One of Austria’s most enchanting cities, Salzburg is a perfect confection of Baroque palaces and pristine historic streetscapes, framed by breathtaking Alpine peaks. If you opt for a visit in spring, classical music wafts from its open windows and the scent of strudel and marzipan is on the breeze. Here's how to see the very best of the city in one magical weekend.

Friday Evening: Immersing yourself in Salzburg’s historic heart

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Begin your fairytale Salzburg weekend in its UNESCO-listed ‘Altstadt’ – the car-free historic city centre cut through by the Salzach river. It’s a fascinating mix of Medieval-era burgher houses and flamboyant Renaissance and Baroque squares, palaces and churches.

Pop into Mozarts Geburtshaus, the birthplace of Mozart, and learn about the life and childhood of one of the world's finest composers. An evening of chamber music in the extraordinary Marmosaal (marble hall) of Schloss Mirabel awaits, one of the composer’s old haunts – though head first to the beautifully located Sheraton Grand Salzburg’s restaurant Mirabell to enjoy a specially prepared pre-concert dinner on the pretty terrace. On Saturdays, the restaurant also lays on a 'hat dinner' – the special local take on hot pot.

Saturday morning: Soak in the history, culture and food 

Set your clock, and rise early to climb the stairs to Stift Nonnberg as the sun rises. Romanesque frescoes line the rib-vaulted chapel where every morning, at precisely 6.45am, the resident Benedictine sisters sing a sacred chorale. If you’re a Sound of Music fan, you’ll remember the affecting scene from the film’s opening. If you’d like to revisit more Family Von Trapp settings, ask your concierge to book the best tour.

Stop to admire the views on the way back down, and then take a Melange – an Austrian milk coffee – at riverside Cafe Bazar, a favourite haunt of Thomas Mann, before heading to Grünmarkt to browse the market stalls selling speck, fresh produce, giant pretzels and woodcraft. You can then discover more of Mozart’s life at the Mozart-Wohnhaus, where his family moved after the young musician’s career had taken off.

If you're here for the spring Whitsun festival you'll have tickets for an opera or concert at the wonderful Große Festspielhaus in the evening. If not, instead book for a tour to get to know Clemens Holzmeister's visionary mid-century theatre design, or a special Faust experience, an homage to the architect's set designs for Max Reinhardt's iconic opera production of Goethe's tale. Don't miss a peek at Robert Longo's Dreams with the Wrong Solution painting series, permanently displayed in the foyer. 

Saturday afternoon: Discover Salzburg’s 21st-century side

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Salzburg isn't just a city of historical charm, it's also home to a rich palette of contemporary art, food and culture. Book ahead for lunch at Michelin-starred Esszimmer and discover Austrian cooking that’s both creative and sustainably minded.

Contemporary art is next. Thaddeaus Ropac’s serene, 19th-century hometown space at Villa Karst hosts international artists of the ilk of Anslem Keifer and Antony Gormley. Museum der Moderne’s Altstadt location, the Rupertinum, has a focus on photography, then there’s the Salzburg Foundation’s Walk of Modern Art commissions, dating from the early 2000s. Discovering them all is like a contemporary art treasure hunt: a James Turrell and Mario Merz up there, and a Marina Abromovic or Cristian Boltanski over here.

Design-lovers will also love the smart, contemporary ‘living room’ at the Mayburg Salzburg, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel: visit for an aperitivo of fragrant Grüner Veltliner.

Saturday evening: Enjoy six centuries of Salzburg 

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Not only is the stylish Hotel Goldener Hirsch, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Salzburg a wonderful place to stay, but it’s home to the bar of choice for locals and visiting stars of the Classical world alike – make it your destination for Saturday night, too, and try a ‘Suzanne’, the signature spritz-like cocktail.

Afterwards, choose between the wood-panelled restaurant Herzl beautifully rendered Austrian comfort food, or the elegant Goldener Hirsch, set in what was once a medieval blacksmith’s courtyard, for fine dining dishes that showcase the Alp’s redolent spring produce, from deer to wild mountain herbs, or opt for an original Viennese schnitzel.  

If you’re keen for more musical adventures, head to the Universität Mozarteum, where performances cover everything from baroque opera to free jazz, care of its hugely talented students.

Sunday morning: Ride in a carriage then funicular to a fortress

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Begin your morning with a whipped cream-topped coffee and walnut-filled butter pastries at Cafe Tomaselli, an atmospheric dark-wood coffee house dating back to 1705, before a wander through the baroque Dom.

An utterly unforgettable way to take in the grandeur of Residenzplatz, and its exuberant central fountain, is by Fiaker (horse-drawn carriage), something your concierge will be happy to arrange. Next, take the funicular to the Festung Hohensalzburg, the fortress that has watched over Salzburg for 900 years.

Sunday afternoon: Take in scenic views and cutting-edge design

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Mönchsberg’s cliffs offer up yet more inspiring mountain and city vistas. Take them in over lunch on the terrace at the Matteo Thun-designed restaurant M32, with creative modern Austrian dishes such as Attersee-pike in red beetroot butter.

The nearby Museum der Moderne is a bold modern work of architecture constructed from Untersberg marble, and houses a good collection of both international and Austrian work. Back down by the river, call by Eisl’s pretty Eis Salon for a cone of their organic ice cream, featuring sheeps’ milk from their nearby Wolfgangsee farm, in flavours like poppyseed or honey cinnamon.

Extending your stay: 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain'

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Enjoying nature is an intrinsic part of Austrian culture and Salzburg is well placed for some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes. The Untersbergbahn will whisk you up to the glorious twin peaks of Untersberg and Gaisberg in less than ten minutes, where spring is the best time to enjoy its hiking trails and marvel at the Bavarian and Tyrolean Alps beyond.

If time is short, at least factor in a pitstop at the city’s temple to speed and flight, Hangar-7, conveniently right at the airport. Beneath a spectacular vaulted steel and glass pavilion, you’ll find the historical Flying Bulls aircraft fleet and a collection of Formula 1 race cars, along with art exhibitions and the sleek Restaurant Ikarus.

If you're tempted to venture further and extend your stay to other remarkable Austrian cities, consider Linz, known for its rich cultural heritage, contemporary art scene, and vibrant atmosphere. Alternatively, there's Innsbruck, which offers a captivating blend of alpine charm and imperial history, where the majestic Nordkette mountain range serves as a breathtaking backdrop to the city.

Published: January 29, 2024

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