Hellbrunn might be the most visited place in the surroundings of Salzburg. On the one hand, that’s because of its proximity to the city and because the castle and the trick fountains are included in the Salzburg Card. On the other hand, because Hellbrunn is included in every Sound of Music tour.
In this article, you will find out how to get to Hellbrunn, whether or not you should visit, why it’s included in the Sound of Music Tour, and what the trick fountains are about.
Furthermore, I will point you to a secret off-beat spot tucked away on the back of the hill behind the park.
How to get to Hellbrunn Palace?
Hellbrunn Castle is located 5 kilometers south of Salzburg. To get there, you either take bus number 25 or you walk or cycle Hellbrunner Allee, the old avenue of the prince archbishops. By bus, it takes you no more than 20 minutes to reach Hellbrunn, while the bike ride takes you about half an hour.
For serious sightseeing in Salzburg, I recommend a Salzburg Card. Not only is every attraction in Hellbrunn included in the card but also the bus that takes you to Hellbrunn and the Untersberg Cable Car, which is on the same bus line. If you get the card, the bus is the preferred mode of transport, while walking or cycling is recommended if you feel like renting a bike or going on a long, relaxed walk in nature.
How to get to Hellbrunn Palace by Bus from Salzburg?
Bus number 25 takes you to Hellbrunn Palace. You take the bus from the Salzburg train station, from Mirabell square or the riverside on Rudolfskai. The stop at Mirabell square is convenient in most cases.
While Hellbrunn is halfway, the last stop of bus 25 is the Untersberg Cable Car. The bus, the attractions of Hellbrunn, and the Untersberg Cable Car are included in the Salzburg Card. Therefore, I would like to recommend an itinerary.
I would recommend the Salzburg Card if you plan to visit Hellbrunn with all its attractions and have extra time also to take the cable car and maybe even visit museums in the city. If you decide to get the Salzburg Card, it’s best to take the bus to the last stop and the Cable Car to Untersberg in the morning before you return to Hellbrunn and visit the palace, the trick fountains, the park, and maybe even the Salzburg Zoo. All at a fixed price because of the Salzburg Card.
Here is an article on the Salzburg Card and how to make the most of it.
If you decide to follow my suggestion, the bus stops in front of the cable car at its final destination. Here is an article with more details on how to get to the Untersberg cable car. The Cable Car is one of the best things to do in the surroundings of Salzburg, especially with a Salzburg Card and in combination with a visit to Hellbrunn.
In case you don’t take the cable car, you don’t ride the bus to the end but get off at the stop called Schloss Hellbrunn or Hellbrunn Zoo. The former, if you would like to visit the palace and the trick fountains first, or if you are not planning on visiting the Zoo. The latter, if you go to the Zoo first. The Zoo is part of the Hellbrunn area, and from the Zoo, you walk over to the palace and the trick fountains.
From the city center, the two stops, either at the palace or at the Zoo in Hellbrunn, are 24 minutes away. In case you are coming from the Cable Car, the bus takes 14 minutes and reaches the Zoo before it reaches the palace. The palace and the Zoo are one stop and walking distance apart.
How to get to Hellbrunn Palace by Bike?
I worked for a hostel in Salzburg for many years. At the hostel, there is bike rental available. Whenever someone asked me where to cycle to, I would send them to Hellbrunn. Hellbrunnerallee, the old princely avenue, is a straight five-kilometer gravel road lined with trees and the only other traffic are pedestrians, other bikers, and horses.
Be aware that bike rental in Salzburg is only worth it if you feel like cycling. In the old town, everything is within walking distance. For the surroundings, public transport is less expensive than bike rentals.
The best place to rent a bike in Salzburg is your accommodation. Many hotels and hostels do rent bikes in Salzburg. The hostel I worked for, for example, rents bikes for €10,- a day while the bike rental at Mozart square or next to the main bridge would charge the same for a couple of hours. Furthermore, you don’t have to pick up your bike somewhere else.
Once you have your bike, you ride it to Unipark in Nonntal. That’s a modern university building behind which Hellbrunner Allee avenue begins. If you would like to do a circle instead of taking the avenue in both directions, you should also visit Leopoldskron. Leopoldskronerweiher lake and the castle featured in the Sound of Music. That’s why this was the circle I did on my three-hour “Round of Music” Rikscha tours when I was still riding bike taxis around Salzburg.
Because sections of the bike tour are susceptible to getting lost, I created this map for you.
One thing you visit on the ride-along Hellbrunner Allee that you wouldn’t see by bus is the front of the house where they filmed the Sound of Music. It’s called Frohnburg, located halfway to the castle and owned by Mozarteum, the Music University of Salzburg.
In case you don’t want to rent a bike, you can also walk to Hellbrunn in an hour to an hour and a half. And if you are more interested in cycling and less in Hellbrunn, here is an article on options for self-guided Bike Tours around Salzburg.
The History of Hellbrunn Palace
Hellbrunn palace became the second of several countryside palaces in the surroundings of Salzburg in the early 17th century. Archbishop Wolf Dietrich built Mirabell castle, the first of these summer residences, for his mistress and children. Nowadays, Mirabell is part of the old town, but initially, it was outside of the city. It was named Altenau castle after Wolf Dietrich’s mistress Salome Alt but Wolf Dietrichs Cousin, Markus Sittikus, became the next archbishop and renamed the castle Mirabell.
However, Wolf Dietrich’s successor, Markus Sittikus, didn’t only want to forget about the story with the mistress and the children but was also jealous of Wolf Dietrich’s success. He, therefore, didn’t want to use the same palace but wanted his own building to show off and celebrate his power. Hellbrunn was built at the beginning of the 17th century with precisely that purpose.
There were no rooms to sleep in but rather banquets and festival halls. Hellbrunn was a daytime castle. That’s why a fancy avenue leads to Hellbrunn. The archbishop used to travel back to the city in the evening. Trick fountains, hunting grounds surrounded by a wall, a stone theater, and pleasure gardens surround Hellbrunn castle. Everything was designed to entertain the archbishop and his guests.
Things to do in Hellbrunn
While Hellbrunn is mainly a palace, there are many more things to do. Local families with kids hang out in the park or visit the Salzburg Zoo. Sound of Music lovers fancy the Gazebo. The palace is a history museum, the trick fountains are fun, and another small castle on the Hellbrunnerberg hill is a Folklore Museum for those interested in the local culture. Furthermore, you can walk the park and the hill and discover the stone theater, a secret event venue in the forest.
The Hellbrunn Palace Museum
The style in which the palace and the fountains were built was at the transition from renaissance to baroque in a short period called mannerism. While renaissance artists built according to strict rules and copied antiquity, they started to break the rules in mannerism. Surprise was the theme of the period.
This is, of course, most obvious with the fountains, randomly splashing water at its visitors, but the position of the palace is also a good example. A Renaissance palace would have been visible from afar because it would have been symmetrical, with the avenue leading to it. But in Hellbrunn, you arrive at the end of the avenue, the road takes a 90-degree turn to the right, and the castle, therefore, suddenly appears. Surprise.
If you purchase a ticket to the trick fountains or have a Salzburg Card, the entrance to the palace is included. Therefore the visit is a must during your time in Hellbrunn. The exhibition inside the castle gives excellent insights into the history and the nature of Hellbrunn Palace.
The Hellbrunn Trick Fountains
The trick fountains, located behind the palace, are the highlight of Hellbrunn. Imagine there was no television or radio, let alone recorded music or the internet in the 17th century! There was none of the entertainment we have today. If you wanted music or theater, you or someone else had to perform.
The trick fountains in that sense were revolutionary. They consist of attractions powered by water. These attractions include the prince archbishops table where water unexpectedly comes out of the seats. Of course, water doesn’t come out of the archbishop’s seat but only out of his guest’s seating. There is a crown that floats, driven by water, many fountains and statues, and the mechanical theatre.
The mechanical theater is the highlight of the trick fountains. Today it doesn’t seem as spectacular. However, there are 200 figures that move to music, and all of them are only driven by water. These figures are located in a stage set that looks like a dollhouse. It represents the entire society of the time, and the characters perform the tasks assigned to them. It’s like a 300-year-old television set.
The way to visit the trick fountains in Hellbrunn is a guided tour. This year in 2020, you can only visit them with an audio guide because larger groups are not allowed. The real guides are great, but the advantage of an audio guide is that you can move at your own pace and take your time to take pictures. I will update this article once the real guided tours are back in action.
Pleasure Park and Hunting Grounds
The park next to the castle, which is freely accessible, is a recreational area and picnic area for the locals. One part of the park, same as the trick fountains, is decorated with statues and ornate ponds. Another part is a playground where families with children hang out. However, most of the park is simply a meadow surrounded by walls, perfect for relaxing walks.
Walls surround the area because these meadows were the hunting grounds of the archbishop. To ensure his hunting success, cheating was used. Namely, the animals inside the hunting grounds were intentionally kept and trapped by the surrounding walls.
If you visit the park at hellbrunn, you might notice this bird near the ponds. It is a heron that has been given the name Eberhard by responsible authorities. It looks like you could leave your children with him, but that’s not the case. I am just kidding. The bird is harmless.
The Sound of Music Gazebo
Many people visit Hellbrunn Palace nowadays because of the famous Gazebo. The Gazebo that appeared in the much-hyped and timeless classic the Sound of Music is located in Hellbrunn. After the filming was done in 1965, Hollywood gave the pavilion to the city of Salzburg as a present. The “sixteen-seventeen song” in which the Gazebo appeared in the movie was not filmed in Hellbrunn but in Leopoldskron. The Gazebo was not initially placed in Hellbrunn.
It was, however, placed on private property, which was therefore regularly invaded by trespassing tourists. That’s why the Gazebo was moved to a public area. There was no better place for this than the park at Hellbrunn because the park is open to the public and free of charge but is still locked at night. In the beginning, the Gazebo was even open, but it has remained closed since tourists injured themselves trying to re-enact the scene with Liesl and Rolf. You find the Gazebo at the entrance of the park near the restrooms.
Hellbrunnerberg and the Monthly Castle
The Folklore Museum is situated in the small yellow castle on the slope of Hellbrunnerberg mountain. Legend has it that the archbishop once received a guest that had to sleep in the living room due to a lack of sleeping arrangements. Hellbrunn was primarily a party castle. Markus Sittikus, therefore, promised his guest that after a month he would have his own accommodation built.
This is how this little yellow castle came to be in record time. The folklore museum that is located in the castle today is all about Salzburg’s old folklore, like the furniture of past centuries, theater, Krampus masks, and more.
Like every museum in Salzburg and all the attractions in Hellbrunn, and the Folklore Museum is included in the Salzburg Card. To reach it, you have to climb the mountain, but that only takes a few minutes. If you visit the Folklore museum and still have time, you could continue through the forest to reach the stone theater.
The Stone Theater Secrets
By far, my favorite part and one that tourists rarely get to see is the stone theater on Hellbrunnerberg. Hellbrunnerberg is the hill next to the park. Prominently visible from all over the area and even from Salzburg’s city center is a little yellow castle on its slope that we discussed in the previous section. The so-called Monatsschlössl, the monthly castle, is your first stop on the way to the stone theater. After climbing Hellbrunnerberg to the Monatsschlössl, you find signposts to Steintheater. They lead further into the forest until you come across metal stairs on your left. Take those stairs to find the theater.
The builder of Hellbrunn Palace, Archbishop Markus Sittikus, loved music and theater. After the palace was completed, he turned the former quarry at Hellbrunn, where stones were once quarried for the castle into this beautiful music and theater setting. The first performance in the Stone Theater is said to have been not only the premiere of the venue but the performance of the first operetta in Central Europe in 1617 with Monteverdi’s Orfeo.
The stone theater surrounds a mystical aura that invites you to linger and marvel. To get back to the castle, you can either go back up the stairs and over the hill or go straight down, away from the stage, and into the park.
The Salzburg Zoo in Hellbrunn
The Zoo is best visited with children, with a genuine interest in zoos or with a Salzburg Card and enough time. As you can imagine, it is not a must, but certainly one of the best zoos I know. The Salzburg Zoo is regarded as one of the most beautiful zoos in Austria and in the area. The enclosures in the Salzburg Zoo are partly built on the slope of the Hellbrunnerberg. The Zoo in Hellbrunn is divided into continents and home to more than 140 exotic as well as domestic animals from penguins to bears and ibexes.
Salzburg Zoo can be reached either walking across the pleasure park from the castle in five minutes or by getting off at the second Hellbrunn bus stop, which is called Hellbrunn Zoo. Public transport between the castle and the Zoo is unnecessary. When coming from the Untersberg Cable Car on bus 25, the Zoo is the first Hellbrunn stop and the castle the second.
How much is the Entrance Fee for Hellbrunn Palace?
The entrance fee of €13,50 to the trick fountains also includes the palace museum and the folklore museum inside the monthly castle. There are reduced prices for children and students under 26 years old. Now, I know I repeat myself, but when sightseeing in Salzburg, you should seriously consider the Salzburg Card. When you, for example, also visit the Zoo in Hellbrunn, you get a one euro discount for combining the two, but that’s still €11,- for the Zoo and €13,50 for the castle and the trick fountains, which adds up to €24,50.
On the other hand, when you get the Salzburg Card, you pay €26,- in the low season and €29,- in the high season. That’s a few bucks more, but for 24 hours, the Salzburg Card includes every museum in the city center and the Untersberg as mentioned above Cable Car, which is at the end of the same bus line as Hellbrunn.
If you really only have time for the palace and the trick fountains, go for the single entrance fee. Suppose you have time and are anyway considering the fortress, Mozart’s birthplace, Mozart’s residence, history museums, or any other sight in the city center. In that case, the Salzburg Card is the way to go.
However, if you have a limited budget and perhaps do not want to spend money at all. When you have nothing but time and curiosity, you might still want to visit Hellbrunn. Hellbrunn is my go-to place for long, mind-clearing walks. Once you found Hellbrunnerallee avenue, the path is a five-kilometer stretch straight to the castle. The pleasure garden, the Hellbrunnerberg with its views, and the Stone Theater and the pavilion of the Sound of Music, are accessible free of charge.
Is Hellbrunn Palace open in December?
The trick fountains are closed in December because the water freezes, and getting wet would be very uncomfortable in the cold. The palace, however, is open. Visiting Hellbrunn Palace in December before Christmas is more recommended than any other time of the year because there is a Christmas market unlike any other Christmas market in the area.
The castle’s facade with its 24 windows gets turned into an advent calendar, and four hundred Christmas trees are placed around the castle. The Christmas market in Hellbrunn is not one of the traditional Christmas markets in Salzburg. It began in 2001, but there is no question that it’s one of the prettiest in the area.
While the trick fountains are the most popular feature of Hellbrunn, there is also the palace itself, the Salzburg Zoo, a vast park with ornate ponds, a folklore museum, a hidden theater carved in stone, and last but not least, the Sound of Music Gazebo. These are the reasons why Hellbrunn is not popular among tourists, but the recreational are of many locals. To get to Hellbrunn, it only takes 20 minutes by bus, and the bus, as well as every paid attraction, is included in the Salzburg Card. Alternatively, Hellbrunn is an excellent destination for a walk or a bike ride along the old-prince archbishops’ avenue.