Holidays around Central Europe aren’t complete without a stop in Salzburg, Austria.
While today, Salzburg is most famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and the setting of “The Sound of Music,” this magical and historical city has a lot more going on.
First is the city’s sheer beauty. A walk around Salzburg’s old town and into its baroque cathedrals and palaces will have you gawking at the city’s opulence. Alleys lined with boutique shops and cafes open onto lovely little plazas, the postcard-perfect scene completed by the mountain ranges that serve as the city’s backdrop.
Second is the abundance of stories. Mozart and “The Sound of Music” are the obvious frontrunners, but the city has a slew of archbishops, artists, and achievers that make for both inspiring and sensational stories.
Third, Salzburg has a charming vibe that’s so hard to find in similarly popular and established tourist destinations. Despite the big yellow tour buses that run around the city nonstop and the bags of Mozart chocolate balls you’ll find in every corner store, there’s something about the city that feels mellow and even rustic.
Maybe it’s the relaxing strains of classical music floating onto the busy streets. Perhaps it’s the mountains serving as a constant reminder of adventures that lie beyond the city’s walls. Whatever it is, it has kept Salzburg magical and magnetic – and a lovely destination for a little holiday.
While Salzburg and the Salzkammergut Lake District has more than enough to keep you busy for days, I’ve tailored this guide for a short, but meaningful trip. Here’s how to spend 3 days in Salzburg.
Little Holidays Guide to Salzburg, Austria – 3-day itinerary and travel guide
- How to spend 3 days in Salzburg
- Map – essential landmarks in Salzburg
- Best things to do in Salzburg
- Day trips from Salzburg
- Where to eat and drink
- Planning your trip to Salzburg
- Beyond Salzburg – where to go next
- Download the PDF guide
Here’s a quick overview of the best things to do for 3 days in Salzburg. You’ll find more details below, as well as a Google map and a PDF guide you can save and follow.
Day 1 – Start your holiday exploring Salzburg’s historical center. Begin early at the beautiful Mirabell Palace, follow the life and works of Mozart, go up the city’s various viewpoints, and visit the Baroque cathedrals and palaces on both sides of the River Salzach. End the day at the top of Mönchsberg for amazing views of Salzburg’s spires and domes.
Day 2 – Get up bright and early and spend the morning seeing the world of “The Sound of Music.” Even if you’re not a fan, this tour will bring you to some of the most beautiful places in and around Salzburg. In the afternoon, make your way up the Hohensalzburg Fortress and explore Central Europe’s biggest fully-preserved castle.
Day 3 – Discover the beautiful Lake District or Salzkammergut just beyond Salzburg’s walls. Get a rental car or join a tour and drive to Austria’s most picturesque lake towns.
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Most of the Salzburg’s top sights are on either side of the River Salzach. If you stay in a hotel near the historical center, you can easily get around on foot.
Salzburg is also an excellent base for exploring the beautiful Lake District or Salzkammergut. You can either get a rental car or join one of the day tours to reach these charming lake towns.
I added all my top recommended sights, restaurants, and hotels in this Google map so you can get around the city easily on your own.
Day 1 – Explore Salzburg’s historic center
Mirabell Palace and Gardens
The Mirabell Palace is one of Salzburg’s most beautiful places and where you can get some of the best views in the city. It’s best to visit in the early morning before the crowds arrive. If you’re intent on getting beautiful photos of the gardens, an early start is a must.
Walk around the gardens and look for Pegasus. Go up the terrace steps for amazing views of the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Visit the Dwarf Gnome Park and go through the vine tunnel and around the hedge maze.
Afterward, make your way to the palace and walk up the staircase adorned with angel statues.
The palace was built in 1606 by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau for his mistress, with whom he had 12 children. It houses the historic Marble Hall, where Mozart performed piano concerts as a child. Now, it’s a concert hall where you can enjoy one of the most famous chamber music concerts in the world.
The evening concert at Mirabell Palace is one of the most famous chamber music concerts in the world. If you’d like an evening of Mozart’s most beautiful works being performed by national and international soloists and ensembles, make sure to get your tickets a few days before your trip.
The Mozart trail
If you don’t know it yet, you’ll certainly find out on your first day in Salzburg: Mozart is big in this city. You can’t go for several blocks without seeing his face on a postcard or an eco-bag or those yummy chocolate balls.
The Mozart trail begins at the Wohnhaus, where Mozart lived with his family. It’s now a museum where you can see Mozart’s original fortepiano, his compositions from the years he spent in Salzburg, and exhibits about his family.
If you’re keen on visiting the Wohnhaus as well as Mozart’s birthplace, it’s best to get a Salzburg card. It includes entry to Salzburg’s top sights and museums, as well as free rides on the city’s buses and trams.
From the Wohnhaus, it’s a short walk to the Saint Sebastian Church and Cemetery, where you’ll find the graves of Mozart’s wife and father. The church and cemetery both make for great pictures and a peaceful break from the crowds.
Now it’s time for a trek up the highest point of Salzburg for amazing views of the old town.
A short walk from the Saint Sebastian church, you’ll find the steps going up the Capuchin Hill (Kapuzinerberg). Follow it all the way up to various viewpoints, parts of the medieval city wall, and the Capuchin Monastery.
If you’re up for it, you can continue farther uphill to Saint Francis Fortress (Franziskischlössl), a former watchtower and now a lovely restaurant serving Austrian cuisine. Having coffee and cake here is a pretty nice way to enjoy the view!
Make your way back down and cross the River Salzach through the Mozart Footbridge (Mozartsteg). The street then opens up to the Mozart Square (Mozartplatz), where you’ll find a statue of, you guessed it, Mozart. You’ll likely find street musicians and artists here, so take some time to enjoy the atmosphere.
From the Mozartplatz, make your way to the Residenzplatz, where you’ll see the impressive baroque Salzburg Cathedral built in the 17th century. This is still part of the Mozart trail, by the way, as this was where he was baptized. Even without that distinction, though, it’s truly an impressive structure.
Goldgasse and Old Market Square
From the cathedral, enter the Goldgasse alley and walk all the way to the Old Market Square (Alter Markt).
This area is a great place to pause for a bite – go to Gasthof Goldgasse for Austrian cuisine, Schatz-Konditorei for coffee and pastries, and Restaurant S’Nockerl im Elefant for the nockerl (check the Google map for locations).
(What’s a nockerl you ask? It’s Salzburg’s take on soufflé, usually served with fresh berry compote and whipped cream. Yum.)
You’ll also find lots of souvenir shops and upscale brands here, so if you’re looking to shop, this is your spot.
Now it’s time for the last attraction in the Mozart trail – Mozart’s birthplace. This is where you’ll find exhibits celebrating the life and works of Mozart, whose real name is actually Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. You’ll also get to know his sister, Nannerl, who was herself a child prodigy and at age 12, was one of the most skillful players in Europe. She was forced to give up performing music when she turned 18, though, as it was customary in the 1700s for women to focus on home life upon reaching marriageable age.
The museum houses more exhibits that will take you through Mozart and his family’s life through the 18th century and really worth an hour or two of exploring.
View at Mönchsberg
It’s been a fun and full day, and now day 1 draws to an end. From Mozart’s Birthplace, walk towards the Mönchsberg Lift and ride up the hill. You’ll find plenty of viewpoints here, like the panorama terrace in the Museum der Moderne and the Bürgerwehr (Militia City Wall), which is a short walk away. Find your perfect spot and watch as the city winds down.
Day 2 – Let the sound of music lead you to Salzburg’s most beautiful locations
While I love DIY holidays as much as you, I was glad to get on “The Sound of Music” tour with my parents. Even though I wasn’t really a fan of the film, the trip was nonetheless enjoyable as they brought us to beautiful locations in and around Salzburg. It was also a great way to see some of the lovely towns in the Salzkammergut (Lake District) and learn more about Salzburg’s history and traditions.
Here are some spots we visited on this trip.
This beautiful lakeside rococo palace is a national historic monument – and the setting of many scenes in “The Sound of Music.”
It has a long history, though, having been commissioned by the Prince-Archbishop Leopold Firmian in the 18th century. Since then, the palace passed through several owners – a king, a banker, a theater director, the German government – until it finally became a privately-owned hotel. Yes, you can stay in this beautiful palace!
While the Schloss Hellbrunn didn’t really play a part in “The Sound of Music,” this is where you’ll now find the gazebo where Liesl sings “16 going on 17.”
The gazebo was initially on the grounds of the Schloss Leopold, but, as you can guess, die-hard fans started climbing the walls of the privately-owned estate, so they had to move it to the more tourist-friendly Schloss Hellbrunn.
After seeing several spots within the city, we headed out to the countryside to Mondsee, a small lovely lake town that is home to Saint Michael’s Church, where Maria and the Captain’s wedding was filmed.
You’ll have some time to explore the town and the lakeside promenade on your own.
After an hour’s scenic drive around Salzkammergut, the tour ends back in Salzburg, in Mirabell Palace.
The tour takes only half a day, so if you do it in the morning, you’ll have plenty of time to explore our last stop in the city: the Fortress Hohensalzburg.
Ride up the funicular to the Fortress Hohensalzburg, one of the largest fortifications in Europe. It was first built in 1077 and expanded in the 1500s to become the most impressive structure in the city. It served its original purpose of protecting Salzburg quite well – never once has it been captured by foreign troops.
Now, it serves as one of Salzburg’s top sights. Besides the breathtaking views you’ll enjoy, you can also explore its many museums.
Watch the sunset from one of the fortress’ viewpoints. If you’re feeling fancy, set aside this evening for a concert and dinner treat high above the city of Salzburg.
Day 3 – Discover the beautiful Salzkammergut, Austria’s gorgeous Lake District
While you can certainly visit a couple of lake towns and then head back to Salzburg, you can also opt to check out of your hotel in Salzburg and stay at one of the lake towns in the Salzkammergut. If you’re also visiting Vienna, a town like St. Gilgen or Hallstatt can be a great stopover between Salzburg and Vienna.
Here are some of the lake towns we visited on our drive. You can also read more about Hallstatt, our road trip from Vienna to Salzburg, and everything you need to know about driving in Austria as a tourist.
Fuschl am See
From Salzburg, the first lake we saw was the gorgeous blue Lake Fuschl, said to be the clearest and cleanest lake in Salzkammergut. Schloss Fuschl, now a luxury hotel and restaurant, used to be a hunting lodge for the archbishops and later the Habsburgs.
Take some time to take pictures of the beautiful landscape, go for a short walk around the surrounding woodlands, and take a bite from one of the lakeside restaurants.
From Fuschl, we continued our drive to St. Gilgen, another picturesque lake town.
You’ll find plenty of picture-perfect streets and alleys as you walk around the town, with wooden houses and beautiful gardens amidst glimpses of the lake and the mountains. There’s also a boardwalk along the lake where you’ll find shops and restaurants serving delicious Austrian cuisine.
During warm months, you can go swimming in the lake. You can also take a cable car up the Zwölferhorn mountain to do some hiking or skiing or rent a boat to go around the Wolfgangsee.
If you’re planning to stay in the Salzkammergut for a few days but not really excited about the crowds in Hallstatt, St. Gilgen is a great place to stay. Hotel Gasthof zur Post and Haus Mayerhofer are the best hotels in town.
After a tasty lunch at St. Gilgen, we continued our drive around Salzkammergut and headed to our next stop: St. Wolfgang.
Much like St. Gilgen, St. Wolfgang’s streets are lined with colorful wooden houses, all leading to a central market square. Follow the streets down towards the lake until you reach an old 14th-century church, where you’ll see lots of precious artworks inside.
If the weather is beautiful and you have more time, go onboard the Schafbergbahn, a cog railway, and enjoy the views up the mountaintop.
Next on our Salzkammergut driving itinerary was Mondsee. Though we visited it briefly during the “Sound of Music” tour, we thought it was worth another stop. We spent most of the afternoon relaxing by the Lake Mondsee.
The town itself is pretty, and you can spend some time walking around. If you haven’t yet, visit Saint Michael’s Church, then walk along the colorful streets, past the tree-lined path to the lake promenade.
Mondsee is also an excellent spot for watersport activities. You can go sailing, kitesurfing, and swimming here during the summer months.
Finally, we reached Salzkammergut’s most popular destination, Hallstatt.
Despite its bad rep as an ultra-touristy place, Hallstatt lives up to its fame. It’s a beautiful place with lots to see and do, and I definitely recommend spending a couple of days there.
I wouldn’t recommend it as a day trip from Salzburg, though (unless you don’t mind joining a day tour or unless you’re willing to set off really early from Salzburg). Driving from Salzburg to Hallstatt for more than an hour only to contend with hordes of tourists may give you a bad impression of Hallstatt.
The best way to enjoy Hallstatt is to spend at least a night or two there, wake up early and explore the town before the day-trippers arrive, then drive out to the surrounding towns and villages during the day. Once you’ve seen how beautiful Hallstatt can be when it’s just you, the glittering lake, and the swans, you’ll be able to endure the crowds when you go to the Salt Mine and Hallstatt’s other remarkable sights. Really, it’s worth it.
If you have more days in the area, check out these day trips you can take from Salzburg.
The Bavarian Alps are a scenic bus ride away from Salzburg and is home to dramatic cliffs and views of snow-covered mountain summits. It also houses Hitler’s vacation home, the Eagle’s Nest, which has impressive cliffside views and fascinating history.
Salt plays such a huge role in how Salzburg and the surrounding areas were able to build their beautiful cities. Get a glimpse of the history and impact of Alpine salt mining in the Berchtesgaden salt mine, then ride across an extraordinary underground salt lake.
Hallstatt is one of Salzkammergut’s most beautiful and historic towns. You can easily spend a couple of days exploring the compact town and the surrounding countryside (here’s my travel guide to Hallstatt), but even if you only have half a day to explore, this eye-candy of a town is definitely worth a visit.
When in Salzburg – or anywhere in Austria, for that matter – never miss an opportunity to eat schnitzel. You can find that and other traditional Austrian dishes in Augustiner Bräu, a historic restaurant that has been in business since the 1600s.
For a modern twist to Austrian classics, though, make your way to Die Weisse. This is also Austria’s oldest wheat beer brewery, so a hearty meal and a drink or two here is an excellent way to end the day.
If you want to bring home new skills and learn to recreate your favorite Salzburg sweets, this cooking class is an enjoyable way to learn how to make the famous Austrian apple strudel.
Flying to Salzburg – You can find flights to Salzburg, both from Schengen and international cities.
How to get from Salzburg airport to the city – You can catch a bus from Salzburg airport to various points in the city. Bus No. 2 runs daily between the airport and the Salzburg main station (Hauptbahnhof / HBF), while Bus No. 10 runs from the airport to the city center. You can get tickets at the airport terminal, at the bus stop, or from the Salzburg Verkehr app. You can ride all forms of public transportation for free with the Salzburg Card.
If you’re arriving at night or with a group, you can opt for a private transfer from the airport to your hotel instead.
Traveling by land to Salzburg – If you’re coming from nearby cities and countries, you can reach Salzburg by train or bus. If you’re on a multi-country trip, getting a Eurail Global Pass may turn out to be more convenient and economical for you. Otherwise, you can check OBB for train connections to Salzburg and RegioJet for bus travel.
Public transportation – You can get around Salzburg and nearby destinations using trains, buses, and trams. I highly recommend getting the Salzburg Card, which lets you ride all forms of public transportation for free and gives you free admissions and discounts to most of the museums and sights in this itinerary.
For train travel, you can check routes and buy tickets online using the OBB app. For buses and trams within the city, you can find routes and buy tickets (if you don’t have the Salzburg card) using the Salzburg Verkehr app.
You can book a taxi using the Free Now app.
Renting a car – Salzburg is an excellent base for exploring the beautiful Salzkammergut or Lake District. If you plan to visit Vienna as well, the backroads drive from Salzburg to Vienna is filled with charming towns, breathtaking views, and lovely country roads. You can get your rental car from Salzburg and return it to Vienna (or the other way around, if you’re starting in Vienna).
Best areas to stay in Salzburg
If you want to explore Salzburg’s historical sights easily, stay in the Old Town. Most of the city’s historic sights, best restaurants, and shopping streets are within walking distance of the Old Town. Hotel Am Dom is right in the heart of the Old Town, and its contemporary vibe and modern amenities will make your Salzburg holiday a memorable one.
If you want a slightly calmer, less touristic, but still central base, stay in the New Town. This is nearer the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, still within walking distance of Salzburg’s essential landmarks, but detached enough from the busy, touristy center. Hotel am Mirabellplatz is an excellent choice with beautiful, modern rooms and a location great for touring the historical sights.
If you want a relaxed stay away from the crowds, stay in Maxglan. This is an upscale residential district filled with locally-owned boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants where you can experience a slice of local living. Das Grüne Hotel zur Post is a lovely eco-friendly, family-run hotel with a beautiful garden, large and comfortable rooms, and modern amenities.
If you’re a fan of the “Sound of Music,” stay in one of these iconic hotels: Villa Trapp, the actual residence of the Von Trapp family, and Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, where scenes from the movie were filmed on-site.
Top tips for travel to Salzburg
Languages spoken: German, English
Money: Euro (1 EUR ~ 1.10 USD ~ 1.50 SGD) – You can exchange money in banks and exchange places. You can also withdraw euros from most local ATMs. If you have a borderless card like TransferWise, convert your money to EUR on the app, and then withdraw from banks like Bank Austria / Unicredit, Sparkasse, and Volksbank for minimal to zero withdrawal charges.
- Accommodations – A stay for two in a luxurious hotel (like the hilltop Hotel Schloss Mönstein) can cost from EUR 550/night. A beautiful boutique hotel in a central location (like the Hotel Am Dom) costs around EUR 180/night. You can also find budget hostels in and around the main touristic areas (like YoHo International Youth Hostel), where you can get comfortable beds for as low as EUR 30/night.
- Food – You can spend EUR 30 upwards for a nice dinner for two.
Tipping: Tipping is not expected, but 10-15% of the bill is always appreciated.
Weather and best times to go: The weather is excellent for walking around Salzburg from May to September, with average temperatures of 20˚C. Peak months are from July to August, so avoid these months if you don’t like crowds. September and October are great for mild, fall weather, fewer crowds, and better prices. Winter is also a great time to visit Salzburg, especially if you plan to visit the alps or love Christmas markets and magical European winters.
Staying connected: You can get a pocket Wi-Fi device delivered to your hotel in Austria or anywhere in the EU.
Continue your travels around Central Europe to discover more beautiful cities with old-world charm and a wealth of history and culture. Here are some destinations you should definitely add to your Central European itinerary.
If you love art, culture, and tons of stories, head to Austria’s neighbor, the Czech Republic. Start in Prague, the country’s capital, then make a side trip to Cesky Krumlov, a beautiful medieval castle town. If you have more days and love a fantastic countryside adventure, make your way to South Moravia, the country’s wine-growing region.
Austria’s capital has its own charms, with its share of historical landmarks, beautiful buildings, and quirky neighborhoods. One of my favorite road trips in Europe is the backroads drive from Vienna to Salzburg, so if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s a great way to see more of Austria!
Budapest is one of those cities that may sound overrated – until you get there. One look at the majestic buildings on both sides of the Danube river, and you’ll understand why everybody who’s ever been there seems to love Budapest so much. And if you want to add a bit of excitement to your charming and rustic European holiday, Budapest will definitely fit right into your itinerary.
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I hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Salzburg!
With all the fantastic things to see, do, and experience in this city, it was quite a feat to fit (whew!) it all in a 3-day holiday. I hope my itinerary helps you experience the best of Salzburg and the Lake District in a short time, and make you want to go back to see more of Central Europe.
If you have any questions or need extra help planning your trip, send me a message, and I’ll do my best to help you out.
Happy travels to Austria!