Salzburg was a place I grew up wanting to visit for several reasons, and after seeing Innsbruck in 2012, I was even more keen to see another Austrian city.
Like the other cities I went to on this trip, I spent 4 nights in Salzburg, which was actually too long. I never cared to look at the population or size of Salzburg before visiting, so it was only when I got there did I realise that it’s more of a town than a city, with a population of barely 150 000. Its so small, in fact, that even 2 days is enough to see everything you need to see.
I had pre-booked my train tickets before leaving South Africa so I’d have one less thing to worry about, and also so that I’d be able to time myself better. I had done some research on different train lines and decided to go with DB Bahn, since I was travelling from Munich. I wanted to get a direct train because I didn’t want the hassle of changing trains when I had a large bag to lug around.
The ticket I got indicated that the route would be direct, however, only at my second to last stop did I find that it was not the case. Because of the refugee crisis, trains were being diverted to lesser known towns in order to control where the refugees would enter from, since their main means of entering was via train.
The train was marked as being en route to Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, but it was actually going to a small town roughly 11km out of Salzburg called Freilassing, and is actually the border town of Austria. While on the train, there was an announcement that all passengers had to exit the train at Freilassing as service would be terminated there. I was a little nervous about it, being alone and all, but I knew that there easily were about 100 other tourists that were definitely going to Salzburg. It only made sense that tourists were going to Salzburg and not Freilassing, so I made sure that I stayed close to them when disembarking and then standing in a queue outside.
All the passengers that stood around me spoke in a language that I could not understand – either Mandarin or Spanish, so I tried to listen as carefully as I possibly could for any signs of where the line we were standing in would lead us. Even German would have sufficed, but I could not hear a single person speak it, so I decided to trust my gut and continue to wait in the line.
About 15 minutes later, to my relief, 3 buses marked Salzburg Hbf arrived. Until I got on that bus, I had no idea that I was just in Freilassing (because all I got from the announcement on the train was that I had to get off at the next stop, not what the next stop was) since I couldn’t get any GPS signal on my phone. I had no idea how long the journey would be to Salzburg, and was not impressed that I had to stand the whole way. I checked Google Maps while on the bus in order to somehow determine where I was and how far Salzburg was, and judging by the time I had been on the bus at that point, Freilassing was the only place that made sense for me to have been at a few minutes before.
Due to the construction on so many of the roads, as well as the patches of refugee camps we had to drive through, the bus ride was about 30 minutes long. It took us directly to Salzburg Hbf, so I arrived there just after 2pm, which was great because that was about the check-in time of my hotel.
I stayed at Hotel Krone, which was in an extremely convenient and popular location.
I had never really interacted with Austrians before, and I had a rather good first impression. I took a little time to settle in to my hotel before setting off for an afternoon walk into town. I was absolutely starving, so decided to head into the Altstad (Old Town) in the hope of finding something that would keep me going for the rest of the day.
It was super easy to get from my hotel to the old town, since it was literally down the road I was staying on, and across the river. Once I got to the foot of the bridge, I got my first view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress, the most iconic building of the city. There were so many people on the bridge, that the one time I was able to almost fully extend my arm to try to take a photo of myself, I had to withdraw it immediately as someone was about to crash into me.
When I was about to try again, a local girl suddenly showed up in front of me and immediately started yacking in German. I could barely understand a word coming out of her mouth, but she looked so friendly that I couldn’t help but smile at her and try to make sense of what she was saying. I got the gist of it though – she was basically saying that it is difficult taking a picture of yourself and that I should let her take it for me. When I said “oh, ok!”, she realised that I was talking in English, which immediately prompted her to switch to it too. She took my phone, told me to smile as she took the picture, and happily said “Its my pleasure!” when I thanked her, then disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared. I don’t know where she came from, but that was such a wonderful first impression of Austrians. Thank you, whoever you were!
Austrian food is probably the most bland that I’ve ever eaten, although they do have some good things here and there. Schaumrolle is one of them. Upon entering the old town market, I saw a long queue of people at one particular vendor. Curiosity got the better of me and I know better than to mistrust the locals. It was the first thing I had eaten that day and although it wasn’t a proper meal, it certainly made me happy. It was a puff pastry roll filled with warm fresh cream. It was actually to die for. I highly recommend it!
I had a favourite place in every city I went to. In Salzburg, Mirabell Palace was it. A mere 10 minute walk from my hotel sat the palace where some of The Sound of Music was shot. The gardens are perfectly manicured, and one of the best things about it is that there is free WiFi. I was able to make several Skype phone calls from the gardens, and spent a lot of time just relaxing there and absorbing the beauty, with the Hohensalzburg Fortress as a backdrop.
Being the most prominent structure in the city, Hohensalzburg Fortress is definitely worth a visit. The climb to the top is quite steep, but should you choose to take the funicular, it is easy to find as it is clearly marked on most maps. Since I was already exhausted from the previous week of walking and cycling far more than I had done in years, naturally I chose the easy way up. The ticket price included the entrance fee into the castle.
My main reason for wanting to go to the castle/fortress was for the views. And boy, did it exceed my expectations. I got to the top just before midday, and was able to witness the midday church bells going off all around the city. It was music for the soul, and I couldn’t help but get goosebumps.
There is also free WiFi in the fortress grounds, and as long as you don’t abuse it (as in make long Skype calls), it should last your entire visit. I spent a good 3 hours at the castle, at least. After wandering around and seeing as much as I could, I saw that there was also an audio tour that I could do with my entrance pass, which ended at the fortress’ watch tower. I simply had to join the tour as not only would it give me a nice history lesson, but 360 degree views of the city, too. Luckily for me, the sun came out for a quick 5 minutes the moment I stepped out up onto the watch tower.
After the audio tour, since I hadn’t had lunch, I went down to the castle’s restaurant. However, since it is a tourist magnet, naturally the prices were sky high, so I decided not to get something to eat. I opted for a draught of the local beer instead – Stiegl. German beer had set a new standard for me, so I was pleased with Austria’s contribution. The stop also allowed me to take an even more incredible photo of the surroundings since the weather had returned to its dull state, making everything appear dramatic again.
If you enjoy the baroque style of architecture, the Salzburg Cathedral is a must. The cathedral is very impressive inside, so take a little time to sit and admire the detail in the architecture. You can also go down into the crypt (an opportunity I couldn’t miss, since you can’t go into the crypt in St Peter’s Church at the Vatican), where you are also allowed to take photos.
Salzburg is known for 2 major things: The Sound of Music, and Mozart. No trip to Salzburg is complete without visiting Mozart’s birthplace. You can get an audio tour of his entire house, which I found extremely informative. I had no idea that he had a sister, Nannerl, who was a musical genius before he overshadowed her, nor had I any idea of the fact that he was barely 1.5m tall. I spent about an hour in the house which I think was worth it. There are guards walking around all the time, so if you want to take a photo, you need to be extremely sneaky about it. I felt as though I were using my Assassin’s Creed timing skills on one of the guards when trying to take a photo of the living room which housed Mozart’s piano and violin. I have since deleted the photo as it was so unclear; it wasn’t really worth keeping.
Some may wonder why I visited Salzburg and not Vienna. The answer is simple: The Sound of Music. I would be a shameful fan if I included my story about that in this post (as if this post needed to be any longer). Till then, so long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight.