Are you a fan of The Sound of Music? Do you know every character’s line, every lyric to every song? Is this classic musical one of your favorite things?
Then let me introduce you to Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour, perhaps our favorite activity we took part in on our trip to Austria.
It’s undeniable that in addition to Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, one of the major stars of The Sound of Music is Salzburg itself. This bike tour was the perfect way for us to get to know this charming city and the movie’s many shooting locations.
From Captain von Trapp’s lakeside mansion, to the beautifully manicured Mirabell Gardens where the children sang “Do-Re-Mi”, to the iconic gazebo where Rolfe kissed Liesl and the Captain kissed Maria, they’re all right here in Salzburg.
We met our tour guide, Sharron, just before 9:30 a.m. by the Mirabell Gardens. There were about a dozen of us eagerly waiting for our tour to start. We each picked a bike; they’re named after various characters in the movie. I chose one named after the feisty Brigitta. Soon, we were off on our Sound of Music bike tour!
The gardens in the second half of “Do-Re-Mi”
Our first photo op before we even started biking was right outside these Baroque gardens. Here, you’ll see the steps where the von Trapp children hopped up and down at the end of “Do-Re-Mi” and Maria hit that epic high note.
Most of the second half of the “Do-Re-Mi” song takes place at Mirabell Gardens. It’s where Maria and the children march around the Pegasus fountain, run “a long, long way” through a hedge tunnel, and give a quirky marble dwarf statue a friendly pat on the head.
We didn’t explore the grounds of Mirabell during the bike tour itself, so definitely allot some time to do so at some point in your trip. The gardens are beautiful and you can spend a good hour wandering around the outdoor space alone. There’s also the unmissable Schloss Mirabell, a popular venue nowadays for weddings and classical concerts.
Salzburg beauty shots in “My Favorite Things” (instrumental version)
We then biked over the Salzach River and into Salzburg’s Old Town to the Pferdeschwemme, or Horse Pond. This was featured in a blink-and-you-might-miss-it scene; it’s when the von Trapp children, clad in their newly sewn playclothes, run around the city before learning how to sing in the picturesque Austrian Alps. When we visited, parts of Pferdeschwemme were under construction and the pond itself was drained, but we could still clearly see the grand equine frescoes. Back in the day, this area was used to wash parade horses.
Another attraction featured in this song is the Mozartsteg, or Mozart Bridge. Maria and the children run across it and look out over the Salzach.
The Salzburg Festival stage
Our next stop was the Felsenreitschule. The name literally translates to “Rock Riding School”; it’s built in a former quarry. We couldn’t go inside (you can visit it separately), but this is home to the iconic stone stage for the Salzburg Festival where the von Trapps gave their final performance in Austria before fleeing the country.
In the late 1600s, this space hosted equestrian shows. Since 1926, the actual Salzburg Festival has been held here somewhat regularly. The real von Trapps performed on this very stage in 1936.
“Confidence” fountain / Inspiration for cemetery
Nearby in the Old Town is the expansive Residenzplatz, or Residence Square. The impressive Baroque fountain here is the one that Maria splashes defiantly as she leaves the abbey, belting out “Confidence.” Unfortunately, when we saw the fountain, the lower half of it was boarded up for the season.
We spent some time in this square to browse the market stands and grab some snacks (we shared a pretzel the size of our heads!). We also had a chance to check out St. Peter’s Cemetery, which inspired the design of the crypt where the von Trapps hid from the Nazis at the end of the movie.
Then it was off to the outskirts of Salzburg for the biggest highlights of the tour.
The von Trapp villa / Skipping and dancing to “Confidence”
Did you know that two real-life palaces served as the von Trapp family’s villa in The Sound of Music?
Our first glimpse of the iconic movie home was Schloss Leopoldskron, which you’ll recognize as the back of the von Trapp villa.
It’s hard not to have your breath taken away when this majestic palace comes into view. Set on a vast, serene pond with the Alps and the Hohensalzburg Fortress in the distance, Leopoldskron served as the backdrop to a number of garden and back patio scenes. Perhaps the most memorable one is when Maria and the children topple into the pond after enthusiastically greeting the Captain who’s returned from his trip to Vienna.
We then biked over to Schloss Frohnburg, which served as the front facade of the von Trapp villa. The tall iron gates and the golden exterior here are unmistakable.
There’s also the chestnut tree-lined Hellbrunner Allee right out front where Maria tried to shake off her nerves during the second half of “Confidence,” just before meeting the von Trapps. We even tried our hand at skipping and doing side heel clicks just like everyone’s favorite governess.
Nowadays, Leopoldskron Palace is a luxury hotel, while Frohnburg Palace is part of the Mozarteum University; it’s a dorm, rehearsal space, and concert hall all-in-one.
We biked down Hellbrunner Allee toward Schloss Hellbrunn, home to the gazebo synonymous with “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and “Something Good.”
During filming, the gazebo was actually located at Leopoldskron. After the movie’s release, though, too many rabid fans trespassed on Leopoldskron’s private grounds. The gazebo was moved to Hellbrunn Palace shortly after.
The gazebo looks just like it did in the movie. Sadly, if you have any dreams of leaping across its benches like Liesl did, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Supposedly many others tried to do the same and injured themselves, resulting in the gazebo being locked to visitors. It can only be admired from the outside.
We didn’t have time to fully check out Hellbrunn Palace on the bike tour, but it’s a popular tourist attraction that’s worth a visit. This pleasure palace is open for tours, and one of its most notable features is the elaborate trick fountains.
You might have read this far and thought, “What about the abbey? Was that just a film set?”
No, that abbey—Nonnberg Abbey—is in Salzburg. The real-life Maria was actually a postulant there in 1924. Normally, the abbey is part of the tour, but it was inaccessible to us by bike because of construction. We were, however, able to visit it on our own time on foot.
This Benedictine monastery dates back to the early 700s. Visitors can access the cemetery and church only. You can see the gates where the children waited when they tried to see Maria after she returned to the abbey.
Need to Know
We did our Sound of Music bike tour in late October. Given that it was off-peak tourist season, we couldn’t fully enjoy a few attractions because of construction or closures. I still think this tour is 110% worth it no matter the time of year. However, it wouldn’t hurt to lower your expectations if you’re participating outside of summer.
Also, you’re probably wondering, “I have this whole itinerary right here in this post. Why should I pay for a tour?” For one, our guide, Sharron, was fantastic: she sang right along with us (she has an amazing voice and was even a semi-finalist on Germany’s The Voice!), shared behind-the-scenes stories about the actors, and gladly took photos and videos for everyone at every location. Two, this tour is a great way to get some exercise and it’s very affordable (€35 per adult, €15–20 for kids and teens). And three, you get to meet people from around the world who share the same love for the film as you do. When else can you bike around Salzburg, Sound of Music soundtrack blaring, joyfully belting out tunes with other superfans?
For people wary of biking, the tour goes at a very leisurely pace; it lasts 3.5 hours and covers about 8 miles. There was one slightly steep uphill when we were heading towards Schloss Leopoldskron that a few people in the group had trouble with, but they just walked their bikes up. We avoided car traffic most of the time, too, so the tour is suitable even for people who aren’t extremely confident of their biking skills.
Finally, if it’s been a few years since you’ve seen The Sound of Music, I highly recommend watching it again before going on this tour. Trust me, you will enjoy and appreciate everything so much more!