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The goal of most vacations is to leave the day-to-day and enjoy not being busy. But sometimes vacations can feel just as stressful as “real life”. But not in Salzburg, Austria. The city is full of charm, history, culture, and even pop culture. But it’s not enormous like other places with as much heritage and influence. Salzburg is actually pretty small with only 175,000 inhabitants. The combination of size and the number of things to do make Salzburg the perfect to visit with kids.
We took the train from Munich (read about the best things to do in Munich and our musings there) to Salzburg, arriving at the station in the heart of the City. Because it’s fairly compact, Salzburg is very walkable. Within a short walk, we were in Altstadt (Old Town) scoping out the nearby sights.
Salzburg — The Salt Castle
During medieval times, salt was referred to as “white gold” because it was one of the only ways to preserve meats before refrigeration. Salt traded for a lot of money, generating considerable wealth for people who controlled the mining and trade. Salzburg was at the center of the area’s salt road, making the Prince-Archbishops in Salzburg very wealthy and powerful people, ultimately raising the city’s influence across Central Europe.
But Salzburg is an Austrian city too, and music is everpresent. For example, the City is the birthplace and adult residence of Mozart. With music, Salzburg has kept its influence in Central Europe now through culture and the arts. Oh, and it was also home to the von Trapp Family of Sound of Music fame.
Things to Do in Salzburg
We started our visit to Salzburg with a short walk to the Old Town, including a stop a Mirabell Gardens. Mirabell, of course, is the backdrop of the song Do-Re-Mi in the movie. You don’t have to dig deep to realize that Salzburg is a great place to visit with the kids (or remember being a kid).
Money-Saving Tip: If you’re planning on visiting more than one paid attraction, the Salzburg Card gives access to all Salzburg attractions, museums, public transportation (except for the S-Bahn), and even the river cruise and funicular to the Fortress.
1. Salzburg Fortress (Hohensalzburg Fortress)
Sitting atop Mönchsberg hill is Salzburg Fortress, offering magnificent views of the city and the Austrian countryside. The Fortress, built in 1077 by the Price-Archibishops of Salzburg, is the largest and most well preserved in Central Europe. For centuries, it protected Salzburg’s interests in the salt mines nearby.
Salzburg Fortress is also home to the Prince’s Chambers, Fortress Museum (including a torture instrument exhibit), the Marionette Museum, the Museum of the Ranier Regiment, and is host to the Salzburg Fortress Concerts. With so much to do at the Fortress alone, it’s easy to please adults and kids in Salzburg. No visit to Salzburg is complete without a visit to Salzburg Fortress. Don’t pass it up. Don’t even think about it.
Pro Tip: Although you can walk uphill to get to the Fortress, it’s far easier to take the funicular.
2. Sound of Music Tour
One of the most popular things to do in Salzburg is going on the Sound of Music Tour. I know it sounds cheesy, and it’s definitely not for everybody. But it’s a great way to see many of the sights that appeared in the movie. And have a little fun with it too.
The tour is run by the same company that transported the film crew for shooting in 1964. The guides are awesome. Besides all the background on the von Trapps, they take you to the popular film locations in the area. Starting with Nonnberg Abbey, you will also visit the Mirabell Gardens (the setting for the Do-Re-Mi), the gazebo at Hellbrunn Palace (the set of Sixteen Going on Seventeen), St. Gilgen on Wolfgangsee Lake, Leopoldskorn Palace, and the church at Mondsee Lake, where the film’s wedding scene took place.
Kid-Friendly Tip: Make sure you have the kids watch the movie if you plan on taking the tour (or at least expose them to the von Trapp Family story). They’ll have a lot more fun if they can connect the dots during the tour.
3. Nonnberg Abbey
Even if you don’t take the Sound of Music Tour, if you walk up to Salzburg Fortress or take the funicular, you’ll pass the gates of Nonnberg Abbey. The Abbey is the longest continually-operating convent in the German world. However impressive that may be, the Abbey is better known as the place where Maria von Trapp was a novice in Sound of Music. The real Maria and Georg got married at Nonnberg in 1927, but the movie wedding scene was filmed elsewhere in Mondsee Lake.
4. Mirabell Palace and Gardens (Mirabellschloss und Garten)
Another must-see in Salzburg, especially for the kids, is Mirabell Palace and Gardens. They will love getting lost in the hedge maze and exploring the Dwarf Garden. The Palace was built in 1606 on the Salzach River for the Prince-Archbishop’s mistress who bore him 15 children (talk about guilt trip). Mirabell is a great place to take a stroll, relax, and let the kids explore.
As with other Salzburg sights, Mirabell Gardens played were in Sound of Music as the backdrop to the von Trapp kids singing Do-Re-Mi.
5. Mozart’s Birthplace and Residence
As Mozart’s birth city, Salzburg features the famous composer front and center. You can visit both his childhood home and his residence as an adult. The Birthplace House (Geburtshaus) displays many of Mozart’s instruments and his musical prodigy as a child. There is even a lock of his hair in his birth room.
The House is now a small museum with rooms dedicated to different facets of Mozart’s life. If you have a musician (or an aspiring one) in the crowd, Mozart houses are must-see in Salzburg.
Money-Saving Tip: If you plan on visiting both museums, you’ll save by purchasing the combined ticket.
6. Traditional Austrian Treats in the Old Town – Sachertorte and Käsekrainer
As part of the Bavarian region, Salzburg offers a variety of traditional fare from sausages to the world-famous Sachertorte. Sachertorte is chocolate cake (or torte) invented by Austrian baker Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. Although Franz devised his concoction in Vienna, Sachertortes are available from many establishments in Salzburg, including Hotel Sacher who claims to sell the “Original Sachertorte”. Regardless of where you choose to go in Salzburg, you can’t go wrong serving cake to the kids.
While you’re exploring the Old Town (Altstadt), stop by one of the many sausage vendors (Würstelstand) to grab a bite served with a variety of traditional mustards. Käsekrainer, a smoked pork sausage filled with up to 20% of cheese, was a personal favorite because it’s difficult to find it anywhere else. If cheese-filled sausage is not your thing, there are several different kinds to choose from.
7. Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn)
Between 1613-1619, the Prince-Archibishop built Hellbrunn Palace as his summer residence near Salzburg. What he didn’t know was that Hellbrunn would become one of the most fun places in Salzburg to visit with kids.
The Palace has gorgeous gardens, fountains, grottos, and a water-powered theater. But the star of the show (and the reason why many families visit Hellbrunn) are the trick fountains. They were designed with fountains and water jets that would spray the Prince-Archibishop’s guests while keeping him dry of course. That’s what you would call a 17th-century practical joke. Just make sure the kids dress to get wet.
As with other things Salzburg, Hellbrunn Palace was in Sound of Music also. The Palace’s gazebo is where Liesl sneaks off to meet Franz, away from her father Georg.
8. Frohnburg Palace (Schloss Frohnburg)
Another summer palace built by the Prince-Archibishop, Frohnburg Palace is a lesser-known attraction near Salzburg. Frohnburg is beautiful on its own and worth stopping by if you’re in the area (to see Hellbrunn for example). But it’s better known for serving as the exterior of the von Trapp villa in Sound of Music. The real Frohnburg had no actual connection to the von Trapp family.
Today, Frohnburg is used as a dormitory for students of the music conservatory Mozarteum and as a concert hall.
9. Salzach River Cruise
Tired of walking and sightseeing? The Salzach River Cruise gives you a chance to get off your feet and enjoy views of Salzburg from a different angle. Aboard the Amadeus Salzburg, you sail south passing many of the popular sites in Salzburg like the Fortress, churches, and all the way to Hellbrunn Palace before heading back to the central part of the City. On the way back, have fun on the boat waltzing with the kids to the sound of Mozart.
10. Beer Gardens
We wrote about visiting beer gardens in Bavaria as one of the most fun things to do in Munich. If you’re thinking it doesn’t sound like a kid-friendly activity, think again. Beer gardens are a huge part of Austrian (and German) family culture. And for us, traveling is all about getting to know and experiences other cultures.
Stiegelkeller is one of the most popular in Salzburg and is on the way to Salzburg Fortress (hint: it has great views of the city). Besides the obviously serving beer, they serve sodas and great Austrian food like schnitzel, pretzels, brats, and a whole lot more.
11. Salt Mine Tour
If you want to get a closer look and hear more about the “white gold” intrigue in Salzburg, the Salt Mine Tour does just that. At the Salt Mine in Hallein, you see and experience how miners extracted salt from the mines over 500 years ago.
Besides walking around and learning about salt mining, you can go down the same wooden slides the miners used to get deep into the mines. If you can’t already tell, kids love that! Before heading back to the surface, get on a raft and navigate through a cave system on a subterranean lake.
Money-Saving Tip: If you’re considering going on both the Sound of Music and the Salt Mine Tours, you can save 10% by booking the Super Saver Combo Tour.
12. Museum of Natural History and Technology (Haus der Natur)
Mixing natural history, science, and underwater landscapes, Haus der Natur is a great place to explore with the kids. If yours are anything like ours (they love our Children’s Museum), they’ll have a blast learning, experiencing, and interacting with the exhibits at the Museum.
Haus der Natur takes you through exploring the universe, learning about dinosaurs, and rainforests to the frozen tundra. Don’t forget to visit the Aquarium and Reptile Zoo for a chance to feed octopuses and sharks, and for live encounters with snakes and lizards.
If you’re short on time, I don’t recommend you put the Museum on your “must-visit” list. But it might be a great place to spend a few hours if the weather is not cooperating.
13. Day Trip to Hallstatt
Look up photos of Austria on Google, and Hallstatt is the first picture you’ll see. As picturesque a city as any you’ll ever see, this UNESCO world heritage site and hosts over 600,000 tourists every year (the local population is only 750). Hallstatt is beautiful any time of the year and a great place to spend the day.
Getting to Hallstatt from Salzburg (or Vienna)
By far the most popular and easiest way to get to Hallstatt is by joining a guided tour from Salzburg or Vienna. It’s as easy as hopping on the bus and, in a short while, arriving in Hallstatt. The drive takes you through the gorgeous Austrian countryside including the Salzkammergut lake area (from Vienna), the peaks of Hoher Dachstein (from Salzburg), and massive glaciers.
You can also get to Hallstatt independently without a tour by bus (easiest and most direct) or by train and ferry. Check out Big Boy Travel’s How to Get to Hallstatt for step-by-step directions.
Things to Do in Hallstatt
In Hallstatt, most tours take visitors to Market Square to see the pastel-colored houses, the Hallstätter See (lake), and the Alps surrounding the city. It’s also common for them to visit the 12th-century Beinhaus (Bone House), an ossuary that houses over 1,200 human skulls. There’s also a cable car that takes you up the Hallstatt Skywalk (a mountaintop viewing platform) for incredible views of the Alps.
Salzburg has just the right balance of touristic interest and discreetness that makes it a great candidate for an extended stay where the focus is not hustle and bustle but identifying with local life. Having said that, it’s also a great place to visit even on a tight schedule as a day trip from Munich or Vienna. The charm, the interest, the visuals, all make Salzburg a place worth visiting more than once.
But for now, we say “farewell, adieu, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye” to Salzburg and take the kids west to Innsbruck in the alpine foothills (check out the best things to do in Innsbruck with kids).
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