Austria’s fourth-largest city offers a storybook charm that makes simply walking the cozy streets of the Old Town an attraction in itself. Churches, castles, palaces and baroque architecture are all found in Salzburg’s historic center, a sight only beaten by its alpine setting and location on the Salzach River.
Salzburg is known throughout the world as a city of music, and for good reason. The city is the birthplace of Mozart, a fact celebrated in museums, gift shops, tours and festivals throughout Salzburg. For me, the draw to Salzburg was in its connection to The Sound of Music, the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, and the family that inspired the Academy Award-winning picture.
Each year, more than 300,000 people choose to visit Salzburg because of its ties to The Sound of Music, and I was no exception. My obsession with the film began when I was a child and continues to this day.
The film tells the story of Maria, a young Austrian woman studying to become a nun in Salzburg in 1938. She is sent to the villa of a retired naval officer and widower to be governess to his seven children. Maria brings music back into the lives of the children and the captain and helps them cope with the loss of their homeland to the Nazis. Not only is Salzburg home to numerous filming locations, but it also includes landmarks of the actual von Trapp family.
It was day 10 of my 14-day European vacation. The weather so far had been perfect: not too hot, not too cold, with clear skies. On this particular day, I was exploring Salzburg, the city I had been most excited to see. A glance outside my hotel window made me stop in my tracks — rain, and lots of it.
I had high expectations of my only full day in Salzburg, which was to begin with a 3½-hour Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour. As the rain poured down outside my window, I zipped up my raincoat and headed to the meeting point near Mirabell Palace, to see if the “rain or
shine” policy would really hold true.
Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour
I arrived at the official tour meeting place completely soaked, but the rain didn’t seem to faze my tour guides or fellow riders. Ponchos were handed out and I was given a bicycle to call my own for the next three-plus hours.
I took comfort in the fact that Salzburg has been repeatedly named the “most bicycle-friendly city” in Austria. I’m no stranger to biking, but a new city and endless raindrops streaming down my glasses had me a little nervous.
The tour took us to more than 20 locations related to the film and the real von Trapp family.
These are a few of my favorite things
We began the tour by crossing the river into Old Town, via the Mozart Bridge. One of our first stops was Karajan Square and the “Horse Pond.” The pond was originally used as a place to wash the parade horses of the prince-archbishops. In the film, Maria and the children stop to splash in the fountain near the end of “My Favorite Things.”
From there we rode — I mean pushed — our bikes up an incredibly steep pathway leading to Nonnberg Abbey, which is located above the city at the foot of Festungsberg Mountain. The convent is special in that is has both real-life and film significance. Maria von Kutschera (the real Maria) was a nun there and was later married there. Fans will recognize the site from the “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” scene and the escape scene at the end of the film. After going inside the church, we took a break to take in the breathtaking views of Salzburg and the alps. Even on a rainy day, the views were amazing.
A descent and a short ride led us to Leopoldskron Palace and its pond, which now operates as a hotel. It was the setting for many of the film’s iconic outdoor scenes — like drinking pink lemonade on the terrace and when the captain heard his children sing for the first time.
Raindrops on roses
At this point in the tour I was soaked to the bone, so much so that my new pair of jeans was beginning to bleed blue dye. After we passed the palace, we rode along a path through a residential farming area. It was then when the weather almost got the best of me. As I pedaled along the dirt path and the raindrops raced down my lenses, my mind was running wild with disappointment. “Why am I putting myself through this?” Of course, I was comparing my experience with pictures I’d seen on the tour website, with smiling (and dry) faces, illuminated by sunlight. I selfishly thought: “How will these photos look on my Instagram feed?”
Luckily, my mind snapped back pretty quickly. In the midst of feeling sorry for myself, I took a true inventory of my surroundings. I was following the path of one of my favorite characters, passing by sites I’d seen on screen hundreds of times. I was lucky to be here, rain or shine.
I wrapped up my internal conflict just in time for our stop at Frohnburg Palace, which was used to portray the front of the Von Trapp Villa. Scenes shot there include Maria’s arrival and when the family attempted to escape the Nazis by pushing their car silently out of the gate.
At the end of the path, we stopped at one of the most anticipated sites, The Gazebo, also known as The Sound of Music Pavilion. We spent about 20 minutes there, taking turns getting photographs with the iconic structure. I could practically hear “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” as I posed for my photo.
Before we knew it, we had left the countryside and were back in Old Town. We rode into Residence Square, or Residenzplatz, and parked our bikes so we could take a look around. In the film, Maria crosses the square while singing “I have Confidence.”
After buying a few souvenirs, we were back on our bikes. Our last stop was Mirabell Palace and Gardens, which are seen numerous times in the film. Maria and the children dance through the gardens, skip around the Pegasus Fountain, and jump up and down on the steps like the notes of a musical scale, all while singing “Do-Re-Mi.”
So long, farewell
As luck would have it, the rain came to an end just as we parked our bikes back at the meeting point. Despite the rain, the tour was a great way to see the sights of Salzburg without the restrictions of parking a bus. For those wishing to hedge their bets on staying dry, a handful of The Sound of Music-themed bus tours are available throughout the city.
More to see
After returning to my hotel for a dry set of clothes, I explored more of the Old Town, including the Getreidegasse shopping street. There, I stumbled upon Sound of Music World, an exhibition that compares the fictional storyline of the film with the real von Trapp family story. The exhibition is a great stop for tourgoers to explore in small groups during free time.