This Charming Austrian City Has the Most Magical Christmas Markets in Europe

Home to Mozart and “The Sound of Music”; named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its stunningly preserved baroque architecture and unique blend of German and Italian influence; marked on the map by the curves of the Salzach River and the northern edge of the snow-tipped Alps — Salzburg, Austria, is, on paper, the perfect European Christmas vacation.

But it’s not the city’s impressive history, its long list of accolades from the United Nations, or even its geographic assets that make it a holiday destination to remember.

It’s the scent of cinnamon-sprinkled mulled wine mingling with fresh pine trees in the crisp air; the sound of horses clacking past carolers as church bells ring in the distance. It’s the taste of apple strudel served in a warm coffee house while just outside its elegant doors families huddle around red market stalls, waiting for sausages hot off the grill. It’s twinkling lights and orange punch; roasting chestnuts and green lederhosen.

It only takes one stroll through the cobblestone streets of Altstadt, the Old Town, to realize Austria’s fourth-largest city is something special, but while its train-accessible location makes it a popular day trip from Munich or Vienna, you’ll be sorry if you don’t stay the night and get to know it better. 

Here’s how to spend a December weekend in Salzburg that’s guaranteed to put you in a festive mood, not only while you’re there, but whenever you think back on its magic for Christmases to come.

Where to Stay in Salzburg

First on record as an inn as far back as 1407, the Luxury Collection Goldener Hirsch Salzburg is now a 70-room, five-star hotel that’s managed to maintain its traditional charm even through a just-unveiled multimillion-dollar renovation. Outfitted by Countess Harriet von Walderdorff with antique Austrian farmhouse furniture, the hotel seamlessly blends nods to its past, from rotary phones to the traditional patterns on its linens, with modern details including heated bathroom floors, automatic bedside lighting, and speakers that bring the city’s love for music inside each room.

The hotel’s stylish bar overlooks the interior courtyard where horses once awaited their owners, and its two restaurants, Restaurant Goldener Hirsch and Hertzl, serve all the hearty dishes Austria is known for, the former in a refined, formal setting, the latter in a cozy, casual one. Pair the schnitzel with a local Riesling, and you won’t even feel the cold when you step outside to begin your holiday shopping.