If you’re after an exciting or relaxing city break, Europe is your most obvious choice — but with so many different 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? Vienna vs Salzburg, which is the best? Do you perhaps want to go to one, while your friends or partner would prefer the other?
Or are you considering whether it might be worth visiting both cities during the same trip? 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 make your pick so that your next holiday can match your expectations.
Table of Contents
- Where Is Vienna? Where Is Salzburg?
- Salzburg vs Vienna: What Great Architectural Landmarks Can You Look Forward To?
- Vienna or Salzburg? Let’s Take a Look at the Museums!
- Salzburg vs Vienna: What Are Your Day Trip Options?
- Salzburg or Vienna: Which Is Better for Food?
- Salzburg or Vienna: What is Better for Lodging and Transport?
- What Is Better? Vienna or Salzburg?
Where Is Vienna? Where Is Salzburg?
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 to the North East of the country, a stone’s throw away from the scenic Alps. Vienna is a bustling and 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.
In December, Vienna’s mean temperature is 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 Alps’ northern boundary, 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.
In the dead of winter, Salzburg tends to hover around a very comfortable 0 °C (32 °F).
When you’re asking yourself what is a better place to book a visit, Vienna or Salzburg, you can already see that both cities are going to offer a radically different urban break!
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Salzburg vs Vienna: What Great Architectural Landmarks Can You Look Forward To?
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 in Salzburg in terms of famous buildings and landmarks?
Vienna, as a historical and current capital, 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, but some of Vienna’s most famous must-see attractions and architecture includes:
- The Schönbrunn Palace, a massive baroque-style palace with over 1,000 rooms as well as statues, gardens, and even a zoo.
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a 12th century marvel constructed in Roman and Gothic styles, where visitors can attend services as well as making the trek to the top of the tower.
- Belvedere Palace, which may be art in itself, but also serves as a museum where you can get lost in many hours’ worth of some of the most impressive works of art in Europe.
- The Vienna City Hall, the active seats of both Vienna’s city government and the provincial government, where guided tours are typically available to tourists.
- The Vienna State Opera, 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 Hohensalzburg Fortress, which makes for a wonderfully romantic outing and is among Europe’s best preserved castles.
- The lavish Mirabell Palace, 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, where you can truly soak in that Alpine spirit — both in the form of charming log cabins and beautiful mountains — as you’re mentally transported right into the Sound of Music.
- Salzberg Cathedral, an intricately-adorned 17th century work of art.
- If you’re after more than historical architecture, 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.
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Vienna or Salzburg? Let’s Take a Look at the Museums!
Toying with heading to Vienna?
If you do, you of course 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 (which roughly translates to “art history museum”) offers basically everything under the sun, 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, and the Albertina Modern is wonderful for modern art that includes 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 you insights into local history, through the lens of architecture and everyday artifacts, and go check out Hellbrunn Palace if you want 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 as well.
While 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’re staying longer than 48 hours, chances are that you’re going to 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, well, 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.
If you’d like to stay closer by, and within the same country, however, you still have an abundance of choices.
Day trips you can do from Vienna include:
- Hallstat village — 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.
- Melk Abbey, overlooking the Danube river, where organized tours are available and you’ll never run out of things to see. Not in a day, at least.
- Lainzer Wildlife Park, full of deer, boar, and ancient trees. Perfect if you want to do one of the walking trails.
- The Roman Town of Carnuntum, where you can revel in both archeological discoveries and reconstructed Roman buildings.
You can also, of course, visit Salzburg as a day trip from Vienna and vice versa, which makes 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 even long slides, are involved, and visitors get the chance to try miners’ gear too. Those are all great things to do in Salzburg with kids.
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Salzburg or Vienna: Which Is Better for Food?
The main difference between Vienna and Salzburg would be size when it comes to food choices.
As a metropolis, Vienna offers an incredibly wide variety of restaurants, wine gardens, traditional coffee houses, and basically 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 certainly won’t be forced to for lack of choice.
Salzburg, too, is home to quite a few coffee houses, and you could visit Stiftskeller St. Peter, one of the oldest restaurants in all of Europe if you decide to stay there.
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Salzburg or Vienna: What is Better for Lodging and Transport?
Both being modern European cities, you’ll be comfortable while staying in either Vienna or Salzburg.
People come to Vienna for all sorts of reasons, including on 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 does.
Popular hotel choices include the Hotel Goldene Ente and Austrotel Salzburg, but if you want to escape it all and just 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 both Vienna and Salzburg, In Vienna, you could do a tram sightseeing tour, or you could get a TravelCard and go anywhere you want.
Salzburg features a really cool environmentally sustainable trolley system, on the other hand.
See Related: Best Hotels in Innsbruck, Austria
What Is Better? Vienna or Salzburg?
Salzburg vs Vienna — which will end up offering you the vacation you are dreaming of?
That comes down to personal choice, but before you commit, there are some other things to consider.
Salzburg being so much smaller than Vienna, its historical city center is very pleasant to explore on foot. You’ll also be surrounded by stunning nature, and be able to dive right in if you so choose.
Salzburg is probably the better choice for people who already live in a huge city in their everyday lives, and who are looking to get away from it all by relaxing in a quaint environment.
It’s also a great pick for active young families. Despite the fact that 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 that are 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 just see fewer than in Salzburg.
The downside of that is that Vienna is a sprawling modern capital where busy people are simply going about their very busy lives and though 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 really can’t decide, don’t and pick both, instead.
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