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Basics - Getting There - Getting Around - Where To Stay
Where To Get Drunk - Things To See

Salzburg at night

Basics

Salzburg is Austria's fourth largest city, and its second most visited after Vienna. A city has stood here since pre-Roman times, but Salzburg reached the height of its influence in the 16th and 17th centuries as an independent city-state under the rule of its Prince-Archbishops, and funded by profits from the salt trade (its name in German is literally "salt town"). Salzburg's influence waned in the 18th century, although every cloud has a silver lining and in Salzburg's case it was that many of the city's old buildings weren't destroyed in the name of "progress". As a result Salzburg boasts a well preserved Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage sight, looking pretty much as it would have 300 years ago (only without the Japanese tourists), and its most impressive and visible monument, Hohensalzburg Castle. At the end of the Napoleonic wars Salzburg was incorporated into Austria, where it has stayed ever since.

Salzburg is also a city of music, from the sublime (Mozart was born here in 1756) to the ridiculous (the Sound of Music was filmed here).

Salzburg is close enough to the UK that you can get there and see most of the major sites in a weekend, but it has enough charm and depth that you could easily stay here for much longer and not get bored.

Getting There

Salzburg's airport is small, but efficiently run (naturally); the descent into the airport is particularly impressive as you come flying in through the mountains (hopefully with more success than Buddy Holly).

From the UK there are several direct flights daily from and to Stansted Airport on RyanAir. The flight time is about 1 hour 20 minutes to Salzburg, slightly longer on the way back due to prevailing winds. RyanAir have attracted some negative publicity, mainly from whingeing bastards who seem to think that they should get the same standard as service as they do on other airlines for a quarter of the price. I've flown several times on RyanAir and have never had a problem with them, I've never had any delays longer than I've had on any other airlines, and let's face it, for a flight of less than 2 hours does it really make that much difference that you don't get served up a plastic tray full of reheated inedible mush? Anyway, rant over. We got our tickets through a one of RyanAir's regular promotions (I recommend you sign up to their mailing list; they don't bombard you with spam but you do get first notification of cheap flights when they have special offers) and the return tickets (including taxes) set us back a grand total of 27 each, an absolute bargain, especially as we made our weight advantage count and barged on to the plane to get exit seats on both flights. The usual fare on RyanAir is about 30 each way, plus taxes, which still represents good value for money.

The only other direct scheduled flight between Salzburg and the UK is a twice-weekly service to East Midlands on BMIBaby, although you can fly into Vienna from any major UK airport and connect from there, but this will not be cheap. Other international destinations served by Salzburg airport are Amsterdam, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Paris, and Zurich. On the domestic front there are up to 4 flights daily to and from Vienna and Linz.

Getting to Salzburg by train isn't especially difficult as Salzburg is well connected to the rest of Austria, and also to Germany (it's only about 10 miles to the German border, and Munich is only 60 miles northwest); there are also direct international services to France, Switzerland, Italy, and even down to Hungary and through the Balkans (including Ljubljana). By train it takes about 3 hours to or from Vienna, via Linz. From Vienna you can get a connecting train to pretty much anywhere in Europe or Asia, eventually. Trains to Munich take a couple of hours. For both of these destinations there should be at least one train every hour. As you'd expect, Austrian trains are quick and efficient.

If you want to go by coach (it's about 22 hours from the UK, but the scenery would be nice) there are Eurolines services from London Victoria via Stuttgart (the return, for some reason, is via Munich instead), but they seem to be only on Mondays and Fridays; the adult return fare I was quoted was 96. It might be easier (and cheaper) to get the coach to Munich and travel from there (direct coaches to Munich take just under 20 hours, with apex returns from 69). Coaches to Vienna take longer, cost more, and leave you further away from Salzburg than coaches to Munich.

Getting Around

The Salzach river, with the cliffs of the Monchsberg

Salzburg's magnificent setting, hemmed in on all sides by hills and mountains, has determined the city's development and layout. The Salzach River flows southeast to north west through the city. Hohensalzburg Castle, which dominates the city centre, stands on a steep hill (Monchsberg) on the south side of the river. Nestled between the castle and the river is Salzburg's Old Town (Alstadt). The Old Town forms roughly a semicircle about a kilometre long but no more than half a kilometre across at it's widest point. The Old Town is made up of a collection of square, most of which have a church on them, connected by narrow streets and alleys. If the Old Town has a main road it's probably Getriedegasse, home to many shops and restaurants. Salzburg Cathedral (Dom) is pretty much in the centre of the Old Town

Getriedegasse, in the Old Town

On the opposite side of the river the vast Capucin Hill (Kapuzinerberg) has acted as a barrier to the city's growth, and remains almost entirely undeveloped. It's on this side of the river, north of Kapuzinerberg, that you'll find Salzburg's modern commercial district, as well as the railway station (Hauptbahnhof) which is more or less a mile due north of the Old Town; from the Staatsbrucke bridge head north up Rainerstrasse; we managed it in about 15 minutes, carrying luggage. The main bus terminus is helpfully located opposite the railway station. The airport is only a couple of miles west of the city centre, and is actually surrounded by the city's suburbs. Getting into the city is easy enough; there's a bus stop right outside the airport, and the regular 77 bus costs 1.70 euro and will get you into the city centre (it terminates by the railway station) in about 20 minutes. A taxi back to the airport cost us 12 euros.

Getting your bearings in central Salzburg is pretty easy as no matter where you are it's almost impossible to escape from the castle looming above you. At night they make things even easier by lighting it up.

Getting around Salzburg is pretty straightforward; you'll probably spend most of your time in and around the Old Town, and as that's very compact and mostly pedestrianised, the best (and in many places only) way to get around is on foot. Fear not, although Salzburg is surrounded by mountains, the streets of the Old Town are mostly fairly flat so you shouldn't have to expend too much effort (until you decide to climb up to the castle anyway) and even if you do there are plenty of bars in the Old Town where you can recharge your batteries.

For slightly longer journeys (such as to the airport, or Schloss Hellbrunn) Salzburg boasts a public transport system that's run with the expected Teutonic efficiency. There's a mixture of normal buses and trolley-buses (they look exactly the same, except the trolley-bus runs on wires and has one of those electrical connector things on the roof). You can buy a ticket from the driver but there are ticket machines at every stop and happily the machines have instructions in both German and English (at least the one we saw at the airport did). You can also buy tickets from kiosks and tourist and transport offices. A wide variety of tickets are available, from single journeys (it costs a bit more if you're going out to the airport), to day or multiple day passes. Remember that if you've bought your ticket in advance you'll need to validate it when you get on the bus by having it stamped in the ticket machine. You can also get a Salzburg card, valid for one to three days which gets you unlimited public transport but also includes entry to several museums.

Where To Stay

As you'd expect in a major tourist city, Salzburg has the full range of hotels, from the luxurious (and expensive) like the Bristol on Makartplatz, through to a collection of slightly more down-market places close to the train station. The big chains (Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Renaissance) are here too, as are youth hostels. Basically, no matter what your budget there's something for you. In the main tourist season hotels tend to fill up quickly so booking in advance is probably a good idea. We went in February when things were pretty quite, you could probably try haggling down the cost of a room.

Kulthotel Stein

We stayed in the Kulthotel Stein, which we booked through www.inthotels.com , and I recommend this place very highly. For a start, the location is ideal, on Giselkai, right on the north bank of the river next to the Staats Brucke, which means that it's less than a minute's walk from the Old Town. The hotel has friendly English-speaking staff, an atmospheric lobby, complete with free internet access (a couple of i-Macs in the lobby itself, so trawling through porn might not be the height of good manners), although sadly no bar. The rooms have all been done up recently in a sort of minimalist style, and they've all been decorated individually (well, the two rooms that I saw were completely different at least). Our room had a cavernous bathroom (excellent shower), TV (including CNN but no BBC or porn), and a fridge (sadly empty). Our friends' room was smaller but had a carving on the ceiling and a full length mirror along one wall. They were relieved that the mirror and carving weren't the other way round.... All rooms seem to have very comfortable beds, at least going by the amount of time that my idle, light-weight companions spent in theirs. For one reason or another I never made it down for breakfast, but I'm told it was a standard, continental, help-yourself to bread, cheese and cold meats type of affair. Best of all were the views, out over the river, Old Town, and Castle. I think that in high-season you have to pay extra for a room with an Old Town view, but it would seem that in February they hand them out for free.

view from our room in the Kulthotel Stein.

The total cost worked out at less than 50 a night for a double room, which I think represented a real bargain. The Hotel has its own website.

Where To Get Drunk

You will not starve in Salzburg. There's a wide variety of restaurants, covering not only traditional Austrian food; international cuisine such as Chinese, Indian, and Mexican are also widely available. Pizza and pasta is also very popular. And despite being a major tourist eating out (and drinking) in Salzburg is not expensive as you might think, in fact we found it considerably cheaper than London.

Sternbrau is off Getreidegasse, hidden away from the street itself (but with an impressive wrought iron sign marking which alleyway you have to go down to get to it). As far as we could work out Sternbrau is made up of more than one restaurant in the same building, and they all have different menus, so make sure you're in the right bit. The decoration, with historic looking oil paintings, is a bit formal but the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. The food is mostly Austrian, my pork was good but my seedy companion's steak looked much more impressive. The ice cream was excellent, and it was here that we had our first encounter with a Salzburger Nockerln, a kind of huge, sweet, eggy souffle. Three courses and several beers for 4 people came to less than 70.

Also on Getreidegasse is S'Herzl, which is actually in the Hotel Goldener Hirsch (at number 37). The food is similar to Sternbrau; I went for the ghoulash (which, for that authentic Austrian touch, came with dumplings), my chimp-featured friend ended up with a huge plate of different forms of pork. Given its location this place is good value for money (even after they charged us extra for the basket of bread they put on our table without us asking for it). It has the advantage of having waitresses dressed up as peasant girls. Grrrrr!

Probably the best meal we had in Salzburg was at the strangely named St Paul's Stub'n (at Herrengasse 16, a quiet little street between the cathedral and castle). It's a pretty small place on the first floor, with a laid-back sort of studenty atmosphere. The menu was in German only, but we managed to sort of work parts of it out and ended up with pretty much what we'd been expecting. Two of us had pork medallions in a cognac and pepper corn sauce which was sensational and came with green beans wrapped in bacon and a roasted shallot (or it may have been an onion, not there's really a difference). The other two had giant scampi on rice with some other bits and pieces, I was too busy scoffing mine to pay any more attention to what they had. That's all that we could work out on the menu, although other meals were on there too. I suppose the waiter would have told us what was what if we'd asked, but it seemed rude. The chocolate pudding in chocolate sauce (you can never have too much chocolate on your plate) was good too, and the draft beer they had was excellent. St Paul's Stub'n, despite it's stupid name, German menu, and slightly out of the way location (all of about 10 minutes walk from our hotel!) is well worth a visit.

I was attracted to the restaurant in the Hotel Elefant (Sigmund Haffner Gasse 4) because they had black pudding available not only as two separate starters but as a main course as well. Sadly it would appear that nobody has yet figured out how to turn this wonder-food into a desert. Inside, once you get past the elephant fixation (there's a big wooden one as you walk in, and the buggers are everywhere after that, on plates, salt shakers, everything apart from the menu), there's a really friendly atmosphere, the owner was on hand to greet and chat to guests (I assume he was the owner, he may just have been a nutter). Anyway I sampled one of the black pudding starters (grilled, sliced not whole unfortunately, with gnocchi and cabbage) and then had the lamb shank with semolina dumplings and more cabbage for the main course, and both were gorgeous. Everyone else seemed impressed by their food too, the pike-perch being particularly recommended. For desert 3 of us tackled a giant Salzburger Knockerln, which was gorgeous but which defeated us and for one of the few times in my life I left my pudding unfinished. This was the most expensive meal we had in Salzburg, but considering everyone had 3 courses, the servings were big, and we also knocked back a bottle of wine and lots of beer it certainly wasn't unreasonable. Especially recommended for those with a pachyderm fetish.

If you're in the mood for something cheap and fast you could do a lot worse than try Nordsee (Getreidegasse 11 and 27; Nordsee is a fast food chain so there's more than one). As it's name might suggest they serve fish and sea food. The food is dished out in what resembles a school cafeteria, you pay for it at the till and then pick a table. Actually the grub was very good, 3 of us went for the paella which was excellent, and very cheap. They do draft beer as well, a touch of class. McDonalds is just over the road, God knows how it stays in business (unless you can get a McBeer there too).

The late night rambler in search of post-alcohol munchies might be a little disappointed. On first impression all looks promising, with several kebab shops dotted around (there are a couple on Linzer Gasse), however in defiance of convention they all seem to close around midnight. Your best bet might be a food van than sets up on Giselkai next to the Hotel Stein. He seems to be there throughout the night and offers sausages and beer, among other things.

OK then, onto booze. Finding a bar in Salzburg of an evening can be a strange experience. During the day you seem to pass them everywhere, but they seem to disappear when it gets dark, and we spent several hours trawling through vast areas of the city with not a bar in sight (unless they turned off the lights and told everyone to keep quiet when they saw us coming). After wasting these several hours of precious drinking time we discovered that there were 5 or 6 decent bars within 5 minutes walk of our hotel that stayed open late. Opening hours in Salzburg seem a bit arbitrary; many places are closed before midnight, others are still going strong after 3am. Most of the late night bars we found were along the river, either on Giselkai or on Rudolfskai on the opposite bank.

We spent a lot of time in the Schnaitl Pub (Bergstrasse 5), which reminded me of a Students Union bar. The beer was excellent, the service friendly if a little slow (the first night we went in there there was a party for one of the bar staff, so one poor barman was getting rushed off his feet behind the bar; to make up for taking so long over our drinks - about 10 minutes - he gave us all a free shot of vodka). Other attractions include a pool table, an electronic darts game, table football (the Scotsman and I won), videos of The Simpsons projected on the walls, and decent music. A definite minus is the mens toilet which was flooded with a couple of inches of piss whenever we were in, and that was from before we'd arrived. Maybe that's why it reminds me of a Student Union bar. Opening hours seem to vary, once we stayed in until after 1am, once we tried going in at midnight and it was closing. Still, a good bar, as long as you have waterproof footwear.

Pretty much the opposite of the Schnaitl Pub was Shrimp's at Steingasse 5, less than 2 minutes stagger from our hotel. It's very small, but has a classy sort of artistic, refined atmposhere, complete with modern art themed decor. Not the kind of place I'd usually go for, but it was a very pleasant place to chill out, and waitress service saves wear and tear on the legs. Quiet music encourages intelligent, stimulating conversation, or not, depending on your companions. They do food in here which looks pretty good too, although we stuck to a liquid diet. Grrrrr!

The Daimler bar on Giselkai (just along from the Hotel Stein) is a perfectly pleasant place. They have comfy chairs, a welcoming atmosphere (aided by having the world's campest barman), decent music (not too loud, and you can hear the words, in the opinion of my seedy old friend) and a good range of beers. Nothing outstanding about it, but I quite liked the place. It stays open pretty late, and is a good place to mellow out and have a quiet beer or four while you're mentally preparing yourself for the more racous establishments across the river, or recover your energies if you've just come from that direction.

If the bars on the Giselkai side of the river are a little more refined, the seamier side of life is to be found on the Rudlofskai side. Bars on this side seem to stay open later, and are a bit livelier, at least the two that we went in were.

Shamrock's Irish Pub is at Rudolfskai 10. Ordinarily I try to avoid drinking in Irish pubs (unless I'm actually in Ireland, of course) but seeing as though this is one of the last bars in Salzburg to close I was prepared to make an exception. It's not exactly a theme-pub hell either; although you can get Irish beer on draft (including Guinness) and wide selection of Irish whiskeys they have a good range of Austrian beer too. The disco slips in the odd Pogues song but apart from that the music was pretty mainstream. The decor was a bit shamrock-tinged though. The pub extends back quite a way from the river, and right at the back you'll find a medieval brick-vaulted cellar. If you can't be bothered forcing your way to the bar there's waiter/waitress service too. Opening hours are pretty late by Salzburg standards; the first night we came in the pub closed down at 3.30, the second night though it closed at 1.30, although I think that that was as a result of brief but spectacularly vicious fight that erupted between a couple of Austrians and a pot-bellied Vietnamese chap. All in all not a bad place for an Irish pub, but I'm not going to make a habit of it.

Slap sod bang next door to the Shamrock Pub you'll find Roses (in fact, you can go through the same door to enter both bars). It's a pretty small place, and its appearance sort of reminded me of a 1980s London yuppie wine-bar (not that I ever went in any of those). The ceiling, a grid of dozens of artificial flowers (roses, I presume) is just bizarre. It probably gets livelier as the night goes on, so perhaps I'm doing it a disservice, but it was there wasn't really too much of an atmosphere when we were in, but that was probably just us. Reasons to go in here include decent, cheap beer, enlightened opening hours (both times we got slung out of the Shamrock this place was still going strong) and, best of all, if you're lucky you'll find the barman who is the spitting image of Dr. Evil. Not really a place worth actively seeking out, but if you're passing and you're thirsty it's perfectly serviceable.

Basics - Getting There - Getting Around - Where To Stay
Where To Get Drunk - Things To See

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