Salzburg is one of the prettiest cities in Europe, and is certainly the most sparkling jewel of Austria. The hustle-and-bustle of most European cities will soon wear you down, but Salzburg’s Altstadt (Old Town) quietly whispers “slow down, relax, enjoy” into your jet-lagged brain. Don’t fight it; this is one time when it doesn’t hurt to linger. If you have a checklist of things to view, throw it away! Happiness is not how much you see in Salzburg – happiness is simply the result of being in Salzburg.
In my opinion, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a living advertisement for geotourism, without the usual hype. The Mirabell Gardens are outstanding at any time of day, while the beautiful and serene cemetery at St. Peter’s provides a riot of colorful solitude hidden in Salzburg’s Altstadt (popular with guided tours, but missed by most other tourists).
During our first visit to Salzburg, in 2009, we didn’t have time to explore the Festung Hohensalzburg (Salzburg Fortress). When we returned in 2012, that was our top priority. Dominating the Salzburg skyline, Festung Hohensalzburg adds a fairy-tale atmosphere to almost every photograph you take. The quickest (and most expensive) way to reach it is via funicular, but we walked up the excellent path, enjoying magnificent views at almost every step. Arriving at the castle, our small entrance fee included a funicular ride back down into the Altstadt.
One of the entrances to St. Peter’s Cemetery is just a few feet away from the funicular station. As you step through the gate, you enter an unusual cemetery – the graves are rented! If nobody pays the rent, your mortal remains get evicted! That would be too bad, because this is certainly the place to “rest in peace.” Graves are marked with ornate wrought iron crosses and ornaments, and beautiful flowers are everywhere. To really appreciate the serenity of this cemetery, wait for the guided tours to leave and then soak up the solitude.
There are many bridges across the Salzach River, with the pedestrian-only Makartsteg bridge being the most modern. During our visit in 2009, there was nothing else to distinguish this bridge, but by our visit in 2012 the chain-link fencing on either side of the bridge had been decorated with thousands of tiny locks, meant to symbolize everlasting love. There was even one decorated with the Canadian flag!
Families with children should stop at the wonderful Klexx toy shop, located in the Altstadt just a few steps beyond the Makartsteg bridge. I bought an excellent jigsaw puzzle of the Altstadt, plus some scale models for my garden railroad back home.
There’s no need to tell you that Mozart was born in Salzburg. Even if you forgot, the plethora of tourist traps would quickly remind you – almost everything for sale in Salzburg has a Mozart brand on it, from candy to underwear! The Griswold family (“Lampoon’s European Vacation”) would be right at home shopping here.
Movie lovers with a bit more class might be tempted to take one of the (too) many “Sound of Music” guided tours available. Most Austrians never bothered to see that movie, and do not understand why it was (and still is) so popular. A Swiss friend told me that when the movie was translated into German, the songs became total garbage!
The Sacher-Torte probably didn’t influence UNESCO’s decision to name Salzburg a World Heritage Site. Introduced in 1832, the “Original Sacher-Torte” is billed as the world’s most famous cake by the Hotel Sacher, which conveniently has its second hotel (the original is in Vienna) here on the banks of the Salzach River. If you have never tried this delectable treat, this is the place to sample it. On a sunny day you can sit at an outside table, nibble your cake, sip your hot chocolate, and view the lovely Salzach River, the Altstadt, and the Festung Hohensalzburg. Those of you with telescopic eyeballs may even spot the funicular going to-and-from the fortress.