Lovely Salzburg, located 155 mi/240 km west of Vienna, is Austria's premier tourist city—it's as popular with Austrians as it is with visitors from the rest of the world.
As a result, it can feel overrun with tourists during the summer high season—especially August. If you're going then, be prepared for long lines and dense crowds. (Don't even think about renting a car during this period—gridlock is the norm.) If you aren't put off by cold weather, a wintertime visit can be much more enjoyable, and we think the city is especially charming under a fresh blanket of snow.
Most attractions in Salzburg proper are within walking distance of one another—easily within 0.5 mi/1 km of either bank of the Salzach River.
On the west bank is the Altstadt (old town), characterized by plazas with statues and fountains and populated by baroque churches, well-known cafes, stores selling designer fashions, museums and souvenir shops. Though heavily tourist-oriented, it's rich in authentic atmosphere and detail—an outdoor market (mostly produce) flourishes on Universitatsplatz, and you can tour the narrow, cobblestoned streets of the area in a horse-drawn carriage.
To get oriented—historically and geographically—begin with a tour of Festung Hohensalzburg, the large white castle that looms on a cliff above the historic quarter; you can get there via a funicular railway or by taking a 20-minute walk.
After taking a self-guided audiotour of the castle, you'll have a vivid understanding of life in medieval Salzburg. Next, investigate the Residenz, a palace that provides insight into the court life of the Hapsburgs.
While exploring, don't miss Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birthplace (which houses a surprisingly modest collection of articles related to his life), Franziskanerkirche and the cemetery behind St. Peter's Church that contains catacombs.
As you're strolling, keep an ear open for tunes played by the glockenspiel in the belfry of what is now a post office. If you haven't visited many classical European cathedrals, step inside the Dom (you can't miss the cathedral's twin green towers).
Finish off the day with a meal or drink at one of Salzburg's local eateries or beer gardens. Or, listen to street performers play tunes on Mozartplatz.
The Salzburg Card provides free single admission to all of the city's attractions (including museums, the Fortress funicular and the Untersberg cableway) as well as free use of select public transport. It also provides discounts for cultural events and some excursions. Prices start at 25 euros for 24 hours but increase in high season. Purchase at select locations in Salzburg, such as the Tourist Information Office at Mozartplatz 5, or online. Phone 662-889-870. http://www.salzburg.info/en/sights/salzburg_card.
Austrian cuisine is hearty, delicious and versatile. Dishes include excellent soups, Wiener schnitzel (the genuine article is made only with veal, though pork and turkey versions are common), tafelspitz
(boiled beef served with horseradish and applesauce), and a dizzying array of sausages, trout, chicken and wild-game dishes. Hungarian goulash, Serbian roasted peppers and Italian gelato are also widely available, remnants of the days of the Hapsburg Empire.
Made in Salzburg, Mozartkugeln (small balls of chocolate-covered marzipan) are wonderful, as is topfenstrudel (made with cream cheese). Schlagobers, or whipped cream, is served in coffee and on various sweets.
Two wonderful traditions are gabelfruhstuck (a heavy midmorning snack) and jause (a late-afternoon snack of cakes and coffee). Try Salzburger nockerl (a fluffy egg souffle).
Getting a coffee at a coffeehouse isn't always so simple in Austria—not only are there different types of coffee, but there are different types of coffeehouses. The most typical coffee is a melange, which is an equal mixture of coffee and steamed milk. A kleiner mokka is a small black coffee, and a grosser mokka is twice as big. And that's just the beginning. As for coffeehouses, at the top of the pyramid is the kaffeerestaurant, which serves elaborate meals. Konditorei, somewhat less formal, are characterized by a dizzying selection of pastries. If you just need a quick jolt of caffeine, then you might stop by an espresso bar or stehkaffee, where you drink your coffee standing up.
For another authentic local experience, eat at least one meal standing up at one of the ubiquitous wurstl stands, either at night after an evening of drinking or in the morning for breakfast. The less adventurous can visit one for lunch. Choices include boiled or grilled frankfurter, weisswurstl (thick white sausages), debreziners (thick and blubbery ones), curry wurstl (sausages served with ketchup and curry powder) and kasekrainer (sausages oozing cheese—an acquired but delicious taste).
Don't leave the country without sampling some local beer or wine—both are wonderful. Examples of some good regional beers include Puntigamer and Gosser from Styria; Edelweiss, a wheat beer from Salzburg; and Ottakringer, from Vienna. Wine production varies from region to region, although Austria produces fine red and dessert wines. In addition, white wines, such as Riesling, chardonnay and pinot blanc, are all popular. There are also many small, local wineries scattered throughout Austria. Taking the time to visit a few is worth your while.
Although major credit cards are frequently accepted in larger establishments, it's a good idea to check first if you plan to pay with your card. This is a city where advance reservations are also a good idea, especially at better restaurants. Locals tend to eat out for lunch noon-2 pm. In heurigen, dinner is usually eaten 6-8 pm, but in restaurants it's later, usually 7-9 pm.
Diners are advised to keep an eye on drink prices in restaurants. Though food is subject to a 10% tax, a hefty 20% tax is added to drinks. A reasonably priced, well-cooked meal can suddenly become a memorably expensive one.
Also, given the fact that outdoor seating is prevalent during warmer months, take care not to leave your handbag or other possessions in easy reach.
Expect to pay within the following guidelines, based on the cost of a single dinner, not including tip or drinks: $ = less than 15 euros; $$ = 15 euros-25 euros; $$$ = 26 euros-50 euros; and $$$$ = more than 50 euros.
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