If you are a fan of movie musical The Sound of Music then it's likely that a visit to Salzburg, Austria to tour the filming sites is high on your travel wish list. Our family loves the movie and my younger daughter has been in the stage version of the musical twice so we knew when planning our recent trip to Germany and Austria that Salzburg would be a highlight.
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The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music is a 1965 Hollywood movie produced and directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer which received five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. The iconic movie is set in Salzburg, Austria in 1938 and tells the heartwarming story of a spirited young postulant nun who is sent to work as a governess to the children of a Navy Captain. They fall in love and marry just prior to the Anschluss and then escape with the children from Nazi-occupied Austria. The film was adapted from the 1959 Rogers & Hammerstein stage musical based on the memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp. There was a fair bit of artistic license taken with the story though so many of the events depicted in the film are not necessarily historically accurate. Much of the movie was filmed on set in Los Angeles but many scenes were filmed in and around Salzburg.
Sound of Music Tour Options in Salzburg
The Sound of Music is one of the most beloved (and commercially successful) films of all time so it's not at all surprising that the popularity of the movie has given rise to a number of tours for fans who would like to visit the filming sites in Salzburg. It was important to us to see as many sites as possible on our visit so I researched the options thoroughly prior to booking our tour. We had limited time available (only the afternoon that we arrived plus one full day) in Salzburg and I knew there wasn't enough time to visit all of the possible sites connected to The Sound of Music. My goal was to visit as many sites as we could as efficiently as possible.
Large Group Tours
Large group coach bus tours (50+ passengers) visit the filming sites that are outside of the historic city centre (Mirabell Gardens, Leopoldskron Palace, Hellbrunn Palace, Salzburg Lake District and Mondsee Wedding Chapel) and also see Nonnberg Abbey from the bus. It's not possible for them to visit Nonnberg Abbey though so anyone who wants to see it will have to visit on their own before or after the tour. To see the sites within the city centre it will be necessary to take an additional walking tour either with a guide or on your own.
- Panorama Tours offers the highly popular Original Sound of Music Tour - a 4 hour English language coach bus tour that operates twice a day year-round (at 9:15 am and 2:00 pm) departing from their bus terminal near Mirabell Gardens. Cost: 45 Euros per adult (reduced price for children under 12). Panorama also offers a 1.5-2 hour walking tour combined with the Original Sound of Music Tour at a cost of 62 Euros per adult.
- Gray Line also offers an Original Sound of Music sightseeing tour by coach bus which includes the filming sites outside the city centre. Cost is 45 Euros per adult.
Small Group Tours
- Bob's Special Tours specializes in small group minivan tours (8 passengers plus the driver) with both The Sound of Music and other itineraries. There are 4 hour or 8 hour Sound of Music tours available. The cost for the 4 hour Sound of Music tour is 48 Euros per person and for the 8 hour Sound of Music tour is 96 Euros per person. There is a reduced rate for children. Tours may be booked online.
- If you prefer sightseeing on two wheels then Fräulein Maria's Bicycle Tour might be just what you are looking for. Small group tours run from April through October. Tours begin at 9:30am (in June-August there is also an afternoon tour at 4:30pm). Tours last approximately 3.5 hours and cover about 8 miles. It is recommended that tours be booked ahead. Tour starts at Mirabell Palace and visits the sites within the historic Old Town as well as Schloss Hellbrunn and Schloss Leopoldskron. Cost is 30 Euros per adult, 18 Euros for 13-17 year-olds and 12 Euros for age 12 and under. There's also a 2 Euro discount if you have a Rick Steves guidebook with you.
Do It Yourself Tours
It would be relatively easy to see the sites in Salzburg's Old Town on one's own but is a little more complicated for anyone who wants to see those sites which are outside of the city as well. If you prefer to do it on your own without a guide then find an online resource that outlines the many sites and how to visit them.
- This Sound of Music Movie Tour from Big Boy Travel has extensive information on the various filming sites that is useful for a self-guided tour.
- My friend Mary from The World is a Book visited Salzburg with her family and wrote about their DIY Sound of Music Tour. They had a rental car and visited the sites on a day trip from Munich.
Bob's Special Tours
We chose Bob's Special Tours, a family run business which has been operating in Salzburg since 1976 and is recommended by Rick Steves, Fodors and Frommers. The company offers a number of small group tours (English language only) - three of which include The Sound of Music sites. We had dismissed the DIY option because we didn't want to be bothered renting a car and thought it would be too time-consuming to try and reach the sites outside of Old Town by public transport. I also appreciate the knowledge shared by an expert guide but don't enjoy large group tours so a small group tour was right for us.
We opted for the Sound of Music Special tour which was created in celebration of the film's 50th anniversary. It is an 8 hour tour which included a walking tour of Old Town Salzburg, an Austrian cooking class, and a driving tour to visit the filming sites outside of the city.
The driving portion of the tour uses a minivan (8 passengers maximum) and we were told when booking that the tour would run with a minimum of 4 individuals. Nobody else signed up for our off-season (March) tour but we were able to pay for the 4th person and had a private tour for considerably less than what it would have cost to book a private tour.
Walking Tour of Altstadt (Old Town) Salzburg
We met our guide, Jürgen, at the Bob's Special Tours offices on Rudolfskai first thing in the morning and headed out on our 3 hour walking tour of Salzburg's Old Town. Rain was forecast for the day but we were quite lucky as it mostly cleared up after a few drops in the morning. Our tour included The Sound of Music filming sites but also covered the history of Salzburg as we walked through Old Town.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Jürgen who is a friendly guide who grew up in Salzburg and is very knowledgeable about the city's history and the real Von Trapp family as well as the film. We had already visited some of the sites on our own the afternoon of the day before when we arrived in Salzburg but it was interesting to hear the more in-depth information that Jürgen was able to provide.
The first stop on our walking tour was the historic Benedictine monastery Nonnberg Abbey (Stift Nonnberg) where Maria lived as a postulant in the movie before she is sent to work as a governess to Captain Von Trapp's seven children. The abbey which was founded in 714 AD sits slightly above the city (and below the fortress) and the red onion dome is part of the iconic view of the city of Salzburg.
The real life Maria lived here for a time after completing her education prior to becoming a governess. She and Baron von Trapp were also married at the abbey in 1927 (the movie version differs from real life as they had actually been married for many years and had two children together prior to the Anschluss).
It's a bit of a climb up to the abbey which can be accessed either by stairs or a lane way (or if you are visiting the fortress then you can hike down to the abbey). The views over the city on the way up to the abbey are stunning - even if it's overcast or raining a bit.
Several scenes from the movie were filmed here including the nuns heading to mass at the start of the movie, the nuns singing Maria in the abbey courtyard, the children at the gates to the abbey asking to see Maria, and the scene with the cars outside the abbey when the escape from the Nazis is underway. The movie production team were not given permission to film inside the abbey so interior scenes were shot elsewhere.
The church is open daily to visitors (but not large tour groups) except when worship services are underway.
St. Peter's Monastery & Cemetery
The next stop on our walking tour was Salzburg's oldest church, St. Peter's Monastery & Cemetery (Stift St. Peter). St. Peter's Monastery was founded by the Frankish missionary Rupert in 696 AD and is the oldest continuously active monastery in the German-speaking world. Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart also had close ties to St. Peter's and his sister is buried here.
St. Peter's served as the inspiration for the scene in the movie where the Von Trapp family hides from the Nazis in the cemetery at Nonnberg Abbey although the actual scene was filmed on a set.
After looking around be sure to stop at the monastery bakery (Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter) which is open to the public. Chances are you will smell the fresh baked bread while passing by and will be unable to resist the temptation. The monastery has been baking bread here in wood-fired ovens for about 800 years. A water wheel that historically supplied the power for milling the grain turns outside the entrance to the bakery. The bread was highly recommended by our guide so we purchased a loaf to eat later with our goulash at lunch - it was delicious!
As we continued our walk, we arrived outside the stunning Salzburg Cathedral (Dom zu Salzburg). I'll have to watch the movie again to confirm but I think there is just a brief glimpse of the cathedral as Maria crosses to Residenz Square while singing I Have Confidence. In any event, our tour included a visit to this beautiful church as it is of great historical importance to the city of Salzburg.
Each of the front entrance doors bears a date - 774 the year a church was first consecrated on the site, 1628 when the present day church was completed after the previous one had burned down, and 1959 when the church was reopened following renovations to repair war damage.
Mozart was christened here in the bronze baptismal font that dates to the medieval church as was Joseph Mohr who wrote the words to Silent Night. A black and white photo display inside the entrance depicts the damage caused by bombing during WWII.
In the courtyard there is a monument to Mary which was covered by glass panels during our visit (the marble statues in Salzburg have to be covered to protect from damage during the winter). On the facade of the church there are two angels holding a crown and the interesting fact that we learned from our guide is that if you stand at the correct angle behind the statue you will see that Mary is being crowned by the angels.
Residenz Square (Residenzplatz) is located in the historic centre of Salzburg and is named after the Residenz Palace which was the home of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. There are two prominent buildings in the square - Alte Residenz (Old Residence Palace) and the Neue Residenz (New Residence). There is a bell tower on the New Residence with a 35 bell glockenspiel that plays approximately 40 different melodies but, unfortunately, we missed hearing it play.
Neue Residenz is also now home to the Salzburg Museum, a museum of art and cultural history for the city and province of Salzburg. The beautiful Baroque fountain which is the focal point of the square features 4 horses at the base and is topped by a King Triton that was modeled after Bernini's fountain in Rome. I didn't get many photos in the square because there was a great deal of off-season construction happening in Old Town Salzburg. I had to do a lot of maneuvering to block construction equipment out of this photo!
In The Sound of Music, Residenz Square is featured when Maria is on her way to the Von Trapp family home for the first time. As she sings I Have Confidence, she enters the square through the Domplatz arches and stops to splash in Residenz Fountain. Following the Anschluss, Alte Residenz is also seen with a Nazi flag hanging on the facade.
Mirabell Palace and Gardens
We visited Mirabell Palace and Gardens twice while in Salzburg - once on our own as soon as we arrived in the city and then again the next day on our tour. The palace was originally built in 1606 by prince-archbishop Wolf-Dietrich for his mistress and the Baroque-style gardens were designed at a later time.
The central axis of the garden lines up with Hohensalzburg so be sure to climb the steps to the upper garden and turn around to take in the incredible views across Salzburg to the fortress. When we visited on our own we also went inside the palace to see the beautiful Marble Hall where classical music concerts are held.
These gardens are featured in one of the movie's most loved scenes when Maria teaches the children to sing Do-Re-Mi. Fans of the movie will recognize the fencing statues at the entrance gates to the gardens, the Pegasus fountain that Maria and the Von Trapp children dance around, the vine tunnel that they skip through and the stairs that they use as a scale while performing Do-Re-Mi. The garden where the trolls in the scene are located was closed during our visit so we missed seeing those.
We also saw the Mozart Footbridge, a pedestrian bridge named after the famous composer which opened in 1903. In The Sound of Music, Maria and the children are seen skipping across the bridge in Do-Re-Mi.
Edelweiss Cooking School
At the conclusion of our walking tour, Jürgen dropped us off at the Edelweiss Cooking School for our lesson in traditional Austrian cooking. The cooking school is located in a very interesting building that was built into the cliff face of the Mönchsberg so that the back walls are rock. On the day of our visit there was only the three of us and another group of three at the lesson but the class has a maximum of 15 people.
Our teacher, Simone, was great at both instructing and demonstrating. She gave a brief demonstration on the steps involved in making apple strudel and then we made our own from the assembled ingredients. We also opted to make a second dessert called Salzburger Nockerl which was more complicated. While our desserts were cooking we dined on Austrian goulash and then enjoyed our masterpieces fresh from the oven.
The class was one of the most memorable parts of our day (even though it wasn't Sound of Music related). It was so much fun learning how to cook Austrian specialties and our lunch was delicious. Classes at the cooking school may also be booked independent of any sightseeing tours - check their website for details.
Driving Tour Outside Salzburg
Our driver/guide for the afternoon, Rosa Maria, met us at the cooking school and we headed out in the minivan to see some of the filming sites outside of the Old Town and in the Lake District.
The first stop on the driving portion of our tour was to view Schloss Leopoldskron (Leopold Palace) which is located in Salzburg but outside the historic city centre. The palace was originally built by prince-archbishop Leopold Anton Freiherr von Firmian in 1736 and was purchased by theatre impresario, Max Reinhart, in 1918 and restored over a 20 year period. It was here that the Salzburg Festival was founded.
Today the property is privately owned and operates as a boutique hotel and conference centre. As Schloss Leopoldskron and Schloss Park are private property, admission to the palace and park grounds is limited to hotel and conference guests (except on select dates when it is open to the public) so can't actually be visited but you can enjoy a lovely view of the mansion and photograph it from across the small lake.
Many outdoor scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed at Schloss Leopoldskron as it was used as the rear of the von Trapp house. Any of the scenes showing the lakefront terrace and gardens were filmed at Schloss Leopoldskron including the scene with the children falling out of the rowboat. Interior scenes of the von Trapp home were all shot on set. The Venetian Room at Leopoldskron was also recreated on a set to serve as the ballroom in the von Trapp villa.
The gazebo in the film was also originally here and the scene Sixteen Going On Seventeen was filmed here. After the film the gazebo was gifted to the City of Salzburg and in 1991 it was restored and relocated to Schloss Hellbrunn (Hellbrunn Palace Park) for public viewing due to the overwhelming number of fans of the film that were visiting the property.
Schloss Frohnburg (Frohnburg Palace), built in 1660, was used for scenes showing the front of the von Trapp family home. Maria arrives at these gates toward the end of I Have Confidence on her way to meet the family. The wall next to the gates is visible in the scene where the family is trying to quietly push the car away from their home to escape the Nazis the night of the Salzburg Festival. Today Schloss Frohnburg is used by the Mozarteum Music Academy so visitors can't go past the gate or the wall. We admired the Palace and took photos from our vehicle while driving by on our way to Schloss Hellbrunn.
The gazebo where Rolf and Liesl sing I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen in The Sound of Music was located on the property at Schloss Leopoldskron when the movie was filmed but has since been moved to the grounds of Schloss Hellbrunn (Hellbrunn Palace) due to the number of fans who were visiting it. The gazebo isn't open so you will have to be satisfied with admiring it from the outside instead of trying to recreate the dancing scene inside. In the movie this is also where Captain Von Trapp and Maria sing Something Good when they declare their love for each other and decide to marry.
Salzburg Lake District
After seeing the gazebo we went for a drive in the Salzkammergut Lake District. Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and became quite rainy so we mostly just admired the scenery from the van. Every once in a while we got lucky and the sun broke through the clouds and I was able to snap a photo from the window of the van. There are scenes shot in the Lake District in the opening credits of the movie.
Our final stop was in Mondsee (approximately 27 km from Salzburg) to visit the Basilica St. Michael. This late gothic church, constructed in the 15th century, became famous after the wedding scene from The Sound of Music was filmed inside. The wedding of Maria to Captain von Trapp had to be filmed here as permission was not granted to film at Nonnberg Abbey. There are a number of coffee shops and souvenir shops around the cathedral if you need refreshment or if you are looking for a Sound of Music souvenir.
At the end of the day we returned to our hotel and borrowed a copy of The Sound of Music to watch in our room. It was so much fun watching the movie again and recognizing all of the sites that we had seen over the course of the day.
Additional Sound of Music Sites
As much as we managed to see over the course of our 8 hour tour, there are additional Sound of Music filming sites and sites related to the real-life von Trapp family that we were not able to visit (using information from MovieLocations.com). These include:
- Mehlweg Meadow near the Bavarian village of Markt Schellenburg several kilometres from Salzburg was the location used to film Julie Andrews singing "the hills are alive with the sound of music" at the beginning of the movie. This meadow is now on private property though and not accessible to the public so another meadow in the mountains will have to do for re-enacting the scene.
- Karajanplatz and the "Horse Pond" - Located in the Festival District, Maria and the children pass by here while singing My Favourite Things.
- Winkler Terrace - Maria and the children are seen here with views over the city while singing near the beginning of Do-Re-Mi as they leave their picnic and head back into the city.
- Felsenreitschule (Rock Riding School) - a concert hall first used for the Salzburg Festival in 1926. It's on the stage here that Maria, Captain von Trapp and the children perform their songs at the Festival before fleeing the Nazis.
- Werfen Meadow is where Maria and the children are having a picnic when she starts singing Do-Re-Mi with them. Located outside the town of Werfen, there is a 1.4 km Sound of Music Trail which takes about an hour to complete that takes visitors to the filming location. The path also offers great views of Hohenwerfen castle which is seen in the opening shots of The Sound of Music.
- The Salzburg Marionette Theatre was founded early in the 20th century and is famous throughout the world for their performances. The puppets were featured in the movie when Maria and the children perform The Lonely Goatherd. The theatre now presents a full length version of The Sound of Music using puppets but, unfortunately, there wasn't a performance when we were in Salzburg.
- Villa Trapp was the actual home of the von Trapp family and is the only original historic site (as opposed to movie filming site) of the family in Salzburg. The villa was converted to a hotel in 2008 and according to their website there are plans to offer a tour of the site as well.
Where to Stay in Salzburg
We stayed at Hotel Wolf-Dietrich, a four star boutique hotel located in the historic city centre of Salzburg. There are a number of different styles of rooms available and all have been individually decorated. The Wolf-Dietrich also has a Residenz building which has apartment-style accommodations. We booked a Superior Double room with a sofabed. The hotel's location is ideal as it is within easy walking distance of all of the city's main attractions. The hotel features a spa with an indoor pool, free wifi, and a breakfast buffet which is included in the room rate.
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