It was a little corny… okay, it was a LOT corny. But it was also fabulous! If you’re planning a trip to Salzburg, Austria, make it a point to book this tour. While it may be possible to self-guide through The Sound of Music movie locations, you won’t get the backstory or the details. Also, everyone should experience the fun of singing along to the movie soundtrack in a bus full of 50 people. Come on people, keep an open mind and live a little.
The tour runs twice a day, 7 days a week. We, of course, got our tickets on Viator, but you can also buy tickets from the Panorama Tours booth at Mirabellplatz. This is where it all started, and where we met our wonderful blue-blazer-and-khaki-wearing British tour guide, David. He had quite the comical relationship with our bus driver, Zoran, and poked fun at him as we drove around the tiny streets of downtown Salzburg. This part of the trip was mostly informational, which was the main reason I paid for this tour. I wanted to know the backstory, and little details that I otherwise would’ve missed.
Fun fact: The real Maria Von Trapp was in the movie. In the I Have Confidence scene, when Julie Andrews walks under the archway in the heart of Old City by the Salzburg cathedral, three women in black dirndls are seen walking in the background. The real Maria is the leader, wearing a headscarf. Crazy, right? It’s said that she found out they were filming in Salzburg and became somewhat of an annoyance on set. The director suggested she appear in a scene, and after countless takes, she got fed up with the repetition and was scarcely seen for the remainder of filming.
They drove us to the outside of Nonnberg Abbey, which was the location used for exterior shots of the nunnery: when Maria leaves the abbey, and when the children come to visit her and beg at the gate. It’s also the church where Maria and Captain Von Trapp got married in real life. We only got to see it from the bus, and unfortunately didn’t make it back for a closer look.
They also took us out to Schloss Leopoldskron, which was the filming location for all the terrace and lake scenes.
Fun fact: the little girl who played Gretel almost drowned in the scene when they fell out of the boat. She couldn’t swim, and Julie Andrews was supposed to hold her head above water. In the scene that was used in the movie, though, Julie Andrews accidentally falls backwards out of the boat and the little girl ended up on the other side of the boat, where she started to grasp around for something to hold on to. After that, she refused to film the scene again and the crew had no choice but to use the drowning clip. Everyone felt bad, and fed her sweets for the remainder of filming. When it was time to film the last scene when she’s seen piggybacking on Christopher Plummer, she had gained a lot of weight. They had to sub in a smaller child because Plummer declared, “I’m not carrying the fat kid!”
Because of the dense clusters of trees at the back of the palace, the crew replicated the terrace (just to the left of the palace as it’s shot in this photo) in order to get better filming angles. That’s how all the terrace scenes in the movie have unobstructed views of the lake and the Alps in the distance. I have an entirely new appreciation for the trickery of movie-making now, because the shots of Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews arguing on the terrace (after the lake scene) were shot separately. Julie Andrews was shot at Frohnberg Palace, miles away, with the yellow house behind her. Christopher Plummer was shot here at Leopoldskron, with the lake in the background.
Next, we drove out into the suburban area outside of Salzburg. On the way there, we passed Frohnberg Palace, which was used for the exterior shots of the Von Trapp house. The bus couldn’t take us close to it, and we only saw it for 10 seconds while driving past. Kind of disappointing.
David told us that if you take the #25 bus from Salzburg to Hellbrunn, you can walk about 0.5 miles on a gravel path from Schloss Hellbrunn back to Frohnberg palace. This walk is the same one Maria took during the I Have Confidence scene where she swings her bag and guitar around, eventually ending up in front of the house when she says “oh, help.” When you’re taking the walk, a field will be on your left and Frohnberg will appear on your right. Lee and I made a mental note of all this, and came back the next day to explore by ourselves. It’ a very quiet residential area, and makes for a very romantic, beautiful, and relaxing walk. Frohnberg is now a music school, and if you’re lucky, you’ll hear Mozart emanating from an open window.
Back to the tour…
Half a mile down the road from Frohnberg is Schloss Hellbrunn. This beautiful yellow estate was originally a hunting lodge and has an extensive grassy lawn with “trick fountains” and a large pond with massive sturgeon. Flowers were just starting to pop up in the flower beds and in the surrounding grassy fields.
The location wasn’t used in the movie, but it’s where one (of three) white gazebos permanently rests. This gazebo wasn’t used for the dancing scene (that one was a specially-constructed gazebo that was open on one side and was shot in the studio), but it was used for exterior shots. It’s locked, but you can walk up to it and touch it.
There was a downside to this part of the tour: you’re walking around with 49 other people, all of whom want the same photo with the gazebo. It’s a cluttered mess, and you won’t get a picture without some random people being in it. The photos below are from the next day, when Lee and I came back for a closer look at this beautiful site.
The next leg of the trip hit the highest point on the corny scale. As we drove through the countryside on our way to the lakeside village of Mondsee, we sang along to the movie soundtrack. I definitely don’t have a good singing voice, but I did my best! Even Lee was singing along, and that’s NOT his thing.
We stopped midway at a scenic overlook. It was one of very few moments in my life when I couldn’t understand the beauty that I was seeing. It was just too breathtaking to grasp… I’m not sure how else to explain it. The only other time I had this reaction (or lack thereof!) was at Big Sur last summer.
When we arrived in Mondsee, David gave us a quick run-down of what there was to see before letting us loose for an hour. The village is very small and quaint, and it’s the location for the church scene where Maria and the Captain got married (but not in real life). There is also a little bakery called Braun’s, where they serve the BEST Apfelstrudel! I could’ve spent an entire day leisurely discovering this picture-perfect village.
Once we were back on the bus, we took the autobahn back to Salzburg, where we stopped at Mirabell Gardens and ended the tour. This, of course, was the location of much of the Do-Re-Mi sequence. The most well-known shot is probably when Maria and the children are hopping up the steps at the end of the song, and Maria ends on a high note with one hand on her head and the other in the air. What amazes me is how big the steps look in that shot, but how short they are in real life. Camera angles certainly work miracles!
Note: In the shot I took below, I was standing in an elevated position, on top of a wall that faces the Gardens.
In summary, the tour was definitely worth the time (4 hours) and the money (€45 each). Even people like Lee, who aren’t huge fans of the movie, had a great time. It’s nice to relax on a comfy bus that takes you to all the locations you’ve come to know so well from watching The Sound of Music over and over again.
- If you’re really interested in taking your time by Hellbrunn and Frohnberg, then plan to come back on your own time because the tour only skims over that area. I thought taking the entire I Have Confidence walk from Hellbrunn to Frohnberg was the best part, and that wasn’t part of the actual tour; we did it on our own.
- You could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon in Mondsee (if you have a way to get there). It has beautiful photo-worthy houses and landscapes, and several quaint cafes and shops.
- Something I’m still laughing about is the end of the movie where the family magically walks over the Untersberg mountain into Switzerland. First, if you’ve ever seen the Untersberg mountain, you would know that it’s impossible to just walk over it. Furthermore, if you know anything about geography, walking over the Untersberg puts you in Germany… and the Germans were who the Von Trapp family was trying to run away from. The real Von Trapp family simply went to the train station and got on a train. But, I guess that wasn’t dramatic enough for a movie ending.
- The Untersberg mountain is amazing though, and I definitely recommend taking the cable car up to the top. Use the #25 bus (the same one you ride if you’re going from Salzburg to Hellbrunn… just take it a little further). The bus drops you directly at the cable car station, and the gondolas run every 30 minutes.