Festung Hohensalzburg: A Fortress With A View

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Austria Castles
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One of my travel philosophies is that if I’m travelling to a city with a castle, that castle is going to be visited.  For Americans, castles and grand fortresses epitomize one of the core reasons why we travel to Europe: to see and experience things we simply can’t back home.  Well-preserved old towns and fortresses draw millions to Central Europe every year.  The equivalent for Europeans who visit the States would be, I suppose, stopping by a twenty-four diner and ordering ten pancakes.  Or, alternatively, angrily honking at everybody who makes a minor mistake on the highway.

Now, back to castles.  Kevin and I only had a few hours to spend in Salzburg, Austria, a small city about ninety minutes southeast of Munich.  Even so, after breakfast, we headed straight for Hohensalzburg, the icon of Salzburg – the massive medieval fortress that sits on a hill overlooking the city.  Thankfully, for those of us who are, as I like to put it, “directionally challenged,” you’ll have no trouble finding the fortress.  The city is so pocket-sized that you’ll be able enjoy a view of the fortress at almost every turn.

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What makes this fortress special?  Festung Hohensalzburg was the largest medieval fortress never to be conquered and is considered one of the best preserved castles in all of Europe.  Visiting the fortress can transport you back in time; it’s remarkably authentic and has changed little since its sixteenth century heyday.

Now, there are two ways to visit the fortress: you can take the funicular from downtown, which will bring you to the ticket booth, or you can walk for about fifteen to twenty minutes at a steady incline and arrive right where you would had you taken the funicular.  The funicular ride will set you back a few euros…but walking is free!

Thankfully, Kevin and I are frugal travelers with an ability to walk, because otherwise, we would have missed out on some pretty stellar views.  And, the hike was just challenging enough to burn off the freshly-baked doughnuts we had for breakfast.

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The fortress as we approached from the footpath.  Rather a unique view, don’t you think?

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The hike afforded us a peek into an oft-hidden part of Salzburg: its residential side.

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A charming church dome in Salzburg’s signature hues: dark green and pale yellow.

Once you make it to the ticket booth, expect to pay approximately $11.00 USD to enter the fortress.  It’s important to note that this ticket also includes a ride back down into town on the funicular, which is handy for tourists strapped for time.  Like us!

Not to disappoint all you castle collectors and imaginary knights out there, but Festung Hohensalzburg is underwhelming as far as major tourist attractions go.  The fortress itself is threadbare; the major points are poorly marked and there isn’t that much to see besides the marionette museum, which I found to be incredibly amusing and worth popping into.

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The interior view of the fortress.

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An example of a poorly marked part of the fortress; there was no sign indicating what this was.

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The fortress’ chapel.  An incredibly common sight in medieval fortresses and castles.  They were often designed to be like self-sustaining mini-towns.

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The unexpected yet delightfully playful marionette museum.

Since the fortress itself doesn’t contain many sights, the marionette museum makes a wonderful pit stop for those traveling with small children – and it’s also entertaining for us adults.  Obviously, the marionette exhibit wasn’t part of the original fortress, but somehow, has emerged as the most interesting sight to see inside Festung Hohensalzburg.  While marionettes are not an art form native to Austria, the nation has become famous for its marionette performers and Salzburg has its own renowned puppetry theatre with shows nearly every weekend.  Salzburg is a city that clearly takes pride its contributions to the art world, and this is reflected even at a military fortress built nearly a thousand years ago.

So, I keep mentioning the uninvolving nature of the fortress, which I suppose reminds visitors of the austerity of the eleventh century, the era in which it was built.  Tourists with a desire to interact with engaging exhibits will wonder, though: what’s with the steep entry fee?

Now, the fortress was built high on a hill for strategic military purposes, and even though Salzburg no longer faces imminent attack, its position undoubtedly benefits us visitors today.

Folks, now we go to the main attraction of the fortress; the number one reason why I’d recommend this sight to any visitor.  The view!

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A view of Salzburg’s classic Old Town.

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The Salzac River and the foothills of the Alps.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t want to walk away from that view.  Festung Hohensalzburg actually has two levels of overlooks, and I found the lower level to offer a better city view.  Every photograph I took of Salzburg from above looked like a postcard; even on a rainy, cloudy day, the view was still incredible.  Don’t get discouraged if there are no blue skies in the forecast!

Examining the city from such a unique vantage point truly emphasized Salzburg’s small size and walkability, while highlighting its charm and appeal.  The fortress’ structure undoubtedly holds much history that visitors will find palpable, and the marionette museum is guaranteed to entertain.  The view, however, is worth the price of admission, and can help the newly arrived to Salzburg find their bearings.

Traveler Tips:

  • If you decide to tour Festung Hohensalzburg, you have two options: you can walk to the fortress or ride the funicular for a small cost.  Either way, your ticket to the fortress includes the funicular ride back down into town, even if you plan on walking.
  • Walkways in the fortress itself are rather steep and there are very few places to sit down.  Unfortunately, it would be hard to maneuver a wheelchair or crutches.
  • There are eateries in the fortress, but food tends to be on the expensive side.  I’d recommend eating in town before visiting the fortress – and be sure to pack water in your daypack.
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