The land of the legendary Mozart and infamous Sound of Music, Salzburg, Austria, is undeniably a marvellous music mountainside. However, during the month of December it transformed into a perfect combination of unparalleled music utopia and Christmas bliss. The crisp blow of wind, glistening season lights, carol of the bells and classic smell of mulled wine instantly elicited a smile; I realised that it was the jolliest time of the year once again.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site flowing with celebratory twinkle had a unique charm that couldn’t be replicated or matched. With its Baroque architecture, vibrantly lit-up love-lock bridge above the clear Salzach River, unchanged alleys, and passionately-curated Christmas lights, Salzburg remains an absolute beauty.
It is habitual for me to feel and immerse in the festive spirit while also exploring the city like I would in any other month. Below are my recommendations for things to do in the ‘Salt-Castle’:
- Christmas markets galore – Delicate Christmas tree ornaments, much-needed aromatic hot chocolate, traditional souvenirs: While Christmas markets have become a European tradition, the ones in Salzburg are some of the most beautiful and personalized ones around. Here, the markets offer a large variety of specialties right from food delicacies to holiday decorations.
Christkindlmarkt – The main and largest Christmas market of Salzburg (locally known as the Christkindlmarkt) dates back to the 15th century. Located in the Old Town at the Domplatz and Residenzplatz, this Cathedral square market assures an ideal merry Christmas. The idiosyncrasies of each stall make the market one of a kind: precious crystals, extravagant table sets, Austrian decorations, time spent here is never enough.
Hellbrunn Palace’s Market – Though a slighter smaller market, the location and handcrafted specialities offered here make the Christmas stalls unmissable and quite delightful. Candy canes, gingerbread, and carved nutcrackers merely provide a glimpse into the items offered here.
- Salzburg Cathedral – One of the earliest Baroque structures of its day, the Salzburg Cathedral magnificently stands time. Attracting not only locals on a daily basis but also several tourists during holiday season, the cathedral with its majestic dome and spectacular facade remains a superlative sight to behold.
- Mozart’s Birthplace – Salzburg is incomplete without Mozart and his story. His birthplace is an iconic site for music lovers as well as tourists to visit during their sojourn in the city. Situated on Getreidegasse, the rooms he worked, lived, and was born in are open for visitors. Not only the rooms, but Mozart’s first violin and letters are displayed as well.
- Mozart concert at Fortress Hohensalzburg – Attending a concert at the Hohensalzburg Fortress is an absolute must to fully soak in the musical atmosphere of the city. A recital of Mozart’s classical pieces while being seated on a hilltop overlooking the Salzburg city was everything I could’ve dreamt of. The surroundings of the fortress on a scintillating December evening is the ultimate location for submersing in classic Austrian orchestra and choir.
- Schloss Hellbrunn & the neighborhood – A palatial villa near Morzg, Schloss Hellbrunn was a coveted royal summer retreat back in the day. Open to visitors, it includes several locations spotted in the Sound of Music. Overlooking the Alps, the castle with its vast gardens and quaint neighborhood is a must visit when traversing the city.
Salzburg food delicacies that I simply fell in love with and couldn’t have enough of:
- Schnitzel – An Austrian favorite, the Wiener Schnitzel is a breaded and fried piece of meat topped with some lemon and eaten as a main dish. The crisp and crunch of the Schnitzel is wholly satisfying.
- Apple Strudel – Dating back hundreds of years, the Apple Strudel is a dessert that holds a special place in every local and now tourist’s heart. A sweet delicacy made of dough with apple, bread crumbs, butter, sugar, cinnamon, and raisin filling, this is one dish convincing me to fly back to Salzburg!
- Sacher (torte) – The Sachertorte goes back to the early 1800s and is worth all the hype! A chocolate cake layered with apricot preserves and served with whipped cream, this specialty is available in different cafes throughout Salzburg and Vienna. However, the original and most sought after Sacher is found at Hotel Sacher in Salzburg.
- Kasnocken – A savory dish curated by coating little dumplings with melted cheese and caramelized onions, Kasnocken is a dish one cannot miss!
While Salzburg is definitely the sheer right choice for spending Christmas, a vacation in West Central Austria is incomplete without a day trip to Hallstatt. A picture perfect old-world town, Hallstatt is a place straight out of a printed postcard: simply charming and awe-inspiring. With merely 800 residents, this Austrian village attracts millions of tourists year round, understandably so!
The drive from Salzburg to Hallstatt is just an hour and a half and time goes by gazing out of the window at the other small Austrian towns. I stepped down from the car several times to stand and admire the absolute dream-like locations with their rustic chalets, pristine waters, glistening sunlight and perfect arrangement of houses overlooking the snow-capped mountains.
Nestled between a lake and vast mountain range, Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and ideal for a day’s visit. The best way to explore the town is by walking through the cobbled-stone streets and touring the salt mines, taking a cable car to the skywalk and spending time admiring the panoramic view of the mesmerising place. The marketplace in the center of the town is a bustling area offering specialities and helping in honestly completing the Hallstatt experience. No matter how many words or pictures are used, the true beauty of Hallstatt cannot be captured. An idyllic village with perfect symmetry and remnants from the astounding European past, it fulfils every traveler’s desires.