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Vienna vs Salzburg: What’s Better to Visit?

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Suppose you’re after an exciting or relaxing city break. In that case, Europe is your most obvious choice — but with so many popular urban destinations to pick from, it can be tough to narrow your options down.

Have you, for some reason, decided that you’re heading for either Vienna or Salzburg? Which is Vienna vs Salzburg the best? Perhaps you want to go to one, while your friends or partner prefer the other?

Or are you considering whether visiting both cities during the same trip might be worth it? You’ll need some help making up your mind, then!

Vienna and Salzburg are both wonderful cities, but the differences between the two are significant enough that you’ll end up enjoying an entirely different experience in Salzburg vs Vienna.

Here, we’ll break down some of the factors you’ll want to look at as you pick so that your next holiday can match your expectations.

Where Is Vienna? Where Is Salzburg?

Enchanting Mozart Statue in Salzburg, Austria against clear blue sky with vibrant floral surroundings and historic architecture.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

You will already know that Vienna is the capital of Austria, and you’re probably also aware that it was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before that.

It’s situated in the northeast of the country, a stone’s throw away from the scenic Alps. Vienna is a bustling modern urban center, home to over two million permanent inhabitants.

Its oceanic climate means that the city enjoys distinct seasons. While the summers are usually described as “warm” and the winters as “cold”, your own experience will depend on where you live — in July, the mean temperature is just over 20 °C or 69 °F, but it can go higher as well as quite a bit lower.

Vienna’s mean temperature in December was just over 1 °C (about 34 °F). Salzburg, also in Austria, is the country’s fourth-largest city, with just under 160,000 inhabitants. “Salzburg” literally means Salt Fortress, and it’s located to the west of the “round” portion of the country’s geography, bordering Germany.

Since Salzburg is situated at the northern boundary of the Alps, you’re in luck if you were hoping to see the famous mountains — the closest peak is just over 15 kilometers away!

Salzburg is perfect for folks who love more temperate climates. In the middle of the summer, the mean daily temperature is only about 19 °C (66 °F), and Salzburg’s most scorching temperatures don’t reach much farther than 25 °C or 77 °F.

Salzburg tends to hover around a very comfortable 0 °C (32 °F) in the dead of winter. When you’re asking yourself what a better place to book a visit, Vienna or Salzburg, is, you can already see that both cities will offer a radically different urban break!

Here’s a key summary table comparing the key elements of each city to help you understand their differences:

City VibeCosmopolitan Imperial capitalCharming Baroque town with Alpine scenery
Top AttractionsSchönbrunn Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Hofburg Imperial Palace, MuseumsMirabell Gardens, Hohensalzburg Fortress, Mozart’s Birthplace, Sound of Music Tour
DiningMore variety, from casual to high-end diningExcellent but smaller local dining scene
Outdoor ActivitiesLarge city parks like StadtparkSurrounded by Alps for hiking, cycling
Best ForArt, music, grand architecturePicturesque setting, day trips, budget travelers

See Related: Tips for Luggage-Free Travel

Salzburg vs Vienna: What Great Architectural Landmarks Can You Look Forward To?

Historic Hofburg Palace Vienna with ornate sculptures and dome
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Anyone planning a European city break can look forward to picturesque and fascinating architecture — quite often, of course, housing some very interesting museums or places of worship. There is certainly no shortage of great historical landmarks in Austria.

What’s the difference between Vienna and Salzburg in terms of famous buildings and landmarks? As a historical and current capital, Vienna is majestic, imperial, and frequently described as imposing.

The Austrian capital is home to more noteworthy architectural feats than anyone could hope to cover in a single short guide. Still, some of Vienna’s most famous must-see attractions and architecture include:

  • The Schönbrunn Palace is a massive baroque-style palace with over 1,000 rooms as well as statues, gardens, and even a zoo.
  • St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a 12th-century marvel constructed in Roman and Gothic styles, where visitors can attend services as well as make the trek to the top of the tower.
  • Belvedere Palace may be art in itself, but it also serves as a museum where you can get lost in many hours’ worth of some of Europe’s most impressive works of art.
  • The Vienna City Hall is the active seat of Vienna’s city government and the provincial government, where guided tours are typically available to tourists.
  • The Vienna State Opera is the oldest opera house in any German-speaking country, with three huge halls where you can revel in majestic cultural offerings today.

Salzburg’s entire historic center has been designated a World Heritage site, and anyone who visits the city will, of course, want to wander around it. Want to get a glimpse of Salzburg from a first-person perspective? Let’s go for a walk so you can see Salzburg for yourself.

While you’re in Salzburg, you’ll also want to lay eyes on the following:

  • The Hohensalzburg Fortress makes for a wonderfully romantic outing and is among Europe’s best-preserved castles.
  • The lavish Mirabell Palace was constructed in 1606 for Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich. If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a classical concert there, too.
  • The St. Martin Chalet Resort is where you can truly soak in that Alpine spirit — in the form of charming log cabins and beautiful mountains — as you’re mentally transported into the Sound of Music.
  • Salzberg Cathedral is an intricately adorned 17th-century work of art.
  • Suppose you’re after more than historical architecture. In that case, you can also visit Hangar-7, an ultra-modern glass dome chock-full of planes, or the huge Europark Shopping Mall designed by famous architect Massimiliano Fuksas.

See Related: Cheap Places to Travel

Vienna or Salzburg? Let’s Take a Look at the Museums!

Albertina Modern Art Museum exterior with statues, Vienna
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Toying with heading to Vienna? If you do, you get to experience Vienna culture — the culture of a capital city with a rich, long, and imperial history. Both wonderful cities are rich in history and museums.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (roughly translates to “art history museum”) offers everything, from Klimt, Rembrandt, and Vermeer to Durer, Caravaggio, and Raphael.

The Leopold Museum is where you’ll want to go for one of the largest collections of  Art Nouveau and Expressionist pieces. You can’t miss the Beethoven Museum, where the famous composer lived as he first realized his hearing would not improve. The Albertina Modern is wonderful for modern art, including pieces by Picasso and Monet.

That, of course, is only the start. You’ve also got the Film Museum, the Mumok Modern Art Museum, and countless other offerings, many of which are closely situated together in Vienna’s museum district. There are plenty of great, family-friendly things to do in Vienna.

Salzburg’s offerings may be less numerous, but that doesn’t make Salzburg culture any less interesting. Head for Mozart’s birthplace, where you can see Mozart’s childhood violin, for sure if you’re in the city.

The Open Air Museum Grossgmain offers insights into local history through the lens of architecture and everyday artifacts. Go check out Hellbrunn Palace to see an amazing collection of trick fountains.

You can’t miss the Silent Night Museum, where the famous Christmas carol emerged, either! Overall, when it comes to museum experiences in Salzburg vs Vienna, Salzburg is perfect for active people who want to take in the outdoor scenery. At the same time, Vienna offers, as a capital city, some of Europe’s most impressive art.

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Salzburg vs Vienna: What Are Your Day Trip Options?

Where should you go, Vienna or Salzburg? If you stay longer than 48 hours, chances are that you will want to take a day trip or two as well, so you’re not just choosing between two city breaks but also selecting what outings you might be able to go on.

If you ultimately end up visiting Vienna, many tourists who are happy to base themselves in the city for a while go on a wild goose chase of other cities — traveling to places like Prague, Bratislava, or Budapest as day trip options.

However, if you’d like to stay closer to and within the same country, you still have many choices. Day trips you can do from Vienna include:

  • Hallstatt village, where you can tour the ancient salt mine, go on an ever-so-slightly-frightening but also stunning “skywalk” with spectacular views, visit the Catholic ossuary (thousands of human skulls), or tour the village, which has UNESCO World Heritage status, by boat.
  • You’ll never run out of things to see at Melk Abbey, overlooking the Danube River, where organized tours are available. Not in a day, at least.
  • Lainzer Wildlife Park is full of deer, boar, and ancient trees. Perfect if you want to do one of the walking trails.
  • The Roman Town of Carnuntum is where you can revel in archeological discoveries and reconstructed Roman buildings.

You can also visit Salzburg as a day trip from Vienna and vice versa, making deciding between Vienna or Salzburg a little easier. Should you decide to go to Salzburg, your day trip options are actually incredibly similar, thanks to Austria’s size and well-organized transport options.

You can also, however, visit Munich on a day trip and soak in the stunning Alpine scenery and Lake Chiemsee on the way. Or you could tour the Bavarian mountains and salt mines. Trains and long slides are involved; visitors can also try miners’ gear. Those are all great things to do in Salzburg with kids.

See Related: Cheapest Places to Travel

Salzburg or Vienna: Which Is Better for Food?

Austrian Beer Hall in Salzburg
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The main difference between Vienna and Salzburg would be size regarding food choices. As a metropolis, Vienna offers a wide variety of restaurants, wine gardens, traditional coffee houses, and anything else your heart (or your stomach) might desire while you are there.

If you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or have any other special dietary requirements, you will know that you can get your hands on food that suits your needs and your palate.

You can try a Wiener Schnitzel or a Sacher cake, of course, but you won’t be forced to do so for lack of choice. Salzburg is also home to a few coffee houses, and you could visit Stiftskeller St. Peter, one of the oldest restaurants in Europe, if you decide to stay there.

See Related: Group Vacation Ideas

Salzburg or Vienna: What is Better for Lodging and Transport?

Museum Quarter of Vienna, Austria
Kyle Kroeger

Both being modern European cities, you’ll be comfortable staying in either Vienna or Salzburg. People come to Vienna for various reasons, including business, and the city features hotels and hostels for any budget.

Some of the most popular lodging choices among tourists in Vienna include the Grand Hotel Wien, Konig Von Ungarn, and Hotel Austria. Check out these best hotels in Vienna if you’d like to learn more.

Salzburg has, in many ways, a more touristy vibe than Vienna. Popular hotel choices include the Hotel Golden Theatre and Hotel Salzburg if you want to escape it all and have some peace.

You may want to seek quieter lodgings in Mondsee, a lakeside town (that will probably be completely overtaken by tourists, too, soon enough).

Public transport options are great in Vienna and Salzburg; in Vienna, you could do a tram sightseeing tour or get a TravelCard and go anywhere. Salzburg features a cool, environmentally sustainable trolley system, on the other hand.

See Related: Best Hotels in Innsbruck, Austria

What Is Better? Vienna or Salzburg?

Aerial View of Vienna, Austriia
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Salzburg vs Vienna — which will offer you the vacation you dream of? That comes down to personal choice, but before you commit, there are other things to consider. Salzburg is much smaller than Vienna, and its historical city center is pleasant to explore on foot. You’ll also be surrounded by stunning nature and can dive right in.

Salzburg is probably the better choice for people who live in a huge city and want to escape it all by relaxing in a quaint environment.

It’s also a great pick for active young families. Even though Salzburg is becoming a famous tourist destination, you will still get an authentic experience. The locals are friendly and welcoming.

Vienna is huge. That means you’ll have a lot to explore if you choose Vienna over Salzburg, and you’ll find art, architecture, nightlife, food, and lodgings right up your street, no matter who you are.

Yes, if you look at pure numbers, you’ll probably find more tourists in Vienna than in Salzburg — but because they’re dispersed, you might see fewer than in Salzburg.

The downside is that Vienna is a sprawling modern capital where busy people go about their very busy lives, although the overall vibe certainly has a distinct Germanic flavor.

It’s also a lot like basically any other modern capital. Vienna or Salzburg? The choice is yours to make — and if you can’t decide, don’t and pick both instead.

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