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What to do in Salzburg for a day

So, you’re headed to Salzburg, Austria, but you only have one day? We found ourselves in that exact situation, and we packed our 24 hours in Salzburg full of all the great sites and activities this city has to offer.

No matter what you choose to do, you’re sure to have a wonderful day exploring beautiful Salzburg. Whether you want to do as much as possible in the time you have, or choose a few must-dos and leave the rest up to spontaneity, we’re here to give you all the options!

What to do in Salzburg for a day

After ten months of backpacking through Europe, our family was headed back to the United States. We were in Italy for our final long-term stay, but we found a good deal on plane tickets out of Munich. So, we headed that direction with one-day sightseeing stops in Venice, Salzburg, and Munich.

Even though we only spent one day each in Austria and Germany, it was awesome to experience two new countries on our way out of Europe. A Munich to Salzburg day trip (or Salzburg to Munich) is super doable, because the two cities are only an hour and a half train ride apart. We didn’t make it to Vienna on our trip, but Salzburg to Vienna would be another great day trip — just over two hours on the train.

Salzburg was an absolute delight. There were many things on our to-do list for the day, and we checked off almost everything!

Where to stay in Salzburg

We left Venice on a late afternoon in early July (after a lunch of amazing lasagna next to the canal), and traveled by train to Salzburg, arriving in the late evening. We walked to a&o Salzburg Hauptbahnhof hostel where we had booked a private room (one of the benefits of having a six-person family — you often fill a hostel room and therefore don’t have to share!), and got some sleep to prepare for an early morning and a day full of activities!

We were very, very impressed with the cleanliness of our room and bathroom. It was just a 5-minute walk to and from the main train station, and most of the things to do in Salzburg are within a 20-30-minute walk from the hostel.

Public transportation in Salzburg is great and easy to navigate, so if you find a deal on a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb on the city outskirts, that shouldn’t be a problem. And if you get the Salzburg Card, public transportation is free! More on that below.

In general, our advice on where to stay when taking a family gap year is that if you’re staying somewhere for more than two weeks, an Airbnb is usually the smart financial choice, and if you’re staying for two weeks or less, it’s usually better to go for a hotel or hostel.

How many days in Salzburg, Austria is enough?

Once you arrive in Salzburg, you’ll want to stay as long as you can! It was one of our favorite cities in Europe, and we wish we could have stayed longer. You can see most of the highlights in 1 day in Salzburg, but a 2 day trip to Salzburg would be ideal. You’d be able to see all of your top picks, plus have time to relax or fit in even more activities and tours.

Even though you can see most of Salzburg in a day, if you have the flexibility, stay longer! You can spread out your activities and spend plenty of time just exploring and admiring this beautiful destination.

Should I get the Salzburg Card?

The answer is yes, most definitely. Let me save you the hours I spent researching whether or not the 24 hour Salzburg Card would be a money saver. The card includes free public transportation, which will come in handy for some of the must-do activities that are a short bus ride out of the city center.

Among others, the card gives you free admission to the Untersberg Cable Car, St. Peter’s Abbey, Salzburg River Cruise, Festival Hall Guided Tour, Hellbrunn Palace & Trick Fountains, Mozart’s Birthplace, Mozart Residence, and the Salzburg Zoo. Plus, you’ll get discounts on certain walking tours, Salzburg Palace concerts, Salzburg Cathedral, Hop On Hop Off Salzburg, and lots of other venues and attractions.

If you’ll be in Salzburg for a day and planning to do a number of the activities I’ll mention below, you’ll definitely want to get the Salzburg Card for most of your family members. Kids under six won’t need one, because they get free admission to most of the venues included on the card.

How to spend one day in Salzburg

Here’s everything we did in Salzburg, starting at 6 AM when we left our hostel and going until around 8 PM when we caught our evening train out of town.

Quick tip: Even if you’re visiting in the middle of the summer, as we did, dress for cool weather! It got chilly in the morning and evening, especially up on the Untersberg!

Nonnberg Abbey / Kloster Nonnberg

This is the convent where some of the abbey scenes in The Sound of Music were filmed (and the actual abbey where Maria Von Trapp was a postulant). Visitors who know the movie will recognize the gate and the courtyard between the gate and the chapel door.

Nonnberg Abbey

Kloster Nonnberg is still an active church and convent, and the nuns gather to sing every morning around 6:45 AM (they started a little late the morning we visited, but we did get to hear them — maybe they were waiting on Maria, I hear she can be a problem).

The chapel and grounds are open to the public and free to visit. We walked right into the chapel which was the best place to hear the singing. Inside, they had a table with some religious materials and keepsakes for sale with a box to leave money if you want to take something.

Kids at The Sound of Music Abbey Gate at Nonnberg Abbey

The convent is located on a hill which offers beautiful views of Salzburg. It was the perfect start to our morning.

Mirabell Palace & Gardens / Schloss Mirabell

We headed to Mirabell Palace & Gardens next, another Sound of Music filming location with beautiful grounds to explore. The gardens were a great place for the kids to run around and get some energy out.

Also for me to force them to recreate some of the Do-Re-Mi scenes, like this picture we took by the Pegasus Fountain.

Pegasus Fountain at Mirabell Gardens

Both the palace and the gardens are free to visit, but sections may be closed for special events on certain days.

We visited Mirabell Gardens in the mid-morning which allowed us to get some great pictures without a lot of people in the background. I wish we could have gone inside Mirabell Palace as well, but we had a lot on our agenda, so we continued on!

Do-Re-Mi steps in Mirabell Gardens

Untersberg Cable Car / Untersbergbahn

Our next stop was the Untersberg Cable Car, which was about a 30-minute bus ride from Mirabell Palace. With the Salzburg Card, you get a free round-trip ride on the cable car, and it’s one of the best activities to do in Salzburg! Children under 6 are free.

Untersberg Cable Car station

You’ll enter the building and check-in for the next available ride up the mountain. Cars run every 30 minutes and it takes 8 1/2 minutes to reach the top. Be warned, the ride is a little harrowing if you’re nervous about heights!

Untersberg Cable Car

Once you get to the mountaintop, there is an observation deck and a few trails you can take for a higher view. From the observation deck, I had a moment where I was wondering what was getting in the way of the top half of my photo…ah, it was the clouds! That’s how high up we were.

View from the Untersberg in Salzburg

We had to decide whether to spend about 20 minutes or 50 minutes before catching a car back down, and since we were already a little behind our schedule, we took a few pictures, enjoyed the view, and made our way back down.

Hellbrunn Palace / Schloss Hellbrunn & Trick Fountains

On the way back toward town, we got off the bus at Hellbrunn Palace to tour the Trick Fountains. Again, we would have liked to have toured the Palace itself as well, but we were on a tight schedule!

Hellbrunn Palace

The Trick Fountains tour was another major highlight of our day. Luckily, it had warmed up a bit because we got wet!

Hellbrunn Trick Fountains

On the tour, you get a personal listening device that provides a narration in the language of your choice. It took us about two hours to get through the whole tour, and there were fun surprises all along the way.

Melody in Hellbrunn Trick Gardens

The kids loved getting splashed by the various water features, but I think they loved it even more when Mom and Dad got splashed!

While you’re there, be sure to visit the Sound of Music gazebo, which sits in the Hellbrunn Palace garden. As a little girl, I often made my dad spin me around like Liesl, so I loved getting to see the famous gazebo!

The Sound of Music gazebo in Salzburg

Hellbrunn Palace and the Trick Fountains tour are free with the Salzburg Card, and we paid 6€ for our 5-year-old’s ticket.

Also nearby is the Salzburg Zoo, which we didn’t have time for, but if you love zoos or have more than a day to spend in Salzburg, check it out!

Getreidegasse & University Square

After our busy morning, we were very hungry! So we headed to University Square where we enjoyed some sausages and giant pretzels. Grab some beer here if you’re so inclined!

Lunch in University Square
Pretzels in University Square

We went for a quick lunch so we could get back to all of our activities, but if you have more time, I recommend trying out a local brewery, preferably with a beer garden, or eat outside at a cafe if the weather permits.

In the same area, you’ll find Getreidegasse, which is a street with lots of shops and restaurants. If shopping while in Salzburg is important to you, this is the place to be. We didn’t have much time to browse, though, because we had more activities to do!

Mozart’s Birthplace / Mozarts Geburtshaus

Also on Getreidegasse, you’ll find Mozart’s Birthplace which has been turned into a museum. Not to be confused with the Mozart Residence (Mozart-Wohnhaus), another of his homes which has been turned into a museum, which is located a short walk away, across the river.

It’s not hard to find the entrance to Mozart’s Birthplace — just look for the very yellow building!

Mozart's Birthplace
Kids with LEGO Mozart at Mozart's Birthplace

Both Mozart’s Birthplace and Mozart Residence are free admission with the Salzburg Card. We didn’t have time for both, but we really enjoyed visiting Mozart’s Birthplace, especially since my husband is a musician and composer.

Mozart's piano in Mozart's Birthplace

Festival Halls Guided Tour / Festspielhäuser Führungen

One thing we were hoping to do, but ran out of time for, was the guided tour of the world-famous Salzburg Festival Halls.

On the tour, you’ll get to visit Large Festival Hall (Großes Festspielhaus), the House for Mozart (Haus für Mozart), and the Summer Riding School (Felsenreitschule), which is the hall where the Von Trapp Family sings at the end of The Sound of Music.

The tour is free with the Salzburg Card and starts at 2 PM each day. In July and August, there is also a 9 AM tour.

Mozartplatz & Residenzplatz

In German, “platz” means “place,” and locations ending in “platz” are like town squares.

In Mozartplatz, you’ll find a statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a few gift shops worth browsing if you’re in the market for some souvenirs. And all through this area you can see and admire so many examples of Baroque architecture.

Mozart statue in Salzburg

Just around the corner in Residenzplatz, you’ll find another Sound of Music filming location. You might recognize the archways and the horse fountain, both featured in the “I’ve Got Confidence” scene.

The Sound of Music Horse Fountain

If you visit in December, you’ll find the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt, one of the most amazing, traditional Christmas markets to be found in Europe. It doesn’t get more festive than that!

Salzburg Cathedral

Next to Residenzplatz, you’ll find Salzburg Cathedral, a gorgeous structure well-worth visiting. Inside, you’ll find the font where Mozart was baptized, as well as the organ he played.

Salzburg Cathedral

With our Salzburg Cards, we got a discounted entry to the Salzburg Cathedral — adults pay 3.50€ and kids up to 18 are free. You can alternately choose to pay for an audio tour or a guided tour, and the “music at lunchtime” series is 6€ for adults, free for kids.

Inside Salzburg Cathedral

Kapitelplatz Chessboard

On the other side of the Salzburg Cathedral you’ll find Kapitelplatz and a giant chessboard! Our big kids played a game, and the crowd clapped for Carter when he eventually put Vanessa in checkmate after some solid competition from her.

Chess in Kapitelplatz

This is also where we bought some Mozart chocolates as an afternoon pick-me-up!

Mozart chocolates in Salzburg

Kapitelplatz is also your starting location for the next two stops on our Salzburg tour.

Hohensalzburg Fortress / Festung Hohensalzburg & Funicular

If you are lucky enough to spend two days in Salzburg, I’d recommend visiting the Hoheensalzburg Fortress on one of your mornings so you can beat the crowds and take as much time as you want touring the various rooms and grounds of the castle.

You’ll get free admission to Hohensalzburg Fortress with the Salzburg Card, including the funicular ride up and down the hill.

Funicular to Fortress Hohensalzburg

This was another location where I would have liked to have spent more time, but our day was getting short!

St. Peter’s Abbey & Cemetary / Stift St. Peter Salzburg

Near the funicular station, you’ll find St. Peter’s Abbey & Cemetary. Entry is free and this is another place that’s lovely to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere.

St. Peter's Abbey

This wasn’t actually used in the filming of The Sound of Music, but you can see where they were inspired by St. Peter’s for the scene where the Von Trapps hide from the Nazis.

St. Peter's Cemetary

Hot tip: Try to get here before the Stiftsbäckerei (bakery) closes. I heard great things about their fresh bread, and we arrived just after they had closed!

River Salzach Cruise

We finished our day in the perfect way, with a cruise along the River Salzach!

The round-trip tour is yet another activity included on the Salzburg Card (told you it was worth it!), and we paid 7.50€ for our 5-year-old.

Salzburg river cruise
Girls on the Salzburg River Cruise

As we waited for our tour time, we walked up on the Marko-Feingold-Steg bridge, and Daniel and I finally found a place for the lock we’d been carrying around almost our entire time in Europe. After such a lovely day, and being at the very end of our European adventures, this was the perfect place for it!

Locks on bridge in Salzburg

We greatly enjoyed our relaxing boat ride, where the tour was given in both German and English, and after we disembarked, we had just enough time to walk back to our hostel and retrieve our luggage, then walk to the train station and grab some quick dinner before boarding our train to Munich.

Your map for the perfect 1 day Salzburg itinerary

This map was made with Wanderlog, a travel planner on iOS and Android

I hope you are lucky enough to get to visit Salzburg, Austria, and I hope this guide helps you plan your time there. Even though we only had one day in Salzburg, we were there long enough to learn and appreciate what a gem of a city it is. I can’t wait to visit again!

View of Salzburg from the river
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