Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg Fortress

One of Europe’s mightiest castles, this fortress dominates Salzburg’s skyline

After a stint as a military barracks, Hohensalzburg Fortress was opened to the public in the 1860s by Emperor Franz Josef. (Gretchen Strauch / Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door)

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Near the chapel, turn left into the Kuenburg Bastion (once a garden) for fine city and castle views.

Kuenburg Bastion: Notice how the castle has three parts: the original castle inside the courtyard, the vast whitewashed walls (built when the castle was a residence), and the lower, beefed-up fortifications (added for extra defense against the expected Ottoman invasion). Survey Salzburg from here and think about fortifying an important city by using nature. Mönchsberg (the cliffs to the left) and Festungsberg (the little mountain you’re on) naturally cradle the old town, with just a small gate between the ridge and the river needed to bottle up the place. The new town across the river needed a bit of a wall arcing from the river to its hill. Back then, only one bridge crossed the Salzach into town, and it had a fortified gate.

Back inside the castle courtyard, continue your circle. The Round Tower (1497) helps you visualize the inner original castle.

Fortress Interior: Tourists are allowed in this part of the fortified palace only with an escort. (They say that’s for security, though while touring it, you wonder what they’re protecting.) A crowd assembles at the turnstile, and every quarter-hour 40 people are issued their audioguides and let in for the escorted walk. You’ll go one room at a time, listening to a 45-minute commentary. While the interior furnishings are mostly gone--taken by Napoleon--the rooms survived as well as they did because no one wanted to live here after 1500, so the building was never modernized. Your tour includes a room dedicated to the art of “excruciating questioning” (“softening up” prisoners, in current American military jargon)--filled with tools of that gruesome trade. The highlight is the commanding city view from the top of a tower.

For all the details on Salzburg, please see Rick Steves’ Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol.

Excerpted from Rick Steves’ Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol.

Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

© 2010 Rick Steves

About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

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