Why Salzburg, Austria, Is a Winter Wonderland You Need to Visit

Winter traditions include historic markets, delicious pastries, and festivities for horned beasts.

There’s no better place to be immersed in Alpine Christmas traditions than Salzburg, Austria—a city rich in history, full of gorgeous baroque architecture and, in winter, dazzling markets.

The Christmas season has been a big deal here for centuries: One of the world’s first advent markets, Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) traces its origins to the 15th century. Locals would set up shop to sell household goods in the main square, and this ritual later became the Nikolaimarkt, to celebrate St. Niklaus Day on the 6th of December (back then, Christmas wasn’t celebrated on the 25th).

Nowadays, Christmas markets are a season-long celebration and are wildly popular with locals and foreigners alike—Salzburg sees over 1 million visitors per year at the Christkindl markets alone. People come from all over the world to gather under the baroque domes aglow with lights and socialize over a hot mug of spiced wine, called glühwein, or orange punch.

Here’s a peek into the food, festivities, and horned beasts that make Salzburg a must-visit winter destination.

Christmas markets to visit in Salzburg

Christkindl market in the daytime

Christmas markets are a big part of Salzburg’s winter festivities.

Photo by Joe Flick

Rezidenzplatz Christkindlmarkt

  • Come for: A market full of people and variety
  • Dates: November 17, 2022 – January 1, 2023
  • Hours: Daily from 9 or 10 a.m. until 8:30 or 9 p.m.

The star of Salzburg’s Christmas markets is the grand market in Rezidenzplatz. Stroll through the area and marvel at the lights, browse ornaments and handcrafted goods on display at the nearly 100 vending booths, and enjoy the scents of pine, spices, incense, and roasting meat. Wander and sample a multitude of local gastronomic delights—from savory spiced sausage, goulash, and cheesy raclette to sweets like pillowy Kräpfen doughnuts and gingerbread cookies.

Keep an eye out for the intricate miniature nativity scenes posted outside the main market. Made by locals, they are remarkably detailed and offer a variety of interpretations of the famous story, including snowy Alpine hamlets and Middle Eastern deserts. You could spend hours here and not see it all.

While you enjoy your visual feast, listen for the melodies that come from every corner. The city that gave us Mozart stays true to its musical roots: You may hear a lone opera singer outside the main market attracting a small crowd, the voices of sing-along choirs, wind music played from high above the square, or even the pealing of church bells.

Mirabell Market

  • Come for: A relaxed market loved by locals
  • Dates: November 17 – December 24, 2022
  • Hours: Sunday–Thursday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Friday–Saturday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.

Centrally located just off the Mirabell Gardens (made famous by The Sound of Music), Mirabell Market is dubbed the “after-work market” by locals. Only a few minutes’ walk from the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof train station, the vendors in Mirabell Market are worth visiting for a sweet treat while taking in the iconic garden view of the fortress Festung Hohensalzburg. Mirabell is mostly attended by locals and doesn’t get too crowded, especially compared to Rezidenzplatz.

Hohensalzburg Advent Market

  • Come for: A market by a medieval fortress
  • Dates: November 25 – December 18, 2022
  • Hours: Friday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

Concealed within the Festung Hohensalzburg’s fortress walls is the Hohensalzburg Advent Market, an intimate Christmas market on a smaller scale, only open on weekends. Surrounded by parapets and fortress walls, this medieval market adds a festive twist in the brass music playing under a Christmas tree, as families sip hot drinks on cold winter nights.

The medieval fortress itself, which is perched above the old town, is an absolute must-see while in Salzburg. Walk to the top or ride the funicular—located a short distance from the main market square—for views of the domes and spires of the city. Get a bird’s-eye view of the narrow streets that exhibit festive lights and the snow-crowned Alpine peak of Untersberg.

Sternadvent Market

  • Come for: An intimate market in a brewery
  • Dates: November 17, 2022 – January 6, 2023
  • Hours: Sunday–Thursday: 10:30 a.m.–7 p.m.; Friday–Saturday: 10:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m.

Just off the main shopping path of Getreidegasse in the old town, the Sternbräu brewery holds its own Christmas market, the Sternadvent Market, adjacent to the brewery. Don’t miss the arched entryway decorated with wreaths and silver angel wings. Inside, try a Baumstriezel, or chimney cake, which is a cylinder spiral of dough dipped in toppings like cinnamon sugar. Fresh out of the oven, the crispy pastry steams out the top like a chimney—perfect for strolling around and warming up, unwinding as you go.

Other Christmas-y things to do in Salzburg

Krampus Run in Salzburg, Austria

Krampus isn’t exactly the jolliest of creatures.

Photo by Joe Flick

See the Krampus Run

Each Christmas season, Salzburg hosts its annual Krampus Run, a celebration of St. Nikolaus’s fiendish companion, Krampus. Wearing a grotesque wooden mask and covered in shaggy fur adorned with bells, the horned Krampus is a being who smacks bad children with birch branches. The creature dates back to pre-Christian times and is incorporated into Christmas traditions in many central European and Alpine regions, including Bavaria, Tyrol, Slovakia, and Hungary.

The Krampus Run begins on Linzergasse, across the river from the old town, and ends at Rezidenzplatz. During the run, people dress up as the hairy Krampus and roam the narrow streets of Salzburg. They roar and jump—as kids run and scream—but it’s all good fun. St. Nikolaus follows, benevolently handing out candies as the Krampuses go wild.

Visit the Christmas Museum

For those interested in the history of Salzburg Christmas traditions, stop by the Christmas Museum located near Mozartplatz and the main market square. Situated on top of Café Glockenspiel, the museum’s historical collection includes Christmas letters, old cookie molds, tree ornaments, doll houses, and other curios that show how Christmas traditions and decorations evolved in Austria and Germany.

Where to eat in Salzburg

The interior of St. Peter Stiftskulinarium in Salzburg, Austria

Places like St. Peter Stiftskulinarium make dining a fun and festive experience.

Photo by Joe Flick

St. Peter Stiftskulinarium

Located east of the main market and tucked up against the Festungsberg mountain is St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, a must-see for any foodie or fan of eclectic decoration. The establishment dates back to 803 C.E. and is composed of rooms ranging from baroque music chambers to intimate dining areas hewn out of the mountainside. The outdoor lounge features cushioned benches and a giant nativity scene.

St. Peter serves up classic Austrian dishes like schnitzel and wurst, but don’t miss the Tafelspitz: boiled beef and veggies served with a side of luxurious creamed horseradish and spinach. For dessert, try the iconic Salzburgernockerl, a sweet souffle, shaped like the peaks of three local mountains, served with a tart berry cream. It’s surprisingly light and fluffy, and the perfect way to end a night.

Gasthof Goldgasse

Gasthof Goldgasse is both an upscale inn and quaint eatery, serving local, seasonal cuisine sourced from nearby farmers. Famous for its fried chicken in a copper pot, the Gasthof kitchen puts a unique interpretation on recipes from a 1719 cookbook with creations like crayfish fritters and char cooked on a salt stone. The light wood paneling of hand-cut oak and baroque art adorning the walls give the Gasthof a cozy and sophisticated feel.

Steinterasse

For a drink with one of the best views of the city, head to Hotel Stein’s rooftop bar and restaurant, Steinterasse. Here you’ll be greeted with the iconic Salzburg view of the old town, the fortress above, and the snowy Untersberg summit crowning the panorama. Sit inside the elegantly modern bar or brave the cold on the terrace (with blankets provided at each table) and sip a White Negroni or another one of its winter cocktails.

Where to stay in Salzburg

Hotel Hyperion

A historic palace built in Viennese Ringstrasse fashion in 1874, Palais Faber now hosts guests as a 115-suite luxury hotel. The 2022-opened Hyperion is located in the new town, only a few blocks from Mirabell Gardens and a 10-minute walk from the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof train station.

The accommodations are tastefully modern with accents like designer armchairs and subtle automatic floor lighting. Deluxe suites come with a stand-alone bathtub, and the partly glass-walled bathrooms are equipped with a rain forest shower. Stay for breakfast because the options are diverse: Choose from a selection of fresh fruit and muesli, made-to-order omelets, a variety of juices, cheeses, and a self-serve honeycomb.

Joe Flick splits his time between Seattle, Washington, and Barcelona, Spain. His day job is in real estate, and he spends his free time writing and traveling the world with his camera in hand.