Although Vienna is a must-visit in Austria, Salzburg is a lot more charming, magical and a stunning city, much smaller in size than Vienna. A trip to Salzburg in winter means crisp chilly nights, snow-covered roofs, magical Christmas markets and the lovely smell of Gluhwein that'll pull you towards it. This is also the city where Mozart was born and it is clear of how proud they're of their heritage! Not only are the two houses that he lived in converted into museums, there are several Mozart concerts that take place throughout the city. And of course, there are the Mozart chocolates (pistachio marzipan balls in dark chocolate), which are not tough to find.
Salzburg is also where a lot of scenes from Sound of Music were shot and if you're a fan, you'll find tour companies organising the Sound of Music Trail Tour which will take you to some of the locations where the movie was shot. Nestled between snow-capped hills on three sides, Salzburg in winter looks absolutely remarkable, especially with the streets lit up during Christmas season.
Recommended hotel stay in Salzburg: Hotel Imlauer and Brau
Towering over the city, Hohensalzburg Fortress is hard to miss. Located on the top of a cliff in the backdrop of the city of Salzburg, you can either walk up to this medieval castle or take the funicular. The view from the top of the entire city is priceless! Inside the castle, you can opt for a 30-minute audio tour and visit the dungeons, staterooms, the courtyard and the compound. During the winter months, there is usually also a Christmas market held in the courtyard. However, when I visited, this entire area was under restoration so there was no Christmas market. There were cafés selling Gluhwein and tasty Christmas treats, with a view of the snow-covered city below.
There are several things to explore inside the fortress – a museum of puppetry, museum of the city and a chapel.
The historic centre of Salzburg, also known as Salzburg Altstadt, is the best place to spend a few hours to soak in the lovely atmosphere of this birth city of Mozart. Against the backdrop of the surrounding hills, the old town is home to several monuments which are baroque architectural icons. The Alstadt is also a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, with its cobbled stone streets, cathedrals, domes and open areas. Most of the tourist attractions within Salzburg can be found here and during the winter months, this is where two of the biggest and most important Christmas markets of Salzburg are set up.
The monuments of the most historical and architectural importance here include St Peter’s Abbey, cemetery and catacombs, Nonnberg monastery, Kapitelplatz, an art piece with a large golden sphere holding a man on the top, and Salzburger Dome Cathedral. Apart from that, you will find several cafes and restaurants, and boutiques lining the narrow streets lit up beautifully during the evenings.
If you’re visiting Salzburg in winter, you’re likely to see the largest and most happening Christmas market of this city in front of the Salzburg Cathedral. Although the stunning architecture of the cathedral pales in front of the colourful and bright Christmas market, which clearly steals the show, the building stands tall in the backdrop, creating the perfect setting. Entrance to the cathedral is free of charge and a must do because it' is as lovely from the inside as it is from the outside.
Residenzplatz is located bang in the centre of the Old Town and forms the soul of the Altstadt area. A fountain decorated with sculptures is eminent here and during the summer, many concerts are held here. During winter, there’s yet another popular Christmas market held here. If you’re visiting Salzburg in winter, you will find the liveliest atmosphere here, especially in the evenings. Two palaces, significant of Baroque and Medieval architecture surround the area and you can visit the palaces and enjoy a self-guided audio tour if you’re interested.
Unfortunately, I did not find the palaces of Salzburg as impressive as those of Vienna, although the town itself is a lot more charming. Mirabell Palace, one of the popular ones to visit in Salzburg, has beautiful gardens, although the architecture itself isn’t half as impressive as most other castles and forts. It does, however, have an amazing sculpture collection, which is one of the impressive features here. During the winter months, the gardens are likely to be covered with snow, taking away the beauty of the perfectly manicured plants and bushes and thus, Mirabell Palace is not one of my favourite places to visit in Salzburg in winter. However, it palace was featured in the famous movie Sound of Music, making for an interesting place to visit and explore, for the movie fans. Also, during the winter months, a rather small and cosy Christmas market can be found right outside the palace.
About 20 min from the town centre is this 400-year old palace that is not as majestic and attractive as a building as most other palaces in Austria or even Salzburg, however, the Trick Fountains and the Advent Market here in the winter definitely make it a great place to visit. The effects on the Trick Fountains are really unique and spellbinding, with its hidden water jets and water-powered figures.
The courtyard, where the Advent Market is held every year, provides a very romantic setting. The most intriguing part is that the windows of the palace are transformed into an advent calendar. The path leading to the trick fountains is lit with atmospheric lighting and a tall Christmas angel greets you near the grottos.
One of the most popular museums to be visited in Salzburg in winter is Mozart’s Birthplace. A yellow building in Mozartplatz stands out and draws attention to the house where Mozart was born and lived during his formative years. You can tour the original rooms inside the house, with the furniture that dates to the 18th century and peek into original documents, letters and memorabilia from Mozart’s life. Mozart’s own violin and clavichord can also be found here.
Day trip to Hallstatt
This trip will be one you will not regret. A fairy-tale town, hidden away amidst mountains, around a gorgeous lake, Hallstatt is a sleepy village which has all ingredients for a romantic vacation. If you're looking to spend some time far away from all semblance of city life, in a charming place which is probably the most scenic place you'll see in Austria, a trip to Hallstatt is just what you need!
Read my detailed post on a Day trip to Hallstatt from Salzburg.
Day trip to St Gilgen & St Wolfgang
Both St Gilgen and St Wolfgang are picturesque lakeside towns, situated in the idyllic countryside in Austria, not very far from Salzburg. If you're visiting Salzburg in winter, you must make it to these two not only for the lovely Christmas markets that are held here but also because of the authentic feel of charming Austrian villages that these two places offer.
Read in detail my post on a Day-trip to St Wolfgang from Salzburg.
Lake Konigsee & Salt Mine Tour
Hardly 20 kms away from Salzburg is the famous Berchtesgaden salt mine. Here you can embark on a very adventurous tour into the very depths of the mountains! You will be dressed in overalls and taken in a miner's train into the mountains. Here, you will be explained, through gigantic 3D displays, the process of salt mining and the history associated with the place. A spectacular miner's slide and ferry across the underground lake are the highlights of this 1-hour guided tour.
After the tour, you can spend some time exploring the little quaint town of Berchtesgaden, where you can have lunch. Unfortunately, during the winter months, the iconic Eagle's Nest (Hitler's Mountain Retreat) is closed. However, you can visit Lake Konigsee, which hasn't yet frozen in the months of November - December. The town Konigsee is the access point to the lake and here you can find several restaurants and souvenir shops. You also have ferries and boats which can be used by the tourists to explore the area and tour the lake.
Visiting Vienna? Read about What to do in Vienna in winter.