart’s Birthplace, walk down the city’s most famous street – Getreidegasse. This is the main street in the old part of Salzburg.
The street is lined with all kinds of shops, cafes, and restaurants – and plenty of Mozart paraphernalia at every turn. However, it is the historical beauty and charm of the old buildings lining Getreidegasse that make this street special. Walking down this beautiful pedestrian street really transports you back in time to old-world Salzburg.
Sporer schnapps tasting
While walking down Getreidegasse, consider sampling Salzburg’s favorite drink – schnapps. Sporer Liqueur and Punch Manufacturer is located in the narrowest house in Getreidegasse. This cute little shop, dating back to 1903, is one of the best places in Salzburg to sample schnapps.
If Salzburg’s winter weather turns bitingly cold, then schnapps is one of the most popular ways to warm up. The company manufactures 18 different liqueurs and offers dozens more. This is a great opportunity to try new schnapps varieties and learn about this proud spirit.
ⓘ Souvenir idea: If you are looking for something to take back home with you, then a bottle of schnapps from Sporer is a great idea.
Sound of Music World
The Sound of Music might have put Salzburg on the map for many movie lovers, but it’s only loosely based on the real-life story.
Sound of Music World unites movie fiction with the true historical account of the Von Trapp family during World War II. It is a fun place to visit even if you detest musicals. Different displays and exhibitions give good insights into Austria’s role in the war and how it affected ordinary citizens.
St. Blasius Church
St. Blasius Church can be found at the end of Getreidegasse. Popping into this old church is a great way to end your busy day of sightseeing.
The St. Blasius Church has a captivating history, dating back to the 12th century. The church is an interesting architectural example as it blends a number of different styles. This is a beautiful building to visit, and a site that adds more to the wintery appeal of Salzburg.
Day 3: Fortress + walking tour
There really is so much to see in Salzburg in winter. Our third day in this city was still packed with activity, seeing some more brilliant Salzburg sights.
Cable car to the fortress
We started off our third day's sightseeing adventure at the Festungsbahn cable railway. Thanks to this fun little cable car, reaching the popular Salzburg Fortress was easy. It only travels 200m, so it takes only about a minute to reach the top.
The cable car runs from the heart of the historic district, and it runs straight up to the iconic fortress. The cable car has been in operation since 1892, making it quite a famous ride in Salzburg. This cable car operates throughout winter, and it was a fun way to reach the top of the Fortress.
ⓘ TIP: You’ll get some jaw-dropping views available of Saltzburg on your way up, so keep your camera ready.
Hohenzaltz Fortress sits above the old historical district of Salzburg on the Festungsberg. This fortress is actually the largest fully preserved castle in central Europe.
The Hohenzaltz Fortress was built way back in 1077. However, the building that you see today was finished in the year 1500. The Fortress was built to protect the archbishops and the principality from any possible attacks. Today, this fortress is home to a number of excellent museums.
You can spend a good couple of hours exploring the museums here. These museums include
- the main Fortress Museum – dedicated to the history that occurred around this building,
- the Marionette Museum,
- the Altes Zeughaus, which documents the development of cannons, armaments and firearms
- and the Museum of the Rainer Regiment.
Beyond these remarkably interesting museums, you can also explore some amazing rooms in the fortress that still contain all of their original furnishings.
The Hohenzaltz Fortress is open throughout the year and is a brilliant place to visit during winter. Not only is it an interesting landmark, but the views from here over the historical district in Salzburg are breathtaking.
Residenzplatz is a big square in the middle of this old district, and it is named after the Residenz building of the prince-archbishops of Salzburg.
The popular square is surrounded by some of the city’s most prominent and beautiful buildings. The Salzburg Cathedral encloses the one end, with the Alte Residenz enclosing the other. On the eastern end of the square is the Neue Residenz, and the Mozartplatz leading to the Salzburg Museum is adjacent to this square.
The stately architecture around here, including the grand central fountain, is wonderful to see during winter. It is also interesting to see the prince-archbishop residences after learning about them at the Hohenzaltz museums.
Residenzplatz is a brilliant place to be to just absorb the charms of the city – especially if you are visiting Salzburg at Christmas.
Mozartplatz is a smaller square in the historic district of Salzburg that is focused around the Mozart statue. This statue is in the center and was commissioned by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau.
This is a stunning square to visit, with all of the charming old buildings, shops, and cafes around it. The main reason that Mozartplatz is such a popular attraction in Salzburg is due to its central monument.
After learning about Mozart during your stay in Salzburg, it is important to visit the city’s main tribute to him. This is a must-see attraction while exploring the old part of Salzburg in winter.
Pferdeschwemme (horse pond)
From Mozartplatz, you can reach one of the two last pferdeschwemme, or horse wells, left in Salzburg. This horse pond has been so beautifully decorated by the order of the Prince-Archbishop Firmian in 1732.
The center of the well houses a statue called Der Rossebandiger, while there are some artistic frescos painted around it. Although the horse pond does not really serve any purpose these days, it is still fun and entertaining to see this decorated pferdeschwemme in person.
Felsenreitschule (Rock Riding School)
The name of this theater literally translates to “Rock Riding School”. This is a stunning Baroque theater that dates all the way back to 1693.
The unique Felsenreitschule theater is found in a former quarry, and it consists of 96 arches on three tiers that have been carved out of the rock. The site was once used as a riding school for mounted soldiers, as well as a staged battle arena – this is where the name comes from.
The Felsenreitschule theater hosts many excellent performances, so try to catch a show here if you can. If not, it is still very worthwhile just being at this historic theatre and admiring its unique architectural design.
The theater is used during the Salzburg Festival, where it hosts a large number of thrilling shows.
Day 4: Explore the Riedenburg district
Riedenburg District is historically the oldest part of the city, and Rainberg Hill sits at the heart of the neighborhood. The hill was first settled back in 4500 B.C., making it the oldest settlement in the area.
The hill was then developed into a fortified town by the Celtic tribes before it was taken over by the Romans, who shifted the city to the Altstadt. We enjoy ancient sites like this, but the Rainberg is now a nature reserve and not even accessible (at least not officially, that is). So no hill for us.
The Riedenburg District is now an expensive and exclusive residential area, and it’s worth a trip to see Schloss Leopoldskron. The castle is built alongside the district’s well-known little lake, Leopoldskroner Weiher.
This historic castle was ordered as a residence by Prince-Archbishop Leopold Anton Firmian. It’s full of beautiful rooms, important artworks, and of course amazing architecture, so it’s worth a visit. Besides, it makes a great shelter from a winter's day in Salzburg.
Other great Salzburg attractions
When looking at what to do in Salzburg in winter, the list really goes on. We loved spending four days here, but you could certainly enjoy more time in Salzburg, as there is so much to see.
Here are some more top Salzburg attractions to enjoy.
Mirabell Palace and gardens
The Mirabell Palace is one of the most popular historic buildings in Salzburg. This listed cultural heritage monument is a complete marvel to take in, dating back to 1606. The palace is a beautiful site to explore, and it will give you a look into the lavish world of the old Prince Archbishops of Salzburg.
No visit to the Mirabell palace would be complete without exploring the stunning gardens as well. The palace is surrounded by extremely well looked after lawns, flowerbeds, trees, fountains, and statues. It is an excellent place to wander around in between sightseeing, but as you’d expect it’s not too impressive this time of year.
Check out a Mozart and Vivaldi performance at Mirabell Palace for a truly unique experience in Salzburg.
Schloss Hellbrunn, or HellbrunnPalace, is another beautiful Salzburg building that shows off this city’s grand heritage. Built in 1619, this building is a fantastic historic and architectural sight to behold.
St. Peter's Abbey
This Benedictine monastery was founded in the 7th century and is a brilliant historical building in Salzburg. The church is not only famous for its great architecture and impressive catacombs, but it is also a top destination for fans of The Sound of Music.
Salzburg Christmas markets
Christmas in Salzburg is a major attraction – something that is best felt through the famous Christmas markets held here. These snowy markets sell all kinds of local wintery goods and treats to really get you into the festive spirit. If you are after the ultimate white Christmas experience, then a market is one of the best things to do in Salzburg in December.
Some of the most notable christmas markets here can be found at the Salzburger Dom Cathedral, Schloss Mirabell, Alter Markt, and the Hohensalzburg Castle. These markets have historic roots, and are some of the best places to experience proud local tradition.
We have to recommend the Salzburg Card to anyone wanting to explore this outstanding city. Grabbing a Salzburg Card before starting your adventure will give you brilliant, easy access to many of the top things to do and see in this city.
A Salzburg Card will give you free admission to tourist attractions and museums throughout the city. You also get free use of public transport! The Salzburg Card will also give you some big discounts to a number of cultural attractions, concerts, skip-the-line access, and more.
Getting around Salzburg
As Salzburg is such a small city, the best way to around has got to be by walking. Not only is this quick and easy, it allows you to experience all of the stunning details of the Old Town. Cycling is also a great option – although this is not recommended during a snowy winter.
Public transport here is also incredibly efficient. The tram (known here as Obus) and bus systems are easy to use and pretty extensive across the city. They operate under the same ticket system. A 24 hour ticket costs €5 (this is a great option for busy tourists), or €2 for a single trip. For slightly longer distances, bus taxis are available. These run along 12 fixed routes, and cost €3 per trip.
There are also plenty of taxis that drive around the Old Town. These are easy to catch and very reliable.
Final thoughts on Salzburg in winter
Visiting Salzburg over winter is an absolute treat. This city boasts Austrian charms and pretty streets, combined with fantastic historical sites and points of interest. There are loads of things to do here, four days is ideal to really explore this city. However, seeing the city in one day is still possible.
Visiting Salzburg in winter is a great idea. This city really shows off at this time of year with its Alp surroundings. Any Salzburg Christmas will certainly be an event to remember as well.
We hope that our experience of four days spent in Salzburg will help you make the most out of your winter trip!
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