Winter in Austria: Salzburg, Schonbrunn, and the Sound of Music

During my study abroad semester, I had a week-long break in February that I split between Switzerland and Austria. For my first trip to Austria, I selected Salzburg and Vienna as my destinations. While I was originally supposed to travel with a friend to both cities, some unfortunate circumstances made it impossible for her to make the trip. Thus, it also became my first solo adventure. Here’s what I thought of winter in Austria. 

How Long Did I Spend in Austria?

I spent a total of 5 days in Austria. I visited Salzburg first, arriving on Tuesday at 2 PM and leaving Thursday at 10 AM. I then trained to Vienna until Saturday at 8 PM. 

I thought this was a decent amount of time, especially for an introductory trip. I could have used another few hours or half-day in Salzburg, but it wasn’t make or break either way. For Vienna, I thought my timeframe was fine as well. The highlights in Vienna revolve around art and opera, and neither are hobbies of mine. If you’re incredibly interested in either, I thought you could’ve stayed longer. 

Top Things to Do in Salzburg in the Winter

It was snowing in Salzburg during my stay, and this didn’t keep me from doing much of anything. My main event was the Sound of Music tour operated by Panorama Tour. It was 45 euros when I did it in 2018, and while it wasn’t inexpensive, I would say it was worth it because it took you to locations you wouldn’t be able to reach on foot, which I considered when booking it. That said, there are a handful of Sound of Music-related attractions you can reach on foot if you’re resistant to paying for a tour. 

Here are some sights you may want to check out while in the city: 

  • Mirabell Gardens – near the center of the city; featured in the Sound of Music “Do Re Mi” scene
  • Leopoldskron Palace – outside the city; used for filming the back of the house and lake scenes
  • Hellbrunn Palace Gazebo; outside the city; used for “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”
  • Salzburg Lake District Area – outside the city; breathtaking scenery; no specific scene (as far as I’m aware)
  • Mondsee – outside the city; the town of the wedding chapel used in the movie
  • Nonnberg Abbey – near the city center; walkable from Salzburg; can’t go inside; provides good view of city
  • Hohensalzburg Fortress – near the city center; take the funicular up; I didn’t go inside because I didn’t want to pay for it, but I probably would’ve gone on a half-day or so
  • St. Peter’s Abbey – near the fortress; where the von Trapp family hid from the Nazis
  • Do Re Mi Bridge – in the city center; the bridge that Maria and the von Trapp children ran across in the movie 
  • Marionette Theater – close to the Mirabell Gardens; go see a show if this is your thing!
  • Felsenreitschule – walkable from the city center; the theater the family performs at in the movie; tours were at 2 PM when I visited, or you can see a show later in the evening 
  • Mozart’s birthplace – right in the city center; there’s now a museum where he was born and where he lived during his childhood; I didn’t pay the 10 euros to go inside, but it’s there if you want it!

Highlight of Salzburg

I loved drinking at the Augustinerbräu-Kloster Mülln Brewery. It’s a monastery where local monks brew beer. It’s very cool and worth a visit. All the other food and drink I had was tasty, but nothing earth-shattering. If I returned to Salzburg, this brewery would be on my list! It’s definitely a bit of a walk depending on where you’re staying though. 

I stayed at Yoho Hostel as a study abroad student and met some great people to hang out with. Here are some other notes I made about the city that I thought would be helpful for anyone considering the trip. The main languages were German and English. I loved the city of Salzburg, and I highly recommend it. I struggled with a language barrier more in Vienna than I did in Salzburg. If I had another night in Salzburg, I would’ve gone to a show at Felsenreitschule. I was 100 percent more impressed with Salzburg than Vienna, which was the opposite of what I thought was going to happen. 

Sound of Music tour bus

Salzburg Lake District Area

My friend, Madi, who I met on the tour

On the lake where the film was shot (you can see the back of the house)

The famous gazebo

Outside the Nonnberg Abbey overlooking the city

Augustinerbräu-Kloster Mülln Brewery

Top Things to Do in Vienna in the Winter

I loved Salzburg, so it was hard to beat. I trained to Vienna on Thursday. My brother had booked me a Marriott hotel room on points in exchange for train tickets on our upcoming Year 3 annual trip. After that, I stayed at a Wombat’s hostel, which did the trick but wasn’t all that memorable. Here are some of the activities at the top of my recommendations list after this trip. 

  • Cafe Sacher – connected to Hotel Sacher and famous for their chocolate cake
  • St. Stephen’s Cathedral – free to go inside but costs money to go up (6 euro in 2018) to see a view of the city
  • Hofburg – former imperial palace
  • Albertina – art museum
  • Vienna City Hall – beautiful inside!
  • Naschmarkt – a market with food and goods 
  • Belvedere – art gallery and historic building
  • Schönbrunn – palace and garden 
  • Museumsquartier – area with all the museums 

Highlight of Vienna 

Winter was less charming in Vienna than it had been in Salzburg. I was cold a lot of the time, and I didn’t venture out as far because I didn’t make as good of friends at my hostel. Plus, I would say the main language in the city at the time was German with a little bit of English. There was a much more pronounced language barrier that I probably wasn’t as ready to navigate. 

Still, I enjoyed eating cake at Cafe Sacher. Because I was traveling solo, I had barely any wait while others waited in line for 30+ minutes. The cake itself had an interesting nutty flavor (hazelnut or almond) in addition to the chocolate. I didn’t write down the price, but I remember thinking it was so expensive at the time. 

Schönbrunn Palace

View from St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Final Thoughts

What do you think about winter in Austria? I think it’s all about where you are and what you’re doing. Salzburg and its light snow are magical in my memories while Vienna pales in comparison.