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Take a 'Sound of Music' tour of Salzburg, Austria

"The hills are alive with the sound of music ..."

Salzburg, located in the Austrian Alps, is probably one of the most musical cities in the world. It's the birthplace of Mozart (there are not one, but two museums dedicated to him), it has hosted the Salzburg Festival since 1920 and and is home to the Mozarteum music conservatory. The city also served as the real-life home of the von Trapp family, and the film "The Sound of Music" was filmed on location in the city in 1964 (perhaps the most unrealistic part of the film is that music could be banned anywhere in Salzburg).

There are many lovely sights in Salzburg, and here is how to live out your fantasies of "The Sound of Music." To take an organized tour, try Panorama Tours ( or First Tour Company ( To paraphrase: Climb every damn mountain yourself 'til you find your dream.

Villa Trapp

Let's start at the very beginning ... with
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

Let's start at the very beginning ... with the Villa Trapp that is! The von Trapp family lived in this house from 1923 until 1938, when they fled the Nazis. It's had a bit of a, um, interesting history since then: Nazi SS Commander Hendrich Himmler (one of the chief architects of the Holocaust) occupied it during World War II as a summer house (yikes), and barracks for the SS were located in the garden during that time. Missionaries took over the house from 1947 until 1992, when it was sold to a private company. In 2008, it opened as a hotel, and the younger Maria von Trapp, who at 94 was the sole surviving child of the children of Georg von Trapp and his first wife, attended. She was the family member who locked the gate, and she ceremoniously unlocked it as a hotel. This is not the first time the house has been a hotel: Maria von Trapp rented out the rooms during the Great Depression when the family's finances were in a precarious state.

The Villa Trapp offers everything from single rooms without a bathroom to family suites. Rates depend on the season, and packages are available for families. For more information, go to

Schloss Leopoldskron

The lakeside scenes for
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

The lakeside scenes for "The Sound of Music" were filmed at Schloss Leopoldskron, a castle located in a suburb of the Old Town of Salzburg on the artificial lake Leopoldskron Tier. It is now a 55-room hotel on 17 acres.

The castle once belonged to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but eventually was sold and fell into disrepair. In 1918, Max Reinhardt, the founder of the Salzburg festival, bought the house and restored it. Fun fact: The fictional character Max in "The Sound of Music" is named after Max Reinhardt. By 1938, Reinhardt was working and living mainly in Hollywood, so he did not return to Austria when the Nazis came to power and the castle was confiscated by the Nazis as "Jewish property." Reinhardt died in 1943 in New York City, but wrote before his death to a friend that he spent "most beautiful, prolific and mature years [at Leopoldskron] ... I have lost it without lamenting. I have lost everything that I carried into it."

Reinhardt's son, Wolfgang, bought the film rights to the von Trapp family story in 1956 (for which Maria von Trapp was paid $9,000 in cash for it -- and no portion of the profits). The story was made into a German film first, before it became a Broadway musical and Hollywood film. Given Wolfgang Reinhardt's connections, Schloss Leopoldskron was a natural fit. There was even a gazebo on the property ...

Romance gazebo

This gazebo plays a crucial romantic role in
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

This gazebo plays a crucial romantic role in "The Sound of Music," between Liesel and Rolf's "16 Going on 17" to Georg and Maria's "Something Good." This gazebo's exterior is used in the film, but the interior parts were sung in a larger replica in Hollywood (where the filming for "16 Going on 17" got so intense that actress Charmian Carr slipped and fell through a pane of glass, injuring her ankle). It's still nice to dream, though, right? "I am 16, going on 17 ..."

The gazebo was once located at Schloss Leopoldskron, but excited film fans kept trespassing onto the private property. It was then moved to the (public) gardens at Schloss Hellbrunn. If you want to take a break from "The Sound of Music" (although why would you?), Schloss Hellbrunn is a 400-year-old Baroque estate open to the public for tours, including trick water fountains and Europe's oldest outdoor theater.

Schloss Frohnburg

One castle was not grand enough for Hollywood's
Photo Credit: Flickr / eviyani

One castle was not grand enough for Hollywood's version of the von Trapp family, so why not two? The exterior scenes of "The Sound of Music" were filmed at the Schloss Frohnburg, which dates from the 17th century. The palace belonged to the Counts of Kuenberg, and the Count of Kuenberg in 1957 sold it to the Austrian government, which converted it to dormitories for the music conservatory Mozarteum. It still operates as dorms as well a concert hall. Unfortunately it is not open to visitors, but it's nice to think about the special role music still plays.

Stift Nonnberg (aka "The Abbey")

There really is the Stift Nonnberg in Salzburg,
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

There really is the Stift Nonnberg in Salzburg, where a young Maria von Trapp was in training to become a nun before she was asked in 1926 to become a governess to the young Maria von Trapp, the third-eldest of the widow Georg von Trapp's children. Located directly under the giant Fortress Hohensalzburg, Stift Nonnberg dates back to the eighth century and is considered the oldest nunnery to exist without interruptions. A fire destroyed significant portions of the church and convent in 1423, and the present Gothic buildings began construction in 1464.

Although Nonnberg played a role in the real Maria von Trapp's life, there are no singing nuns at the nunnery (it's not even known as an abbey, sadly). The real von Trapps did not escape through the cemetery, and the dramatic showdown with Rolf and Georg was actually filmed on a lot in Hollywood. While Maria and Georg did get married Nonnberg, it is not the location of the film's wedding scene.

Mirabell Gardens

The Mirabell Palace and the accompanying gardens are
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

The Mirabell Palace and the accompanying gardens are considered the crown jewels of Salzburg. Built in 1606, the Mirabell Palace is now the office of Salzburg's mayor and the municipal court while the former concert venue is now a wedding hall. Their beauty must have been noted by the Hollywood scouts of "The Sound of Music," since many of the shots of the von Trapp children singing and dancing were filmed in the gardens. On these steps, the von Trapp children actors jumped up and down as they sang "Do Re Mi."

Mirabell Gardens (Part 2)

Mirabell Gardens is featured in many of the
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

Mirabell Gardens is featured in many of the scenes of "Do Re Mi," so you should definitely set aside a lot of time for it. Singing under the hedges is a must.

Mondsee Abbey

While Georg and Maria von Trapp actually married
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

While Georg and Maria von Trapp actually married at Nonnberg, the movie's wedding scene was filmed at the cloister church in Mondsee, Austria, located about 20 miles from Salzburg. The church was constructed in the 15th century, and underwent a major restoration in 2009 (four years after Pope John Paul II upgraded it to a basilica). Open to visitors, you can live out your fantasy of walking down the aisle to a waiting handsome Christopher Plummer. Without Christopher Plummer, that is.

The real von Trapps

So here are some facts about the von
Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

So here are some facts about the von Trapps, if you're unaware with how Hollywood sometimes changes things. Georg hired Maria von Trapp as a governess for the third-eldest child of the von Trapps, also named Maria, in 1926. Georg, who had been a naval officer in World War I, was still grieving the death of his much-loved first wife, Agathe Whitehead, the granddaughter of the inventor of the torpedo, who was the mother of his seven children. Georg was also not really a strict father, and music was not banned in their house. The ages and sexes of all the children were changed in the film. Georg and Maria married in 1927, but it was not a marriage of love: Maria wrote in her autobiography that she was "really and truly not in love with him." We'll wait while you put back together the pieces of your heart.

After Georg and Maria married, they had two more children before they went bankrupt in 1933. Georg suffered from depression, but Maria rallied and began renting out parts of their 19th century villa and also encouraged the family to become professional singers, despite Georg's protests. The family became nationally famous and won first place in the Salzburg Festival in 1936.

Given their fame, it's not surprising that Adolf Hitler was interested in the von Trapps. The Nazis made several offers to the family: The family refused a personal invitation to sing at Hitler's birthday party, Georg declined a naval command, eldest son Rupert was offered a doctor's position with the Nazis (shudder) and, as depicted in the film, Georg refused to fly the Nazi flag on his property. The family realized they had to flee, and while fleeing everything you've ever known is terrifying, it was not nearly as dramatic as in the film. The family took a train to Italy and then traveled to London and then the United States, where they let their visas run out.

While living in the U.S., Maria von Trapp gave birth to Johannes, Georg von Trapp's tenth child. They eventually settled in Stowe, Vermont, where they ran the Trapp Family Lodge and toured as German folk singers. This picture, from the Villa Trapp, is from that period. The last of the original seven children, Maria, died in 2014 at the age of 99. Georg and Maria's three children are still alive.

And one last thing: "Edelweiss" is not an Austrian folk song.


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