Just a short distance from the Alps, quiet, refined Salzburg is a relaxing alternative to bustling Vienna. The city is small and extremely easy to navigate, whether you are staying in the suburbs or in the center.
For those who don't have much time, Salzburg's main sights can probably be explored in a day or two, but there are plenty of things to things to keep you occupied if you plan to stick around for a few days. Top of the must-see list is the Festung Hohensalzburg, or Salzburg Fortress. Visitors can climb the steep path up to the fortress, or they can take the fernicular train from the city center to the top. A full-priced adult ticket costs €10.50 and includes round trip travel on the fernicular, entrance to all the fortress exhibits and a guided tour through part of the castle and up to a tower with spectacular 360-degree views of the city, the countryside and the Alps.
Salzburg is also famous for its connections to Mozart. The child prodigy was born there, and visitors can tour his birthplace (Mozart Geburtshaus) and his later family residence (Mozart Wohnhaus), both of which are located in the city center (but on opposite sides of the river). A combination ticket for both sites can be purchased at either house for €12.
One of the best things about Salzburg is simply wandering around the elegant, picturesque city center. It is stuffed to the gills with cafes, a variety of restaurants, high-end boutiques, artisan shops, museums and churches. This time of year is especially good for a visit, since the Christmas markets ("Christkindlmarkt" in German) just opened last week. And if you're feeling especially festive, one of the main squares (Mozartplatz) has both a Christmas market and an ice rink.
Other sites to add to your list: Salzburg Cathedral (known as the Dom), with its green domes; the Residenz, a former residence of Salzburg's archbishops which also doubles as a museum for art and artifacts; the Museum der Moderne, Salzburg's modern art museum; the Schloss Mirabell, with its pretty gardens (rather subdued in winter); and the Nonnberg Abbey, famed for its appearance in “The Sound of Music”.
Speaking of the movie, devoted fans can embark on a Sound of Music Tour, run by Salzburg Panorma Tours. The tour lasts four hours and costs €37. Participants watch scenes from the movie and visit sites where filming took place.
Cafes and restaurants in Salzburg's city center aren't cheap, but be sure to try Scio's Specereyen at 16 Sigmund Haffnergasse. The cafe serves a famous decadent chocolate dessert called the "Venus Nipple," which supposedly inspired exclamations of delight from Mozart's wife Constanze. It's the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
If you’re looking for budget accommodation, check out Yoho hostel, just a 10 minute walk from the train station and a 10-15 minute walk from the city center. Large, clean and youth-oriented, it serves both breakfast and dinner for prices far cheaper than you’ll find anywhere in the center. And the bar is rollicking at night.
Salzburg is about three hours from Vienna by train and two hours by plane from London. It is also very close to Munich.