Guest Post: Europe – The Most Famous and Beautiful Places for Sightseeing

Europe is a continent where history is very close. It is a dream destination to millions. Tourists from all around the world flock to gaze at different masterpiece architecture, to take in the awesomeness of European street life and to admire the great variety of scenery and climate, the mountainous regions, thick forests and lakes.

Europe – It Measures Up Every Time

You just have to ask any travellers and from their observations and opinions, you can quickly round up a list of the most famous and beautiful places that they would recommend – places known for their recreation and leisure opportunities, the good restaurants, fascinating shops and museums, nightlife and architecture. Here are some of the must see destinations in Europe.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

(Source: Florence (John Marino/Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0))

Florence – Italy

This awesome Italian city nestling in the Tuscan hills has been the inspiration of many artists. There is no much to see in Florence that you may be tempted to cancel the rest of your European trip and stay put. The Santo Spirito Square for starters offers a host of different events to enjoy – fairs, food festivals and exciting workshops. September is great with mild temperatures and traditionally the period of harvest and making of wine. There are heaps of events around the harvest of grapes and wine making. If you didn’t know, France and Italy together make 40 per cent of world’s wine.

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria

(Source: Innsbruck (Leo-setä/Flickr, CC BY 2.0))

Innsbruck – Austria

If you’re looking for postcard beauty, this city, host to the Winter Olympics several times already, is extremely picturesque. This alpine city has a myriad of city- and nature- inspired activities waiting for visitors. From bobsleigh riding to alpine skiing to curling up in front of an open fireplace in an Alpine lodge, this vibrant city offers marvelous unbeatable restaurants, Christmas markets, hotels and nature. You’ll want to have photographs of yourself and the gorgeous mountain scenery as a recall of your sightseeing and cheap posters of quality paper, of any size and in different formats is THE way to remember all the tiniest details of such splendid times.

London, England

London, England

(Source: London Panorama (Davide D’Amico/Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0))

London – United Kingdom

No trip to Europe would be complete without visiting London. Welcoming more than a record-beating 18.82 million visitors just in 2015 alone, this city has won awards as the most popular city on the planet time after time. With its awesome blend of the most wonderful assortment of restaurants, its culture and history, this city just simply continues to dazzle, excite and enthral visitors who stream to it from every corner of the globe.

Keep Your Memories Fresh

Europe is a magical place to visit with a limitless number of fabulous and famous places to explore. The range of destinations and events can be overwhelming if you’re planning a getaway, from the Golden Circle, Reykjavik, Iceland to the Azores, Portugal to Germany and Spain. Unfortunately you will be forced to narrow down your choices. Remember to take lots of beautiful photographs which you can here have enlarged to gaze upon and recall how Europe measured up to every one of your ideals.

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“When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?”

VIENNA, AUSTRIA: Billy Joel sang this song “Vienna” in 1977 and the song brought back some awesome memories of our trip to Vienna while I was listening to it in YouTube. I had to dedicate this post on Vienna to that song and to Billy Joel.

Vienna is the capital and the largest city in Austria. Surprisingly, history of this town goes back to 25,000 years but the written history is from the Roman period about 2000 years ago. This was the home of the Habsburg family along with various empires from the past. For being the capital city of monarchy, you will see lots of rich cultural and historical buildings here. After WWII the city was left with much ruins. But thanks to Austrian authority, the city looks marvelous now with some touches from the past blending well with the look of present.

Historic city center of Vienna - a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Michaerplatz near Hofburg Palace)
Historic city center of Vienna – a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Michaerplatz near Hofburg Palace)
               

Austria is the country of Mozart and classical music. And just like Salzburg, you will see Mozart’s picture everywhere including in candy wrappers. Try to attend some symphonies or opera if time allows, you will see people selling tickets of various performances everywhere in old town.

I have to say there is something about Austria that leaves sweet feelings in your heart, not sure if it’s the people, or Mozart, or landscape, or history, or culture, or music or a combination of everything. I enjoyed Salzburg more than Vienna, 5 years ago (also recently in December 2013) when we came to Europe. But the charm of both the cities is undeniable.

Innere Stadt or 1st District of Vienna, you can see the green dome of Hofburg Palace
Innere Stadt or 1st District of Vienna, you can see the green dome of Hofburg Palace
               

Austria is a German-speaking nation, but locals are very good at English too. This is a huge city and is divided in many districts. We mostly stayed in Innere Stadt, also known as 1st District. For day trips from Vienna, you can consider crossing the border and going to Bratislava in Slovakia.

TIME of TRAVEL: This was the second destination of Easter Break road trip that we took in April of 2012 (yeh, quite a long time ago, this post was overdue). After visiting Nurnberg, Germany, we drove about 5 hours to reach Vienna. It was a great day in Vienna when we arrived. After staying here two days we headed for Bratislava, Slovakia. It was not warm that day, we had to wear light jackets the whole time…but I guess that was expected in April here.

If you are here during Easter break, you will see that Easter in Europe is like Christmas in the U.S.A. It’s gorgeous, very festive, and more colorful than what I saw in America. Vienna was the same too…eggs, eggs everywhere.

Easter decoration in front of Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna
Easter decoration in front of Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna
              

OUR HOTEL: Our hotel was K&K Palais Hotel in Vienna, very close to the old town and within walking distance from most of the main attractions. It had free breakfast buffet and Wi-Fi. From outside, it looked like the hotel itself was a building from couple centuries back.

EATING and SHOPPING: I can’t remember now what we had for dinners in those two nights in Vienna. But for lunch, first day we picked up some pizza from a train station near Austrian Parliament. And let me tell you that was one of the best pizza I had in my life…because it had slices of eggplant on it, haha. Next day, we had again a quick lunch in the Easter market in front of Schoenbrunn Palace. Something you can try in all over Austria is schnitzel, a fried piece of meat with vegetables and potatoes.

Our first lunch in Vienna, a slice of pizza from a train station - pizza with slices of egg-plant...still can taste it in my mouth
Our first lunch in Vienna, a slice of pizza from a train station – pizza with slices of egg-plant…still can taste it in my mouth
                     

Graben in old town is a very good place to buy souvenirs of Vienna. Also we saw a big Easter market in front of Schoenbrunn Palace and it was attractive. Buy Mozart CDs, Mozart chocolates – Mozart Kugel (candy with marzipan), and other Mozart related items from here.

Easter market in front of Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna
Easter market in front of Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna
             

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We had a day and half in Vienna. We spent a whole day in the old town on the first day and half a day in Schoenbrunn Palace the following day before we started our drive to Bratislava.

Old town of Vienna (Innere Stadt or 1st District) is beautiful beyond my words. This historic part is a UNESCO World Heritage site and like an open-air museum with things to see and enjoy all around. You just have to love its old artistic buildings everywhere. There are tons of museums near and around the city, one I was interested in was Sigmund Freud Museum, which we couldn’t go to. Old town and its surrounding are big but we did it on foot. Enjoy the abandoned famous and grand buildings while you are walking on cobblestone streets of Vienna. Here are the thing we could fit in during our visit to Vienna, lucky you if you have more time to spend here.

Beautiful statue outside an old building of Vienna
Beautiful statue outside an old building of Vienna
                  

1) GRABEN: Graben is the old district of Vienna where we started our tour from. This is a pedestrian path full of cafes, boutique shops, and beautiful old buildings. This is a perfect place to watch street performers, sit down and watch people go by. An old statue “Pestsaule” stands in the middle of this cobble-stoned street surrounded by many sidewalk cafes and stores. The statue was constructed to commemorate people who died in plague.

Graben - a long stretch of cobble-stoned path in historic Vienna
Graben – a long stretch of cobble-stoned path in historic Vienna
             

You can see St. Peter Church in Peterplatz of Graben. We didn’t go inside but looks like an old church of Vienna…something we should have visited maybe.

2) MICHAELERPLATZ and ST. MICHAEL CHURCH: About few minutes of walk from Graben, Michaelerplatz is a nice square right in front of the entrance to Hofburg Palace. There was an excavation we saw from the Roman times (at least 2000 years old) in Michaelerplatz. Lots of boutique stores and designer shops are packed in Michaelerplatz. On one side stands beautiful St. Michael Church.

3) HOFBURG IMPERIAL PALACE: This is a must-see attraction of Vienna. Hofburg is the former palace of Austro-Hungarian Habsburg dynasty. It was their winter residence once but currently serves as the official residence of Austrian President. The palace once housed some of the most powerful people in the history of Austria and whole of Europe. You can visit the imperial apartments of Empress Sisi or Elizabeth and her husband Franz Joseph.

A big portion of the palace houses ceramics, porcelain, and potteries that were once used by Austro-Hungarian royal families. It’s a huge collection with room after room displaying Victorian styles of bone china, silverwares, dazzling ceramics, exclusive porcelain arts, dinnerware, centerpieces, glass works, and candle holders ….one is more elegant than the others. One of the grandest rooms displays the way tables were used to be decorated for royal guests…something I’ve never seen before.

Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna - the way dinner table used to be decorated for the royal guests
Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna – the way dinner table used to be decorated for the royal guests
                    

Hofburg Palace also houses Sisi Museum. Sisi was the daughter-in-law of Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria-Theresa and wife of Franz Joseph. She was a modern and a bit rebellious type of princess who broke some royal rules and was murdered at the age of sixty.

Other than the museums inside the palace, inner courtyard of Hofburg is a nice place to take a stroll and go back in time with the old façades of various buildings. Hofburg Palace houses number of interesting museums like weapons and armory collections, coin collections, musical instruments, and lots more.

A courtyard of Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria
A courtyard of Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria
           

It’s conveniently located in the heart of Vienna and has few gates to enter the palace. Plan to stay here about 2 hours or so. It was 10.50 euros per adult and 6.50 euros for kids 6 – 18 years of age. Audio tour for each visitor is included in the ticket.

4) HELDENPLATZ: This is a beautiful square with some greens in the old part of Vienna. It’s a good place to get a horse-wagon to take you around. The most prominent building here is Austrian National Library with a statue in front. We didn’t go inside but I am sure you can take a tour inside the library and from the outer look of it, I could tell inside must be as grand as its front façade. From Heldenplatz, you can see Austrian National Parliament and the spires of Vienna Town Hall.

Heldenplatz with Austrian National Library in the back
Heldenplatz with Austrian National Library in the back
          

5) MARIA-THERESIEN PLATZ: Few steps away from Heldenplatz is Maria-Theresien Platz. A statue of Maria Theresa, who was a powerful Austro-Hungarian (Hapsburg) queen, dominates this square. The square is like a museum quarter, containing Natural History Museum, Art Museum, and couple other ones.

Statue of Maria Theresa, a powerful Austro-Hungarian Queen, in Maria-Theresa Platz
Statue of Maria Theresa, a powerful Austro-Hungarian Queen, in Maria-Theresa Platz
          

6) AUSTRIAN NATIONAL PARLIAMENT: After visiting the above square we came out of the old district and ventured into the newer part of Vienna. Austrian National Parliament is a handsome building with many statues in the front. It’s situated on a very busy area which is on the other side of Heldenplatz (about 5 minutes of walk). If I can remember correctly, the parliament was closed in weekends but tourists are welcome to take guided tours inside at regular business days or when not in session.

Austrian National Parliament in Vienna, Austria
Austrian National Parliament in Vienna, Austria
                

7) VIENNA CITY HALL (RATHAUS) and BURG THEATER: Vienna City Hall is very close to the parliament. It’s a stunning Gothic-style edifice with few spires reaching up to the sky. There is a big park in front and surrounding the city hall. And when we went, some kind of sporting event was going on here with some vendors selling sporting gears and goods, bicycling stunts, and etc.

Gothic-style edifice of Vienna City Hall
Gothic-style edifice of Vienna City Hall
             

Across the park of city hall, on the other side of the street, is Vienna’s beautiful Burg Theater. This is another well-known landmark of the city.

Burg Theater as seen from Volks Garden in Vinnea
Burg Theater as seen from Volks Garden in Vinnea
           

8) VOLKS GARDEN: Volks Garden is a beautiful greenery space in the heart of Vienna. Opposite of the parliament and town hall, and beside Burg Theater, Volks Garden is a place that connects old district to the new part. It was nice to walk around this garden and enjoy some beautiful sculptures, fountains, and trees.

Volks Garden in Vienna, Austria
Volks Garden in Vienna, Austria
        

9) TREASURY MUSEUM: Next we came back to old town again and stopped at Treasury Museum. This is a royal treasury chamber where you can see some expensive imperial valuables including Hapsburg crown, scepter, sword, hand embroidered royal robes and capes, jewelries, religious items, and gold-plated serving dishes. May be the most significant of all is the gold royal crown decorated with many different precious stones and jewels.

Royal Crown and scepter in Treasure Museum of Vienna, Austria
Royal Crown and scepter in Treasure Museum of Vienna, Austria
              

It was 12 euros per adult and free for children under 18 years. Museum is open every day from 9am – 5:30pm except Tuesdays and last admission is at 5pm. It took us about an hour.

10) ST. STEPHEN’S DOME or STEPHANSDOM: This was our last stop of day 1 in Vienna. This is the most beautiful church in Vienna and one of the tallest churches in the world.

St. Stephens Dome in Vienna, Austria
St. Stephens Dome in Vienna, Austria
           

The dome is also located in old town, a bit further away from Hofburg Palace. The square in front of the church, Stephansplatz, is big and energetic place to hang out. It was very crowded but loved its lively atmosphere. Stephansplatz is packed with lots of shops, cafes, restaurants, and old historic buildings.

11) SCHOENBRUNN PALACE: This is one of the major touristic attractions of Vienna and you shouldn’t leave the city without visiting this place. The palace kind of reminded me of Versailles Palace in France. It is one of the most important cultural monuments in Austria and is a part of UNESCO World Heritage site.

The palace was a gift from Emperor Francis I to Austro-Hungarian queen Maria Theresa on their wedding. It was their preferred summer residence while Hofburg Palace served as their winter residence.

Back of Schoenbrunn Palace and its garden in Vienna, Austria
Back of Schoenbrunn Palace and its garden in Vienna, Austria
               

There are tons of things to do in Schoenbrunn Palace. You can spend a whole day here and will leave with more things to check out. After visiting inside the palace rooms (photos weren’t allowed) we came out to the garden. I am sure the garden looks better in summer, but even in April, it was nice walking on the ground towards the panoramic terrace. Privy Garden or Romantic Arbor is decorated with many sculptures and an impressive fountain on the other side. If you keep going up passing the fountain, you will see Gloriette or Panorama Terrace. The terrace is a bit elevated and view from there is stunning. You can see almost the whole of Vienna and the palace complex. There is an artificial lake in between the terrace and garden.

Stunning view of Scheonbrunn Palace and Vienna from Panorama Terrace
Stunning view of Scheonbrunn Palace and Vienna from Panorama Terrace
         

Another section of Privy Garden includes a big part for the kids. We spent some time in the park, maze, and water fountain playgrounds with our girls. Finally, a palace which was kids-friendly! There is also a children’s museum inside the palace complex. Family ticket to the children museum is 20 euros for 2 adults and 3 kids.

It took us about half an hour from the old town Vienna to reach Schoenbrunn Palace. We had our own car but there are buses that leave daily from Innere Stadt. For private cars, a big parking ground is available very close to the palace. The palace offers different types of tours. “Classic Plus” covers everything except the zoo and takes about 4 hours. A self-guided audio tour is included in the price. With this tour you get to see the apartments which depicts life-style of the royals, garden, and its big complex.

“Sound of Music” Tour in Salzburg, Austria

“SOUND of MUSIC” TOUR in SALZBURG, AUSTRIA: Salzburg become really famous with English-speaking people or at least those who are into English movies by the musical film “Sound of Music”. It was Julie Andrews’ one of the most famous works in her acting career. She played the role of “Maria”, a nun who was appointed to take care of seven children of an Austrian imperial navy captain. Based on a true story of a family with seven children and their father Captain Von Trapp, Christopher Plummer played the role of the captain. The setting of the story was from 1939 during the onset of WWII and the movie was shot in 1965.

I got acquitted with this film when I was very little and my mom used to sing “Do Re Mi Fa…” with much enthusiasm. She even tried to teach us that song (my mom was a professional radio singer and a music teacher) in her harmonium. I have some fond memories with this film and vividly remember my mom singing those melodious songs around the house and doing her chores.

One of the walls in our hotel, dedicated to the movie "Sound of Music", in Salzburg, Austria
One of the walls in our hotel, dedicated to the movie “Sound of Music”, in Salzburg, Austria
            

In our first trip to Salzburg in April of 2009, we spend all our time in the city looking around its old part and the fortress (Hohensalzburg Festung) on the hill. But this time (during Christmas break in December 2013) we decided to go on with this tour to get out of the city. Also because both of our daughters watched “Sound of Music” so many times that they memorized all the songs and most of the dialogues from it.

We booked the tour with “Panorama Tours”. They are the most popular here for this trip. You can book thru you hotel or reserve your seat online ahead of time, like us. They operate even on holidays like Christmas day! Bus leaves every day at 9:30am and 2pm and lasts for 4 hours. It is 40 euros per adult and 20 euros for children 4 – 12. We were picked up from our hotel around 9:15am and taken to their main office near Mirabell Palace. Bus was about half full because it was Christmas day. The guide was fantastic and so was the driver.

Our "Sound of Music" bus in Salzburg, Austria
Our “Sound of Music” bus in Salzburg, Austria
           

We were first taken to Leopoldskron Palace, just few kms away from Salzburg old town. This palace was used to only shot the “backyard” scenes of the movie. And the lake you see in the picture is where Maria (Julie Andrews) and the kids fell off the boat in one scene. It is a very scenic spot of Salzburg. We couldn’t go inside or even near the palace since it is not open to public, only saw it from the other side of the lake.

Leopoldskron Palace was used to shoot all the "backyard" scenes of Julie Andrews' "Sound of Music"
Leopoldskron Palace was used to shoot all the “backyard” scenes of Julie Andrews’ “Sound of Music”
            

Next stop was Hellbrunn Palace garden. This is a bit away from the city. Before entering the palace there is an unpaved and tree-shaded road. This long path was used to shoot a small portion of “I have confidence” song when Maria left her abbey, got of the bus and went to captain’s house for the first time.

The purpose of coming to Hellbrunn Palace was to visit the famous gazebo of “Sound of Music”. It was shown in the songs “I am 16, going on 17” (with Lisle and Rolf) and “Something good” (with Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews). The gazebo was originally located in Leopoldskron Palace garden during the movie but later it was moved here.

The famous gazebo from the movie "Sound of Music" where the song "I am 16, going on 17" was shot, in Schloss Hellbrunn, Salzburg, Austria
The famous gazebo from the movie “Sound of Music” where the song “I am 16, going on 17” was shot, in Schloss Hellbrunn, Salzburg, Austria
              

From Hellbrunn Palace, we drove by the mountains which you may have seen in the last scene of the movie when the family escape to Switzerland. Another spot we just drove by and didn’t make a stop was Frohnburg Palace. This yellow mansion was used only to show front façade of captain’s home. All the scenes inside the house were done in Hollywood.

Frohnburg Palace, they used only its front facade for captain's home in "Sound of Music"
Frohnburg Palace, they used only its front facade for captain’s home in “Sound of Music”
             

Third place we drove by without stopping was Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg, within walking distance from Hohensalzburg Fortress. This abbey is from 740 A.D. and is still active. This is where the real Maria served as a nun. The movie also used the same spot to shoot Julie Andrews’ life as a nun. The abbey is not accessible to public.

From here, we took a long drive through the mountains and lake-district of Salzburg. This was a very scenic drive with breathtaking views of Alps, meadows, trees, and lakes. After passing Fushel Lake, we made a quick stop at Wolfgang Lake in St. Gilgen. This whole region was shown as an aerial view at the very beginning of the movie and the mountains here were used to shoot the infamous “Do Re Mi Fa” song of this movie. Lots of people come here during summer for many water activities, to just relax by the lake, and to enjoy Alpine beauty. By the way St. Gilgen is also the birthplace of famous composer Mozart’s mother.

Stunningly beautiful Lake Wolfgang in St. Gilgen
Stunningly beautiful Lake Wolfgang in St. Gilgen
           

Our last destination of the tour was the “Wedding Church” in Mondsee. This is the place where Captain Von Trapp and Maria get married in the movie (not in real life). It was a former Benedictine monastery which is now called Parish Church St. Michael or Mondsee Basilica. The original monastery was founded in 748 A.D. Inside the church is extremely gorgeous and elegant, no wonder they chose this spot for their special wedding scenes. This church was selected over the actual abbey (Nonnberg Abbey) for the wedding scene due to its elegance and beauty. Even though in the movie it was portrayed that Maria and Captain got married in Nonnberg abbey!

The "Wedding Church" where Captain and Maria got married in the movie
The “Wedding Church” where Captain and Maria got married in the movie
             

The small village of Mondsee is situated by stunning Mondsee Lake surrounded by the Alps. The city center where the church is located is absolutely beautiful. We didn’t have time to go by the lake, but I am assuming it must have a breathtaking view.

We were dropped off near Mirabell Palace and Garden in Salzburg at the end of the tour. Few scenes were also done in this beautiful garden. But the most remarkable statue was seen in some scenes was the statue of a Pegasus. It was moved around the city few times, I think, before it could find its final home in Mirabell Garden.

Pegasus in Mirabell Garden which was seen in the movie couple times
Pegasus in Mirabell Garden which was seen in the movie couple times
      

Overall, this trip is a must for the fans of “Sound of Music”. Not only you get to see some spots of the movie right in front of your eyes but also you get to experience some Austrian Alps and its lake-district. It was a wonderful experience…probably the best part of this trip was when a lady on the other aisle started singing some songs from the movie with the CD our driver was playing on our way back to the town…I felt like I am in the movie singing too. By the way, my favorite song is definitely, “Edelweiss…Edelweiss, every morning you greet me, small and white, clean and bright, you look happy to meet me.” What is your favorite song from “Sound of Music”?

Mozart’s City – Salzburg, Austria

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA: Salzburg is the city of music for being the birthplace of Mozart and where the famous movie “Sound of Music” was filmed in the 1960s. Mozart and Julie Andrews both made this city a major attraction for many tourists worldwide.

Situated beautifully by River Salzach, Salzburg is one of the most spectacular cities in Europe and one of my most favorite places to visit. I will pick Salzburg over Vienna anytime for its architecture, medieval look, cozy atmosphere, and elegant vibe. This is a city, I sometimes crave to go to and just enjoy its rich history and culture.

One of my favorite European cities - Salzburg in Austria
One of my favorite European cities – Salzburg in Austria
                     

Salzburg is very close to German border and has one of the best-preserved city center in the German-speaking world.  The old town with many Baroque architectures, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. You can never get bored in Salzburg with so many museums, marionette theaters, old churches and landmarks to visit, and a perfect cozy old town with endearing surroundings.

Old town of Salzburg - kept its traditional look from many centuries ago
Old town of Salzburg – kept its traditional look from many centuries ago
            

TIME of TRAVEL: Salzburg was the 3rd destination of our winter road trip in December 2013. My uncle-in-law was here to escape the below freezing temperatures in Chicago and also to spend few weeks with us. The whole trip was for 12 days. After visiting Fussen in Germany and Innsbruck in Austria, we reached Salzburg on the Christmas Eve. Weather was very mild to my surprise. I was prepared for some harsh cold temperature during Christmas for being so close to the Alps, but it was very nice, may be early to mid-40s during day and early 30s after dark…not bad at all.

Building art in the old town of Salzburg
Building art in the old town of Salzburg
               

By the way, this was our second time coming to this city. We have been here during Easter Break of 2009, when we were still living in the US. That time we toured around Europe for 2 weeks. I was longing to come back to Salzburg since then and finally it happened last month. Easter in Salzburg (or may be in whole Europe) is absolutely magical…it’s like Christmas in The States. Whole old town Salzburg was sparkling with lights and egg-decors. I have never seen Easter being celebrated with that enthusiasm before.

I have posted pictures from both of our trips, so you can see what the city looks like in spring and in winter. Excuse the big ol’ yellow dates on the old pictures.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Hotel Der Salzburger Hof in one side of Mirabel Palace, but was little away from the old town. It had its own restaurant, free breakfast and Wi-Fi for the guests. But the best part of this hotel was that each floor of it was designed in different theme. Like, one floor was in Mozart theme and ours was in “Sound of Music” theme. Our room even had some scenes from the movie printed on the wall. In 2009, we stayed closer to city center, in Hotel Austrotel, which is now called Hotel Am Mirabellplatz. This one didn’t have breakfast but has a bakery at the end of the street.

One of the walls in our hotel, dedicated to the movie "Sound of Music", in Salzburg, Austria
One of the walls in our hotel, dedicated to the movie “Sound of Music”, in Salzburg, Austria
                 

EATING and SHOPPING: That was a night to remember on Christmas Eve in Salzburg. As soon as we reached our hotel and checked in, we headed out for some food. After walking and looking and searching for a place to eat, the only option we were left with was Burger King. Everything was closed or was about to close. Thanks to BK burgers for saving our growling stomach that night. Next day lunch was some to-go sandwiches and for dinner, we had some lovely Indian food in our hotel restaurant. But the restaurant had some local Austrian dishes too, like schnitzel (fried boneless chicken breast with some potatoes and veges) which my husband tried. Do try “brazen” when you are in Salzburg; it’s like big and fat pretzels that come in sweet and savory flavors. You can get them in pizza, onions, herbs, and many other flavors. If you go there in Easter, you will also see colored boiled eggs (they only color the shell, so it’s ok to eat the eggs) in many bakeries or breakfast places. Another thing you will see here in almost every souvenir shop is Mozartkugeln. They are chocolates with marzipan filling inside…can be expensive but Salzburg is all about Mozart 😉

Brezen, a preztel-like snack, is very popular in Salzburg
Brezen, a preztel-like snack, is very popular in Salzburg
                  

Whole old town of Salzburg is packed with tons of souvenir shops. Browse thru the small stands in Alter Markt or other fancy stores in the old alleys. On our first visit in 2009, we bought a decorative Bavarian beer mug (can be pretty expensive depending on the size). This time my husband bought a Tyrolean hat (very traditional here) with a feather on it…looks a bit like Robinhood’s hat; he regretted very much that he didn’t buy it in 2009. For our home, I got some small this and that from the huge Christmas market in Residenzplatz and Domplatz. The annual Christmas market is here very big and colorful here. Even if you don’t buy anything just come and join the fun, may be try some local knickknacks too. Also, marionettes are very popular here and you will find them in almost everywhere in old town. While you are in Mozart’s town, buy his classical CDs or other memorabilia.

Christmas market in Residenzplatz in the old town of Salzburg
Christmas market in Residenzplatz in the old town of Salzburg
                

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent two whole days in Salzburg during our first visit in 2009. But this time we took “Sound of Music” tour in the morning; so we were left with only half a day to spend in the city. We were dropped off near Mirabel Garden around 1:30pm by the tour bus and then we were off to venture Mozart’s city. Old town is very compact; take your time to absorb its appealing atmosphere. We did everything on foot and it was fun doing it that way.

River Salzach at night, walking back to our hotel
River Salzach at night, walking back to our hotel
             

If you are done with the city and have more time, then try going to the lake-district, close to the mountains…few km away from Salzburg. If you have your own car, it takes about half an hour to reach there. It’s a perfect region for summer tourists and makes a nice getaway from the city-life and of course you will love its stunning natural beauty with lakes, mountains, and villages.

1) MIRABEL GARDEN and PALACE: We started our walk from Mirabel Garden and Palace. We didn’t really go inside the palace because I don’t think it is open to the publics for regular tours. It is said that Mirabel Palace has world’s most beautiful wedding hall and need to be reserved at least a year ahead. We walked via its garden towards Salzach River. Beginning of early spring, this garden looks at its best with fresh flowers and a big fountain in the middle surrounded by sculptures on the four sides. But we didn’t really see any flowers this time. The fountain was not on either. But it is a nice place to stroll around and sit down to take a little break.

Mirabel Garden and Hohensalzburg Fortress it the distance...in Salzburg, Austria
Mirabel Garden and Hohensalzburg Fortress it the distance…in Salzburg, Austria
           

Mirabel Palace is located in Mirabellplatz, little bit away from old town. The walk is only about 10 minutes from old town but very close to Mozart Residence.

2) GETREIDEGASSE: After crossing a bridge on River Salzach from Mozart’s Residence/Wohnhaus we crossed the street and entered the old town. This is a long and narrow street here with full of shops and souvenir places. Stores on Getreidegasse still decorate their entrances with metal signs of what their stores are about, just like the old times. This can be a very crowded place to walk around but I guess that’s why I loved strolling up and down this street.

Old store signs in Getreidegasse
Old store signs in Getreidegasse
             

3) MOZART’S BIRTHPLACE (MOZARTS GEBURTHAUS) and MUSEUM: On Getreidegasse, a bright yellow house stands amongst some other old buildings from few centuries ago. The famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in this house in 1756 and lived here until 1773. Now it’s a popular museum devoted to his life, work, and family. Mozart is a major attraction of Salzburg and his birthplace is a site which his fans wouldn’t want to miss. This museum (along with Mozart Wohnhaus) has the largest collection of Mozartiana worldwide.

Mozart's Birthplace where he was born in 1756 and spent his childhood...Salzburg, Austria
Mozart’s Birthplace where he was born in 1756 and spent his childhood…Salzburg, Austria
                    

This is a very special experience – to see, hear, and absorb the atmosphere of the place where Mozart was born and spent his childhood. In this three level exhibition, the visitors can learn details of his life including domestic circumstances, when he began to play music, his relationship with his family, his passion for opera, and much more. Besides original portraits and documents, there are some rare exhibits from Mozart’s possessions, such as the violin he played as a child and an authentic portrait which was painted two years before his death.

The museum is open daily (including Sundays and holidays) from 9am to 5:30pm and in July and August from 9am to 8pm. You can buy combine tickets for Mozart’s Birthplace and Mozart Residence in any one of these museums for a discounted price.

4) MOZART WOHNHAUS or MOZART RESIDENCE: Also known as the “Dancing Master’s House”, the former residence of the Mozart family stands on the right bank of Salzach River. Like Mozart’s Birthplace, this house is one of the most important memorial sites in Salzburg. By the fall of 1773, the rooms of Getreidegasse had become too small for the Mozarts. The family moved here in 1773 and Mozart himself lived here until 1780. His father died in this apartment in 1787. You can see the rooms used by the Mozart Family and the composer himself.

Mozart Residence, apartment where he spent few years of his life
Mozart Residence, apartment where he spent few years of his life
           

The building was largely destroyed during WWII but was reconstructed according to the original plan to reopen it as a second Mozart museum. Mozart’s own piano, music notes, and some portraits are some particular attractions here. His audio-visual collections, in addition to the exhibitions, contain sound and film recordings concerning the life and works of Mozart – some 22,000 audio and 2,800 video recordings.

Mozart Residence is located in Makartplatz, only 5 minutes of walk from his birthplace and opposite of Mirabel Garden. The museum is open daily (including Sundays and holidays) from 9am to 5:30pm and in July and August from 9am to 8pm. You can buy combine tickets for 12 euros per person for Mozart’s Birthplace and Mozart Residence in any one of these museums for a discounted price.

5) MOZARTPLATZ: This square is dedicated to Salzburg’s talented son, Mozart. A statue of young Mozart stands in the middle here. There was an ice-rink in the middle of the square when we were there in December. Many souvenir shops are here too.

A statue of young Mozart in Mozartplatz, Salzburg, Austria
A statue of young Mozart in Mozartplatz, Salzburg, Austria
               

6) RESIDENZPLATZ: Right beside Mozartplatz is Residenzplatz. St. Michaels Church in Residenzplatz is an old church. It’s a small but beautiful church inside. We didn’t find it open on our 2nd visit but outside the church is very nice too.

Christmas market in Residenzplatz in old town of Salzburg, Austria
Christmas market in Residenzplatz in old town of Salzburg, Austria
               

You can get horse-carriages from Residenzplatz to tour around the old town. Salzburg Museum and Residence Gallery are located in this platz. Christmas market here was one of the gorgeous ones I’ve seen so far. The place was bustling with many tourists and locals – everyone enjoying hot drinks, snacks, sweet treats, and of course doing little shopping along the way. This is probably one of the best places to try some local fresh finger-foods (same goes for the market in Domplatz).

7) DOMPLATZ and SALZBURG DOME CATHEDRAL: After passing Residenzplatz take few steps and you are in Domplatz. Dome Cathedral is one of the grandest architectures in whole of Salzburg. It’s an attractive cathedral both outside and inside. You will just love its high dome, impressive ceiling, majestic organ, old frescoes, and large biblical paintings. I think there is a fee to get inside but it was free on the Christmas Day.

Salzburg Cathedral in Domplatz
Salzburg Cathedral in Domplatz
                 

Domplatz also had a big Christmas market in front of the cathedral. It was also sparkling and dazzling with lights and decors. We bought some brezens (pretzel-like snack) from here and cotton candies for the kids while enjoying this big gathering. When we were here in April of 2009, the square was empty and quiet. There is a beautiful fountain in the middle of the square right in front of the cathedral.

Inside Salzburg/Dome Cathedral in Salzburg, Austria
Inside Salzburg/Dome Cathedral in Salzburg, Austria
              

8) CAPITALPLATZ: Another few steps and on the left side of the cathedral is Capitalplatz. You can see Hohensalzburg Fortress on the hill from all the above squares but the closest view is from here. There is a big fountain in one side of this square right below Hohensalzburg. Play the giant chess if you ever get a chance or watch other people playing it.

Hohensalzburg Fortress on the hill from Capitalplatz
Hohensalzburg Fortress on the hill from Capitalplatz
                  

9) ST. PETER’S CHURCH and CEMETERY: We didn’t go to this church this time. But I remember going there on our first trip. It’s another beautiful church of Salzburg. Can’t remember which square it is situated in, but it was a gorgeous church outside and inside. Before we reached the church, we saw St. Peter Cemetery. This is a really old cemetery and a very calm place. You can see many few hundred years old tombs.

10) HOHENSALZBURG FORTRESS (FESTUNG): This fortress is like the guardian of Salzburg looking over the city all the time. It’s located on top of a small mountain and can be seen from almost any point of Salzburg, far or close. The fortress was built in 1077 and expanded in the following centuries.

Old barracks and quarters of Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg, Austria
Old barracks and quarters of Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg, Austria
                  

We didn’t’ go to up to the fortress this time. If I can remember correctly from our first visit, there are couple museums there and one of them is a marionette puppet museum, called “Welt Der Marionetten – World of String Puppets”. Walking in between its old walls on cobbled streets takes you back to medieval age. Visit small churches and old style buildings of this fortress.

This is probably one of the best places in Salzburg to get a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. You can see River Salzach, steeples of many big and small churches, mountains in the distance, and the whole old town.

Stunning view of Salzburg from Hohensalzburg Fortress
Stunning view of Salzburg from Hohensalzburg Fortress
                

We took a funicular or “Festungsbahn” to go up to the fortress. I am not sure if you can walk up there but that would be quite hard as the mountain is a bit steep.

11) SCHLOSS HELLBRUNN: We didn’t really see whole of this place. As I mentioned above that we took “Sound of Music” tour the day we visited Salzburg. Our tour bus brought us here to show the famous gazebo from that movie where the song “I am 16, going on 17” was shot. It was a short visit but looked very beautiful even in winter with some gardens and little parks. This was originally the summer palace of Archbishop of Salzburg. I am guessing you easily can spend half a day or a day strolling around the garden, parks, and fountains…a perfect place for families with children.

The famous gazebo from the movie "Sound of Music" where the song "I am 16, going on 17" was shot, in Schloss Hellbrunn, Salzburg, Austria
The famous gazebo from the movie “Sound of Music” where the song “I am 16, going on 17” was shot, in Schloss Hellbrunn, Salzburg, Austria
              

Few Hours in Innsbruck, Austria

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA: Surrounded by the beautiful Alps and its snow-capped peaks, Innsbruck is a place to be at any time of the year. It’s a paradise for winter sports lovers for being surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges. The city is known for alpine sports opportunities, especially in winter. Winter attracts more people in Innsbruck from all around Europe and the world. It hosted couple Winter Olympics before and winter sports are part of this city’s culture and pride.

River Inn running thru Innsbruck with the Alps surrounding the town
River Inn running thru Innsbruck with the Alps surrounding the town
 

For us, we had only few hours here and we stayed mainly in the old town which is an absolute charmer. There are tons of things to do in Innsbruck, especially for energetic athletes. Other than many historic landmarks, middle age buildings in old town, and lively city life, it has the largest ski resort in the Alps.

There is a parking structure very close to the old town where we parked our car. Old town can be covered on foot and you see a lot more doing it that way. If you don’t speak German like me, its ok, all the shops, restaurants, and tourist spots usually have people who speak very good English.

Austrian Alps in Innsbruck
Austrian Alps in Innsbruck
 

TIME of TRAVEL: Innsbruck was the second stop in our winter road trip 2013. We started our journey at the beginning of Christmas break. After visiting two famous castles in Fussen, Germany (first stop of this trip) we crossed into Austrian border the same night, stayed in Mieming (a small Austrian town very close to Innsbruck), and drove to Innsbruck next day for few hours before our next destination to Salzburg.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed about little less than an hour drive from Innsbruck in a tiny town called Mieming. Hotel’s name was Pension Café Seelos. The setting of this accommodation was like right out of a romantic book. Surrounded by the mountains, this homely place is in the middle of a quiet town away from any chaotic environment. It had free breakfast, parking and Wi-Fi with few restaurants within walking distance. We were traveling with my uncle-in-law in this trip. He fell in love with this town and hotel instantly and mentioned few times how he wished he could stay there little longer just to wake up close to the mountains and read books leisurely.

EATING and SHOPPING: There are plenty of restaurants and cafés in the old town of Innsbruck. We finished our lunch in Nord See, which is, I think, a German sea-food chain. It’s more like a fast-food type place with much better options and tastier food. We had some hot dishes but there were many take-away options too, like sandwiches and etc.

Austrian or Tyrolean hats are pretty famous and unique here. They are very elegant looking, sometimes decorated with feathers or ribbons or ropes. Most of the souvenir shops have these hats along with regular t-shirts, key-rings, and other stuff. We saw many unique Christmas decors during our visit. Winter cloth accessories (like woolen gloves and scarfs), Bavarian mugs, cuckoo clocks are some things you can find in the shops here too.

A souvenir shop in Innsbruck old town
A souvenir shop in Innsbruck old town
       

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We stopped at Innsbruck on our way to Salzburg and spent few hours just touching only the highlights of this city. Innsbruck has bunch of museums, a zoo, and many historic landmarks within the city limit. If you are more of a nature-lover or like winter sports then you can drive up to the mountains and find some ski resorts. There is also a castle, Schloss Ambras short distance from the city…we haven’t been there but may be worth a visit if you have time.

Innsbruck - a beautiful city by River Inn
Innsbruck – a beautiful city by River Inn
                

1) JESUITKIRCHE (JESUIT CHURCH or UNIVERSITY CHURCH): This was our first stop although wasn’t in the list. The church was erected between 1627 – 1646 with the support of sovereign of Tyrol, Archduke Leopold V, and his wife, Archduchess Claudia de Medici, both of who are buried in the crypt here. It was severely damaged during WWII and looked like a ruin. Much of the interior decoration was lost forever. In 1953 it was newly constructed. Its high dome and white ceiling with detail design are worth seeing.

2) HOFKIRCHE: The Innsbruck Hofkirche with the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I is the most important monument in the Tyrol region and the most splendid of all imperial tombs in Europe. It is a product of European courtly art from far more than the German-speaking areas, for which Maximilian I employed the best artists of the period. King Maximilian I’s decorative tomb is enclosed by some real-size bronze statues that show members of different dynasties. It is a gorgeous church with grand interior and a must-see in Innsbruck.

Hofkirche with the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I in Innsbruck, Austria
Hofkirche with the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I in Innsbruck, Austria
                   

Although we didn’t go to Tyrolean Museum of Popular Art, it is in the same building with Hofkirche. It houses the biggest and most significant cultural heritage collection in Tyrol and offers an insight into the diversity of the arts and crafts from “Land in the Mountains”.

It’s open from Monday to Saturday from 9 to 5 pm and Sundays and holidays from 12:30 to 5 pm. There is a fee to enter the church, but we were there on Christmas Eve and it was free that day.

3) ST. JACOB CATHEDRAL: This is probably the most beautiful church/cathedral in Innsbruck. Few minutes’ walk from Hofkirche, St. Jacob Cathedral is a Baroque style architecture that deserves attention. Its gorgeous ceiling, fancy vaulted dome, ornate high altar, dazzling organ, frescoes, and pulpit make this cathedral one of the most exemplary works of Baroque interior in whole of Austria.

Grand organ and beautiful ceiling of St. Jacob's Cathedral in Innsbruck, Austria
Grand organ and beautiful ceiling of St. Jacob’s Cathedral in Innsbruck, Austria
                 

4) HERZOG-FRIEDRICH-STRASSE and GOLDEN ROOF (GOLDENES DACHL):Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse was the old town’s main street once, now a pedestrian zone. Some artistic old buildings decorate both sides of this cobbled-stone street.

Some beautiful buildings in Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse in old town of Innstruck
Some beautiful buildings in Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse in old town of Innsbruck
                  

At one end of Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, is the Golden Roof. It is a historic building from 1420 and was built on behalf of King Maximilian I. It has a beautiful façade with 2657 fire-gilded copper tiles. There is a museum if you want to go inside, we just saw it from outside and loved its marvelous façade.

Golden Roof on Herzog-Friederich-Strasse in Innsbruck, Austria
Golden Roof on Herzog-Friederich-Strasse in Innsbruck, Austria
             

5) MARIA-THERESIEN-STRASSE and ST. ANNA’S COLUMN: Across the street from Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, is Maria-Theresien-Strasse. This is the central pedestrian area and a picturesque boulevard of Innsbruck. What makes this street beautiful is the prominent mountains range in the backdrop and its historic colorful buildings. There was a Christmas market here when we visited. Many shops and restaurants make this place a perfect gathering point for the locals and the tourists.

Maria-Theresien-Strasse - a picturesque pedestrian street of Innsbruck
Maria-Theresien-Strasse – a picturesque pedestrian street of Innsbruck
             

In the middle of this street stands St. Anna’s Column. It was built in 1706 using Tyrolean marble. I loved this part of Innsbruck where hustling city collides with the beauty of Alpine nature…it is an absolutely breathtaking spot.

6) RIVER INN and INN BRUCKE: There is a bridge, Innbrucke, over River Inn few steps away from Zerhog-Friedrich-Strasse from which the city adopted its name. There isn’t much to do here except for enjoying the stunning view of River Inn, the mountains, a flourishing city, and colorful buildings by the river. We crossed the bridge, Innbrucke (it’s for both pedestrians and cars) and came back to old town within few minutes. It is a lovely sight and shouldn’t be missed. It’s a slice of Tyrol’s natural beauty within the city.

Standing on Bridge Innbrucke and enjoying this beauty in Innsbruck
Standing on Bridge Innbrucke and enjoying this beauty in Innsbruck
            

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