Things to Do in Austrian Alps
Perched on its craggy mountain lookout, Salzburg’s famous castle, Festung Hohensalzburg, dominates the city and its Old Town. Surrounded by walls and dotted with towers and battlements, Festung Hohensalzburg is one of the largest and best preserved castles in Europe.
The fortified castle was built in 1077, from its lofty position protecting Salzburg, with cracking views of the surrounding countryside. Take a guided tour around the palatial state rooms, Gothic torture chambers, lookouts and museum collections. Keep an eye out for more than 50 examples of the castle’s symbol, a regal lion holding a beetroot – or is it a turnip?
The state-of-the-art funicular railway connecting Innsbruck with its hilly suburb of Hungerburg was opened in 2007. This futuristic cable railway is the work of British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who was also responsible for the Ski Jump Stadium at Bergisel, and it provides the first link in the journey from the Congress Centre right up to the slopes of Hafelekar, which are as high as 7,545 feet (2,300 meters), in under half an hour. The glittering Hungerburgbahn terminus at Congress strongly resembles the spaceship in Star Trek. On exiting the station, the funicular train crosses the River Inn before ascending 1.15 miles (1,838 meters) into the alpine foothills on the Hungerburg plateau. There are two stations on the line, including a stop at the Alpenzoo Innsbruck, Europe’s highest zoo. From Hungerburg skiers, boarders and hikers can catch the Nordkettenbahnen cable car up to Seegrube, with panoramic views of the peaks in the Inn valley and Zillertal Alps from the gondolas.
Fun fountains and Baroque style are the attraction at Hellbrunn Castle, or Schloss Hellbrun, on Salzburg’s doorstep. The palace was built in 1619 as a summer residence for Salzburg’s Archbishop, and the gardens are filled with ingenious landscaping, featuring trick waterworks. Visit on a warm day when you don’t mind getting wet!
Highlights of the water park include the outdoor dining table with jets of water shooting from diners’ seats, a water-operated theater, Gothic grottoes, splendid statues and colonnaded promenades.
Lovely Salzburg’s enchanting medieval heart lies along the southern bank of the Salzach River; the Aldstadt is an enclave of winding cobbled alleyways, airy piazzas and many fine Baroque churches.
The wealth of Salzburg originated in the 14th century when it became an independent principality ruled by powerful prince-bishops, and thanks to its glorious architecture it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The Old Town’s many highlights include the massive Baroque Salzburg Residenz (Prince-Bishops’ Palace) in Residenzplatz and the landmark Dom (cathedral), majestically gilded inside and with a dramatic Baroque façade rearing up over Domplatz. St Peter’s Abbey is a Benedictine monastery with a fine, frothy rococo interior and a gastronomic treat in its cellars; Stiftskeller St Peter is one of Salzburg’s oldest restaurants.
Innsbruck’s iconic Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) is found on Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, the main square in Innsbruck’s charming Gothic and Baroque Altstadt (Old Town). The three-story, gold-topped balcony is tacked on the Neuhof (New Court), which was built by Archduke Friedrich IV in the early 15th century as a residence fit for kings. The Golden Roof was constructed in 1500 at the behest of Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I in celebration of his second dynastic marriage, this time to Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan. The roof glitters with 2,657 sparkling gilded copper tiles, apparently placed there to confound rumors that the Imperial Family was running out of money.
Intricate carved wooden reliefs and frescoes painted on to the balcony show the emperor’s many coats of arms, and his likeness alongside that of both his wives. The structure also provided Maximilian I with an appropriately regal spot from which to observe tournaments and festivals in the square beneath.
More Things to Do in Austrian Alps
Salzburg’s Cathedral, or Dom, is a restrained exercise in classic Italian Baroque, topped with green bronze domes. Mozart was baptized here, and the building was completed in 1628.
Highlights include the light-filled atrium and dome, the crypt with its Romanesque foundations and tombs, and the statues of angels surrounding the altar. The Cathedral Museum tells the history of the Cathedral’s construction and artworks.
Nonnberg Abbey is a Benedictine nunnery with a landmark spire in the center of Salzburg and is perhaps best known throughout the world as the home of the troublesome novice nun Maria in The Sound of Music, the magical movie that celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015. The nunnery sits tucked under the Hohensalzburg Fortress and was founded somewhere around 715 AD; it is the oldest constantly inhabited convent in Europe and its complex of buildings consists of the abbey, convent, chapels, church, cloisters and refectory, all built in a charming jumble of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles.
Nonnberg’s main church of Maria Himmelfahrt is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is Gothic in style, adorned with gleaming stained-glass windows and a series of biblically themed paintings. Largely rebuilt after a fire in 1423, the church nevertheless retains fragments of its original Byzantine and Romanesque frescoes in the choir.
Two museums in Salzburg celebrate the life of genius composer and child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Born in the city on January 27, 1756, he grew up in two different houses before turning his back on the city in preference for the bright lights of Vienna and beyond. Both are now museums.
The Mozart Geburtshaus (Mozart’s Birthplace) is located on Getreidegasse, the smartest street in Salzburg’s enticing Aldstadt. The massive townhouse itself dates from the 12th century, but by the 1750s it was divided into apartment and the Mozart family were crammed onto one floor. Mozart’s family lived in this surprisingly humble abode for 26 years before their precocious son hit the big time and started earning good money. This museum has recently has something of an overhaul and is much improved; the exhibition highlighting Mozart’s early life stretches over three floors and incorporates period furniture as well as the clavichord on which he composed The Magic Flute.
On the outskirts of Innsbruck, the slopes at Bergisel have been the home of Tyrolean ski jumping competitions since 1927. To celebrate this, British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid designed a towering ski jump stadium, which was completed in 2002 and can seat 28,000 people. In 2008 Pope John Paul II gave Mass here and it has quickly became a year-round Innsbruck attraction as it soars 820 feet (250 meters) above the city and offers superb views over the Inn Valley and surrounding Alps.
The Tyrol Panorama, featuring a massive, century-old painting of the heroic Tyrolean revolt against Napoleon, is found at the foot of the sculptural stadium. From here, the top of the tower rises to 165 feet (50 meters) and is reached by funicular – or 455 steep steps – plus elevator. Here you’ll be rewarded with 360° views over the city and coffee and cakes in the Panorama Restaurant.
Innsbruck’s innovative zoo lies along the sunny slopes of the Hungerburg plateau to the north of the city and is the only zoo in the world to feature animals indigenous to the Tyrol region – so if you’re after lions and tigers, this is not the place for you –along with amazing Alpine views. It opened in 1962, the brainchild of Professor Hans Psenner, who toiled for much of his adult life to establish a zoo dedicated purely to Alpine animal life. The Tyrolean region has incredible diversity and the zoo’s animal head count reaches 2,000 from 150 different Alpine species, from ibex to brown bears and birds of prey such as Golden eagles and owls.
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