Salzburg on a budget – Lonely Planet

With its swirl of baroque palaces, lavish concert halls, masterpiece-packed art galleries and fancy hotels, Salzburg might not be the first place that leaps into mind for a budget break. But even high culture doesn’t cost the earth here. With some careful planning, though, you can get a true experience of Austria’s Alpine capital for very little.

It is no cliché to say that the best things in Salzburg are free: whether you’re exploring the Unesco-listed Altstadt’s baroque plazas, churches and abbeys, hiking up to wooded hills that gaze dreamily out to the not-so-distant Alps, or watching students perform classical music for nichts (nothing). Read on for our top 10 tips on how to cut costs in Salzburg.

Book budget flights to Salzburg and you’ll be able to enjoy an afternoon in the city in no time © Jonathon Stokes / Lonely Planet

Book budget flights and train tickets well ahead

A number of budget airlines (Ryanair and easyJet among them) fly to Salzburg, and you can snag some terrific deals if you dodge the high season and book well ahead. When prices spike, consider flying to bigger cities that can easily be reached by train, such as Vienna (2½ hours) and Munich (1½ to two hours).

If booked well in advance, ÖBB Sparschiene tickets can be an absolute steal; you can travel to Vienna for as little as €20, for instance, as long as you are flexible about trains and times. The nightjet night train is a good option for speeding to 25 cities in Central, Southern and Eastern Europe. Tickets go for as little as €30.

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Avoid traveling to Salzburg in peak season

Salzburg has two peak seasons. During the summer holidays (July and August), the city gets swamped, reaching bursting point during the Salzburg Festival, when even standard rooms are rare. Rates go through the roof and the crowds are large. In December, when the city brims with Christmas markets and festival sparkle, it can get busy and expensive too.

To save euros, come in spring or autumn for cheaper flights, lower room rates and far fewer crowds.

Beautiful panoramic view of the historic city of Salzburg
Getting around Salzburg is possible via foot, bike, and a number of public transportation options © canadastock / Shutterstock

Walk, cycle or invest in a travel pass

Split in two by the Salzach River, Salzburg’s sight-crammed Altstadt is a joy to roam on foot (and indeed, this is the only way to really get a feel for its pedestrianized backstreets). Unless you are venturing further afield, you need never set foot in a bus or train once you’ve arrived. A reliable network of cycle paths also makes this one of Austria’s most bike-friendly cities, and the routes that run along the river are a dream, giving you a seamless transition between the city and the mountains. Rent your wheels at aVelo for €20 per day.

As you might expect in such an efficient land, getting around by public transport (SVV) is a breeze and very affordable. It’s always cheaper to buy tickets online or at the ticket machine than on board. If you’re planning on zipping about town, a Tageskarte day pass (€4.50) tends to work out better value than buying single tickets (each €2.10).

Statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Salzburg
Learn about Mozart during a walking tour of Salzburg © SF / Shutterstock

Hook onto a free city tour

If it’s your first time in Salzburg, Free Walking Tour Salzburg is a terrific way to get your bearings, contextualize the city and tick off some of the trophy sights. Tours last an hour and a half and whizz past major landmarks such as Schloss Mirabell and Residenzplatz. Guides are clued-up, fun and full of interesting stories. While technically the tours are free, a tip certainly doesn’t go amiss. See the website for time slots and bookings. The meeting point is the Spirit of Mozart sculpture near Staatsbrücke.

Get a slice of history for the price of a pint

Back in the 17th century, Salzburg’s Augustinian monks loved their home brews and a bit of a party. Their legacy is the Augustiner Bräustübl, founded in 1621. With its vaulted, beamed hall and 1000-seat beer garden sprawling lazily under the chestnut trees, this is a cracking spot to soak up a real flavor of Salzburg life. Fill your tankard at the foyer pump and visit the good-value snack stands for beer grub including Stelzen (ham hock), pork belly and giant pretzels.

Camp, stay in a hostel or go the extra mile

A simple Google search for hotels in Salzburg can be frightening – many of the hotels in the center are luxe four- or five-star pads, with price tags to match. As a rule of thumb (with precious few exceptions), if you want to save money, avoid the Altstadt. Prices leap an extra 10% to 20% during the Salzburg Festival.

Moosstrasse, a quick bus ride south of town, has a flurry of charming, inexpensive, family-run B&Bs, where you can often snag a double for as little as €80, with a hearty breakfast thrown in. These include Haus Ballwein, Haus am Moos and Haus Steiner.

In the warmer months, you could pitch a tent instead. Just north of town, there are a couple of scenic options, including Salzburg Panorama-Camping-Stadtblick, with a cycle lane making it possible to roll into town in just 15 minutes.

If you prefer a proper bed, Salzburg has a couple of good hostels, among them A&O Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, with coolly modern digs in a revamped bread factory near the main train station, and hip-and-happening Yoho Salzburg, with pluses like a cheap bike rental (€10) and free daily screenings of The Sound of Music. Yup, that’s every day!

Browse market stalls for picnic fixings

Sun’s out? That’s your cue to join the hungry Salzburger at the Grünmarkt on Universitätsplatz for picnic goodies: from fruit and veg to ham and cheese from the Alps, and pretzels as big as your head. For a sourdough loaf fresh from a wood-fired oven, nip into nearby Stiftsbäckerei St Peter, a 700-year-old bakery that’s part of the abbey complex of the same name.

Go for lunch – not dinner

You can save a small fortune by taking advantage of the lunchtime Tagesmenü (fixed menu) served at most places. A two-course lunch at many restaurants and bistros will set you back as little as €10, a fraction of what it costs to eat out in the evening.

Tucked down lovely Churfürststrasse in the heart of the Altstadt, university café Mensa Toskanatrakt offers one of the best deals in town, with its courtyard setting and walled-friendly 2-course lunch for €6.30 (or €5.40 if you go for the veggie option ).

Save with the Salzburg Card

If you’re planning on visiting all the big-hitters, you’ll save loads by investing in an all-in-one Salzburg Card, which gives you unlimited use of public transport, entry to all the main sights – from the lavish state rooms of the Residenz to the city-in-a-nutshell Salzburg Museum and clifftop fortress Festung Hohensalzburg. The card also gets you a cable-car ride up to the Alps at Untersberg. You’ll save time too: simply flash your card to skip queues. The 24-/48-/72-hour card costs €30/39/45; children aged six to 15 pay half price.

Marionettes at the Salzburger Marionettentheater performing Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music
Enjoy a show in Salzburg by taking advantage of last minute tickets sold right before the performance © Jonathon Stokes / Lonely Planet

Find high culture on the cheap

Salzburg punches high culturally and you can tune into some of its most memorable experiences for very little. Mozart, you say? Make for the Mozarteum, where it’s free to attend the weekday rehearsals of incredibly talented music students (see the website for details or ask at reception). Opera and ballet? At the grand 18th-century Landestheater nearby, under-30s can take advantage of last-minute tickets sold at the box office 30 minutes before performances, which go for just €6.

Even summer’s colossal Salzburg Festival doesn’t have to be expensive as long as you aren’t picky about the performance. Order standing seats (costing roughly between €10 and €30) as soon as they go on sale in mid-January, or feel the buzz watching free screenings of opera on Kapitelplatz, as locals drift past dressed up to the nines.

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