The Austrian city of Salzburg is best known as the birthplace of the composer, Mozart, and the setting for the movie “The Sound of Music”. Salzburg’s elegant Altstadt (Old Town), with its distinctive baroque architecture, is one of the best-preserved in Europe and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One particular highlight of Altstadt is the ornamental wrought iron guild signs extending from the building facades.
While Salzburg is delightful any time of the year, it’s especially enchanting during the holiday season. With the snow-capped Alps in the background adding to the already festive ambiance of the city where the beloved Christmas hymn, Silent Night, was written and first performed, and home to a delightful Christmas museum and a number of magical Christmas markets, Salzburg feels like a real-life winter wonderland.
Here are the best things to do in Salzburg during the Christmas season.
Domplatz Christmas Market – There are several Christmas markets throughout Salzburg, but none as popular as the Christkindlmarkt at Domplatz (Cathedral Square).
There is specially designed lighting and around 100 traditional huts where visitors will find traditional Christmas tree ornaments, handicrafts, Austrian specialties, and gluhwein, as well as a daily events program with activities for children, choral concerts, and parades.
Christkindlmarkt at Domplatz is open from November 17, 2022 – January 1, 2023.
Schloss Hellbrunner – Another Christmas market you don’t want to miss is at Schloss Hellbrunn. 700 conifer trees adorned with 10,000 red Christmas balls and strands of light surround the palace grounds bathing it in an atmospheric glow, and welcoming guests to the Christmas market known as Hellbrunn Advent Magic.
The 24 windows of the palace’s facade are transformed into a giant Advent calendar, and Hellbrunn’s famous trick fountains will be open, with a 25-foot Christmas angel on display in all its holiday splendor. In addition to its festive decor, Advent Magic offers a number of attractions and activities for young children, including a petting zoo and the Winter Fairy-Tale train, making this market a family favorite.
Schloss Hellbrunn is located on the outskirts of Salzburg, but easy to reach nonetheless. Take bus 25 from Salzburg city center and exit at the Hellbrunn stop. The bus ticket cost around €3 and it takes approximately 20 min to get there. The Hop On-Hop off tourist bus also stops at the palace, which is how I got there.
Hellbrunner Advent Magic is open November 17, 2022 – January 1, 2023
Fortress Hohensalzburg (Salzburg Fortress) Christmas market – This Christmas market takes place at Salzburg’s highest point and its most popular tourist attraction, the Fortress Hohensalburg. Along with yummy treats to eat and wonderful gifts to purchase, this market also offers amazing views over Salzburg.
Fortress Hohensalzburg Christmas market is open November 17, 2022 – January 1, 2023
Mirabellplatz Christmas Market – This market, located near the main train station, is a local favorite known for its low crowds and iconic huts where you will find local handicrafts and delicious glühwein. As with Schloss Hellbrunner, fans of The Sound of Music will recognize the adjacent Marabell Gardens as the setting where Maria and the von Trapp children sang “Do-Re-Mi” for the first time.
The Mirabellplatz market is open from November 17, 2022 – December 24, 2023.
The Sound of Music Tour
One of my favorite things about Salzburg is The Sound of Music tour, a must no matter the time of year, but during the Christmas season, it’s even more special. Follow in the footsteps of the von Trapp family and visit numerous unforgettable sites from the musical including the aforementioned Christmas market locations, Mirabell Gardens and Schloss Hellbrunn, the gazebo where “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” was shot, and Lake Wolfgang.
See the beautiful hills come alive and enjoy a sing-a-long of the film’s classics, “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things” during the scenic ride through the Austrian Lake District to Mondsee to visit the cathedral where Maria and Captain von Trapp’s wedding was filmed.
The Christmas Museum is comprised of the private collection of Ursula Kloiber of festive items gathered over nearly 50 years, such as advent calendars, nutcrackers, Christmas tree ornaments, hand-carved cradles, and a living room decorated for Christmas.
The Christmas Museum is located above a café in Altstadt and would be easy to combine with a visit to the nearby Domplatz & Marabellplatz Christmas markets. The Christmas museum is open year-round. Check the website for hours.
With the number of Christmas songs that reference sleigh rides, it seems like an activity one should partake in if given the opportunity.
And during the Christmas season, Salzburg offers several opportunities for a lovely sleigh ride, including a full-day trip that leaves from Salzburg and goes via the Salzach River Valley to the pretty mountain town of Ramsau.
Silent Night Village
Just outside of Salzburg is Oberndorf, a pretty town with wonderful scenery, where “Silent Night” was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818. Oberndorf is home to the Silent Night Chapel, which sits on the same site as the former St. Nicholas Church where the song was originally performed, and to the old parsonage that is now the Silent Night Museum.
Multimedia displays convey the story of the song’s composers, Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, the history of St. Nicholas Church, and the origins of the beloved Christmas song. There’s also a karaoke station, which allows visitors to put their personal stamp on the song.
On Christmas Eve, attend mass at the Silent Night Chapel, which is conducted in multiple languages, and culminates in an unforgettable performance of Silent Night.
The Silent Night Chapel and museum are open all year. Check the website for opening days and times.
Salzburg, the city of music and the birthplace of Mozart, is the perfect place to enjoy a Christmas concert. Listening to unforgettable performances of music from Mozart and his contemporaries in exquisite historic venues, such as Fortress Hohensalzburg or the Marble Hall of Marabell Palace where Mozart himself performed, is like the star on top of an already perfect Christmas tree.
The Nutcracker at Salzburg Marionette Theater
Treat yourself to a performance of The Nutcracker at the Salzburg Marionette Theater. The marionettes, which each have 12 strings and are guided by puppeteers using a special technique, perform fairytales, plays, musicals, and operas. The theater, established in 1913, is one of the oldest marionette theaters in the world, and the puppeteers’ special technique has earned it a place on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Check the website for more information on performance schedules and tickets.
How to Get to Salzburg
Salzburg is in close proximity to two international airports, Mozart Airport in Salzburg and Munich. Just a few miles from the city center, Mozart Airport is the most convenient option, however, flights to Munich are usually a lot less expensive, and Salzburg can be reached via train (1.5 – 2 hours) or by car. The Hauptbahnhof train station is in the center of town and offers a number of domestic and international connections.
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