Peter and I spent three days skiing in St Anton am Arlberg, and when we’d had our fill, we packed up our things, boarded a train, and arrived in the cute city of Salzburg a couple of hours later.
Salzburg is a small city with only about 140,000 residents. It’s reported that there are more tourists per capita in Salzburg than in any other city on Earth.
There are two things I especially love about Salzburg. First is its old European charm. The second is its walkability (no need for a map!).
By far, the worst thing about Salzburg (and Austria as a whole) is that smoking is allowed indoors. Due to the high percentage of smokers in Austria, smoking sections are prominent in restaurants, bars, and cafes.
The smoking section is typically located at the front of the establishment with the best seating and views. The non-smoking section, if there is one, always felt like a secondary thought as far as seating goes. Oftentimes, there are no physical barriers between the smoking and non-smoking sections.
Our clothes, jackets included, smelled like smoke all of the time. Everything had to be washed when we got home.
We spent three days in Salzburg over Christmas (December 22-25). We enjoyed our time in this festive city with the Christmas markets and holiday cheer. However, I do not recommend visiting over the Christmas holiday. More on this later.
We checked into our hotel, dropped off our stuff, and wasted no time exploring the city. Within five minutes of leaving our hotel, we found the city’s Christkindlmarkt. The Christmas market is part craft fair and part food fair.
Stalls (aka kiosks) are set up in the square in front of Salzburg Cathedral. Vendors sell everything from sausages and scary dolls to ornaments and glühwein (hot spiced wine, aka mulled wine).
Glühwein is sold in slim ceramic mugs for 3€ (+2,50€ deposit). You’re free to wander around the market with your wine; just don’t forget to return your mug when you’re finished. Easy peasy.
Prior to our trip to Salzburg, I’d tasted mulled wine in England and was not a fan.
At the time, I swore that I would never drink it again, and then came Salzburg, and my view changed slightly. Maybe it was the festive atmosphere that warmed me up, but the glühwein tasted better than the mulled wine in England. It was palatable, but I wouldn’t go much further than that.
Peter and I also tried mulled Prosecco (Italy’s version of Champagne), and it was terrible.
The market was a small area, so we took our time slowly strolling around it whilst drinking tiny mugs of wine. One of my favorite stalls was the pretzel stall. There were pretzels with butter, pretzels with Nutella, pretzels with cinnamon sugar, pizza pretzels, and regular pretzels. Pretzel heaven.
Salzburg reminded me of a mixture of Edinburgh and Prague. Hohensalzburg Castle towers over Salzburg, similar to how Edinburgh Castle towers over Edinburgh, and Salzburg’s architecture is similar to Prague’s architecture.
There are two ways to get to Hohensalzburg Castle: Hike or funicular (a rail car traveling steeply). We rode the funicular to the top, which took about 45 seconds. I wasn’t able to take a video of the ascent, but I managed to capture the descent.
We heard the “Ricola” horns as soon as we stepped out of the funicular at Hohensalzburg Castle. They were so loud, probably because they are so big!
Directly in front of the men with horns was a stall selling coffee, tea, and mulled wine and behind the men was a terrace overlooking Salzburg.
As far as castles go, Hohensalzburg Castle is probably one of my least favorite of the castles we have toured thus far; however, the views of Salzburg and the surrounding mountains are spectacular, so it’s worth a visit.
Visiting during Christmas
As mentioned above, I do not recommend visiting Salzburg over the Christmas holiday, specifically December 24-25.
Salzburg is an old-school city where shops are closed on Sundays and holidays. This means if December 24 falls on a Friday, the city will be shuttered from Friday at 2pm-ish to Monday morning. This is very problematic for tourists staying in hotels with no access to restaurants or a kitchen.
We were in Salzburg for two-and-a-half days, but due to the timing of our holiday, we were only able to experience Salzburg for half of a day (Saturday, December 22).
Below is a breakdown of our visit.
- December 22: We arrived at mid-day via train from St. Anton
- December 23: City was mostly shuttered because it was Sunday
- December 24: City was mostly shuttered because of Christmas Eve
- December 25: City was completely shuttered because of Christmas Day
On Sunday, all shops except for a small supermarket were closed, but most restaurants were open. The situation worsened on Monday (Christmas Eve) when all shops and all but a handful of the restaurants were closed.
Our hotel did not have a restaurant, and we did not have a kitchenette in our room, so we were totally reliant on restaurants for food. This was a big problem that we did not see coming.
Luckily, there was a restaurant near our hotel that closed at 3pm on Christmas Eve, so we popped in there around 2pm. We ordered double the amount of pizza we could eat in one sitting and took the leftovers to go. Our dinner that night was cold pizza and a bottle of wine with BBC’s repeat news cycle playing on the telly.
It was a depressing Christmas Eve and a hard lesson learned. We were in this fabulous festive city but not able to explore it.
We departed Salzburg on Christmas morning, vowing to return during a period when the city was actually open for business, but with all things travel, we aren’t sure if the opportunity will present itself again.