Newest Review: ... swipe it. We managed to see the palace outside the city where the sound of music was filmed at the pavillion, go on a boat tour down the... more
Finding Maria Among the Salzburg Crowds
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Advantages: Visually lovely; plenty to do; good food and beer
Disadvantages: Quite expensive; gets very busy; very Disneyfied
Salzburg does have its own airport but we chose to fly first to Prague as we have direct flights from Newcastle, and then travelled by train - a lovely journey through some beautiful countryside - to Salzburg. Alternatively you could fly to Linz and pick up the train there. The city is rather compact and most sights can be accessed on foot. If you want to go a little further out you can use the excellent bus and tram service; tickets can be bought from the driver but cost slightly more than if you buy them in advance at a Trafik shop (of which there are plenty dotted around).
The first thing we noticed was that Salzburg is a city of tour groups. I'm sure that there are plenty of independent tourists but everywhere you go there are groups of people following severe looking ladies in dirndls, or gazing blankly at some building or other as their commentary is fed into an earpiece. Then there are touts trying to get you to sign up for a Sound of Music themed tour, or to take a trip to a salt mine; art classes perched on their folding stools sketching a view of one of the squares; snaking lines of Japanese sightseers fumbling with over-sized cameras as they tried to keep up with their guide. As a casual tourist it soon becomes quite wearing when you have to wait until everyone in a tour group has had umpteen photographs taken in front of any given building or sight, or when buying a ticket to an attraction takes an inordinately long time due to the inability of Americans to notice that the information is already presented in English if only they'd be just a little bit observant.
Salzburg made me cranky; I cannot tell a lie. It is undeniably beautiful: cool, shady squares, a city of elegant church towers, handsome town houses, eye catching shop windows and all of this against the backdrop of the Austrian Alps, but at the busiest times of day its beauty is obscured by the crowds of noisy tourists. The time to enjoy it at its best is the beginning of the day or early evening when the coach tourists have left for the day or those staying in the city are at their hotels dressing for dinner or maybe attending an early evening concert. If you don't want to go into the paid for attractions and are happy just strolling the narrow lanes then these are the best times to be out and about.
It's impossible to escape the Mozart connection: you can visit both the house he was born in and the one he later lived in. All the souvenir stalls and shops sell Mozart chocolates and liqueurs, miniature violins bearing the composer's face, in fact any kind of article - mugs, t-shirts, clocks, letter racks - bearing a cheap transfer of his powdered pouting face. Then there are the items made of salt - the substance that contributed to half of the city's name which translates as "salt castle". There are three salt mines in the area, all of which are open as tourist attractions and you'll see plenty of places advertising day trips.
The Sound of Music connection is another big money spinner for Salzburg. There are all kinds of tours offered that are linked to the movie and its locations. You can see the sights on a bicycle tour while singing songs from the show if you aren't too out of breath, go round on foot or enjoy the comfort of an air conditioned coach - the latter has the advantage of taking you out of the city to the alpine meadows where Julie Andrews famously belted out the show's title number. Walking from our hotel to the city centre on our first day in Salzburg we were amazed to see no less than ten minibuses offering the Sound of Music tour parked across the road from Schloss Mirabell (remember the scene where Maria and the kids are dancing round the fountain and the statue of the unicorn? - that's Schloss Mirabell.) There's even a restaurant where you can eat dinner while the band and a cast of singers perform the songs from the show: himself must have felt a bit guilty about refusing to do a Sound of Music tour because he did say that he'd eat at that restaurant if I really wanted to go there - I didn't but was touched by the reluctantly made offer. In fact you can see most of the locations used in the film independently and I was thrilled to see the altar in the cathedral where Maria married Captain Von Trapp. Even if you have no interest in the movie its worth going into the cathedral to see the magnificent painted dome and ceiling.
The stern looking Festung Hohensalzburg fortress surveys the city from its position above the rooftops. A funicular will take you there or you can walk. On our first day we proposed to take the funicular just for the ride (himself collects funicular rides) and would consider walking up the following day to see the castle interior. However you can only buy a combined ticket for the funicular and castle, you can't use the funicular on its own so we decided to talk half way instead and have a drink on the terrace of the restaurant from where you can still catch some pretty wonderful views.
We were full of good intentions for Salzburg expecting to squeeze in as much culture as we could in the day and a half and two evenings we'd be there. There are plenty of museums and galleries but none really appealed on that particular day. I might have visited one of the Mozart houses but Himself was not so keen and besides, the weather was really too nice to spend much time indoors. A disproportionate amount of Saturday, our only full day in the city, was spent in the pursuit and imbibing of beer but not before we assuaged our guilt over our plans for the day by climbing the Kapuzinerberg and walking the ramparts. This is the best place to get some snaps of the city with the mountains in the background. The easiest way to get up to the viewpoint beside the monastery is to follow the signs from Linzergasse and while this is fairly steep it's easy underfoot. However the view is limited and to be able to get a more panoramic view you need to move furtheralong the ramparts; this requires sturdy footwear and a great deal of energy as this entails lots of steps and uneven up and down paths. It was certainly worth the exertion on that hot Saturday morning, though, not just for the fantastic views but also because we were able to get very close to an inquisitive and seemingly fearless squirrel.
After that it seemed only right to quench our first but first we had to do the educational bit. We jumped on a bus and set off for Stiegl Brauwelt. The company has a long history of beer making in Salzburg; there are several Stiegl bierkellers in the city but at this out of town site you can take a self-guided tour and learn about how beer is made and the history of Stiegl. The admission price includes a free gift and three beers to try. If you don't want to take the tour you can still go to Brauwelt and have lunch or dinner or just try the beers. We loved it but better was to come as we set off for our next stop on the Salzburg beer trail, the Augustiner brewery at Mulln.
As you might guess from the name, this brewery started as one attached to a monastery and is now a large enterprise with its beers sold in many locations in the area. The main building houses a couple of traditional beer halls and a little indoor market hall with separate stalls selling cheese, cooked meats and breads that drinkers take along to the beer hall or outside to the gardens if the weather permits, to have with their beer. On the day we visited the sun was shining and the huge garden was full of people of all ages enjoying a stein of beer (or two).
Salzburg is a bit like an overgrown Disney scene. It's incredibly pretty but it's also very twee. As in many parts of Austria (and southern Germany) you'll see people (young people as well as older ones) wearing the traditional Tracht, lederhosen and knee length socks for the men, dirndls for the ladies, without a jot of irony. (I often wonder whether people from Austria coming to Newcastle will assume the national dress to be tracksuit, Burberry cap and snide Helly Hansen coat) Salzburg is full of shops selling these traditional costumes and you might think it's just for wealthy tourists and tour guides to outfit themselves but there's actually a very popular style called the Landhausmode which has been inspired by the traditional dress; personally I rather like it and long to own a dirndl (there were some on sale in the Spar in the mountain village we later stayed at and I was very tempted but resolved to wait and buy something better quality) - I think it would suit me!
It's easy to spend your money in Salzburg. Not only is it not cheap but there are so many opportunities to be parted with your cash: carriage rides, souvenir shops, gooey cakes, chocolates, buskers, segue tours and boat rides. And that's before you've bought dinner. As you'd expect from a city that attracts so many foreign visitors the restaurant scene is varied and you can find most cuisines. There are plenty of chances to sample Austrian cuisine, though, and as there is so much competition menus are generally posted outside the premises so you can have a look at what's on offer before you make your mind up. Accommodation can be costly and we couldn't find hostel accommodation within a reasonable distance of the centre. If you're just visiting for a weekend it might be most economic to book a city break package.
I've avoided listing the most frequently visited attractions but I do know that most attract an entrance charge. If you think you'll be visiting a lot of these it would be sensible to look into one of the various cards offered by the Tourist Office.
I think I can safely cross Salzburg off my list. My curiosity has been satisfied and I don't think I'll have a burning desire to return just to visit the places I didn't make the effort to see this time. However, as Austrian airports make a good point from which to access Slovenia I wouldn't rule out going back at some point. If my itinerary demands it I know that I'll be happy enough to spend an afternoon and night there with some great beer, good food and very lovely views.
Summary: Austria's Disney-city