7 mins

7 things to do for free in Salzburg

Don't be fooled by Salzburg's regal architecture, says Holly Gurr, there are plenty of things to do for free in this glorious Austrian city

Salzburg's Mirabell Gardens (image: dreamstime_30533692)

1. Marvellous views

Sitting high atop the Mönchsberg cliffs, Hohensalzburg fortress seems the immediate and most likely option for a magnificent view over the city – but it is not the best Salzburg has to offer.

Less than a kilometre away through Mönchsberg's forest is Winkler Terrace, a slightly lower, yet more intricate view of the city. The dominating fortress, the River Salzach, and the castle itself are all picturesquely backed by the Austrian Alps. A clear blue sky provides the city with a stark boldness and shine – and is guaranteed to take the breath of any visitor.

Though for a small price (€3.60) one can take an elevator up to the terrace, a short hike up to this spot is priceless in more ways than one.

2. Take a trip back in time

As the hub of the city, Salzburg's Old Town offers plenty to those wanting to soak up the city's beauty and elegance. The baroque fountain in Residence Square will routinely see each visitor take a multitude of photographs in order to appease their awe, while the neighbouring green copper spires and dome of Salzburg Cathedral are something to be marvelled from all angles.

Each striking structure is interconnected by shopping streets. As a mixture of small outlets selling tourist trinkets and upmarket boutiques, there is generally something for everybody. If you're looking to save every cent, their finely decorated exteriors are equally worthy of a scrutinising glance.

The exteriors are only half the story. The Cathedral's cavernous inside suffers no plainness as every space from floor to ceiling is elaborately decorated with biblical reference. From here, St Peter's catacomb's are located down a narrow side-street where a simple gated archway gives entrance to a humble yet lovingly tendered resting

3. Mirabell Gardens

Like tens of thousands of others, an avid Sound of Music fan may walk through the statue-guarded entrance of Salzburg's Mirabell Gardens with visions of Julie Andrews and children running gleefully through its decorative paths. This free attraction, however, is something that appeals to more than just a musicals fanatic.

Although a large, simplistic water fountain serves as its main feature, the true beauty of the gardens is a culmination of proudly kept lawns and hedges, parades of vibrant flowers, and an abundance of doting renaissance statues are a sight to behold and the top spot to take a stroll.

4. Salzburg Festival

Summer is a perfect time to see all the sights of the city, but this season offers much more than plenty of photo opportunities. From 19th July to 1st September the city is swathed in a celebration of Austria's cultural history as well as opera, drama and concerts, otherwise known as the Salzburg Festival.

Of course, witnessing an opera whose greatness is matched by the interior design of the city's theatres (we recommend Felsenspiele in the Old Town) would be a fantastic experience, but for those on a budget, somewhat infeasible. Becoming truly immersed in the cultural festivities are quite the opposite, as the 'Free Festival' is a now firm fixture of Salzburg Festival to ensure the arts are accessible to all.

In Kapitelplatz, one of the main squares of Salzburg's Old Town, a large screen and high-tech sound system is set up to broadcast a different opera or concert for every day of the festival. With seating provided and tickets and bookings not required, around 2,000 people gather every evening at 8.00pm to watch the drama unfold in the square. 

5. Peruse the city markets

With both weekly and seasonal markets, this Austrian city has plenty to offer to the keen browser throughout the year.

On Thursdays, the Shranne market for hobby cooks is hosted in front of St Andrews church, while Friday's organic food market brings an array of fresh local produce and has become a long-standing institution in the Old Town's Kajetanerplatz. From Monday to Saturday, the Green Market offers fresh fruit and veg, local delicacies, meats, cheese, bread and pastries. All come with a risk of failure to resist temptation!

If it's cultural trinkets that steal your curiosity, the 'Sunny Summer Sale' in Kapitelplatz is a staple from July to September alongside the Salzachgalerien, whose markets stalls line the river.

In recompense for the bitter, though beguiling, Austrian winter, November and December bring the sparkling Christmas markets, while the out-of-centre Castle Hellbrunn welcomes the public to its own market on the picturesque grounds.

The Rupertikirtag (Ruperti Fair) – a smaller Oktoberfest of sorts – is held in the Autumn and the winegrowers' market in spring ensure that perusal by season is available to any visitor.

6. Explore castle grounds

Though certainly not the most recognised castle of Salzburg, Hellbrunn Castle (Schloss Hellbrun) is perhaps the spot of its kind that is most worth a visit. Located three miles out of the city centre, Hellbrunn is a 17th century palatial villa of the early baroque style that served as a day residence to the ruling archbishop some 400 years ago.

Its high, dark yellow walls, largely shaded by trees, provide it with a secretive and reclusive appearance, but this is soon fragmented by the crowds that gather to visit daily. Explore the majestic scenery in the grounds, where you'll struggle to imagine anything but tales of nobility and romance – and without admission.

With Hellbrunn mountain as an ever generous source, water is a main feature of the expansive grounds, and so a structured lake is bordered with with lush lawns and guarded by rows of symbolic and historical statues. A perfect place for a picnic on days away from the city!

The grandeur that is so integral at Hellbrunn is extended to its interior, although an admission is charged (Adults €10.50, Children €5), it is well worth a visit.

The Castle is closed between November and March, with opening hours extended through the summer. Find out more here.

7. Get in tune with Mozart

A few simple steps into Salzburg is all that is needed to realise its most integral attribute – the city is abuzz with Mozart. As a mixture of tourist traps and celebration of the icon, window displays, market vendors, street performers, and the like are dominated with unmistakeable red coats and white wigs in tribute to the Salzburg native. 

Mozart's birthplace (Mozart's Gebursthaus), located on the Old Town's busiest shopping street, Getreidegasse, is just as recognisable from its bright yellow paint as it is the semi-permanent crowd of camera-clutching admirers gathered outside. Though an admission (Adults €10, Children €3.50) is charged to enter the house and exhibit, it is nonetheless a sight to regard for those on a budget.

Across the bridge, and just a few metres shy from the Mirabell Gardens, is Mozart's residence. Though not quite as decorated as his place of birth and with the same admission required, it is a must-do pilgrimage site for those with a penchant for classical music.

With their tours and museum exhibits included, both sites are open to the public all year round with times varying through the seasons.

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