Formulas of supremacy rarely do justice to the Austrian city of Salzburg, with its medieval baroque skyline set against a breathtaking Alpine backdrop of lush meadows and grizzly peaks.
It is also a city of legendary cultural status; Mozart’s birthplace, home to the prestigious Salzburg Festival, and the realistic location of the von Trapp family’s unforgettable adventures, set in the 1965 Hollywood film sound of Music.
The Old Town may be where visitors will spend the bulk of their time sightseeing, but it’s the most expensive part of town to stay in, and it doesn’t always have a monopoly on the best food and drinks. Fortunately, Salzburg is a small city that’s easy to explore on foot or by bike, and puts a host of great neighborhoods within range.
The old city is the best neighborhood for history and culture
Trapped between the steep hills and the milky waters of the Salzach River, Salzburg’s Old Town, or Altstadt, has the lion’s share of attractions, giving access to Hohensalzburg, the castle that dominates the city from its rocky hilltop perch.
It is an at first bewildering but endlessly fascinating mixture of narrow labyrinth streets that suddenly open into stationary squares, overshadowed by richly ornate facades and frayed church domes. The whole area is full of courtyards and arcades. Exploring it is like digging holes in a giant piece of cheese.
Many of Salzburg’s main attractions are located within a few steps of each other. Mozart’s hometown of Getreidegasse is the first stop on any pilgrims’ concert tour; While the sumptuous interiors of both the cathedral and the Residenz (the official residence of the former Prince Bishops of Salzburg) offer an idea of what made the city so rich, powerful, and uniquely beautiful. The Old Town is also home to some classic Salzburg experiences, like sitting down to a coffee and strudel at Café Tomaselli, or working your way through multi-course menus at (allegedly) Europe’s oldest surviving restaurant, St Peter Stiftskulinarium.
Of course, the old town is not only a magnet for tourists, but also the focus of the daily life of local residents. The city’s main market (daily except Sunday) can still be found in front of the imposing Kollegienkirche, where Salzburgers come to stock up on fruits, vegetables and cheese or snack on sausage at the nearby Wurstelstand.
Stop in the Kai Quarter for a drink after sightseeing
Named after the Kaigasse who winds his way around a cell of smaller alleys, Kai is a walkable stretch of Salzburg’s old town dotted with medieval tall houses looming over small, irregularly shaped squares. Less prone to tour groups, it’s a relaxing area to indulge in a little refreshment after sightseeing. Lindy’s on Kajetanerplatz is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of Austrian white; Zirkelwirt on Papagenoplatz serves traditional Austrian cooking in rustic rooms. For more fun, indulge in fish dishes and innovative game at Marc’s.
Linzergasse is a lively street, a great place to people watch
Directly opposite the Old Town on the river’s south bank, one of the liveliest parts of the city is the pedestrianized Linzergasse, a street lined with shops and cafés that connects the historic heart of Salzburg with the residential district to the south. As a result, the street sees a constant flow of locals and visitors.
Linzergasse also boasts an impressive profusion of historic inns and pensions, many of which are cheaper than anything you’ll find in the Old Town. The monasteries of Saint Sebastian’s Cemetery, located just off the street, are one of the most uniquely laid-back places in the city. The shops along Linzergasse are a mixture of tourist souvenirs, local food stores, and quirky fashion boutique. Humana Vintage at no. 28 Great place to look for second hand classic clothing. One of Linzergasse’s brand features is a sequence of bistros dotted with outside tables, popular with people stopping by for a quick drink on their way to or from work.
Nonntal is the best area in Salzburg for a budget lunch
Close to the old town, Nonntal marks Salzburg’s transition from a medieval city to a modern one. There is a series of attractive Baroque buildings along Nonntaler Haupstrasse, the narrow alley that winds its way down the Hohensalzburg hill; However, it is the Unipark University Building, a daring glass monster standing on concrete stilts, giving the neighborhood its own character.
There isn’t a lot of accommodation in Nonntal (except for JUFA Salzburg City, one of the city’s top budget options), but the primitive activity of its predominantly young population makes it a compelling place to visit. As you might expect from the student quarter, Nonntal is one of the best places in Salzburg to eat well and eat cheap, with Uncle Van’s pho soup and noodle dishes drawing fast-moving lines at lunchtime. Located in a semi-hidden garden courtyard near Salzburg’s leading coffee roaster, 220 Grad serves fine drinks in an art gallery-like café and has a delicious menu of light snacks.
The neighborhood is also home to the ARGE Cultural Center, a bastion of alternative arts and music since the early 1980s. The terrace shaded by palm trees and shrubs at the vegetable-friendly Arge Beisl is one of the best places in town to stop for an inexpensive but elegant lunch.
St Andrä draws crowds to its gardens and street food market
When locals need a break from the old town crowds, they often end up in St Andrä, a quarter of beautiful 19th-century apartment houses clustered around St Andrew’s Church. What makes it a good base for visitors is its location right between the railway station and the old town, with the intoxicating colors and scents of the Mirabell Gardens just a few steps away.
It also boasts a cosmopolitan variety of dining venues, capturing the heart of vegan joy with its innovative salads and curry of the day. The café next door Fingerlos is often bustling with locals who are drawn to the all-day breakfasts and signature cakes. For street food, Salzburg-style, head to the gathering of green market shacks on the corner of Franz Josef and Wolf Dietrich Streets, home to a few food stores and bakeries selling delicious produce, sandwiches, and inexpensive cooked lunches. And if you’re here on a Thursday, the weekly Schranne Market in St Andrä is a true foodie delight, filled with stalls laden with local farm produce, cheeses, preserves, and a tempting array of ready-to-eat foods on your feet as snacks.
Stop for a beer at Mülln’s huge brewery, almost a neighborhood in itself
A gentle curve of old houses winding around the northern spur of Mönchsberg Hill, the medieval district of Mülln is synonymous with beer. Natural, thirst-quenching beer. And a lot of it. Thanks to Augustiner Bräu, the vast brewery, beer hall and beer garden is almost a neighborhood in itself.
Beer brewing began by monks in the 17th century and the way it is served hasn’t changed much since then: you take your own stone cup, rinse it in the designated fountain, and hand it to the barista who draws from a gigantic cask. With hot snacks from the beer garden food counters keeping hunger pangs at bay, you’ll find it’s a tough place to leave.
Be aware that beer isn’t all that Mülln has to offer: fine, world-class cuisine rules the roost at Magazin, the bistro and wine bar tucked away opposite the brewery; While the sweet-toothed pilgrims make a beeline for Baltram, a pastry shop that makes their own signature ice cream. Cobbled alleys lead to the bank of the River Mülln and a waterside walk towards the Old Town – it’s especially beautiful in the evening, when the last sun shines on the city’s baroque domes. The riverfront terrace at Café am Kai is a great place to take in the view.