Although best known as Mozart’s birthplace and the home of the Von Trapp family, the city of Salzburg has much more to offer even its youngest visitors. Tucked in the Austrian Alps, Salzburg has an Italian flair with Baroque churches and interlocking squares that bask in the shadow of the imposing Hohensalzburg Fortress. The Old Town is tightly woven between the fortress and the Salzach River that once carried precious salt (salz) to the rest of the world.
Strolling Salzburg’s city center is a delight. Mozartplatz honors the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who spent his first 25 years living in town. The same square houses the tourist information office, which offers guided tours of the Old Town, and the Salzburg Museum. Kids will enjoy frolicking in the over-the-top fountain in the adjacent square lined with lavish palaces that once housed Salzburg’s powerful elite. The nearby Salzburg Cathedral, arguably the most impressive of the 40 cathedrals in town, is where Mozart was baptized; it is best visited on Sunday mornings when all five organs are unleashed for a musical spectacle.
Don’t miss Salzburg’s main drag, Getreidegasse, lined with elegant buildings and wrought-iron signs that once advertised what was sold inside. Little ones might enjoy a scavenger hunt to find the butcher, the baker and the pretzel maker along Getreidegasse en route to Mozart’s birthplace at No. 9.
Many visitors flock to Salzburg to visit the backdrop of The Sound of Music. Although kids might not understand what the fuss is all about, they will enjoy the fun-natured bus tours that offer a city overview plus stops at famous movie locations, like Mirabell Palace and Gardens (where Maria and the children sang “Do-Re-Mi”) and Hellbrunn Palace (home to the gazebo where Liesl sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”). Some companies offer bike tours, but these are best for older kids as guides move quickly.
Families who want to linger should consider visiting these sights on their own. Mirabell Palace, the former home of prince-archbishops, is only open as a concert venue, but lucky patrons might catch a free concert in the garden during the summer months. Hellbrunn Palace and Gardens, 4 miles from Salzburg, is particularly appealing for kids, who will enjoy a guided tour of the trick fountains that Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus once used to entertain his VIP guests. Prepare to get wet!
Hohensalzburg Fortress dominates Salzburg’s skyline atop the Möchsburg, a mini-mountain that rises behind the Old Town. It was never used, but served as a formidable symbol of the Catholic church’s power struggle against the Holy Roman Empire. The medieval castle with its maze of whitewashed buildings is worth a visit; however, the views from up top are more exciting than the exhibits inside. Its myriad ticket options can be confusing. The basic ticket is sufficient and includes a brief audio guide tour and a visit to the Marionette Exhibit.
Families looking to stretch their legs should begin with a ride on the Möchsburg elevator and a 30-minute (less than 1-mile) walk to the fortress. The funicular, near the Salzburg Cathedral, is the best way down and is a good round-trip option for those with less energy. The cafés, on either side of the funicular are a nice place to take in the views of the city while enjoying a slice of apple strudel.
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Salzburg’s “white gold” brought enormous wealth and power to the region and funded many of the Baroque buildings that make up the city today. A visit to the Hallein Salt Mine, 9 miles from Salzburg, is a nice way to learn about the role salt played in the area’s history. Visitors to the Hallein Salt Mine are given a pair of white coveralls before boarding a little train that takes them to the depths of the mine. A series of videos explain the history of the site. Kids will squeal with delight as they slide down the wooden chutes once used by miners to descend to the subterranean world below. Don’t miss the nearby Celtic Village open-air museum that takes visitors back 2,500 years to the time when the salt mine began.
On a sunny day, a bike ride along the Salzach River is a great way to escape the city. Rent a bike near the Staatsbrücke bridge along the river and enjoy the scenic views as you try to imagine barges full of Salzburg’s precious cargo paying a toll as they passed through here long ago. A short ride along the riverside bike path is enough for some; however, those looking for a worthwhile detour should consider Hellbrunner Allee. This 4-mile farm country route, filled with alpine meadows, leads to Hellbrunn Palace (mentioned above) and makes for a nice day trip.
It may sound strange, but a visit to a bustling beer garden is a regular occurrence for many Austrian families. The 1,000-seat Augustiner Bräustübl is just a 15-minute walk from the Old Town; here, tourists and locals mingle while drinking beer brewed by monks from the nearby Kloster Mülin. This is a playground for kids and adults who enjoy the convivial outdoor setting, especially in the summer months, under the shade of the chestnut trees. The beer, poured straight from the barrel, is better than the food, so consider bringing a picnic to share.
TIP: Most beer gardens allow patrons to bring in their own food as long as they purchase a drink. Be sure to sit in the self-service (Schank) section, usually denoted by tables not lined with tablecloths.
Salzburg draws music lovers year-round, but July and August are especially busy as the city hosts the Salzburg Festival. Those without tickets can still enjoy free Festival Nights, when videos from previous performances are shown at Kaipitelplatz.
There is never a shortage of musical events in Salzburg, but there are only a handful sure to hold the attention of younger audience members. The Salzburg Marionette Theater is a cultural treat not to be missed. Night performances include 10 puppeteers artfully performing The Sound of Music and various German-language operas to spellbound audiences. For a sneak peak, visit the box office or the marionette exhibit at Hohensalzburg Fortress.
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Postcard from Austria: Hohensalzburg Fortress
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