I’m not going to lie: Salzburg in winter is cold. Beautiful but cold. Magical but cold. It’s probably one of the most beautiful European cities in winter, though. Truth be told, I’ve only visited Salzburg in winter. When I studied abroad, I visited in early November and early December. In 2016, we visited Salzburg in late November. In 2018, we went in mid December. That being said, Salzburg at Christmastime is magical. Salzburg with snow is beautiful.
Salzburg in winter is probably my favorite time to be there. Salzburg does Christmas right, and while I’m certain it’s absolutely lovely in the spring (especially Mirabell gardens!), winter is my favorite time to be there. Lorelei’s post almost convinced me to go back to Salzburg for New Year’s Eve, but it was supposed to rain/snow all night, so we went to Florence instead.
Given its strategic location between two airports (SZG and MUC), Salzburg is the perfect place to begin (or end) your Austria road trip.
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Where to Stay in Salzburg:
If you’re going to travel to Salzburg in winter, I suggest you be within walking distance of the old town. I booked our accommodations in early September when the hotels in the Aldstadt seemed to be disappearing at an alarming rate. The rates were increasing, too. I chose the Goldgasse because of its proximity to Residenzplatz and the river. I booked two double rooms using a gift card we purchased from Sam’s.
The Goldgasse is on a quieter street than the Goldener Hirsch (my other Salzburg hotel pick), though street noise didn’t bother us at either hotel. Our double-paned windows opened up to Goldgasse so we could cool the room down and enjoy fresh air. (The Dyson fan works wonders, too.) Coffee, tea, and the water to make both will warm you up. The down comforters keep your warm. Other amenities include a delightfully retro mini-fridge, complimentary bottled water on arrival, and a small sitting area in (and outside) your room.
Prior to arrival, I reached out to the hotel to inquire about parking since the hotel is located in the pedestrian zone of Salzburg. They sent back instructions for the garage and walking to the hotel. These instructions proved to be very useful and extremely detailed. The hotel will give you a voucher and parking is approximately 18 euro / day, which is very reasonable considering how easy it is to get luggage from the car to the hotel. It is an easy walk.
Things to Do during the Winter in Salzburg
Take a Cooking Class
This might be the best way to warm up during the winter in Salzburg (and skip the afternoon crowds)!
We enjoyed the apple strudel and Salzburg Nockrel cooking class in 2016. You can read all about our cooking class experience in Salzburg. Eager to learn more about the Austrian tradition of vanilla kipferl, I booked an Austrian Christmas cookie (and apple strudel) class on our most recent trip. Simone was our instructor, and there were two other men in the class. We had an enjoyable morning making our own strudel (the Great Austrian Strudel Bake Off?), shaping our vanilla kipferl cookies, and enjoying a goulash lunch together. What I appreciated most about the vanilla kipferl cookies was that you could adjust the recipe using a variety of nuts. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing, however, is that you have plenty of goodies to take home for a midnight snack.
There is no more beautiful place in the morning (and the evening) than St. Peter’s cemetery. It’s probably one of the most serene places in Salzburg. I felt a world away from the Christmas markets and the bustling streets both times we visited. It’s incredible to see how they built the catacombs right into the mountains. If you time your visit right, you can visit the Stiftskeller bar (which will transport you in time) or experience the Stiftsbaeckerei (bread bakery) right outside of the cemetery. Both of those experiences should warm you right up. Fun fact: This area was used as inspiration for the Sound of Music, which we did not learn on the Sound of Music tour, but rather the Christmas market tour.
If you’re visiting Salzburg, you need to sample schnapps. You can go to Sporer or you can find Bruckmoser. Both are local options for delicious schnapps. We could never find Sporer without a crowd. When we found Bruckmoser at the Hohensalzburg Fortress christkindlmarkt, we tried all.the.schnapps. I recommend the baked apple. That’s a drink that will warm you right up on those cold nights.
Visit Hohensalzburg Fortress
Don’t be a hero. Book this ticket and take the funicular up to the top. (It’s really too slick during the winter.) Watch the sunset, listen to the music (you can hear the bells from Residenzplatz), and enjoy being in the middle of this fairytale fortress. The views over Salzburg are beautiful. You can see to the mountains on clear days, appreciate the curve of the river, and see the beautiful architecture. There is no more beautiful city than Salzburg as seen from the fortress. Every view of Salzburg looks like a winter wonderland from here.
Enjoy Austrian Cafe Culture
Is it cliche to enjoy Cafe Tomaselli? I don’t even care. It’s one of the oldest coffee houses in Austria, if not the oldest, and I am here for it. After a morning exploring St. Peter’s Cemetery in the dead of winter in Salzburg, I needed to warm up. Not only does Tomaselli have the most delicious looking cakes and pastries, but they also serve a full menu of coffee and hot chocolate. My only regret is that I didn’t think to add amaretto to my hot chocolate to keep me warm longer. Or maybe not having strudel or cake. Yes, those are regrets, too.
Take the Bus to Schloss Hellbrunn
Write down your return stop. No one could understand my German. Rathaus – how hard could it be? Too hard for me, apparently. It’s an easy ride out to Schloss Hellbrunn. The Christmas market is free except on the weekends, when it costs 5 euro. We went on a Friday night, and it was very busy and very cozy. There was plenty of music, warm lights, gluwein, and beautiful Christmas decor. I wish we had gotten out there earlier so we could enjoy the gardens. Everything is lit up beautifully though.
(This picture is proof I don’t take myself too seriously.)
Go to Mozart’s Birth House (Geburtshaus)
Everywhere you go in Austria, Mozart was there. Mozart residence here, Mozart residence there, Mozart residence everywhere. He was born in Salzburg. If you want to see where he was born, there’s a museum. Admittedly, I found it a little dry, but birth houses don’t really get me going. (A lot of the material is in German and I’ve already addressed my (lack of) German skills. If you want to warm up (and be able to answer the Mozart questions), this is a nice diversion.
Where to Eat in Salzburg
Vegan / Vegetarian Options
While Tom and I don’t have any specific dietary considerations, I know that there are many travelers that do. In those cases, I’m always happy to share information about restaurants that might fit those requirements. In this case, I’m happy to share Alysa’s guide to vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Salzburg. Spoiler alert: I’m definitely adding at least two of her recommendations to my list for next time!
Zum Zirkelwirt or Gasthof Wilden Mann
If you want to try traditional Austrian food and decor, these are two of our favorites. Believe it or not, even during the winter, we had a hard time getting a seat at either! My mom gives an edge to Zum Zirkelwirt for their cordon bleu. I thought it was a dead tie for the schnitzel. I thought the crowd was a little more subdued at Wilder Mann (though I did get my first “Bon appetite” moment)! Tom was happy to try the Austrian beers and enjoyed those the most.
Burgerista or Walter’s Balkan Grille
Meals on the go aren’t always easy in Europe. Salzburg has a few options though. You can grab a sausage from Walter’s Balkan Grill (which is actually a sausage stand) and continue on your way. (Warning: the paprika might stain your white coat.) You can also pop by Burgerista and enjoy a hamburger. Despite its fast food look and feel, the burgers and fries are deliciously fresh. (We enjoyed our Salzburg burger more than our Nuremburg burger… but that might have been because I was disappointed that we weren’t enjoying local specialities.)
Old Market Square
Burgers and sausage not your thing? Lucky for you, there is an abundance of market options within the aldstadt. Fun fact: The first “real” pretzel I ever had was in Salzburg. Even more fun fact: The same pretzel stand is still there and it’s been 14 years since that fateful morning in November!
SIDE NOTE: Where is the Original #1 Bretzelstand? I’ve been looking for him for… 14 years. I’m beginning to think he’s seasonal.
Anyway, you can purchase meats, cheeses, pretzels, fruits, and veggies in the Old Market Square. (You can also get a sausage from Imbiss, but we were too early for that on our last day. Sad.
Pizzeria il Sole
I have a friend who leads river tours through Salzburg (and Germany). He plugged me into Il Sole and we went on our last trip. If you’re tried of Austrian food, Il Sole is pretty decent Italian. It’s also cheap Italian, which is even better. I’ve only visited in the winter, but it’s always warm and cozy. If you’re staying on Getreidegasse, it’s a great way to escape the crowds and enjoy a meal. (This was a lifesaver on a cold and rainy night from the Goldener Hirsch.)
Christmas in Salzburg
This really deserves its own post so you’ll find more about the Salzburg Christmas markets on my blog. I LOVE the Salzburg Christmas Markets. We started our trip by taking this tour with Mikayla this year, and it was a great introduction to the city. I don’t know that we would have found St. Peter’s Cemetery on our own. (I’m generally not a crypt person.) Further, we learned about the history of Silent Night and the rotating Nativity scene in the Salzburg Cathedral (what a tremendous amount of work!) and a lot more about the Austrian traditions and heritage. It’s a really great introduction to the city, but if you’ve been a few times, you will still learn a lot. (Bonus: The tour includes some of the famous Christmas market treats and mulled wine!)
The other Christmas tour that gives you a special look at Salzburg in winter is this day trip to the Salzkammergut. It leaves from near Mirabell Palace, so you have an excuse to head across the Salzach river, too. It visits some of the smaller villages in the lake district around Salzburg. I actually hoped that we would be able to stop in towns like these when we drove from Salzburg to Vienna but the highway bypasses all the beauty.
2021 Salzburg Christmas Market Dates
- 11/18/2021 – 12/26/2021 – Salzburg Christkindlmarkt at Residenzplatz & Domplatz
- 11/18/2021 – 12/24/2021 – Hellbrunn Schloss Christmas Market
- 11/18/2021 – 12/24/2021 – Mirabellplatz Christmas Market
- 11/26/2021 – 12/19/2021 – Hohensalzburg Fortress Christmas Market
- 11/19/2021 – 12/31/2021 – St. Wolfgang Christmas Market (Salzkammergut)
- 11/19/2021 – 12/31/2021 – St. Gilgen Christmas Market (Salzkammergut)
- 11/19/2021 – 12/31/2021 – Strobl Christmas Market (Salzkammergut)
- 11/18/2021 – 01/06/2022 – Stern Advent Market
- December Weekends – Franziskischlössl Christmas Market