Visit Salzburg in December to be immersed in a traditional and festive Christmas atmosphere.
Located beneath the eye-catching Hohensalzburg fortress, the Old Town of Salzburg (Altstadt) is a compact labyrinth of streets, passages, and interlocking squares, bisected by the Salzach River.
Decked with suspended Christmas lights, this Austrian city sparkles during the wintery nights of December. In the heart of the Altstadt, you’ll find one of the oldest Christmas Markets in the world. More Advent markets are tucked away in hidden courtyards.
Steeped in alpine tradition, Salzburg is also an ideal place to experience seasonal Krampus Runs. A Krampuslauf is a theatrical procession of half-goat, half-demon monsters, led by St. Nicholas. These folk parades take place between early and mid December.
The Old Town of Salzburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is nestled between the hills of Mönchsberg, Festungsberg, and Kapuzinerberg. These forested hills offer some of the best vantage points of Salzburg’s baroque skyline and hilltop fortress. When visiting Salzburg around Christmas, these city trails are the gateway to a winter wonderland.
When traveling to Salzburg for Christmas, make sure to pack warm winter clothing and yaktrax ice grips for better traction on icy sidewalks.
Visiting Salzburg in December: Christmas Markets, Krampus, and Winter Walks
- Where: Salzburg is the capital city of Salzburg State (SalzburgerLand) in Austria.
- Christmas Market Opening Times: With the exception of the Fortress Hohensalzburg Advent Market (open Fridays-Sundays), Salzburg Christmas Markets are open daily. On December 24, 25, 26, and 31, the markets have reduced hours.
- Insider Tip: Don’t leave Salzburg without savoring a mulled wine, or mulled cider at Weihnachtswunderwelt St. Peter in the Old Town and Buffet zur Richterhöhe on Mönchsberg hill.
- Packing Essentials: Cash (many establishments only accept payment in cash), long winter jacket, beanie, gloves, scarf, yaktrax ice grips, and waterproof winter boots.
- Closest Airports: Salzburg Airport (SZG), Munich International Airport (MUC), and Innsbruck Airport (INN).
- Where to Stay in Salzburg: B&B Flöckner (budget), IMLAUER HOTEL PITTER Salzburg (midrange), Hotel Goldener Hirsch (luxury),or Arthotel Blaue Gans (luxury)
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Salzburg December Map
Where to Stay in Salzburg, Austria
Budget | B&B Flöckner is an excellent bed and breakfast in Salzburg. Located within walking distance to the historic center, this quiet, clean, and comfortable accommodation is perfect for a weekend getaway.
Midrange | Imlauer Hotel Pitter Salzburg boasts outstanding views of the Hohensalzburg Castle from the dining terrace, an excellent breakfast (accommodating all dietary needs), and newly renovated rooms.
Luxury | Hotel Sacher Salzburg is a grand and historic hotel dating back to the 19th century. Located on the banks of the Salzach River, this fine Salzburg hotel offers marvelous city views, luxuriously-furnished rooms, and superior customer service. The breakfast is excellent.
Best Things to Do in Salzburg in December
1. Fortress Hohensalzburg Christmas Market
Fortress Hohensalzburg (Festung Hohensalzburg in German) is the eye-catching, hilltop castle that towers above Salzburg. It’s the main landmark of Salzburg City and the backdrop of every coveted Salzburg photo.
The medieval fortress was built in 1077 and further expanded around 1500.
During December weekends (Fridays-Sundays), Fortress Hohensalzburg hosts a charming Christmas Market. The Advent market comprises a dozen huts, which are concentrated in the fortress courtyard.
Additionally, you can order freshly-made Flammkuchen (flatbread) in the fortress bakery.
On all opening days, the tower brass musicians play Christmas music in the castle courtyard between 3:30 pm and 6:30 pm. Krampus and St. Nicholas also visit the market regularly.
You can either walk, or ride the FestungsBahn funicular (extra fee) up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress Christmas Market. The funicular “valley station” is located on Festungsgasse 4 (Google Maps).
Fortress Hohensalzburg Entrance Ticket
While the annual Christmas Market is taking place, it’s not necessary to buy an entrance ticket, unless you would also like to see the interior of the fortress. The ticketed interior areas include the Festung Museum, Magic Theater, and Princely chambers.
At the gated entry point, simply let the cash desk know that you only want to visit the Advent Market. They’ll print you a barcode ticket that enables you to pass through the gate.
Dates | November 24 – December 23, 2023 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday)
Opening Hours | 11 am – 7 pm
2. Salzburg Christmas Markets
When visiting Christmas Markets in Salzburg, always have cash on hand.
At the Christmas markets, Beverages are served in ceramic mugs, as opposed to disposable paper cups.
When you purchase drinks, you’ll be charged a deposit for the mug (3-5 EUR). If you don’t want to keep the mug, simply return the mug to receive your deposit. However, if you want to keep the mug as a souvenir, you certainly can.
A lot of people get confused, because they see that a Glühwein is 4 EUR on the menu, but they’re being asked for 9 EUR.
Salzburger Christkindlmarkt – am Dom- und Residenzplatz
The largest Christmas Market in Salzburg sprawls across the Residenz and Dom (Cathedral) squares in the Old Town. This historic market dates back to the 15th century.
100 market stands line the squares, selling advent-themed gifts as well as traditional food and seasonal drinks (mulled cider, mulled wine, and punch).
The Salzburg Christkindlmarkt is open daily. Times vary.
Dates | November 23, 2023 – January 1, 2024
Opening Hours | salzburg.info
Location | Google Maps
Stern Advent and Winter Market
Sternadvent mit Wintermarkt
This charming market is wedged between Getreidegasse and Griesgasse in the courtyard of the Sternbräu. A cluster of 30 stalls sell wool, ceramic and wood products as well as festive drinks (mulled wine and punch) and snacks (chimney cake and Bosna sandwiches).
Dates | November 23, 2023 – January 6, 2024
Location | Google Maps
Christmas Market at Mirabellplatz
Weihnachtsmarkt am Mirabellplatz
This Salzburg Advent Market is located in front of Mirabell Palace. The market of 15 stalls has a more of a “neighborhood” vibe. If you’re arriving in Salzburg by train, walk to the city center via Mirabellplatz (15 minutes) to see this market.
Dates | November 23 – December 24, 2023
Opening Hours | salzburg.info
Location | Google Maps
Christmas Wonder World in St Peter’s Stiftskulinarium
Weihnachtswunderwelt St. Peter
St. Peter’s Stifts Kulinarium (Abbey Restaurant) invites guests to sit down and enjoy mulled wine in their extravagantly-decorated courtyard, tucked away from the bustling city streets.
Though there’s only a single stall, this atmospheric hideaway offers peace and quiet in the center of Salzburg. Enjoy the plush eating arrangements in a stylishly-curated Christmas lounge.
Dates | November 16, 2023 – January 7, 2024
Opening Hours | Monday – Thursday: 4 pm – 10 pm, Fridays – Sundays: 12 pm – 10 pm, Closed on December 24.
Location | Google Maps
3. Visit Mönchsberg
Mönchsberg is the 508-meter-high mountain that rises to the southwest of Salzburg’s Old Town. “Monk’s Mountain” is named after the monks of St. Peter’s Benedictine Abbey.
This popular recreation area is cloaked in woodland and etched with lantern-lined walking paths. After it snows, it’s a winter wonderland.
The easiest way to reach Mönchsberg is by the MönschbergAufzug elevator (small fee), which links Gstättengasse with the Museum der Moderne Salzburg.
When you exit the museum, there’s a magnificent panoramic viewpoint of Salzburg City and the Hohensalzburg Castle.
From here, trails branch out in several directions. The panoramic trail leading north runs along the edge of the mountain and strings together many viewpoints overlooking the Salzach River.
The trail leading south steers walkers to the medieval Bürgerwehr fortifications. Here, you’ll find several viewpoints and the rustic, yet cozy Stadtalm inn and hostel, which stands against the medieval defensive wall.
With its enviable panoramic view of the city, Stadtalm is a unique place to grab a bite to eat and even stay the night, when traveling on a budget.
Staying in Johannes Schlössl on Mönchsberg
There are a few accommodations atop Mönchsberg. We stayed in Johannes Schlössl – Gästehaus der Pallottiner am Mönchsberg, which is a monastery and guesthouse.
Dating back to the 1300s, the Johannes Schlössl (Johannes little castle) has had many different owners over the centuries. In 1926, the property was purchased by the Palottiner monks for the theologians who were studying in Salzburg. Today, the 3-building complex serves several functions.
The main building houses the reception, breakfast room, guest rooms, and other communal areas. The second building is the living area and private quarters of the resident priests and monks. And, the third building is dedicated to guest rooms for external guests.
Why did we stay here? Kati loved the idea of staying in a quiet oasis surrounded by nature. The pros of staying in Johannes Schlössl are the peaceful atmosphere, the romantic scenery, and the walking trails.
The cons are the “remote” location and access constraints. The MönschbergAufzug elevator only operates until 9 pm. It can be very difficult to drive up here in snowy/icy conditions.
We especially loved walking to and from the Johannes Schlössl along the lantern-illuminated forest paths at night, when we returned to Mönschberg after exploring the Old Town.
Though the guest rooms are simple, they’re clean and adequate. The breakfast buffet was nutritious and complete.
This is a unique, off-the-beaten-path place to stay in Salzburg, which we highly recommend if you have similar priorities.
4. Winter Walk from Mönchsberg to Fortress Hohensalzburg
Did you know that there’s a lovely path that links Mönchsberg to Hohensalzburg Fortress? This trail meanders across Mönchsberg from viewpoint to viewpoint.
Because this trail is at an elevation, you can truly savor the enchanting beauty of the Salzburg Altstadt, located advantageously beneath the looming Hohensalzburg Castle, and bisected by the Salzach River.
Starting at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, accessible by the Mönchsberg elevator, follow the signs to Festung Hohensalzburg.
The well-graded walking path leads to the Bürgerwehr medieval wall, where there are several excellent viewpoints overlooking Salzburg.
Detour to Richterhöhe for a great vantage point of Hohensalzburg Fortress.
The trail continues through the forest to Buffet zur Richterhöhe, a wooden hut that sells Glühwein (mulled wine), Glühmost (mulled cider), Punsch (non-alcoholic and alcoholic punch), and other drinks. Cash only.
As views open up to the hilltop castle, the way descends towards the castle. The friendly downhill jaunt is followed by a rather steep uphill stretch to the fortress.
Note: the Hohensalzburg Christmas market only takes place during advent weekends in December (Fridays – Sundays).
Starting Point | Museum der Moderne Salzburg
Ending Point | Hohensalzburg
Distance | 2.3 km
Time Needed | 1 hour
Elevation Gain | 93 meters
Elevation Loss | 38 meters
Difficulty | Easy
5. Krampus Run
A Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon monster in Central European folklore. During the Christmas season, the Krampus scare and punish misbehaving children.
Though embedded in the Catholic traditions of alpine Germanic Europe (e.g. Austria, South Tyrol, Bavaria), the Krampus was likely a pagan figure in winter solstice rituals.
Traditionally, these devilish creatures accompanied St. Nicholas from house to house. Today, they mostly parade through villages and towns in Krampus Runs (“Krampuslauf” in German).
A Krampus run is a theatrical parade, where St. Nicholas leads a procession of Krampus through a designated area (street, town center, castle, etc…).
The night of December 5th is celebrated as Krampusnacht (Krampus Night). However, Krampus runs take place between late November and early November.
When engaging with this tradition consensually and on purpose, it can be great fun. We absolutely love the performative aspects of the tradition, the hand-carved masks, and the extravagant costumes.
Gnigler Krampuslauf in Salzburg
Kati and I attended the Gnigler Krampuslauf in Salzburg, which was a parade of nearly 40 different Krampus clubs (850 total Krampus) hailing from all over Salzburgerland, Upper Austria, and Bavaria.
During the 2-hour spectacle, each club strutted down the street, scarring and “punishing” spectators along the way. Punishment entails hitting feet and legs with branches, ruffling up hair, stealing beanies (and later returning them), shaking shoulders, etc…
In this particular Salzburg Krampus Run, there was a barrier that divided the performers from the spectators. The Krampus were not allowed to cross the barrier.
Those that didn’t want to interact directly with Krampus could simply stand at a distance.
Important: If you stand in the first row, you’re consenting to engaging with the Krampus directly (getting touched, shaken, “punished” with twigs, etc…).
This event was child-friendly and safe. There were paramedics, fire fighters, police, and security on site.
We had a marvelous time!!
There is some controversy around the Krampus tradition, because the vast majority of Krampus performers are young men (18-25 years old).
The scary atmosphere can instigate fights and violence. In the past, spectators have retaliated. Some Krampus lose control and are too violent, etc… And, there can be mishaps with fire and other props.
This rarely happens, but it can happen.
All in all, we really love the tradition, despite its flaws.
We hope that more women actively engage with the tradition by joining Krampus clubs, or by creating their own clubs in the future. Lisa Hirschbichler is paving the way, one mask at a time.
6. Watch the Sunset from Kapuzinerberg
When blanketed in snow, Salzburg City is a fairy tale scene come to life.
For the best sunset experience, walk up Kapuzinerberg, the forested hill that stands to the east of the Old Town of Salzburg.
You can hike up to Kapuzinerberg from the Imberstiege staircase, or the Stefan-Sweig-Weg pathway. If conditions are icy, we highly recommend walking up Stefan-Sweig-Weg.
The easiest viewpoint to reach is the Hettwer Bastion viewpoint at the top of the Imberstiege stairs, just below the Capuchin monastery (Kapuzinerkloster in German). Here, you’ll be treated to a sweeping view of Salzburg’s pastel-colored waterfront, backed by a series of steeples and of course the hilltop fortress.
You can continue along the Bastion Trail (Basteiweg) to see more interesting vantage points of the Old Town and fortress.
We followed the Stefan-Sweig-Weg pathway to the “Blick zur Festung Hohensalzburg” viewpoint.
Keep Reading about Winter Travel in Europe
Winter Sun Destinations:
- Tenerife Road Trip, Canary Islands
- Tenerife in January
- Gran Canaria Road Trip, Canary Islands
- Malta in February
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Austria Trip Planning Essentials
When to Visit Austria
We recommend visiting Austria between June and October for hiking and between December and March for skiing and winter adventuring.
Summer Travel | Summer in Austria
Autumn Travel | Autumn in Austria
Getting around Austria
Austria has an excellent public transit system. We’ve used it extensively to travel throughout the country. We highly recommend using transit if you’re visiting cities (Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Graz, etc…), and/or doing hut-to-hut hikes.
Some areas like Mayrhofen, Schladming and Lech am Arlberg have wonderful seasonal transit systems in place (e.g. summer hiking buses). However, if you’re not visiting during the high season, bus frequencies are significantly reduced and it’s far easier to get around with your own vehicle.
If you’re planning on visiting multiple destinations across Austria, we recommend renting a car.
Use these road trip itineraries for trip planning inspiration:
- 2 Week Austria Road Trip – starting in Vienna
- 1 Week Austria Road Trip – starting in Salzburg, or Munich
- 10-Day Bavarian Alps & Tyrolean Alps Road Trip – starting in Munich
We recommend using the Discovercars.com car rental reservation platform to search for and book car rentals. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.
If you’re driving into Austria from a neighboring country, don’t forget to purchase a vignette at/near the border.
Hiking in Austria
Where to Hike in Austria
Read Austrian Alps Hiking Destinations for an overview of where to hike in Austria, with tips on specific trails and where to stay. Also check out Best Day Hikes in Austria and these region-specific hiking guides:
- Innsbruck Hiking Guide
- Salzburg Hiking Guide
- Filzmoos, Salzburg Hiking Guide
- Schladming, Styria Hiking Guide
- Lech am Arlberg, Vorarlberg Hiking Guide
- Vorarlberg Hiking Guide
- Vienna Mountains Hiking Guide
Hut to Hut Hiking in Austria
Austria is a premier hut-to-hut and long-distance hiking destination. The quality of the mountain huts are superb. We particularly love the high-alpine trails, which are called Höhenwege in German. We’ve summarized our favorite multi-day hikes in Trekking Austria. If you’re new to hut hiking, read this in-depth guide to Hut to Hut Hiking in Austria.
What to See & Do in Austria
- Visit a gorge like the Liechtenstein Gorge in Salzburg, or Wolfsklamm Gorge in Tirol.
- Bathe in the thermal pools of an Austrian Therme like Aqua Dome in Tirol.
- Stay in a thermal spa hotel like Rogner Bad Blumau in Styria, EurothermenResort Bad Ischl in Upper Austria, or the Aqua Dome Hotel in Tirol.
- Hike to a mountain lake like Lake Tappenkarsee in Salzburg or Lake Drachensee in Tirol.
- Go Wine Tasting in South Styria.
- Marvel at the culture, music, and architecture of Vienna.
- Eat heartwarming mountain food in an Almhütte at Grosser Ahornboden in Tirol or Ursprungalm in Styria.
- Drive the Grossglockner High Alpine Road in Hohe Tauern National Park.
- Visit the castles, monasteries, and wine taverns of the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.