My Trip To Austria – Salzburg

Well, I did it. I took my bucket-list trip to Austria at Christmas time. Why Austria, you ask? Well, first, I’m a Sound of Music nerd and I had to see all that gorgeous scenery for myself, and second, I LOVE Christmas. Makes sense, yes?

I went in early December with my oldest son, his girlfriend, and a friend of mine. We spent the first half of the trip in Salzburg and the second half in Vienna. In a word, it was magical–all of it! Because there is SO much to talk about, I am splitting the trip into 2 posts. This post is all about Salzburg. So let’s dig in, ja?!

How I Planned our Trip

Before we get into the journey, I thought I’d just share how I went about the planning. I’ve dreamt about this trip for years, so I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance, which is why I had the help of a travel agent. Yes, I’m sure I paid more than if I had gone the Air B&B route, figured out all my own transportation, etc., but I wanted peace of mind to know all of those details were taken care of and I could just enjoy the trip. It was worth. every. penny. I booked the airfare myself but the agency arranged all of our transports and lodging. I cherry picked a few tours/excursions through them but left a lot of free days to do as we pleased. It was just the right balance of scheduled activities and free time and all of the details planned by the agency went off seamlessly.

Experiencing Salzburg

We flew into Vienna and took the train right to Salzburg. The train station is connected to the Vienna airport so it was very convenient. It’s about a 3 hour train ride through the Austrian countryside. We checked in to the Hotel Castellani and got settled. The hotel is a lovely, smaller hotel. Very clean and a little off the beaten path but walking distance to the center of town. We had beautiful view of the Alps outside our balcony. The hotel breakfast buffet was amazing–we ate like kings every morning, which usually tied us over until dinner. Oh, and bonus, they had a dedicated TV channel that continually looped The Sound of Music!

The Christkindlmarkt at Residenzplatz

Ice skating in the market

Say “Glühwein”!

Lots of beautiful decorations to pick from!

That evening, we walked to the Residenzplatz where their Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt) was in full swing. The whole area is pedestrian only which was really nice. We enjoyed our fist of many Glühwein (hot spiced wine), strolled up and down the aisles through the market stands, and were treated to carolers singing on the church steps. They also had a skating rink, which was a popular attraction, although, I’m still wondering why they were playing American hits of the 70’s to skate to.When it comes to Christmas decorations, the Austrians do it right! There were live Christmas trees everywhere, all decorated and lit up. Every place we went was decked out with lots of lights and ornaments. It was so festive!

Zwettler’s restaurant. Much needed “cheers” after a loooong travel day!

More “cheers”!

We found this great little legit local restaurant for dinner called Zwettler’s. You felt like you went into a hobbit hole. I’m talking wait staff in leather lederhosen and dirndls, steins of bier and very little to no English spoken. (My German was rusty, but I made an effort throughout the trip and by the end, I was doing fairly well!) German food is very underrated. We didn’t have one bad meal and there is much more to the cuisine than wienerschnitzl and bratwurst. Also, dogs are welcome everywhere in Austria. And they are all so chill. They come into a restaurant (with their owners) and just lay down under the table. No begging, no barking. It was amazing.

House used in Sound of Music–back courtyard and canoe scenes. It was snowing at this point so not super clear.

This is the Lake District–our view before we got down to the town of Mondsee. I need to figure out how to retire here!

Inside of Basilica St. Michael. Beautiful.

The path “Maria” (Julie Andrews) runs down with her duffel bag and guitar on the way to the Von Trapp home.

Day two we did The Sound of Music tour. Yes, it was somewhat cheesy at times, but I enjoyed every minute of it! They spill so much behind the scenes and little known facts about the filming and the cast and I found it fascinating. I think the biggest take away was that people in Austria really don’t know anything about the movie or songs (or care) other than it has brought lots of tourists and dollars to their economy! We saw areas of Salzburg where various parts were filmed, like the mansion on the river. That home was actually two different houses. One was used for the front of the house, and one for the back where the river is. Then they took us to the Lake District, which was a little northeast of the city into the mountains. We stopped in the town of Mondsee to see the church from the wedding scene, St. Michael. The church is much smaller than it appears in the movie but it’s stunning inside. I absolutely loved that area and I would like to go back and experience the Lake District in spring or summer. Definitely one of my top favorite spots on the trip!

Mozart concert in the fortress

Medieval chandeliers in the concert room. Imagine all the candles back in the day!

Dinner at the Panorama Restaurant in the fortress overlooking Salzburg

View from one side of the fortress overlooking the city of Salzburg

View looking the opposite direction from previous photo

Fortress turret

This view is from the other side of the fortress looking toward the Alps. This was stunning.

Marionette museum in the fortress. Kinda cool, but more creepy than anything.

Exploring the side streets in Salzburg.

The second evening, we had an elegant dinner followed by a Mozart concert in what was my favorite part of Salzburg; the Hohensalzburg Fortress. This is a huge, medieval fortress that sits on a hill overlooking the entire city. The dinner views were incredible as was the concert. You truly felt thrown back to medieval times (in a good way). Since we had no plans on day 3, we went back to explore the fortress more thoroughly. We took the Funicular up to the top of the fortress, which is a fun ride. It’s been in operation since 1892! One of the more interesting/creepy areas of the fortress is the museum of Marionettes. There is also a small chapel at the top. But by far, my favorite part of the fortress were the breathtaking views. We spent the remainder of the day exploring the city and hitting some of the cute shops. You can’t walk a block without finding Mozart Balls, a popular chocolate and marzipan candy that they sell everywhere you go. Fun fact–Mozart was born in Salzburg and lived there in his early years until he moved to Vienna.

One of the stops on our Bavarian Alps tour. Lake Königssee.

The little town on Lake Königssee. It was adorable.

The alps above Lake Königssee.

You can see Hitler’s Eagles Nest at the very top of the mountain

On our final full day, we went on a half-day tour of the Bavarian Alps, just over the border into Germany. This was another highlight of our trip and these photos don’t do justice to the mountains. Our tour guide, Leo, was an absolute riot. There were only 6 of us on the tour and it was an interesting mix of people, so it was very entertaining! We stopped in a town on lake Königssee and had an hour to explore. It was stunning–the Alps, the lake, all of it. Also, in the mountains above this lake is Eagles Nest, one of Hitler’s hideouts. It was shrouded in the clouds and then they disappeared to reveal the property–eerie. We had lunch in a quaint Bavarian restaurant before heading to another adorable little town, Berchdesgaden. There, we walked through the streets of their Christkindlmarkt, ate more delicious food and drank Glühwein before heading back to Salzburg. It was an absolutely delightful day! We spent our last evening at the main Christmas market, where we began.

The adorable little town of Berchtesgaden

Sampling a Bosna–it’s a next-level hot dog that gives a Chicago dog a run for it’s money!

I would definitely like to get back to Berchdesgaden again. So fun!

We had one last breakfast at the hotel, then hopped the train to Vienna. As I mentioned, I will share our Vienna leg of the trip in another post. While I loved both cities, I have to say Salzburg won my heart. The scenery, the history, the people, the great food and the overall Christmas spirit far exceeded my expectations of this wonderful place and I will absolutely go back again.

Wowsers! If you’ve made it this far, thanks! This is a looong post, and I only touched on the highlights! So, if Salzburg is on your travel list, do it! If it isn’t on your travel list, it should be. Also, feel free to reach out with any questions about Salzburg or Vienna. I’m no expert but I can give you some helpful tips based on what I experienced!

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