When you’re visiting a place where dozens of travelers have walked the same streets before you, it’s easy to think you’ll know what to expect from reading a few blogs and seeing the recommended spots in a guide book. But for every city, even in the most touristic of spots, there are always hidden treasures and secret stories tucked away in plain sight that you might just miss – unless you have someone in the know showing you the way.
I hope to do just that with Salzburg: if you’re planning a trip, here are some inside tips to make visiting the top attractions that extra bit special.
St Peter’s Abbey (and the world’s oldest restaurant)
Known for being one of the oldest monasteries in the German-speaking area and one of the only ones with a continuous history dating back to its very beginning in 696 (yes, that’s a three-digit birth year), St Peter’s Abbey is often top of visitors’ lists in Salzburg. The green domes of the church are an integral part of Salzburg’s skyline and the graveyard and catacombs surrounding the abbey are the resting places for many famous names, including many of Mozart’s close relatives.
YoorTip: As you stand in front of the church, admiring the view, you might spot some arches to your right. Duck through them and you’ll find the world’s oldest restaurant: St Peter’s Stiftskeller. It’s first referred to on paper in 803 (did we mention it’s old?) and has only ever closed periodically for inconveniences like the Napoleonic Wars. The two oldest dining rooms are actually carved into the enormous stone cliffs that support the Hohensalzburg Castle. Pay a visit for traditional Austrian, with service and entertainment from people in period clothing playing classics from Mozart.
Mirabell Palace (and the dancing dwarf statues in the gardens)
Mirabell Palace is one of the most beautiful sights to see in Salzburg, both inside and out. Built within just six months, the yellow walls and green roof are a sight to see in both summer and winter. The interior has been converted into a museum today and the grounds are free to walk around. The steps at the northern end by the Pegasus fountain (identifiable by the huge horse statue in the middle) are a great spot to recreate a scene from The Sound of Music. Prizes for who can guess which scene before I reveal all at the end of this article.
YoorTip: There are many statues throughout the gardens of Mirabell Palace but some of the quirkiest are within the Zwerglgarten, or the Dwarf Garden. Built in 1715, it’s said that these figures were modeled on real-life dwarves who lived at court with the then Prince Archbishop Franz Anton Harrach. Their stoney counterparts were almost lost to the world when Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria had them removed out of a superstitious fear that the mildly creepy statues would come to life and place spells on his pregnant wife. One hundred years later, they were returned and still stand today, dancing and gardening among the trees.
Hellbrunn Castle (and water stories dotting the grounds)
A little way out of the city, on the banks of Hellbrunn River, stands a castle sharing the name of the river. Once a pleasure palace for Salzburg archbishops, now the palace is a calm and peaceful spot to see some stunning architecture amongst the woods and hills of Salzburg’s countryside. Back in the day, plenty of feasts were held during the day, before everyone trickled off home; there are actually no bedrooms in the palace, so it was one-day summer parties only. It’s definitely one way to make sure no guests outstay their welcome.
YoorTip: We have the pleasure days of Hellbrunn Castle to thank for our extra tip here. As a surprise for guests at feasts, Markus Sittikus, archbishop of the city in 1619, had special fountains made that would spray water out suddenly, usually timed for just after dinner had ended. Soaked guests would then be lead through the gardens to admire the various fountains depicting stories from legend. Individual grottos even play music to mimic birdsong. Every now and then, Markus would spray water once again, surprising his guests while he stood in the safe, dry spots that only he knew the location of. A prankster after my own heart – but it’s a wonder he needed the excuse of a lack of bedrooms to encourage people to go home at the end of one of his feasts.
Hohensalzburg Castle (and the entry to hidden tunnels under the city)
You can’t miss Hohensalzburg Castle from its prominent perch atop Salzburg’s highest mountain. The name literally translates to high Salzburg, and whoever named it certainly wasn’t wrong. It’s the largest fully-preserved castle in Central Europe and a definite sight to behold, from afar and from close up. Plus, if you make it to the castle itself, you get fantastic panoramic views of the city down below.
YoorTip: The base of the cliff directly below the castle also reveals a lesser-known secret feature of the city: the Almkanal of Salzburg. This hidden network of underground medieval canals snakes its way throughout the city, just below our feet. The alpine water emerges to sight after a 1300-foot tunnel throughout the cliff on which the castle perches. You’ll know you’ve got the right stream if you see it turning the mill wheel of St Peter’s Abbey, as it has done for hundreds of years.
Now you’ve got some insider tips under your belt, head out and find some favorite spots of your own in Salzburg. If you find any of your own hidden gems, be sure to share them with us in the comments or tag us in your social media snaps. For still more local tips and a guided tour throughout the city, download the YoorToors app on Google Play and the App Store to buy curated tours written just for you by locals.
And for those waiting for The Sound of Music trivia answer, it is, of course, the final dance sequence of Do Re Mi. Happy dancing!