For many visitors, Salzburg represents the quintessential Austria, offering ornate architecture, mountain air, and the musical heritage of the city’s most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The city and surrounding area were for centuries ruled by a series of independent prince-archbishops, and it is the pomp and wealth of their court that is evident everywhere in the fine Baroque Altstadt.
The pale marble facade of the Dom dominates Domplatz, while inside, the impressively cavernous Renaissance structure dazzles with its ceiling frescoes. Across Domplatz, an archway leads through to the Gothic Franziskanerkirche, which houses a fine Baroque altar around an earlier Madonna and Child. The altar is enclosed by an arc of nine chapels, and a frenzy of stucco. Look out for the twelfth-century marble lion that guards the stairway to the pulpit.
Overlooking the city from the rocky mountain, the fortified Hohensalzburg(daily: May–Sept 9am–6.30pm; Oct–April 9.30am–4.30pm; €12, or €15.20 including funicular) is Salzburg’s key landmark. You can get up here on Austria’s oldest funicular (daily every 10min: April–June, Sept, Oct & Dec 9am–8pm; July & Aug 9am–10pm; Nov & Jan–March 9am–5pm; €8.40 return) from Festungsgasse behind the Dom, although the walk up isn’t as hard as it looks. Begun around 1070, the fortress gradually became a more salubrious courtly seat. Included in the price is an audioguide tour of the observation tower – with spectacular views – and battlements, access to the impressive state rooms and various exhibitions.
For some of the best views across to the Hohensalzburg, take the Mönchsberg lift up to the Mönchsberg from Anton-Neumayr-Platz (July & Aug daily 8am–11pm; Sept–June Mon 8am–7pm, Tues–Sun 8am–9pm; €2.30 single, €3.60 return). At the summit, the sleekly concrete-and-glass Museum der Moderne (Tues–Sun 10am–6pm, Wed till 8pm; €8) is a stylish contrast to all the Baroque that puts on big-name art exhibitions.
Getreidegasse, the main street in Salzburg’s Old Town, is lined with opulent boutiques, painted facades and wrought-iron shop signs. At no. 9 is the canary-yellow Mozarts Geburtshaus (daily: July & Aug 8.30am–6.30pm; Sept–June 9am–5pm; €10, joint ticket with Wohnhaus €17), where the musical prodigy was born in 1756 and lived until the age of 17. Between the waves of tour parties it can be an evocative place, housing some fascinating period instruments, including one of his baby-sized violins. Over the Salzach River on Makartplatz, Mozarts Wohnhaus was the family home from 1773 till 1787 (same hours; €10), and now contains an engrossing multimedia history of the composer.
The complex of Baroque buildings at the centre of Salzburg exudes the ecclesiastical and temporal power of Salzburg’s archbishops, whose erstwhile living quarters, the Residenz (Mon & Wed–Sun 10am–4pm; €12, including access to the cathedral museums and organ gallery), dominates the west side of Residenzplatz. Take a self-guided audio-tour of the lavish state rooms, then head one floor up to the Residenzgalerie, whose collection includes a few interesting paintings, most notably Rembrandt’s small, almost sketch-like Old Woman Praying.
On the east side of Residenzplatz, accessed from Mozartplatz, is the Neue Residenz, built by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, and topped by the Glockenspiel, a seventeenth-century musical clock which chimes at 7am, 11am and 6pm. It now houses the excellent Salzburg Museum (Tues–Sun 9am–5pm; €8.50), which, as well as showing some of the archbishop’s lavish rooms, explores Salzburg’s history, its rediscovery by Romantic painters and the city’s tourist industry.
The Italianate palace Schloss Hellbrunn (daily: April & Oct 9am–4.30pm; May, June & Sept 9am–5.30pm; July & Aug 9am–9pm, Wasserspiele only after 6pm; €12.50) on Salzburg’s southern fringe – 5km from the city centre – was built in the early seventeenth century by Salzburg’s decadent archbishop Marcus Sitticus as a place for entertaining. The main attraction is the gardens’ impressive array of fountains and watery gimmicks, or wasserspiele; guided tours take forty minutes, with the tour guide showing off all the tricks and hidden fountains, including an elaborate, water-powered mechanical theatre (prepare to be splashed). The palace itself features paintings of Sitticus’s unusual animal collection, and a lavishly frescoed festival hall and music room.
To get to Schloss Hellbrunn take bus #25 from the train station or Mirabellplatz (every 20–30min). This bus continues to the village of St Leonhard, 7km further south, where a cable car (March–June & Oct–Nov 8.30am–4.30pm; July–Sept 8.30am–5pm; Dec–Feb 9am–3.30pm; return €23) climbs the 1853m Untersberg for impressive views of Salzburg to the north and the Alps to the south.
Across the river from the Altstadt, Schloss Mirabell on Mirabellplatz stands on the site of a palace built by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his mistress Salome, with whom the energetic prelate was rumoured to have sired a dozen children. Familiar from The Sound of Music, the palace’s ornate gardens offer a popular view back across the city.
Salzburg wastes no time cashing in on its connection with the legendary singing Von Trapp family, immortalized in the movie The Sound of Music. From its kiosk on Mirabellplatz, Panorama Tours (T06 628 83 21 10) runs The Original Sound of Music Tour (daily 9.15am & 2pm; 4hr; €42) to the key film locations, such as Hellsbrun Palace and Mondsee Cathedral – they play the soundtrack and you’re encouraged to sing along.