Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Today, my badass sporty friend Josh is here to give us an insider perspective on Salzburg, Austria—land of the Sound of Music.
First, tell us about you.
I’m a proud ex-Floridian who bounced from Miami to Maui with a little bit of Massachusetts and multitudes of other spots in between. I call three places home: Hood River, Oregon, and Paia, Maui, Hawaii, in the US and Salzburg, Austria, abroad. Here in Austria, I put together stories for Redbull.com and adventure, hike, climb, and ski.
If someone is visiting Salzburg for the first time, what should they see and do?
The Augustiner Biergarten (also known as Müllnerbrau) is a must-do in the summer. It’s a huge picnic party with close access to reasonably priced tasty beer. There are stands that sell Austrian specialties like schnitzel and sausage (although I’d recommend the roast chicken), but you can also bring your own food (or board games or decks of cards or even musical instruments). It’s okay for small parties to share tables if it’s crowded.
The walk up to the castle is worth it if only for the view toward the Untersberg (that’s the big peak to the south-southwest).
If you’re a Sound of Music nut, skip the bus and do the bike tour. At least one of the tour guides has an excellent singing voice. (Actually, she’s a straight-up opera singer!)
I haven’t actually done the Mozartgeburthaus (Mozart’s birth house), but it’s popular.
If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Thursday, hit the market at Mirabellplatz. It’s still a working farmer’s market with tons of delicious nibbles.
Finally, the Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt, Weihnachtsmarkt) are a lovely place for a drink with friends.
For more experienced travelers, what are some of your favorite hidden gems?
If you’re the slightly adventurous type, head on down to Grödig and take the Untersberg cable car up for a walk around the summit. And if you’re the moderately adventurous type, walk up the Dopplerstieg and take the cable car back down. It’s a big hill and the walk down will do way more damage to your legs than the walk up. It’s about 5,000 feet if you do the summit. That’s fairly comparable to the depth of the Grand Canyon.
What neighborhoods do you recommend staying in for those who want to get a real taste of the city?
Salzburg’s tiny. You won’t have a hassle getting anywhere from anywhere, but if you can score a bike with your Airbnb, it’s a good move.
Riedenburg, Maxglan, and Nonntal are all neighborhoods where real people live, but Schallmoos and Andräviertel are pretty convenient to the train station.
Let’s talk about day trips…if someone is staying in Salzburg a bit longer and wants to get out of the city for a day trip or two, what nearby places should they consider visiting?
For a half-day hike, head to the Schober trail right over Lake Fuschlsee. Take the 150 bus out of town, stop at Fuschlsee, head to the peak to your north (there are two peaks, Frauenkopf and Schober, but it’s basically the same hike to hit both). A dip in the lake after is super refreshing. That’s definitely summer fun.
Go see Red Bull’s Hanger 7. It’s a cool way to spend a couple hours…much cooler than you’d guess, especially if you or your kids are into super high-tech planes.
Let’s talk about the outdoors…what nearby walking paths, parks, or natural areas would you recommend for walking, cycling, snow sports, etc.?
Book a night in a hut! You can stay in the huts on top of Untersberg or hike to the Carl von Stahl Haus (technically in Germany). These can be done with public transportation, but a car makes it easier. In general, huts are cheaper than hotels, but not as private. They’ll typically provide a dinner service and breakfast is included in price of your lagerbett (shared bunk rooms) or private room.
Tell us about the food. What local dishes and drinks should people try while in Salzburg?
Sausage, schnitzel, sausage, schnitzel…I’ll be super honest: there is some very good food, but for the adventurous eater, it’s lacking in variety (and, to put it politely, flavor).
Love macaroni and cheese? Get a rental car and head up Gaisberg to Kasnockenwirt and get the knoblauch und speck kasnocken (preferably for two, to split). And don’t plan on doing much for the rest of the day.
Finally, mozartkugeln (Mozart sweets) are delicious and are pretty much the same wherever you buy them.
What are your top five favorite bars and restaurants in Salzburg?
If you need some eastern flavor, Bangkok is the best Thai place in town.
Now, onto bars.
For something quirky but cool, I like Gastlokal Fridrich.
Avoid Sega Bar, Vis a Vis, and anything with 17-year-olds in front of it.
Of note: Austria is like the only western country in the modern world where people can smoke inside. It sucks; you get used to it. For a non-smoking, option, though, head to Murphy’s Law.
Do you have any tips for saving money while traveling here? Any favorite budget-friendly restaurants, bars, or things to see?
Try Leks Thai for decent cheap Thai (but plan to wait). It’s in a permanent building, but has a street-cart feel. And L’Osteria pizzas can easily be split for a meal.
For someone staying a bit longer, what is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
There’s a regular and active meet-up group that’s super welcoming. That said, having lived in a lot of places, this is not the easiest place to make fast friends. We have a lot of tourists, but they’re in-out tourists, not those who stay for a season. In day-to-day life, people tend to be pretty set in their routines. I’m an extremely gregarious person and it took me a while to make friends here.
Where can we go for a good WIFI connection and working environment?
Starbucks, without a doubt. The world-wide Wi-Fi thing hasn’t caught on here yet. I think McDonald’s has Wifi, too [Editor’s note: this is true of most of Europe.]. Salzburg’s tourist business is still operating with a 90s mindset (and it’s still ridiculously successful).
Anything else you want us to know about your city or the surrounding area?
It’s ludicrously clean and safe, yet I can still get into the mountains and scare the shit outta myself climbing, paragliding, or skiing. The outdoor recreation opportunities here are incredible, the city is small enough that you can get out easily, and you can still get international flights easily.
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