Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg Castle: The Complete Guide

Hohensalzburg fortress

 

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Hohensalzburg Fortress is Salzburg’s major landmark—and its trophy tourist sight. The mighty 900-year-old cliff-top castle, sitting high above the rooftops of the Baroque city center, is the largest and best preserved of its kind in Central Europe. 1.2 million people visited the iconic fortress in 2017 alone!

You can easily spend half a day at Hohensalzburg touring its interiors, walking through its three museums and enjoying the breathtaking views over the city. To make the most of your time, pick a sunny day, arrive early to beat the crowds and don’t forget your camera or cell phone for some Instagram worthy shots.

History

In 1077, Archbishop Gebhard had the fortress built to show off the Catholic Church’s power and to protect the principality from attacks. The original design was just simple central building within an enclosed courtyard with a wooden wall.

Between 1495 and 1519 Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach transformed the simple fortress into what we see today. A religious leader and the city’s last powerful feudal ruler, he needed constant protection from outside as well as from revolts from inside. Von Keutschach enlarged the complex and turned Hohensalzburg into one of the largest fortresses in Europe. He also added a lion holding a beetroot in its paws above the main entrance which is still Hohensalzburg’s symbol today.

During its 800-year history, the castle has never been attacked or conquered. During peaceful times it was used as a storage depot as well as a dungeon. In 1617, the deposed Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau died behind the prison walls.

In the late 19th century, Hohensalzburg became a major tourist attraction. The funicular railway (Festungsbahn) was opened in 1892 and is considered one of the oldest of its kinds worldwide.

What to See

Hohensalzburg is an 8-acre complex consisting of various wings and a courtyard. Exiting the funicular, turn right and head to the panoramic terrace. Marvel at the old town to the north, then turn around for stunning views of the Alps. Take your time walking around the terrace and snap some pictures of the views below.

The audio guide tour starts inside the fortress gates and leads you to the Stable Block (displaying paintings and models of 17 prince-archbishops), the prison tower and Reckturm before reaching the famous “Salzburg Bull.” The huge mechanical organ with more than 200 pipes is played daily at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Palm Sunday to October 31. Next is the Fortress Courtyard with the St. George church, once the main meeting point for the 1000+ residents.

If you have an all-inclusive ticket you can now tour the Prince’s chambers. The most beautiful room is the Golden Chamber with its stunning Gothic wood carvings and benches along the walls, decorated with grapes, foliage and animals. The Golden Hall where lavish banquets were held in the past has a gold-studded ceiling imitating a starry sky. The smallest room is the Archbishop’s bed chamber where you can even see his private bathroom (a real rarity in those days).  

Your ticket also gives you access to three museums: The Rainer Regiments Museum is dedicated to the local soldiers that fought in World War I whereas the Fortress Museum gives you a peek into castle life (and displays kitchen utensils from the past as well as torture instruments). The most fun is the Marionette Exhibit that displays dolls from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” to “The Sound of Music”.

Getting There

Hohensalzburg Castle sits atop the Festungsberg, 653 feet (199 meters) above the city’s old town. It is a steep 15-minute walk from the center or a one-minute ride up in a glass funicular (Festungsbahn). The funicular starts from Festungsgasse (just off Kapitelplatz) and takes you right into the fortress. To avoid long waiting times, go early in the morning or late in the day. If you have a Salzburg Card, you can skip the line (and get into the fortress for free). Should you decide to walk, follow the signs from Kapitelplatz and buy your ticket to the castle at the entrance.

Admission

The fortress is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in summer and from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. Tickets can be bought at the cash desks but it’s cheaper to book online. There are different tickets types depending on what you want to see and when you purchase your ticket.

  • Basic ticket: If you are short on time, this ticket is your best bet. It includes the roundtrip by funicular, entrance to the fortress courtyards, all three museums and an audio guide tour in 8 languages. The ticket is €12.20 for adults and €7 for kids from 6 to 15.
  • All-inclusive ticket: This ticket includes all of the above plus the Prince’s Chambers and Magic Theatre. Adults pay €15.50 at the cash desk and €13.20 online, kids €8.80 or €7.50 .
  • Early bird ticket: The all-inclusive ticket for entrance before 10 am is only available online: €11.90 for adults, €6.80 for kids.
  • Tickets without funicular: € 11.70 for adults and €6.70 for kids for the all-inclusive ticket, €9.40 and €5.40 for the basic one. Tickets can be bought at the fortress entrance.  

The last entrance is 30 minutes before closing.

What to Do Nearby

After your visit take the funicular back to the city center (or walk down) and enjoy Salzburg’s old town.

The Salzburg Cathedral dates to the 17th century and is just around the corner from the funicular. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized here and later became a regular organist.

A short walk away is the Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s most famous street bustling with fancy fashion stores, traditional inns and chocolate stores where you can buy the famous “Mozart balls”.

At number 9 is Mozart’s birthplace. Tour the original rooms on three floors and learn more about Salzburg’s most famous inhabitant that lived here from 1756 to 1773.

If you are a fan of the von Trapp family, visit the Sound of Music World at number 47, a mix of exhibition and gift store loaded with souvenirs.