Like most of Europe’s popular towns, the streets of Salzburg are unusually empty. Top restaurants accept walk-ins and Mozartkugeln shops—kitschy venues that were once a mecca for tourists—serve locals again. But pandemic or not, Salzburg’s unique charm will irresistibly draw you in during your stay. The religious vibe is palpable—the city was once ruled by archbishops after all—resulting in an abundance of churches. This makes it an ideal setting for kickstarting the festive season.
Salzburg is also a mecca for music lovers and home to the Salzburger Festspiele, the largest classical music festival in the world, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in August 2020 (with safety measures in place, naturally). Salzburg is also the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and famously served as the backdrop to The Sound of Music.
The alpine town is often regarded as a departure point for excursions to nature getaways such as Salzkammergut, Königsee and Hallstatt or for downhill skiing during winter. But there is a lot more to this traditional city than first meets the eye. Ring in the holiday season in Salzburg in 72 hours.
Getting Around: Salzburg is an extremely walkable city with distances easily covered under 15 minutes. It’s also bicycle-friendly, with spacious lanes along the Salzach river. Electronically powered trolleys and buses are available but passengers are obligated to wear a protective mask when on board.
Kick-off your first day with breakfast at Cafe Wernbacher. Despite changing owners post-lockdown, the stylish, 1950s interior—think crushed velvet banquettes and dark wood—remains intact. Their brekkie menu offers tasty treats such as fluffy pancakes served with berries and the vitamin C–packed Buddha Bowl.
Now you should have enough spring in your step for nearby Schloss Mirabell. The palace was built in 1606 by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his mistress Salome Alt and boasts ornate interiors and verdant gardens. You might even recognise the Pegasus fountain and entrance stairs (aka the “Do-Re-Mi” steps) from The Sound of Music.
Explore the historic centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by crossing the turquoise-hued Salzach. This also marks your entrance into the Old Town and Getreidegasse, a shopping street with protected handwrought signs.
Stick around in Old Town for lunch at Afro Cafe. The colourful eatery features artwork by South African artist Monique Fagan, who transforms raw materials and waste into eye-catching wall sculptures. Enjoy fairtrade drinks and dishes such as pearl couscous salad with roasted mini peppers and a cumin-laced spicy tomato dip.
Salzburg may be famous for its lavish Christmas markets, but in Candela it’s Christmas every day. Many of the shop’s handmade Yuletide baubles and delicately carved wooden landscapes depict the Oberndorf chapel just outside the city (“Silent Night” was composed there). The store is open year-round and attracts customers from across the globe with regulars returning every year.
Now you might be craving a little pick-me-up. Head to Schatz Konditorei, a bakery that’s been lovingly run by the Winkler family since 1984 but that has been a Salzburg staple since 1877. During the festive season, their bestselling apfelstrudel gets steep competition from their Christstollen, a fruit bread of nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit. The interior features a 19th-century water fountain, circular marble tables and purple velvet Bentwood chairs under a vaulted ceiling.
For a traditional Austrian meal, visit Zum fidelen Affen (a.k.a the jolly monkey). This convivial restaurant has been around for nearly 40 years and serves seasonal dishes made with local produce. Despite the changing menu, their classic pork saddle has been a permanent fixture since 1989. The family-run restaurant also serves Trumer Pils, beer from an esteemed brewery just outside the city.
Start your day by the river at Café Bazar. Apart from making damn good coffee, the traditional coffeehouse serves breakfast in an environment that transports you to the early 20th century.
Now it’s time for some real exercise. Make your way up the Imbergstiege staircase to Kapuzinerberg to catch morning light illuminating the city’s church spires and alpine pastures.
Once back down in town, cross one of the city’s 13 bridges for lunch at Stiegl-Keller, a brewery hewn into the mountainside. The hotspot has been active since 1820 when the mountain doubled as a cooler. Today, you can enjoy your brew in the Franz Zell–designed restaurant with views of Old Town. Beer is a favourite ingredient in several of the dishes. The beer-battered bread pudding with vanilla sauce is our fave.
After lunch, it’s time to check the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Take a quick funicular ride to the largest preserved castle in Central Europe (or take the newly installed lift in the Bell Tower for a wheelchair-friendly option). The white rock edifice was built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein to protect the principality from attacks. Today, it doubles as a museum complex that covers every aspect of the town’s history.
Next stop: Nonntal, an area filled with hip eateries popular with locals. Green Garden has been around since 2012 and features white fences and plants hanging from the ceiling. The veggie mecca showcases vegan delights such as the Beyond Burger, a plant-based patty with a rich texture that tastes like the real deal. Soak it down with a homemade pomegranate-and blueberry-infused white iced tea garnished with mint.
Before getting some shut-eye, toast to a successful second day in Salzburg with a nightcap at Mentor’s Bar Kultur, a bustling modern bar serving craft cocktails.
Start your last day in town at the majestic Cafe Sacher, known for its signature Sacher torte, which is shipped from their Viennese outpost.
After two days of running around, you deserve some relaxation time at Paracelsus spa. The glass-walled oasis treats visitors to stunning views of the Kurgarten and city. Take a swim in the outdoor infinity pool or sweat it out in the panorama saunas.
Rejuvenated? Then pop over to Buchhandlung Höllrigl, which dates back to 1594. Grab your first edition and savour the written words and a light repast of ham, bread and cheese at Coffee Tomaselli, the oldest café in town.
In the mood for a sunset hike? Embark on a 20-minute walk to Mönchsberg for photo-worthy shots of Baroque spires and rolling hills. Museum der Moderne is perched on top. Soak in the sound of (electronic) music from the outdoor speakers before admiring modern art inside.
Restaurant Triangel is the perfect way to end your three days in Salzburg. A meeting point for local artists with a welcoming ambience, the venerable eatery is known for its veal goulash with homemade noodles. If you want to splurge, we can’t get enough of their caviar! For dessert, head next door to Sarastro and breathe in the beauty of the city via the rounded stained-glass windows.
Looking for a place to stay? The family-run 120-year old Hotel Markus Sittikus offers a peaceful yet central location just a stone’s throw away from the central station. Enjoy homey charm and a secluded garden (the latter has a very special permanent guest: Rosie, a 58-year old turtle). Cosy up to the fireplace framed by colourful bookshelves in the hotel’s living room with an honesty policy minibar. All 39 rooms have been individually and lovingly decorated with ultra-comfy beds.