I arrived at my friend, Ben’s, house in Hallein, a city just outside of Salzburg, late in the evening after a 13-hour train ride from Milan, Italy. I was greeted by a hot late-night home-cooked meal. The entire week, I was blown away by his family’s generosity. They really went above and beyond anything I ever expected to make me feel at home. Whether it was feeding me every meal of the day, doing my laundry, making my bed, paying for my transportation around the city or various attractions Ben and I saw; they were so gracious and the most hospitable hosts I could have ever asked for. It was my last stop at a friend’s place on my tour of couch hopping Europe for a few months.
Ben took me on a walking tour through the heart of Salzburg. We covered a lot of ground in a little amount of time. We saw attractions such as the Residenzplatz Square, Salzburg Cathedral, Festungsberg, and St. Peter’s Abbey monastery. Salzburg’s city center is very pedestrian-friendly and quite beautiful around every corner you turn. When I think back to Salzburg, I think of brick-laid back alleys and the feel of a very sophisticated tight-knit community even if the city is rather large.
A little more about the city of Salzburg. . .
Salzburg is the fourth-largest city in the country of Austria with around 150,000 citizens within its city limits bordering Germany. Salzburg is known worldwide for multiple things. It’s renowned “Old Town” is one of the best-preserved city centers in Europe with its baroque architecture. In addition, Salzburg is home to one of the greatest composers of all time; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Also, if you have ever seen the musical/movie “The Sound of Music”, you will notice that Salzburg was the setting of that film.
The city, although not huge, has three universities which flood the city with students day and night that creates an electrifying atmosphere at almost any time you visit. It seems like the best place to study abroad (besides Malta, that is).
After, we went to the Hallein Salt Mine – only a 20-minute train ride from Salzburg city center. At first, I didn’t know what to expect. But after touring it, I was happy we decided to do it. I had never been in such a place and we actually crossed the border to Germany in deep underground tunnels before crossing back into Austria. It was an unusual experience.
Over the course of the week, Ben’s mother prepared several traditional Austrian meals including Essigwurst (ham stew-type dish), Pizzabroetchen and Kasnocken (which I was told isn’t too traditional, but traditional for the family), and of course the infamous Austrian wiener schnitzel. All of the meals were absolutely delicious and I’d go back and eat Austrian cooking any day!
The next morning, Ben, his dad, and I did an early morning hike up Barmstein which Ben and his dad referred to as a “small hill”. It was totally underplayed as this was a towering rock formation jetting out into the sky around 800-meters tall. There were two rock formations side-by-side each other. We chose to hike the smaller one because the taller one is a more strenuous, dangerous climb. Nevertheless, the smaller one wasn’t much smaller and was still an exhilarating hike. It offered a beautiful city view on a gorgeous day in Hallein. Barmstein is no more than 10 miles from Salzburg city center.
Eats and Nightlife
Sabrina (Ben’s girlfriend), Ben and I headed for a night out in Salzburg, but not before stopping for some food at Burgerista. Burgerista felt very American-like. Big burger baskets around $10 and tasty for those looking for a filling meal.
After dinner, we headed out to O’Malley’s Irish pub. There was a nice Friday night crowd inside but the bar seemed to be caught in between identities. It had the look of a small joint where one would usually run into “regulars”. Instead, they were playing obnoxiously loud music on a make-shift dance floor. Those who were not dancing (most of the people) were sitting, trying to converse over the noise. We decided to move to Flip; another overcrowded bar but with a good atmosphere. The bar district in Salzburg was pretty crazy and right in the middle of city center. It’s a must-do when in Salzburg.
Sunday, after sleeping in a bit, we got out and did some real, genuine off-road mountain biking. The city is great for it and there are numerous adventure sports stores available to rent from within walking distance of city center. It was one of my favorite things we did in Salzburg.
The mountain biking was really fun and I had never done anything quite like it before. We stopped near the top with a nice view and talked for a while – while listening to some tunes. On the way down, it was a race to beat the rain in which we won. After dinner, Ben took me to Gaisberg (Salzburg’s tallest peak in which you can drive all the way up). Unfortunately, when we got there, the previous storm had created a fog so strong that we couldn’t even see 15 feet in front of us. It wasn’t much of a view that day, obviously. I’d like to return to Salzburg just so I can try my luck atop Gaisberg again.
Museums, Museums, and Museums. . .
The next day, we spent time hitting up all the Salzburg museums we could take. My favorite one was the Nature Museum, although we also saw Mozart’s birth home and the house he grew up in with all of his pianos on display which was sort of cool. I even saw a man composing his own music probably where Mozart composed his hundreds of years ago. I can imagine that was probably something out of a dream for that man.
Museums aren’t really my thing, but for those who enjoy museums, Salzburg is certainly good for it. You can purchase an all-inclusive Salzburg city attractions pass for under $50 once you are there that is good for up to 4 days. It did end up saving us a lot of money, but most attractions are museums and wouldn’t otherwise attract me.
We met Sabrina at the Afro Café for lunch. It had a cool stereotypical African feel to it and a good (I think authentic) atmosphere. However, it was a bit expensive and I limited my meal selection to the lunch special still around $9. However, it is a good location in-between seeing various city center attractions and is a convenient lunch spot. The café is consistently ranked among Salzburg’s best food stops.
My final day in Salzburg we had a full day planned. First, we visited the Hohensalzburg Castle. The whole week, no matter where we were in the city, it seemed we could look to the hilltop in the middle of city center and see the gorgeous, giant white castle looking us in the face. I was so ready to get there on my last day, and it didn’t disappoint. We couldn’t have asked for better weather that day for viewing.
The castle offers an excellent panoramic view of the entirety of Salzburg and surrounding cities. Everything about it was perfect. We went on the audio tour and I learned quite a bit about the castle’s changing history as well. I enjoyed it, even more, knowing Ben had lived his whole life there and had never seen the castle either. So it was a new experience for the both of us.
Afterward, we went to the Stiegl beer brewery and took a guided tour through it. Certainly worth the trip outside of city center and is included on the attraction package I mentioned earlier.
Stiegl prides itself as being the only beer company in Salzburg not owned by a larger corporation. When we finished the tour, Ben and I were able to try out 6 different beers of our choice all included in the tour. Each had a distinctive taste, but none were distasteful in my mind. Overall, I’d say it was a good brewery that offered a different experience than many breweries.
It was an excellent trip visiting one of my best friends I met in Malta and I couldn’t have asked to be shown a better time. I felt as if I got a complete taste of all of Salzburg/Austria and I’m going to miss the hell out of Ben. Thank you to his family and friends for hanging out with me and dealing with my inability to speak German. One of the things I appreciated about Ben’s friends the most is they not only spoke English when I was in the room but even when I left and returned, they were still speaking English so I wasn’t forced to disrupt a conversation and ask what it was about. They said they enjoyed speaking English. Salzburg is a fantastic city.
More Attractions, Bars, and Restaurants in Salzburg. . .
– Mirabell Palace – 17th Century palace and botanical garden
– Hellbrunn Palace – Renaissance palace and parkland
– Hangar-7 – owned by Redbull CEO full of racing planes and Formula 1 cars
– Christmas Markets – a must if you visit during the holiday season (runs from the third week of November until Dec. 26th
– Stern Bräu – perfect for an authentic Austrian meal in city center
– Café Fürst – the perfect place to take in Salzburg’s coffee culture and people-watching
If you are visiting Salzburg, don’t be afraid to get in touch with me with questions. If I can’t answer them, I know Ben will.