WITH its medieval citadel, Baroque palaces and yodel-ready Alpine vistas, Salzburg has never had trouble luring visitors. The Austrian city abounds with tourists, most searching for the sound of music — be it Mozart or the von Trapps. Yet some of its best offerings are its least historic: contemporary galleries, fair trade coffeehouses and the futuristic Hangar 7 complex. In winter, the city is at its most hospitable, as squares transform into bustling Christmas markets, and candlelit taverns fill with skiers refueling on Teutonic comfort food. Salzburg may no longer be frozen in the past, but its appeal is timeless.
1. BAROQUE AND BLUE-CHIP
There’s hardly a more potent introduction to Salzburg than the Baroque Mirabell Palace and Gardens, the setting for many of Mozart’s early performances, several scenes from “The Sound of Music” and one of many Christmas markets. Originally constructed in 1606, Mirabell is a picture of Renaissance overachievement, with its grand Papagena fountain, the Orangerie housing paintings by Reubens and Bernini, and balustrades topped with 17th-century statues of Roman gods. For more updated artfulness, the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (Mirabellplatz 2; 43-662-881-393; www.ropac.net), headquarters of perhaps Austria’s most important gallerist, is in the Villa Kast overlooking the gardens. European and American contemporary art stars like Jules de Balincourt and Robert Longo are on the roster.
2. RUSTIC REPAST
Steer clear of the tourist traps in the Altstadt (Old City) and head to the Steingasse, a cobbled alleyway just up from the Salzach riverside. The Andreas Hofer Weinstube tavern (Steingasse 65; 43-662-872-769; www.dieweinstube.at) serves up no-frills regional cuisine, like Knödelgeheimnis (bread dumplings cooked with sauerkraut and fried egg, 8.90 euros, about $12 at $1.32 to the euro). Come dinnertime, a student-heavy local crowd packs in under candle-illuminated arched ceilings.
3. THE CLASSICS
Classical dominates the musical landscape. The International Mozarteum Foundation (Schwarzstrasse 26; 43-662-889-400; www.mozarteum.at) runs a world-class orchestral and operatic program and seems to have its hands in nearly everything in town devoted to Salzburg’s best-loved son. Coinciding with the composer’s birthday, the foundation’s Mozart Week (Jan. 27 to Feb. 5) draws many of the world’s best orchestras, operas and conductors: this year performances include the Vienna Philharmonic, the pianist Mitsuko Uchida and a new project by the German choreographer Sasha Waltz and the French conductor Mark André.
4. ROOFTOP COCKTAILS
Take in the city by night at the Steinterrace (Giselakai 3-5; 43-662-874-34-60; www.hotelstein.at) on the half-covered wood-slat roof terrace of the Hotel Stein on the right bank of the Salzach. Tourists and flashy young entrepreneurs schmooze to thumping Euro-house under heat lamps while sipping concoctions like the Cookie in a Cup, a blend of Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or, Mozart Black, cookie syrup, espresso and fresh rosemary and vanilla (13 euros).
5. AUSTRIAN JOE
Follow your caffeine fix to the Altstadt, full of coffeehouses in the high-Austrian style. In business since 1705, Café Tomaselli (Alter Markt 9; 43-662-844-48-80; www.tomaselli.at) is of the “if it ain’t broke” school: waiters in bow ties zigzag through the two-level Biedermeier-style salon brandishing trays of cream-topped, brandy-laced coffee drinks in porcelain (4 to 7 euros). A better bargain is down the street at 220 Grad (Chiemseegasse 5; 43-662-827-881; www.220grad.com), an ultramodern fair-trade cafe that opened in 2008. Custom blends of beans culled from South and Central America are roasted on site and pressed into perfect cups of Java (a cappuccino or cortado goes for 3.30).
6. EMERGING ART
Contrary to its less-than-cosmopolitan reputation (the writer Thomas Bernhard once called it a “cretinous provincial dump”), Salzburg has long supported its artists. When it opened in 1844, the Salzburger Kunstverein (Hellbrunner Strasse 3; 43-662-842-29-40; salzburger-kunstverein.at) was one of the first Austrian associations to focus on the sale and exhibition of contemporary art. Today it includes exhibition space and 21 ateliers for working artists. Across the river, Periscope (Sterneckstrasse 10; 43-676-704-25-66; www.periscope.at) is an artist-run gallery and project space that opened in 2006 in Neustadt (New City).
7. MEDIEVAL ALTITUDE
Take the 19th-century funicular 322 feet up the Festungsberg mountain to the Hohensalzburg Fortress (Mönchsberg 34; 43-662-842-430-11; www.festung-salzburg.at), one of Europe’s best preserved medieval castles. Though many of the furnishings were nicked by Napoleon, the rooms themselves have held up remarkably. The ornate royal apartments of the Palace Museum are a highlight, but so is the view of the city and the Alps from the courtyard.
8. MODERN MOUNTAIN
From the fortress, hike to the Museum der Moderne (Mönchsberg 32; 43-662-842-220-401; www.museumdermoderne.at), a rectangular glass-and-white-marble structure that juts from a 19th-century water tower atop the Mönchsberg mountain. Glazed stairways open onto four floors of rooms housing 20th- and 21st-century works (admission 8 euros). Watch the sun set through the open roof of the American artist James Turrel’s 2005 “Sky Space” installation, before sitting down under a light fixture made of 390 antlers in the Matteo Thun-designed dining room of the restaurant M32, where you can feast on Mediterranean-inflected Austrian cuisine by Sepp Schellhorn.
9. DAS SOUND OF MUSIC
Though “The Sound of Music” is the big draw for many, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a singing-and-dancing family on the eve of World War II had never been staged in Salzburg — until October, when it had its premiere at the Salzburg Landestheater (Schwarzstrasse 22; 43-662-871-512-222; www.salzburger-landestheater.at). After a half-century-long cringe, the city seems to have caught von Trapp fever, and getting a ticket is no easy feat. But one should not miss the experience of seeing hundreds of clapping Austrians, many in full-on Alpine regalia, singing along to a German-language rendition of “My Favorite Things.”
10. BELGIAN PINTS
By night, Salzburg’s student population hangs out at the bars skirting the base of the Kapuzinerberg mountain in Neustadt. The two-year-old Alchimiste Belge (Bergstrasse 10; 43-660-681-57-25; www.alchimiste-belge.at), a Belgian beer bar popular with chain-smoking musicians from the Mozarteum conservatory, serves over 50 varieties like Kriek and Westmalle Tripel (3 to 4.60 euros).
11. IMPERIAL BREAKFAST
The Café Bazar (Schwarzstrasse 3; 43-662-874-278; www.hotel-brandstaetter.com), on the right bank of the Salzach, is a century-old Viennese-style coffeehouse with crystal chandeliers, wood paneling and marble tabletops. The view of the river and Old City is as gratifying as the fare: perfectly poached eggs, paper-thin slices of honey-crusted ham, fresh-baked pastries and phenomenal coffee. No surprise that the guest book, kept since 1927, includes Thomas Mann, Marlene Dietrich and Arthur Miller (breakfast around 10 euros).
12. YULETIDE FEVER
From mid-November until Christmas Eve, Salzburg becomes a frenzy of festivity. Hellbrunn Palace, Mirabell Square and Sterngarten all host Christmas markets, but it’s the Altstadt that truly transforms. Mitten-clad children ice skate around the Mozart statue, vendors in wooden stalls sell things like roasted chestnuts and mulled wine and handicrafts and cartoonish nativity figures. But the spiritual heart of the season is Cathedral Square, flanked by the Salzburg Cathedral, the Residenz Palace and St. Peter’s Abbey, where church choirs, brass ensembles and pastoral players perform to red-cheeked crowds on the cathedral steps.
13. ENERGY RUSH
Head to the glass-domed Hangar 7 (Salzburg Airport, Wilhelm-Spazier-Strasse 7A, 43-662-21-97; www.hangar-7.com), owned by the Red Bull mogul Dietrich Mateschitz and built to showcase his vintage aircraft (the “Flying Bulls”). Glass walkways snake around Red Bull-emblazoned planes, motorcycles and muscle cars, while a glass-floored bar suspended from the roof hangs above a contemporary art exhibition and space for live musical performances. There’s also an upscale restaurant run by the hotshot chef Roland Trettl and a “smart food” bistro, where the menu is divided into three categories: brain, beauty and mood. A bit over the top? Sure, but then, so was Mozart.
IF YOU GO
A tavern since the 14th century, the 56-room riverside Hotel Stein (Giselakai 3-5; 43-662-874-34-60; www.hotelstein.at) reopened in 2003 as a modern boutique hotel, replete with retro-chic furnishings and zebra-print motifs. Double rooms go for 179 euros, about $235, including breakfast (290 euros during Advent and New Year’s).
The historically elegant Hotel Bristol (Makartplatz 4; 43-662-873-557; www.bristol-salzburg.at), just across the river from the Altstadt, offers 60 rooms that range in style from Biedermeier to fin de siècle. Doubles start at 225, including breakfast.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 16, 2011
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of a pianist who will appear at the International Mozarteum Foundation during Mozart Week next year. She is Mitsuko Uchida, not Uchika. And the map accompanying the column located a site incorrectly. The Mirabell Palace and Gardens are on west side of Rainerstrasse, not the east side.