Even if you have never been to Salzburg before, you probably have an image of it in your mind. There is something romantic about the name that brings to mind Austrian mountain bliss and charming European fairy tales. That image isn’t too far off from the reality of Salzburg!
My mom has a deep love for the movie “Sound of Music” and I’ve watched it at least 15-20 times, so I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the city that created the storybook backdrop for the film. After visiting however, I learned that the movie is much more famous outside of Austria and most Salzburgians actually don’t really like being known for it. Regardless, it has become an iconic destination within Austria and central Europe.
Salzburg probably isn’t on the top of your list of must-see European destinations, but this charming and historic city is likely to surprise you. I enjoyed my two days in Salzburg a lot more than I expected to, finding it to be incredibly alluring and romantic.
Should You Visit Salzburg for 24 or 48 Hours?
When I was researching our visit to Salzburg, I was on the fence about spending two nights; but we ultimately decided to do stay for 48 hours in order to leave the option open for a day trip to Hallstatt or Berchtesgaden. In the end, we wound up not doing either of the day trips because we loved Salzburg so much!
You should definitely stay in Salzburg for at least one night, because many visitors only come as a day trip and the city has a completely different vibe at night. Where the afternoons are crowded and touristy, the evenings are peaceful and charming. It would be a shame to miss that transformation, because I much preferred it at night. We did two nights and it felt like the perfect amount of time because you don’t need to rush through the visit and can take a slower pace.
How to Spend 48 Hours in Salzburg
Morning: Hohensalzburg Fortress
Start your first day in Salzburg with a visit to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which is one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe. It’s foundation dates back to the 11th century! There is a convenient funicular to take you up to the fortress in a few minutes, or you can opt for the strenuous hike which takes about 30 minutes.
Once at the fortress, you can meander the grounds and visit the museum inside the castle walls.The museum can be explored in about an hour, but it has some nice exhibits if you enjoy taking your time at museums. I specifically remember a cool video presentation tracking the history of the fortress because the production value was so good.
There are several rooms of interest in the Fortress, including the Golden Hall, the Royal Apartments and the Golden Chamber. The real draw of Hohensalzburg Fortress is the 360 views of the entire city of Salzburg and mountains around you. On a clear day, it is really wonderful! If you arrive at the fortress early, you’ll basically get to explore on your own, since most visitors to Salzburg are daytrippers who come later in the morning.
Afternoon: Salzburg Altstadt
Once down from the fortress, meander your way through the quaint Old Town (Altstadt in German) which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the late 1990s. The pastel-painted baroque architecture of the Altstadt is pretty darn charming, but crowds of tourists are less than charming. Unfortunately Salzburg gets quite swamped during the day, and you might find it more pleasant to explore the Altstadt later in the afternoon.
Regardless, most of the historical and cultural attractions in the Altstadt center themselves around several main plazas south of Getreidegasse. All of the plazas have public art and central fountains, some of which are quite interesting and surprising — make sure to pay attention to them.
Pop into the Salzburg Cathedral to admire its beautiful painted dome, or marvel at the intricate details of St. Peter’s Abbey which was the location for one of Mozart’s premieres, in which his wife sang as the lead vocalist. Sick of churches yet? If not, have a look inside the much calmer Franciscan Church whose interior is almost reminiscent of the Sagrada Familia. For Sound of Music fans out there looking to make a pilgrimage to churches related to the film, the real Maria von Trapp’s marriage was in the Nonnberg Abbey, and the wedding scene was filmed at the cathedral in Mondsee, which is just outside Salzburg.
If you’re hungry, don’t waste your time at any of the restaurants along the main tourist thoroughfares. Head slightly outside the Altstadt for a delicious meal at Zum Zirkelwirt. The food is traditional Austrian cuisine cooked with homey traditions inside a building that dates back to the 1600s. I absolutely devoured my perfect cheese spaetzle and was ready for a nap afterwards!
Evening: Dinner + Walk
Catch a happy hour or sunset drink on the rooftop bar at the stylish Hotel Stein, which offers a lovely view over the Salzach river. Their food is pretty delicious as well if you decide not to leave. After dark, Salzburg feels like a totally different city because the tourists largely disappear inviting the locals and students to come out. Sunset is a nice time to go for a walk along the Salzach river where you can walk across the love lock bridge.
I had the best schnitzel of my life (although I was probably too toasted to appreciate it at the time, as you can probably tell by the childlife wonder on my face in the photo below) at S’Kloane Brauhaus. It is a crispy fried turkey schnitzel served with a sour currant jelly and German potato salad. What made it so good was that the well-seasoned breading for the turkey was made from corn flakes and fried to a perfect crispness, and the potato salad was creamy yet vingery at the same time.
Late Night: Beer Bars
One of the reasons I was so drunk when eating that amazing schnitzel above is because Sam and I had one too many beers at the Alchemiste Belge bar before dinner. Which is why I recommend switching the order in this itinerary! The Alchemiste Belge is a hip local hangout (our AirBnb experiences tour guide told us about it) that specializes in Belgian beers and has an amazing list of sour ales, which is my favorite style of beer. To keep the vibe going, head over to Bricks Music Bar for more beers and nightly live music in a chill environment.
Morning: Cafe Culture + Mirabelle Gardens
Austrians and cafe culture are synonymous, so you cannot leave Salzburg without having a cup (or 4) of delicious handcrafted coffee at one of the city’s stylish cafes. For a traditional high-brow Austrian experience, head to Cafe Tomaselli where you’ll be served by a waiter in a suit and tie. 220 Grad offers a modern hipster experience with its inhouse roastery and expert baristas. My favorite of the Salzburg coffee shops though was the stylish and minimalist Favorite Kamer, which doubles as an espresso bar and concept store. It is a place that just feels calming and cozy.
There are a couple iconic sweets and pastries that come from Salzburg that are worth sampling during your 48 hour visit. Although Vienna is famous for the Sachertorte, it was actually invented at the Sacher Hotel in Salzburg and then transplanted to Vienna. You can buy a whole torte to go at the hotel shop (which will set you back a pretty penny) or you can sample just a piece at Sacher Cafe along with a delicious coffee.
The other sweet treat you’ll want to sample in Salzburg is the Mozartkugel. This chocolate, nut and marzipan candy is most famous around Christmas (you can find it throughout Germany & Austria at that time of year) but in Salzburg, you can eat it all year round. One of the original makers of the Mozartkugel is Cafe Konditorei Furst which is conveniently located across from Mirabell Gardens, your next stop!
If you’ve seen “Sound of Music”, the gardens at Schloss Mirabell will inevitably look familiar, but they are peek 17th Renaissance style with a central fountain and marble statues. The gardens aren’t huge and take about 30 minutes to wander around, although if the weather is nice, this is a fun place to people watch — especially “Instagram influencers” trying to imitate the Do Re Mi song choreography.
Afternoon: Classical Music History
For a more in depth understanding about the history of classical music in Salzburg, I would recommend booking this Musical History walking tour through AirBnb experiences. Hosted by a local music student and professional orchestra conductor, we really enjoyed learning about the importance of Mozart and music in the city with Thibault because he has so much knowledge and passion to share.
Many of the other music tours around Salzburg are cheesy and touristy, but this local experience felt much more personal. We had the opportunity to visit the University of Mozart which is not open to the public, as well as lesser-known stops important to Mozart’s life, such as his family home and the place where his wife lived after his death. Thibault’s tour does not include a visit to Mozart’s birthplace, so I would recommend popping in there at the end of the tour. The crowds tend to die down about 1-2 hours before the museum closes, which is the perfect time to visit.
Evening: Modern Art, Swanky Drinks + Fancy Dinner
In case you haven’t had enough amazing views during your 48 hours in Salzburg, end your visit on a high note with a swanky night out at the Museum der Moderne. Sitting atop Mönchsberg mountain, Salzburg’s modern art museum is built into a 19th century water tower and offers an extensive collection of modern art from regional and global artists. The open roof on the top floor is the perfect place to enjoy sunset before heading down to the exquisitely sexy dining room at M32, where you’ll sample expertly prepared Mediterranean Austrian fusion cuisine.