Salzburg sights: finding the hills are alive with the sound of music

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Julie Andrews sang about the hills being alive with the sound of music in the film of the same title and that’s exactly what I experienced on an afternoon coach tour during my city break to the delightful Austrian city of Salzburg. 

The trip essentially mixed a city tour with an excursion into the surrounding countryside to learn about the film and its history.  So, if you want to combine getting to know the main sights of Salzburg and are a fan of the film, this trip is definitely for you.

I am an avid fan – I grew up watching it every Christmas and am not ashamed to say that I probably can sing most of the words to the film’s songs.  And since growing up and discovering that the 1965 Oscar winning movie was filmed largely in Salzburg, I’ve always wanted to go.

Schloss Leopoldskron

We started our afternoon coach tour by taking a short drive out to Schloss Leopoldskron, passing through Salzburg streets and catching glimpses of landmarks such as Nonnberg Abbey (where in the film Maria spent her time training to be a nun), and the city castle nestled on the crown of the hill that overlooks the city.  

We also passed by the Mozart Bridge spanning the Salzach river, where Maria and the children ran into town after learning to sing “Do Re Mi”. 

Schloss Leopoldskron is on the outskirts of Salzburg and is a large rococo style building sat on a beautiful lake with mountains providing a spectacular backdrop. It’s a tranquil setting and an obvious choice for a location for some of the exterior scenes set in the Von Trapp villa (the interior was never used according to our knowledgeable guide). We had a short stop here to snap some photos and soak in the surroundings.

Hellbrun Palace and the gazebo

Our next stop was Hellbrun Palace.  En route, we passed another building and its yellow exterior, the other main building that was used as the outside of the villa in the film.  This house is at the end of a long tree lined avenue – the lane down which Maria skips with her guitar singing “I Have Confidence” on the way to her first meeting with the Von Trapp children.

The palace is located at the other end of the avenue. Built in the 17th century as a short get-away for the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg, this is a stunning baroque palace with gardens, lakes and so-called “trick fountains” – the water features apparently can burst into life here, there and everywhere as a surprise to anyone who happens to be sitting close by.  

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit on the tour (a bit of a disappointment really as this sounds like the sort of place you’d want to spend some time wandering around marvelling at the layout); we were here to see the gazebo, made famous in the Sound of Music in the love scene between Leisl and Rolf when they sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”.  Although the scene inside the gazebo was shot in a Hollywood studio, the outside does appear in the film.

The gazebo is a real tourist attraction and was gifted to the city after the film’s phenomenal success.  Originally sited in the grounds of Schloss Leopoldskron, when the castle became a hotel, the gazebo was moved to its current location, presumably to prevent hordes of tourists traipsing through the hotel’s grounds.  This gives you some idea of just how hard it is to get an undisturbed photo of the gazebo when you visit Hellbrun Palace.  You need to be patient! 

Out to Mondsee and Lake Wolfgangsee

We then left the city behind, taking the road up into the surrounding countryside and towards the small town of Mondsee.  This gave us the perfect opportunity to sit back and appreciate the stunning Austrian alpine countryside with its lush green fields, clear blue lakes and mountains.  

It was also at this point that we got to learn a bit more about the filming of the Sound of Music and the story behind it: how the film we know and love wasn’t the first to be shot depicting the story of the Von Trapps in Salzburg (there had in fact previously been two German language productions), and how there were nine children, not seven, when the family escaped the Nazis (by that time, Maria and the Captain had had two of their own children).

The family also didn’t escape by climbing over the mountains, the final scene in the film.  Apparently, if they had taken the route the film suggests they would have walked straight towards Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (or Kehlsteinhaus), a Nazi meeting place on the top of a mountain ridge. Instead they travelled a short distance to the local train station and caught the train to Italy…

In conversation with the tour guide, I also discovered that the youngest of the actors playing the Von Trapp children reputedly absolutely loved Julie Andrews who, to them, was still Mary Poppins from the film released the previous year.

Our time driving through the Austrian hills also meant time to have a sing along!  On went the music and after a little initial embarrassment a bunch of complete strangers started singing along to “Do Re Mi”, “Edelweiss” and “Climb Every Mountain”.  It was a bit surreal really, but I’d have been disappointed if some singing hadn’t been included on the day!

We then had a stop overlooking the village of Sankt Gilgen on the shores of Lake Wolfgangsee.  You won’t want to miss the breathtaking views here so make sure you have enough battery on your phone/camera – you’re going to want to take some pictures!

Mondsee and St. Michael’s Cathedral

At this point, we were only a short distance from Mondsee and so after another short drive, we reached the small town.  We parked on the outskirts, near the lake, again with mountains framing it.  

You can walk around the centre of Mondsee in a matter of minutes. The main focus is the central square and the bright colourful buildings lining the main street.  

The star attraction though – for fans of the film or otherwise – is St. Michael Cathedral.  It was here that the wedding of Maria and the Captain was filmed and the reason why 200,000 people apparently visit this town every year.  

Both outside and inside are beautiful.  The church has a grand interior, with an ornate pastel pink ceiling and a magnificent altar crammed with figurines in front of stained glass windows.  It’s definitely worth popping into the church while you’re here and not just snapping the outside.

The Mirabell Gardens and Palace

The final stop was back in the centre of Salzburg. We took a more direct, but slightly less scenic route back, to ensure we had time at what, for me, was the icing on the cake: the Mirabell Palace and Gardens.  

We only went into the gardens, which was fine as it was such a beautiful day. There is a lot to see here, including the fountain with the Pegasus horse atop its central pedestal, the neat and tidy lawns with colourful flower borders, and the dual statutes guarding the entrance to the gardens. 

You’ll also want to stand at the palace end and marvel at the panoramic view that takes in the length and breadth of the gardens with the castle perched on the hilltop summit in the distance. 

We loved this place so much we went back again the next day. We were also lucky enough to visit while the annual wine festival was on, so we grabbed a glass and milled about the garden to watch the world go by.

This is where we ended a brilliant afternoon out – a day that gave a us a quick and convenient way to see some of the main sights of Salzburg, a trip out to the (jaw-dropping) alpine scenery, and, for me, a much anticipated way to relive some childhood memories.  I’d definitely recommend this tour if you’re visiting.

We booked our trip with Panorama Tours (note, this tour was booked independently and I received no commission for featuring the company in this post).  You can also book such a tour – and others – through “GetYourGuide” tours:

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