Lifestyle & Culture

Harmonious Salzburg: Mozart, Maria and the ‘Sound of Music’ in a movie-set city

Salzburg is Austria’s fourth largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its Baroque architecture, being the birthplace and home of that child genius Mozart and of course the ubiquitous movie, “The Sound of Music.”

Whether you like to hum along to “Do a Deer” from “The Sound Of Music,” or strive to compete with the soloist in Mozart’s “Queen of The Night” aria from “The Magic Flute,” Salzburg has you singing as you stroll around the streets of the city.

The city was home to Joseph Haydn’s brother Michael, who wrote many choral pieces during his 43 years here, and Josef Mohr, writer of the lyrics for “Silent Night” was born here.

Mozart aficionados rub shoulders with enthusiastic Maria von Trapp wannabes giving the city a sense of melodious joyfulness, and music seems to ring from the very streets.

Continuing on the musical theme we have….

Allegro (lively and fast)

The most famous shopping street, Getreidegasse, is a delight for those who love both shopping and window-shopping, with stores ranging from expensive boutiques to chain stores.

The historic pedestrian street was a major road into the city since the Roman times and popular with breweries, merchants and the wealthy. It is still lined with beautiful ornamental store signs, advertising the commodities of each business and you can’t fail to be charmed by the stores selling dirndls and lederhosen.

As you saunter along the street make sure to wander up and down the medieval tunnels linking Universitätsplatz to Getreidegasse. They have hidden delights.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s parents lived on this street when he was born and the apartment, ironically now above a supermarket, is a magnet for tourists.

Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse is an adjoining street full of luxury boutiques.

Andante (at a walking pace)

The historic centre has a delightful abundance of historic buildings, churches and museums.

The Residenz is a Baroque palace and the official home of Salzburg’s Prince Bishops. It is one of the most impressive buildings in the historic centre and the extravagant rooms now contain an impressive gallery of art works.

Opposite is the Neue Residenze, which now is home to the Salzburg Panorama (a circular painting of the town in the 1800’s), the Carillon and its musical 35 bells, and the Salzburg museum, which explains the city’s history.

Close by is the Kapitalplatz where you can find stalls with tourist gifts, and an old waterwheel and canal system that once helped to provide power to the medieval city, the water being used to flush the streets each week keeping the city plague-free.

The Festival Hall, built in the 1920’s, hosts the annual global musical and drama event and was featured in the movie, “Sound of Music” (Captain von Trapp sang Edelweiss here). To my mind not an attractive building but the festival is renowned for its quality and people from around the world flock here each summer to see international stars perform.

The Saturday market in the Universitätsplatz is well worth a visit, with stalls selling delicious local produce.

Mirabell Gardens, the biggest draw for any Sound Of Music fan who is bursting with the need to sing “Do a Deer” is on the opposite bank of the river. The free gardens were created in 1730 and a wonderful place to wander, with a view of the intimidating castle in the background.

It was here in the movie that Maria danced with the children around the fountain and up the steps and you are guaranteed to find some fans singing or dancing, in a vain attempt to recreate their favorite scene.


Yes, I admit it…. I was one of those fans!

Sotto voce (In an undertone or quietly)


There are so many churches and monasteries in Salzburg it is known as “Rome of the North.” On a Sunday the city literally reverberates with bells.

Salzburg’s Dom Cathedral, next to the Residenz, was consecrated in 1628, although there were older cathedrals here. It is a majestic building and narrowly escaped destruction in WWII when an American bomb wrecked the 71-metre-high dome.

The interior is full of elaborate stucco cherubs and ornate paintings, and if you stand quietly, you can almost hear Mozart playing the organ as he did for two years as organist.

St. Peter’s Cemetery is well worth a visit. This small, peaceful garden-like cemetery is sheltered beneath the rock wall of the Mönchberg, one of the mountains surrounding the city. The grave markers here are intricate ironwork and this well maintained spot, just a few steps away from the tourist’s hustle and bustle, provides a peaceful corner.

Other churches are the Franziskanerkirche, St. Peters Church and Abbey, the Capuchin Abbey, Trinity Church in the new town and Nonnberg Abbey, which is considered to be the oldest nunnery in the world and where Maria (SOM) was, in reality, a teacher.

Mozart returned to Salzburg as a young man and lived in a house on the opposite side of the river during the late 18th century, Mozart’s Wohnhaus. It is now a museum dedicated to his life and work.

Other places to visit with sotto voce are the many museums scattered around the city such as the Museum of Historical Instruments, the Toy Museum, the Museum of Marionettes, Museum of Modern Art and many others.

Alto (high)

Salzburg is surrounded by five mountains: Mönchsberg, Kapuzinerberg, Rainberg, Festungsberg and Hellbrunner Berg.

Sitting on top of Mönchsberg is the Museum of Modern Art, which also has a café, the M32, with a wonderful view across the city and a wooded walk to the Hohensalzburg Fortress on Festungberg.

You can get to the top by foot, a funicular or an elevator, built within the mountain, to the Modern Art museum. Kapuzinerberg, named after the abbey built on top, is on the opposite side of the river to the historic old town.

You can climb the steps from the historic street, Steingasse, or take the steeper route to the top, which provides fantastic views across to the fortress and the old city, and another defence tower. Kapuzinerberg is a popular spot for hiking, and after eating some of the local Austrian food, it may seem like a great idea!

Bellicoso (warlike)

Hohensalzburg Fortress sits menacingly on top of Mönchsberg.

This mighty castle was built in the 12th century and was only once besieged. It served as a prison in both WWI and WWII.

There is an entrance fee for the funicular but walking up is free! The apartments and museums have an entrance fee.

Adagio (at ease)

The city of Salzburg is full of great restaurants and bars. Steingasse (opposite side of the river) is full of bar life at night but you don’t have to walk far to find good places to eat. The local Stiegl brewery serves wonderful local food in its restaurant and beer garden… there really is nothing better than sitting under chestnut trees with a cold beer in your hand after a hard day of sightseeing.

I would also recommend Zum Feidelen Affen for really good Austrian fare and friendly service.

Of course, there is nothing so delicious as a piece of apfel strudel and a coffee, whilst sitting in an Austrian coffee house or outside under an umbrella and watching the world pass by.

My final musical term has to be …

A cappella (i.e. without instrumental accompaniment)

You can’t come to Salzburg without hearing something about the “Sound of Music” movie. The movie is unknown by locals unless they work in the tourist industry but they grin and bare it.

They find the movie unauthentic and misleading about Austrian culture, but, love it or hate it, the fact is that it is a major reason to visit Salzburg for many of the tourists. The true story of the von Trapp family differs a little from the Hollywood 1965 version, which is, I admit, a little cheesy.

But the basis of the story – governess meets older gentleman with young children, falls in love and has to escape from the Nazis – is true.

For all of you Sound of Music fans out there, this is your chance to sing and ignore the SOM haters! Take a tour and show the world how much you love this movie. Believe me, you are not alone in Salzburg!

I took Bob’s Tours, which takes you outside the city to various movie locations and provides a sing-a-long, but there are others too, such as Panorama Tours  or Fraulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour.

It’s true…the hills around Salzburg are alive with music, and history and great beer and food.

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Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here

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