Founded in 1077, the Hohensalzburg is Salzburg's acropolis and the largest preserved medieval fortress in Central Europe. Brooding over the city from atop the Festungsberg, it was originally founded by Salzburg's Archbishop Gebhard, who had supported the pope in the investiture controversy against the Holy Roman Emperor. Over the centuries the archbishops gradually enlarged the castle, using it originally only sometimes as a residence, then as a siege-proof haven against invaders and their own rebellious subjects. The exterior may look grim, but inside there are lavish state rooms, such as the glittering Golden Room, the Burgmuseum —a collection of medieval art—and the Rainer's Museum, with its brutish arms and armor. Politics and Church are in full force here: there's a torture chamber not far from the exquisite late-Gothic St. George's Chapel (although the implements on view came from another castle and were not used here). The 200-pipe organ from the
beginning of the 16th century, played during the warmer months daily after the carillon in the Neugebäude, is best heard from a respectful distance, as it is not called "the Bull" without reason. Climb up the 100 tiny steps to the Recturm, a grand lookout post with a sweeping view of Salzburg and the mountains. Children will love coming here, especially as some rooms of the castle are now given over to a special exhibition, the Welt der Marionetten, which offers a fascinating view into the world of marionettes—a great preview of the treats in store at the nearby Marionettentheater.
To reach the fortress, walk up the zigzag path that begins just beyond the Stieglkeller on the Festungsgasse. You don't need a ticket to walk the footpath; sturdy shoes are recommended. Visitor lines to the fortress can be long, so try to come early. The "Fortress Card" includes funicular round trip, entrance to fortress and an audio guide.
Festungsbahn. More than 110 years old, the Festungsbahn (funicular railway), behind St. Peter's Cemetery, is the easy way up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg (advisable with young children). Festungsgasse 4, 5020. 0662/4480–9750. www.festungsbahn.at. €11.30 round-trip (includes all museums); €6.50 one-way ride down. Oct.–Apr., daily 9–5; May, June and Sept., daily 9am–8pm; July and Aug., daily 9am–10pm.