Salzburg is usually acknowledged for only two things: the setting of the hit musical The Sound of Music, and the hometown of the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Both are related and hint of a local culture that's inextricably bound to music. Indeed, as any visitor during the holidays will immediately notice, it's precisely Salzburg's musical heritage that makes Christmas in this alpine city exceptional.
On the surface, Salzburg's Christkindlmarkt resembles most that you come across in Austria and Germany: town squares dedicated to market stalls stuffed with holiday treats, nighttime illuminations, and giant Christmas trees. Not to say that Salzburg's version is generic in any way. In fact, the local market is especially known for selling mouthwatering Christmas-themed milk chocolates. But what truly sets it apart from the rest of Europe's markets are the regular intervals of live choral music and the abundance of Christmas concerts in different parts of the city.
Salzburg is a music lover's paradise with a bewildering array of shops selling music sheets, classical instruments, and CDs. In a musically inclined city like this, Christmas is greeted with the constant sound of carolers and musicians performing everything from Bach's Christmas Oratorio to Bing Crosby's rendition of "White Christmas."
Fans of Mozart can follow his footsteps with stops at the child prodigy's house and museum in the center of the Old Town and the composer's favorite coffee shop, the venerable Café Tomaselli, at the foot of Alter Markt. Few spots are better for viewing the action in the Christmas market. Enjoy it with a cup of the café's legendary hot chocolate paired with Sacher-Torte.
Handcrafted chocolates are another specialty of Salzburg; the world-famous Mozartktigel or "Mozart Balls" was first invented by the master chocolatier Paul Furst in Salzburg in 1890. Today, the perfectly round chocolate pralines are also used as Christmas ornaments and are widely copied all over Austria, although the best are still made by hand by the Conditerei.
Of all the Christkindlmarkts I've visited, Salzburg's is perhaps the most meaningful. Munich's may be the most chic, Heidelberg's the most welcoming, and Rothenburg's the most authentic, but nothing quite compares with the feeling one gets while standing over the Old Town from the heights of Salzburg's Hohensalzburg castle at dusk. From here, the Christmas lights glitter and hang over the city like stars, and the sound of carols fill the thin alpine air with cheer.
Photographs by David Celdran
This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 18 2014.