So, you want to escape Vienna? The city home to Mozart and melange, Strauss and sachertorte? Of course you do! Austria is a gorgeous country, and it would be a shame to miss the breathtaking mountains, dazzling lakes, and quaint lakeside towns that it has to offer. Without further ado, here’s a list of suggestions for where to go beyond Vienna in two cities a quick train ride away.
Head to Salzburg
Most believe that Salzburg got its humble beginnings in the salt trade—hence its namesake, “Mountain of Salt.” Though it is true that the mountain of “white gold” made the Prince Archbishops that ruled here a mountain of money, Salzburg’s modest roots actually date back to the 8th century, when St. Rupert established St. Peter’s Abbey and Monastery. The quiet, relaxed mountain town proved to be perfectly suited to the monks’ lives of solitude…that is, until the Archbishops of the 16th century decided to transform the quaint settlement into one of the world’s grandest baroque cities.
For the next 200 years, Salzburg’s rulers used the wealth from the salt trade to construct grand palaces, towering cathedrals, and gorgeous gardens. Thanks to its flourishing classical music scene and the Sound of Music’s timeless beauty, the popular town has only grown more desirable in recent years. Today, over 6.5 million visitors flock to Austria’s fourth-largest city, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mozart’s birthplace, Red Bull’s dynasty, and Julie Andrews’ kingdom. Visit Salzburg to step away from Vienna and we guarantee that you’ll be absolutely smitten.
Austria’s largest beer garden was originally a brewery that was started by the monks in 1621. Today, it lies under the shade of a grove of chestnut trees, just around the corner from the River Salzach. On any given night, you’ll find a crowd of 3,000, who come for the experience of washing their own stone stein in the water basin and stay for the cheap traditional Austrian snacks.
St. Peter’s Cemetery and Catacombs
St. Peter’s was made famous by the Sound of Music’s great escape scene, though monks have been escaping to the cemetery and its catacombs for centuries. According to legend, hermit monks started hiding out in the mountain’s natural caves as early as the 700s. Today, the catacombs are home to the resting site of Mozart’s sister, Nannerl.
For an accurate mental image of Hohensalzburg Fortress, just picture a knight in shining armor beating his fists on his chest and erupting with a roar before going into battle. That kind of simple, barbarian brute strength is one of the few ways to accurately portray the fortitude of a fortress that has never been overtaken. Visit the fortress for magnificent views over the city and to learn about Salzburg’s tumultuous history.
Today, the main reason for the Gardens’ appeal lies with the famed Sound of Music scene, where Julie Andres and the Von Trapp children dance around the Pegasus Fountain. Journey to Mirabell Gardens to see what makes make the baroque beauty come to life yourself.
Hallstatt is an idyllic lakeside village, famous for being home to the oldest salt mines in the world. Even through the chaos of the last few millennia – forging for “white gold” with prehistoric tools, rejoicing in the invention of iron, being conquered by the Romans, avoiding the Nazis during WWII – Hallstatt has stayed true to its roots, maintaining an active mine to this day. When you arrive , you’ll find not just a cultural and historical wonder, but also a dazzling, picturesque, “pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming” place that just goes to show that sometimes the best things in life come in tiny packages.
The Charnel House was created in response to Hallstatt’s overcrowded graveyard. Beginning in 1720, graves were opened, and the skulls and large bones were removed, cleaned, and bleached by the sun. Skulls were then decorated with the family name, date of death, and floral motives, before being displayed in one of Hallstatt’s more unique landmarks.
One of the best things to do in Hallstatt is enjoy a jaunt through the shaded woods, letting the melody of chirping birds and the babbling stream guide you to a majestic waterfall. While you’re out in the woods, you may as well venture on another 15 minutes to the 12,000-year-old Glacier Garden, whose intricate tide pools and jaw-dropping clarity will make you swear that movies were filmed there.
The Hallstatt Salt Mines
A trip to Hallstatt is incomplete without a visit to the salt mines, which have been active for over 3,000 years. The best part of the tour isn’t learning about the formation of the mines millions of years ago, watching the cavernous light show, or even seeing the oldest European staircase (3100 years old!). Rather, it’s the realization of every kid’s dream: sliding 34 km/hr down two giant slides before chugga-chugga-choo-chooing your way back into the daylight.