Salzburg has an identity crisis.
But if there was an endearing quality about a place that didn’t know who it was, this city has it. Modern concrete is mixed with the oldest stones on the continent; young and elderly residents meander the oldest alleys in Europe together; the alps are dwarfed by the 1000-year-old Hohensalzburg Castle. All of these dichotomies allow ones imagination to twist while still enjoying a modern urban culture.
As aforementioned, castles and fortresses are everywhere. Hohensalzburg Castle’s dominance over the city is daunting, and if you’re a citizen of Salzburg, it’s free to visit (roughly four Euro if you’re a visitor). The sheer mass of this place and its deliberate placement overlooking the river and downtown make it the nose on Salzburg’s vast face. There are terraces to view the city and surrounding peaks, and each room of the castle is now dedicated to various museum themes. Military history is a big theme inside.
From the lookout at Hosensalzburg Castle in Salzburg, Austria.
As made famous by the film The Sound of Music, Hellbrunn Palace sits relatively close to the city center. From Salzburg Süd, a simple 45-minute walk down one of Europe’s oldest alleys will bring you to its front gates. You have to walk down a long driveway, passing stables-turned-garages and ornate iron gates before you arrive at the main attractions. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what to expect — the vast garden and various pool fountains lie next to the bright yellow house, and the caretakers have kept the iconic gazebo from the movie in great condition.
Hellbrunn Palace in Salzburg was made famous by the film "The Sound of Music."
Finally, the gardens at Mirabel Castle on a Sunday afternoon are stunning in simplicity. Immediately downtown, less than a 15-minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof train and bus station, when one enters the gardens all other elements of the confident, modern surroundings are forgotten. The gardens are lined by statues of gods and goddesses, and on a day focused on family and relaxation (nothing is open on Sundays in Salzburg), they are filled with children and old couples alike.
Two TV celebrities walk through the gates of Mirabel Castle in downtown Salzburg.
For its nightlife, Salzburg emphasizes its own calm demeanor.
O’Malley’s and Shamrock Irish Pubs consistently house university students and locals for a night of Austrian beer drinking, though on Saturday nights, it’s difficult to find a place to stand without spilling your drink or burning your neighbor with a cigarette. On certain evenings, Shamrock has live cover bands playing American and European rock hits, though their ‘V’s often sound like ‘W’s — the accent makes bad songs humorous.
The Augustiner, as it’s referred to by local college students, is one of Europe’s oldest breweries. Many students claim it was started and still exists on beer brewed by monks. It’s a simple formula for good fun; choose a half-liter or liter glass, walk to the keg, pay, fill and drink. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a castle’s beer hall, with long, heavy wooden tables and benches. They, however, close at 11 p.m., so get there early.
A local bar near the Internationale Kolleg dorms in Salzburg Süd is also an interesting composition among European-style bars. The chic urban artwork in Heinz Music Bar and Cafe clash contrastingly against the older clientele, but its proximity to the university and special 1,90 euro-per-beer for students make it popular with the younger crowd, too. They are open quite late, and is a great place to have conversation and finish a night.
My friend Jack hosted me in his dorm, and I realized that much of the people in Salzburg are as kind as midwesterners. I don’t speak a lick of German, so I needed help with directions constantly; I had no discomfort asking a stranger at the bus stop or train station.
Jack Minich, a junior at UVM studying in Austria and Salzburg aficionado extraordinaire.
The stark difference between the old and new was insanely evident everywhere I went, and made me realize how little culture much of the U.S. has in history. Just walking down a popular bike path toward Hellbrunn Castle, Jack noted that this happened to be the oldest ally in Europe. He said that less than an hour away were celtic ruins thousands of years old. Much of these instances were completely untouched by tourism, and felt natural and normal.
On the way to Hellbrunn, it would be easy to miss the fact that this road is one of Europe's oldest alleyways.
Thanks for the hospitality to Jack and all of his friends, and to the city of Salzburg. Hopefully I’ll come back to explore some of your more hidden secrets.