Thursday 23 January 2020

Top 10 things to do in Salzburg - the world's No.1 city to visit in 2020

Catherine Murphy spends a captivating 24 hours in Lonely Planet's top city in the world to visit this year

A Christkindl market has been held in Cathedral Square for six centuries
A Christkindl market has been held in Cathedral Square for six centuries

Catherine Murphy

From Christmas markets to year-round shopping and the Sound of Music, Salzburg makes a city break for all seasons.

1. Festive feels

With a Christkindl market that's been held in Cathedral Square for six centuries and a dedicated Christmas museum (Waagpl. 2; salzburger-weihnachtsmuseum.at), Salzburg offers a deeply traditional festive experience. There's a lovely atmosphere as well-heeled locals gather to socialise but, as a result, the Old Town can become very busy. To escape the bustle, walk up to Franziskischlössl (Kapuzinerberg 9), set high above the city in the middle of a forest. A pathway leads to the top of the Kapuzinerberg hill, where crackling fires, a touch of romance and a small artisanal advent market await (salzburg.info).

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2. Shop till you drop

Overlooked by the Hohensalzburg Fortress at one end and with Cathedral Square at the other, Getreidegasse is Mozart's birthplace and Salzburg's most elegant shopping street. Fifteenth-century wrought-iron shop signs tell tales of the street's history, which unfortunately hasn't been enhanced by the presence of a McDonald's. While exploring shopping laneways off each side of Getreidegasse, follow the smell of Bratwurst sausages at Bosnastand. They're served hot dog-style with onion and mustard and are considered a Salzburg speciality. Getreidegasse 33.

3. Music and munchies

For a fairytale vision of Christmas, visit the St Peter Stiftskeller restaurant (stpeter.at) on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery in the oldest part of the city. Home to Mozart concerts throughout the year, its rooms - including the Baroque hall - are lavishly decorated for Christmas. The restaurant is the oldest in Europe, dating back to 803. As you explore the grounds, you'll find not only catacombs and one of the oldest cemeteries in Europe but a tiny bakery - the Stiftsbäckerei - which has been in operation since the 12th century. Almost a thousand years later, people still queue up for its sourdough bread.

A view from across the Salzach river
A view from across the Salzach river

4. The Sound of Music

If you're a Sound of Music fan, it's easy to make a DIY tour of the film's famous Salzburg locations. Stroll along the Salzach river and check into the Motel One hotel, a contemporary three-star that's minutes from Mirabell Palace and Gardens where Maria sang 'Do-Re-Mi' (motel-one.com). Other locations from the much-loved film include Residenzplatz square, where 'I Have Confidence' was sung, Nonnberg Priory, Karajan Square and Frohnburg Palace.

5. On the piste

An Alpine city, Salzburg is blessed with a backdrop of mountain peaks. If skiing is part of your plan, it's easy to combine the city's culture and history with slope time thanks to a free daily shuttle service to Flachau in the Snow Space Salzburg area, around 70km south. Flachau, Wagrain and St Johann offer 120km of very family-friendly skiing, though you must purchase a lift pass for the area to take the free shuttle (snow-space.com).

6. Salzburg Festival

In summer, Salzburg becomes a haven for music-lovers, even more so in 2020, when the famed Salzburg Festival celebrates its 100th anniversary. Between July 18 and August 30, opera, theatre and classical music concerts will be staged in its beautiful concert halls. The 2020 programme includes Mozart's Don Giovanni and Elektra by Richard Strauss, a founding father of the festival. Opera tickets are priced from €20-€445. salzburgerfestspiele.at

7. Into the Salt Mines

The name Salzburg means salt fortress or castle, and gives a clue as to the origin of the city's wealth, much of which came from its salt trade. The city's Baroque buildings were largely built from the proceeds of that trade. A half-day visit to the salt mines at Hallein is a great side-visit option for families. Situated in Bad Dürrnberg, about 20 kilometres from the city, the mines are known as the treasure chambers of the region due to the 'white gold' mined there centuries ago. A combined ticket which covers entry to the mine, and rail and bus links to get there, costs from €33 per adult, or €23 per child. salzwelten.at; tickets.oebb.at

8. Brews and spirits

The Salzach river is not the only thing flowing in Salzburg. In medieval times, the city had a dozen breweries, including the Stiegl brewery, which has been owned by the same family for 525 years. The name comes from a set of steps which workers had to descend to fetch water from the Almkanal for brewing. Tours of the brewery include caskmate tasting sessions. Admission costs €13 (brauwelt.at). Despite its location, The Salzburg Whiskey Museum is actually owned by an Irish man, Chris O'Shea. The whiskey museum houses hundreds of rare whiskeys and rums, and also serves up pints of Guinness. salzburgwhiskeymuseum.com

9. Hidden histories

Salzburg was occupied by Nazis between 1938 and 1945, and almost half of the city's Baroque buildings were destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II. It's an uncomfortable chapter in the city's history. Take a private city tour with guide Sabine Rath to get the inside track on this and many other aspects of Salzburg's past (tourguide-salzburg.com). After your city tour, eat local specialities at Gasthof Goldgasse. Popular dishes include fried chicken with potato salad followed by another Salzburg speciality, Nockerl - fluffy meringues that resemble snowy peaks and are filled with vanilla sauce (gasthofgoldgasse.at).

The famous Salzburger Nockerl dessert
The famous Salzburger Nockerl dessert

10. Departures

Even as you're preparing to leave Salzburg, it will surprise you. At the airport you'll find Red Bull's Hangar-7, which houses collections of rare airplanes, helicopters, Formula One racing cars and motorbikes. One of Hangar-7's current exhibitions details Salzburg native Felix Baumgartner's recent freefall flight from Dover in England to Calais in France, during which he flew with only a carbon fibre wing (hangar-7.com). The last surprise is the McArthur Glen outlet centre. An easy five or 10-minute walk, or very brief taxi ride from the departures terminal, it offers over 100 designer outlet stores. mcarthurglen.com

Get there

Ryanair operates winter flights from Dublin to Salzburg on Saturdays from December 21 (ryanair.com). It can also be reached via Munich - Aer Lingus flies daily from Dublin (aerlingus.com). Once there, buy the Salzburg Card for one-time free admission to the city's tourist attractions and free public transport. See salzburg.info for more.

If you like this...

Less than 50km from Salzburg, Wolfgangsee Lake offers a unique advent experience. Christmas markets in the villages of St Wolfgang, Strobl and St Gilgen look beautiful from the lake during boat tours. wolfgangsee-advent.at

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