by Tori Ward, ROX Travel, Cruise and Resort Specialist
When purchasing train tickets for reserved seats in Europe, I always hope for the best views. Although we selected the high-speed Rail Jet Express that departs Zurich shortly before 11 a.m. there are several other, albeit slower, options.
By the time we arrived in Salzburg at 4:03 p.m., I wanted to get back on the train and do it again in the opposite direction.
It was the most beautiful train journey I’ve ever taken. The snow-covered Alps as the train ascends upward through the Arlberg pass are dramatic with lush meadows below full of activity as the final harvest before winter sets in.
We blinked once and almost missed Liechtenstein, which the train passed through.
Our hotel in Salzburg was close to the station and a good walk after a long ride. After a quick check-in, we immediately merged onto Linzer Gasse with the rest of the pedestrian traffic and headed for the riverfront.
Wandering through shops and arguing over dinner choices took up considerable time, but we didn’t stray across the river until after dark. Views from the east side of the river granted us the best aspect of Fortress Hohensalzburg, the 11th century castle that dominates the skyline.
The evening sky was overcast as we trooped across the bridge into old town Salzburg, the Baroque historical heart of the city with its Sound of Music sites familiar from film and a previous visit during college.
Carnival rides and booths were in the process of being prepared for Octoberfest all around Residenzplatz, where Mozart lived as a youngster. The beautiful 17th century Salzburg Cathedral with its museum full of sacred items sprawled majestically over the square while the castle bathed in light, glowed on the hilltop above.
There is a cable car up to the fortress, and even if you only go up to the outside terrace bar for a beer, the view from that vantage point is amazing.
The following morning we sprinted as quickly as possible through cold and rain soaked streets to Mirabellplatz to catch our bus for Lake Hallstatt.
It might be a community known for salt mines since prehistoric times, but the beautiful Alpine village that curves along the lake is so pristine with its clean lines and brightly colored homes tightly packed on the thin strip of land between water and mountain that social images of it as the most Instagrammable town in the world has created an explosion of over-tourism.
The town strictly limits the number of tourists allowed in each day so advanced planning is vital.
We returned early enough for a lovely stroll through Mirabellgarten. Admission to both the gardens and palace is free. And, although the main attraction in the palace is the Marble Hall, the staircase leading up to it is an attraction in itself.
The palace hosts a Mozart concert almost every night, and it is a popular attraction, so plan early.
Salzburg was cozy like a sweater, but we were leaving the next morning for Vienna for a much more formal affair.
Purchase tickets in advance for a tour of Hallstatt and any attraction or concert you may want to attend in Salzburg. Travel agents will help you pack the most into your journey.
Bring cash and an umbrella during the fall and spring on visits to Hallstatt. There are few restaurant choices and many won’t take cards. Accommodations in the town itself are very limited if you intend to spend more than a few hours.
Walking is the best form of transportation in Salzburg. The town is compact, and it’s easy to find your bearings quickly.
If you are traveling from Zurich, make sure you have euros instead of Swiss francs.