Exploring Hohensalzburg Fortress Salzburg
Hohensalzburg Fortress or “High Salzburg Fortress” looms over Salzburg rising above the city’s towers. This 900-year-old fortress is one of Europe’s largest medieval castles. Its whitewashed walls have darkened through the ages but it was still a magnificent structure. We were only in Salzburg for a day trip from Munich but knew we couldn’t miss exploring it. See what awaited us inside this massive fortress.
Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein built the fortress in 1077 with a primary purpose of protecting the bishops and the city. Salzburg’s Archbishops were powerful political figures during that time. It was extensively enlarged by Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach and became the “largest, fully-preserved fortress in central Europe”. Its exterior has remained largely unchanged.
Built on top of the Festungsberg mountain rising 400 feet above the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Salzburg’s Alstadt or Old Town, this imposing structure and its location deterred enemies and attacks. The fortress remained unconquered by its enemies for 1,000 years but the city did surrender to Napoleon. Those castle walls were pretty high and a great vantage point to see enemies coming from many directions.
The fortress was more than a fortification over the years. It was also the prince archbishops’ temporary residences, a military barracks and prison. Today, it houses museums, an educational facility and is a popular concert venue.
So, how does one get up to the fortress? Some do the steep hike to the fortress that takes about 30 minutes but can be quite scenic. Since it was raining a bit and we were short on time, we rode the funicular instead. The Festungsbahn was fast (about 1 minute), convenient and the kids enjoyed it. Try to get to the front when going down.
One of the reasons visitors trek up to the fortress is the amazing panoramic views it offers of the city, the countryside and the surrounding mountains.
It wasn’t the best day to see Salzburg with the dark clouds and rain threatening our every step even on a summer day. But, it was still beautiful. I can just imagine how spectacular the whole area must look during a clear, sunny day. It’s another reason to return.
We climbed up another staircase to reach the castle grounds. This wasn’t the most accessible place to get around for those with strollers or wheelchairs. It was a pleasant surprise to find the Marionette Museum by the entrance. These were some of the collections from the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
There were a couple of stations to try out the puppets which my kids loved. There were puppets from Mozart’s Magic Flute and the Sound of Music – two things also synonymous with Salzburg. We found various puppets on display and some were created with great artistry and details. Some were a bit creepy. This colorful scene was one of our favorites from among the few that depicted some of Salzburg’s history.
My kids don’t hesitate to stick their heads in these touristy cutouts.
The Fortress Museum was an interesting look at the castle’s rooms and history. The exhibits ranged from historical artifacts, weapons, armors and even torture instruments.
My then 10-year old daughter wasn’t too interested in the museum exhibits. It didn’t live up to her idea of a castle and after seeing Germany’s Neuschwanstein and Linderhof the day before; this was a dark and stark contrast. But my son and especially my husband enjoyed seeing the weaponry and military exhibits.
The Golden Chamber was the most beautifully furnished room of the royal chambers. The long walls were once lavishly decorated and covered in cloth or leather. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive the ages. There were plenty of Gothic wood-carvings that decorated the Golden Hall. This was usually used for candlelit concerts.
The large and colorful glazed Majolica stove by the door was the Golden Chamber’s most eye-catching object.
The stove was divided into 3 segments. The lower part had four rows of tiles and was decorated with fantasy, flower and fruits that were inspired by European seafarers expedition in late 15th century. This added a bit of interest to unfurnished rooms.
The sun came out briefly and we darted outside to explore the courtyard. Surrounded by the high walls, we could almost imagine what life must have been like as a small community here. The surrounding buildings were once occupied with tradesmen, craftsmen, bakers, knights, blacksmiths and residents that sustained the fortress’ daily life.
These grounds are transformed into a festive marketplace with food and handicrafts booths during the Advent Season. We found frescoes and one of the more interesting building walls.
St George’s chapel was one of the buildings inside the courtyard. This was dedicated to St. George who was protector of horses. It was fitting for a fortress with an army on horsebacks at that time. We couldn’t go in but there were opening at the doorway for visitors to take pictures and admire its altar, red marble reliefs and intricate wood carvings.
The Hohensalzburg Fortress is a great alternative to those not into the Sound of Music or a Mozart tour when visiting Salzburg. It was undoubtedly the best place to go for a bird’s eye view of Salzburg and its Alpine surroundings. It was worth the trek up the mountain een with the rain since the museums were worth seeing too. Here’s wishing all of you a sunny and clear day when you visit the fortress.
Visiting the Hohensalzburg Fortress Basics and Tips
- Admission Price: Adults € 11.30; Children (6-14 years) € 6.50; Families € 26.20 (Cheaper without the funicular ride)
Get the Salzburg Card for free admission to the museums here, a free funicular ride and admission to many of the city’s main attractions for one low price.
- Audio guides were available in nine languages but we decided to do a self-guided tour instead. The audio guides allow access to the Recturm watchtower, gallery and torture chamber.
- If you’re staying for more than a day, look into the Fortress “Dinner and Concert” which will be a great way to experience the castle.
- Entrance to the funicular is by the Kapitelplatz (Chapter Square) near the Sphaera statue with a man standing on a gold ball.
- Opening hours: January-April and October-December: 9:30 AM-5 PM; May-September: 9 AM-7 PM
Have you visited Hohensalzburg Fortress?
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