Travelling isn’t just a summertime activity, and whilst most cities can be enjoyed at any time during the year, the well-known Austrian city of Salzburg is particularly delightful during the colder months.
Salzburg is a city renowned for many things. In addition to its stunning architecture, as the setting for the 1965 movie The Sound of Music, and as the birthplace of famed classical composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the city is also well-known for its skiing, Christmas markets, and many winter activities.
To make the most out of a visit to this magical Austrian city during the winter season, here are some top recommendations on things to do to in Salzburg in winter.
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Best winter activities in Salzburg
Savour the atmosphere at the Salzburg Christmas Markets
Like many cities in the countries that make up Central Europe, Salzburg boasts a long list of different Christmas markets at a variety of locations around the city, and each one has its own unique aspect to set it apart from the rest.
The majority of these markets open four to six weeks prior to Christmas and continue until December 24.
The largest and most famous Christmas market in the city, the Christkindlmarkt am Domplatz, is held in the square on the front steps of the Salzburg Cathedral and the Residenz Palace.
Every year, the market attracts travellers from all around the world who come from afar to enjoy its choirs, musicians, biblical plays – and of course, the market stalls.
Among the endless booths of quality artisans and foodmakers selling their wares, you can enjoy mulled wine, roasted nuts, and other scrumptious holiday goodies while you peruse the maze of stalls to the sound of choirs singing and church bells ringing.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt and other local traditions, you might enjoy a two-hour walking tour, which also includes visits to other major city sights and a glass of gluhwein or punch. Click here to check prices.
Hellbrunn Palace also boasts a stunning Christmas market located in its front square, particularly notable for the enormous advent calendar placed in the 24 windows on the facade of the Castle.
>> Further reading: Best Places to Spend Christmas in Austria <<
Visit the Christmas Post Office in Salzburg
Another reason to head to Hellbrunn Palace in the lead up to Christmas is to post your letter to St. Nicholas at the special Christmas Post Office.
Go ice skating on Mozart Square
To get a little feel of the mountains right inside the city itself, why not try out the ice rink located in Mozart Square? Rent a pair of skates (or bring your own), and immerse yourself in the enchanting sensation of Christmas spirit as you glide around the rink.
Or, if you prefer to people-watch as couples twirl together and kids clutch their parents’ hands for guidance, then you can grab a cup of mulled wine and huddle up with company for warmth.
The cold and snowy weather only adds to the festive feeling as you hear distant singing and smell the scents of Christmas baking wafting through the streets.
Admire Salzburg all dressed up for Christmas
One of the highlights of your visit to Salzburg in winter will be seeing the city dressed for Christmas. Twinkling lights are draped across the streets, shop windows are decorated and huge Christmas trees take pride of place in outdoor spaces.
Horse and carriage rides around Salzburg’s old town are enjoyable at any time of the year but in winter time, when snowflakes are falling and the city is lit for Christmas, it’s a magical experience.
Hop aboard your carriage outside the Residenzplatz to enjoy either a 25- or 50-minute ride around town, complete with commentary from your driver.
Another great way to appreciate the beauty of the city during the festive season is to head on up to Hohensalzburg fortress. A funicular will whisk you up above the city where you’ll see the beautifully lit city laid out before you.
Why not treat yourself to a Christmas concert at dinner at Hohensalzburg fortress? It will be a night you won’t forget. Click here to check prices.
Join in the Perchtenlauf Celebrations
If you are lucky, while visiting Salzburg in the winter, you may witness an ancient pagan tradition that is still often performed in the Tyrol state of Austria each year on December 5 and 6. This tradition is known as perchtenlauf, and dates back hundreds of years to pre-Christian times.
Even though the Catholic Church attempted to stamp it out, and it was punishable by death to partake in perchtenlauf during the Inquisition, its popularity continued to rise and as such it is still widely performed in Tyrol to this day.
The tradition centres around the banishment of evil spirits and evil ways. According to ancient legend, in the wintertime evil spirits run wild through the world on winter nights.
>> Further reading: How to spend 24 hours in Salzburg <<
One such spirit, who was widely considered the foremost demon, was named Frau Perchta, a demonic woman who makes a yearly appearance near the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, with many evil spirits in tow.
The custom became for young, fit men to don terrifying masks, and go door-to-door to banish the demons from households when let inside by the homeowner.
Today, the custom is still performed, though anyone can participate and wear masks. The masks are generally carved in painstaking detail from wood, and represent archetypal animals with grotesque features in order to terrify the unwelcome demons into leaving the villagers in peace.
Although considered a holiday event, as it is so close to Christmas, the scary, bulky costumes give this tradition a distinctly Halloweenish feel, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart—but well worth seeing, as the chance to experience these type of festivals are what makes a European Christmas so unique.
Visit the Salzburg Christmas Museum
The Christmas Museum (Salzburger Weihnachtsmuseum in German) is open all year round but a visit during the festive season has added appeal and is one of the magical winter activities in Salzburg.
The museum details how Christmas traditions and customs have changed over the past couple of centuries, and features items from the history of Austrian Christmas traditions: calendars, figurines, statuettes, decorations, and other relevant artefacts from times past.
>> Further reading: Best European Christmas Market Tours and River Cruises <<
The museum is small and privately-owned, and so a (self-guided) tour through this quaint little museum should take no more than an hour but makes for a lovely short daytime activity during your winter stay in Salzburg, and is sure to put you in a festive mood.
Day trips from Salzburg in winter
Visit the Silent Night Chapel at Oberndorf
Just twenty minutes from Salzburg you’ll find the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf where the very first performance of the famous Christmas carol “Silent Night” took place back in 1818.
Each year at 5pm on Christmas Eve the carol is performed and all are welcome to attend. The 2018 performance will be extra special as it is the 200th anniversary of the carol and lots of commemorative events will be held in both Oberndorf and Salzburg.
Click here for details on this year’s Christmas events at the Silent Night Chapel.
Immerse yourself in natural springs and spas near Salzburg
Austria is well-versed in wellness practices that start with water, and many hot springs can be found in the Salzburg region that offer naturally hot bathing that can help to relieve a multitude of health concerns.
One of the best wellness resorts in Austria is the Tauern Spa at Zell am See – Kaprun. Just over an hour’s drive (100 km) from Salzburg, it is definitely worth a visit.
>> Further reading: Things to do in Zell am See, Austria <<
Tauern Spa covers an area of more than 20,000 square metres and features 11 indoor and outdoor pools, 10 saunas and steam rooms, and a children’s spa, as well as activity and relaxation programs.
Treat yourself to a day at the spa where you can enjoy spa treatments and access to the fitness area. A soak in the glass skyline pool with views of the surrounding alps is sure to wash all your stresses away.
And, at the end of the day, if you can’t bear to leave, you can stay the night in the hotel’s 4* superior hotel. (Click here to check prices.)
Enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the Salzburg countryside
The nearby village of Faistenau is the setting for a truly idyllic winter experience – a horse-drawn sleigh ride across the snowy landscape.
Wrapped in warm blankets, guests are transported across the picturesque countryside by traditional means. It’s a fantastic way to breathe in the crisp winter air and appreciate the beauty of the Salzburg countryside.
Go skiing near Salzburg
Being located among some of the best mountains in the world, if you’re into skiing, snowboarding, or other outdoor winter activities, then here are two of the most popular ski resorts near Salzburg.
Skiing and snowboarding are the two most popular activities here, and for good reason. The mountain has over 100 kilometres of trails for skiers and boarders, and many ski lifts to quickly get enthusiastic athletes back up the mountainside to do it all over again.
There are coloured markers classifying the pistes by their difficulty level, so that no skier need to gets stuck in a piste beyond their skill level.
The Obertauern mountain resort is also best-known for being home to the Gamsleiten, the steepest skiing and snowboarding peak in Austria, so if you’re an experienced winter sportsman and up for the challenge, then don’t miss out on this legendary slope.
Where is Obertauern
The Obertauern ski area is 90 kilometres south of Salzburg. It can be reached by car or public transport, and the resort also offers a shuttle service for guests flying into Salzburg airport.
While Gastein offers many of the same options as Obertauern, it also boasts a range of activities for those less confident putting themselves on skis or snowboards.
Visitors can choose from activities such as tobogganing (this is a great option for families travelling with children), ice skating, snowshoeing, and even curling, to help them enjoy the enchanting snowy weather, without needing to get out onto the thick of the slopes.
Also nearby is the Alpentherme Gastein, a health and wellness spa with natural springs and pools, massage services, and whirlpools. Given its proximity to the ski hotspots, this is the perfect way to unwind after a day in the chilly mountain air and give your body the rejuvenation it deserves after a day of physically demanding outdoor activity.
Where is Gasteinertal
Gasteinertal is situated 100 kilometres south of Salzburg. Bus services operate frequently during the winter months to and from Gasteinertal. Check timetables here.
Where is Salzburg?
The city of Salzburg is located in central Austria, close to the German border.
How to get to Salzburg
The nearest international airport to Salzburg is at Munich (Germany), 140 kilometres away. Salzburg has its own airport which services flights to and from other European cities.
Salzburg can also be reached by frequent rail and bus services from many destinations across Europe.
If you have your own vehicle, Salzburg can be reached by an excellent motorway network. With its location in central Europe, a visit to Salzburg can easily be included in a larger European itinerary – use this travel route planner tool to plan your trip.
Average winter temperatures in Salzburg
The average daytime temperatures in Salzburg in winter range from 3°C to 6°C. Overnight temperatures average between -4°C and -2°C.
Where to stay in Salzburg
I hope you have found this list of things to do in Salzburg in winter helpful. The city is the perfect destination to experience a white Christmas or a winter holiday.
For more Austria travel inspiration, read our Austria travel guide.
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