Famous for Mozart, the Sound of Music and a majestic cavalcade of churches and palaces, Salzburg is sometimes overlooked as a city of green spaces. From the richly ornamented parks established by pleasure-loving archbishops to the densely forested hills that rise above the city, Salzburg is a city that rejoices in outdoor life.
Whether you want to marvel at fine horticulture, play games, settle down with a picnic or simply get lost in the woods, Salzburg will have a park for you. They also provide a window on local life, an opportunity to commune with Salzburg folk as they jog, cycle, or simply get away from the city's summertime bustle.
It shouldn't be forgotten that the city's greatest outdoor asset is the Salzach river, flowing through the center of the city and with tree-shaded pathways on both banks. Perfect for strolling and cycling, they represent a brilliant way of getting from one part of the city to another.
The Mirabell Gardens: best park for roses and romance
There's something deliciously naughty about a park built by an archbishop for his mistress, but that's exactly how Salzburg's Mirabell Gardens started out. Established by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich as a gift to the mother of his 15 children Salome Alt, and remodeled by his princely successors, the Mirabell's vivacious flowerbeds and rose gardens have undeniable romantic appeal. Not surprisingly, it's a popular place for wedding photos. Boasting statues of Graeco-Roman gods, fountains, and a circle of stone dwarves in the so-called Zwerglgarten or Dwarf Garden, it's the perfect introduction to Baroque-era Salzburg's devotion to the art of leisure. And don't be surprised if the gardens look familiar: they served as the main outdoor location for the Do-Re-Mi sequence in the Sound of Music.
The Mönchsberg: best park for woodland walks
It's not often you find yourself ascending to a city's green spaces via lift. This however is the quickest route up the Mönchsberg, the green-topped hill whose sheer southern face rises directly above Salzburg's Old Town. The forest-covered summit boasts an inviting network of woodland paths, many leading to lookout points offering panoramic views of the city. It's also home to one of the city's coolest cultural sights, the Museum der Moderne, a concrete slab of a museum showing edgy, epochal contemporary art. Pop up to the Museum's bistro for refreshments or treat yourself to a feast of haute cuisine at Schloss Mönchstein's Michelin-listed Glass Garden restaurant. Finish off by descending northwards to the historic Mülln district for a refreshing beer in the Augustinerbräu's garden.
Hellbrunn Palace Park: best park for a long day out
Of all Salzburg's parks, Hellbrunn is the one that's worth a major part of your holiday time. Situated 6km (3.7 miles) south of the center, the park was laid out by 17th-century Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus to serve as his out-of-town retreat. The archbishop's lavish Hellbrunn Palace is a no-holds-barred introduction to the opulent lifestyles of 17th-century rulers, its rooms packed with frescoes and fine furnishings.
Sittikus's taste for slapstick humor is revealed by the Wasserspiele, a set of trick fountains designed to drench his guests when they were least expecting it. Open to all comers free of charge, the palace park is a great place for a long blissful amble, with ornamental flowerbeds and fishponds giving way to rolling meadows, trees, and one of Salzburg's best children's play parks. Scramble to the top of the park's wooded hill for a stunning panorama of the city and its suburbs.
Hans-Donnenberg Park: best park for getting away from it all
Hidden away around the back of the Hohensalzburg hill, the Hans-Donnenberg Park is one of Salzburg's best-kept secrets, a patchwork of rolling meadow and woodland that has a deliberately untended feel, as if nature has been allowed free rein. Well away from the tourist trail it's the perfect place for a moment's peace and contemplation; indeed humans here may well be outnumbered by the frogs and ducks that collect around a reedy central pond. The park's foot- and cycle-paths link up with the route along the Almakanal, a centuries-old canal used to power the city's mills. A beautiful waterside walk, it seems a world away from the city.
Volksgarten: best park for fun and games
Stretching along the banks of the Salzach river, Salzburg's Volksgarten might be low on flowerbeds but is pretty big on everything else you might expect from a park, with a bendy lake splashed by a spraying fountain, lush green lawns, and tree-lined avenues filled with cyclists and strollers. There's also an array of facilities, from beach volleyball courts to a climbing wall, ping-pong tables, and an impressively-equipped children's play area.
Queue up at the artfully minimalist grey kiosk for refreshments before parking yourself on sandy ground near the lake and imagining yourself at the seaside. And if you do fancy a swim, head for the Volksgarten Bad just behind the park: with open-air pools edged by neat lawns and a cocktail bar, it's the nearest you can get to the Mediterranean without jumping on a train.
Schloss Arenberg Sculpture Park: best hidden gem
Hidden away behind Schloss Arenberg (now home to a medical research institute) this inviting stretch of woodland and meadow acts as home to a startling bunch of modern, mostly abstract sculptures. It's a chin-strokingly fascinating window on contemporary German and Austrian art, with highlights including Bernhard Heiliger's rugged Large Phoenix III, and Tobias Ballaty's enigmatic don't forget, which looks like a huge golden kidney bean dangling from a tree.
St Sebastian's Cemetery: best park for meditation
While not exactly a park or a garden, St Sebastian's Cemetery is, without a doubt, one of the most compelling green spaces in the city. Hidden beyond an archway just off the bustling Linzergasse, this intimate, cloistered space contains a wealth of grave memorials, many using macabre skulls and bones to draw attention to the transience of earthly life. Meditative rather than melancholy, it's a magical place in which to reflect on Salzburg's storied history. Coffee House in the adjacent courtyard is a suitably mellow place to collect one's thoughts.