Salzburg, Austria is a magical panorama of weathered spires and domes topping Baroque facades with the stately fortress standing sentry and mountains just beyond. Add in pealing church bells and it’s pure bliss.
Travelers come to traverse the quaint narrow lanes, see where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and indulge in apple strudel. Then there are those who come to twirl. They come as though called by a siren to find the places they’ve seen year after year in their favorite movie – The Sound of Music.
The storyline of The Sound of Music is timeless. Maria, the would-be nun, is governess to seven children whose father, Georg von Trapp is a retired naval officer and widower. Despite their differences and his affair with Baroness Schraeder, Maria and Georg eventually fall in love, and marry. If you don’t know this story, get thee to a DVD player! Based on real events, it was filmed in 1964 in and around the actual locations. Enjoy this walking tour offering sights you won’t see from a tour bus. Grab a city map at your hotel and let’s get going.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
Start on Mozartsteg, the footbridge over the Salzach River, which the children run across during their trip into town wearing the playclothes Maria has sewn from the drapes in her bedroom. Cross the bridge and walk up Mozartplatz to Residenzplatz.
Residenzplatz (Residence Square)
This square in the heart of the old city is seen from above with soldiers marching across it and Nazi banners hanging from the Alte Residenz (Old Residence). Earlier in the movie, the real Maria von Trapp in her uncredited cameo can be seen walking past the archway by the cathedral in the background, while Julie Andrews, singing “I Have Confidence,” strolls toward the camera. Shortly thereafter, the fictional Maria splashes water at the horse statue in the Residence Fountain.
After flicking your own water, walk to Domplatz in front of the cathedral, which is seen briefly during the Salzburg montage before “Do Re Mi.” Visit the cathedral because it is dazzling and was rebuilt after being bombed during World War II. On past is Kapitalplatz with a nice view up to Hohensalzburg Fortress. You can’t miss this square – there is a sculpture of a man standing atop a large golden ball. This is where Maria boards the bus to the von Trapp villa. Continue across Kapitalplatz to Festungsgasse. This steep cobblestoned lane takes you up and around to Nonnberggasse and the red onion domed abbey.
Stift Nonnberg (Nonnberg Abbey)
Important to both the factual and fictional tales, the real Maria von Trapp was a postulant at the abbey. She and Georg von Trapp were married in the chapel here, though the chapel looks nothing like the one in the movie. The front gate is where the children ring the bell to inquire about Fraulein Maria and are politely turned away. Look for the metal ring set in the wall to the left of the gate, as seen in the movie. Later still, the Nazis show up demanding to be let in. This area in front of the gate is where the von Trapps, driving the caretaker’s car, come hurling past during the climatic escape scene. It’s also where the Nazis scramble to get back in their vehicles only to discover the cars won’t start because the nuns have sinned.
The abbey’s courtyard is where Maria departs for the von Trapp villa with guitar and bag, wondering what her day will be like as she exits the gate. Retrace your steps down Festungsgasse and stop at Steigkeller restaurant for a bite to eat and a cold beer before venturing on to the cemetery.
Petersfriedhof (St. Peter’s Cemetery)
This small cemetery of well-tended graves and arcaded crypts enclosed with local iron work was the inspiration for the von Trapp family’s hiding place in the abbey. The family did not hide out in this cemetery, but rather on a soundstage. Visit the catacombs carved into the rock face above and take a breather in the ornate Rococo church of St. Peter’s Monastery. Continue on through the courtyard to Toscaninihof. When Rolf curtly delivers the last telegram to Liesel, the entrance to the monastery courtyard is behind him.
Felsenreitschule (Rock Riding School)
The exterior of the Rock Riding School is seen when Herr Zeller’s car screeches to a halt and when Max and the children exit the theater after their rehearsal before Rolf approaches with the telegram. An outside staircase leads up to a path along the Mönchsberg. Trek up here for great views over the city. When Maria walks out of the abbey singing “I Have Confidence,” she ends up here in the movie.
The interior with its 96 arcades carved into the cliff was first used as a stage during the Salzburg Festival in 1926. This stage is where Herr Zeller confronts Max during the rehearsal, and where the von Trapp family sings together, supposedly, for the very last time. Following a rousing rendition of “Do Re Mi,” Captain von Trapp takes guitar in hand, choking out an emotional version of “Edelweiss,” which Maria, the children, and the audience all help him sing. Nazi guards are posted in the arches. The family’s final number is “So Long, Farewell” before they head for the hills. The stage is also where third place winner Fraulein Schweiger takes her 16 bows.
Walk around the Festival Hall to Hofstallgasse and continue on to Herbert-von-Karajan-Platz and Pferdeschwemmen (horse pond). Originally used to water horses in the court stables this site is seen during the Salzburg montage before “Do Re Mi.” The beautiful architecture and horse frescos are striking against the craggy rock.
Continue along Bürgerspitalgasse and look right down Getreidegasse, the popular shopping lane with displays of wrought iron guild signs. At Gstättengasse look for the elevator stuck to the side of the cliff. This is Mönchsbergaufzug (the Mönchsberg Lift). Take it up to the Modern Art Museum for glorious views over Salzburg’s old city. Here are the steps where Maria explains more about “Do Re Mi” to the children, with the city as the backdrop. This is the iconic shot used on postcards found all over the city.
After soaking up the views, take the lift down and continue along Griesgasse to the river. Cross over the Makartsteg footbridge where you’ll enjoy more fantastic views of the city and fortress. Stop in Hotel Sacher for a slice of their famous cake and a cup of coffee before hitting the final stretch of our tour. You’re going to need your strength.
Mirabellgarten (Mirabell Gardens)
Some of the best remembered scenes for “Do Re Mi” were filmed in these flower filled gardens. Start at the entrance off Markartplatz where the large stone statues facing one another, fists thrust high in the air are instantly recognizable. The gardens are a backdrop for the 17-century Mirabell Palace. Straight on is the large fountain where Maria and the children zipper across one another while singing. Along the edge of the gardens are the vine tunnels the children race through and farther on is the Pegasus Fountain that they dance around in an aerial shot. Take the stairs opposite the palace to the Zwerglgarten (Dwarf Garden) and find the little statue that the children pat on top of the head. It’s the one with glasses that looks a bit like Teddy Roosevelt. Walk back to the Pegasus Fountain for the “Do Re Mi” finale, as the famous steps are nearby. Here, the children jump up and down, a physical representation of a musical scale, while Julie Andrews’ voice jumps by half-octaves. Turn around at the top for a beautiful view back over the gardens and up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
If You Go
Stay at the Hotel Bristol across the street from Mirabell Gardens, where Christopher Plummer played the piano in the bar at night, or book a room at the Hotel Sacher where Julie Andrews bunked, as well as director Robert Wise.
Take one of the bus tours to see the places where scenes outside of Salzburg were filmed, including the wedding church in Mondsee, the gazebo, and the villa exteriors.
Wear comfortable shoes and give into the urge to spontaneously start twirling.