Salzburg Festival 2020: Everything you Need to Know

by editor

The Salzburg Festival is one of the most important events in Austria, with over 250,000 revelers descending on Salzburg annually to partake in the celebrations.

Salzburg bursts into life during August with live classical music, dramatic performances, and operatic productions. This year marks the historic 100th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival. 

So what should you expect from the Salzburg Festival this year? And how did the festival grow from humble beginnings to be one of the country’s most famous events? Read on to find everything you need to know about the Salzburg Festival.

How did the Salzburg Festival begin?

The Salzburg Festival was founded in 1920 by a collective of Austria’s brightest cultural figures. The chief founders of the festival included poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, director Max Reinhardt, and composer Richard Strauss.

The idea of the festival was to continue Salzburg’s tradition of cultural performances, an idea that was revived towards the end of World War I. The first Salzburg festival in 1920 featured a performance of the play Jedermann by Hugo von Hofmannsthal in Salzburg’s town square.

The performance was a rousing success and became an annual tradition. In the years that followed, many of the biggest operas, plays, and classical musicians attended the Salzburg Festivals, helping it grow into one of Austria’s most iconic events.

One man who helped the Salzburg Festival develop was composer Herbert von Karajan. Herbert von Karajan debuted at the Salzburg Festival and worked closely with the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic. He was instrumental in opening the Großes Festspielhaus, one of the main venues used during the festival. 

Traveling to the Salzburg Festival

Salzburg is said to be at the heart of Europe, so it’s easy to reach if you’re heading to the festival from out of town. 

Salzburger Hauptbahnhof offers international train routes to many major cities in Switzerland and Germany. Salzburg also has an international airport, which connects Salzburg with destinations around the world. 

The A1 and A10 autobahns run through Salzburg, connecting the city to Vienna and Germany, respectively. These transport options make Salzburg easy to reach via plane, train, or car.

Salzburg Festival Hauptbahnhof

Accommodation during the Salzburg Festival

The population of Salzburg swells from around 150,000 to over 400,000 people during the Salzburg Festival. Luckily, tourists will find tons of boutique hotels and classy resorts dotted across Salzburg. 

Some of the city’s classiest hotels include Hotel Goldgasse, Hotel Schasse Salzburg, and Hotel Schoss Mönchstein. If you’re looking to experience the Salzburg Festival on a budget, don’t fret — you’ll find plenty of reasonably priced rooms available too. 

If you fancy cutting down your carbon footprint while enjoying the Salzburg Festival, consider booking a room at The Keep Eco Residence. The Keep offers reasonably priced rooms thoughtfully created using locally sourced and recycled materials. There are some ingenious uses for recycled materials at The Keep, including using a truck tarp to waterproof shower walls.

Regardless of whether you’re planning to splash some cash on a hotel or simply want a cheap place to stay, ensure you book your room well in advance. Salzburg Festival is one of the city’s busiest times of the year, and you won’t find a room to spare if you try to book last minute.

The Keep Eco Residence
Salzburg Festival

Eating out during the Salzburg Festival

Feeling peckish after catching one of the festival’s shows? Salzburg is home to some exquisite eateries where you can chow down after taking in the sights. From quick bites to romantic candlelit dinners, Salzburg has everything you could want at its restaurants.

If you fancy something vegan, check out the Keep Living Vegan Restaurant. Keep Living offers vegan brunches and breakfasts made from local and organic ingredients, so you can start your day the right way.

Must-see performances at the Salzburg Festival

The Salzburg Festival boasts hundreds of plays, operas, concerts, and more to enjoy. With so much happening, it can be tough to pick the performances you want to attend. Here are a few of the best things to see at the Salzburg Festival.

Jedermann by Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Jedermann by Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Jedermann is synonymous with the Salzburg Festival. Written by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Jedermann is a morality play that tells the tale of Death coming to claim the life of a wealthy socialite. 

The Salzburg Festival began in 1920 with a performance of Jedermann in the Cathedral Square. Ever since the first festival, the performance of Jedermann in Cathedral Square has become a tradition. This year is the 100th anniversary, so you can guarantee this year’s production of Jedermann will be the most spellbinding yet.

There’ll be 14 performances of Jedermann between the 1st and 26th August, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to watch this seminal play. 

Vienna Philharmonic

Vienna Philharmonic Salzburg Festival

The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the finest orchestras in the world. Salzburg Festival welcomes the Vienna Philharmonic every year to perform some of the most famous pieces of classical music. 
This year, the Vienna Philharmonic will be playing an array of beautiful symphonies, including “Symphony No. 9 in D minor” by Ludwig van Beethoven and “Symphony No. 6” in A minor by Gustav Mahler.

The orchestra will be spearheaded by some highly skilled conductors, like Andris Nelsons and Riccardo Muti. All performances by the Vienna Philharmonic will occur in one of the festival’s classiest venues, the Großes Festspielhaus.

Berlin Philharmonic

One of the most famous operas set to be performed at this year’s Salzburg Festival is Elektra. Elektra was written by one of the festival’s founders, Richard Strauss, with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It was also first directed by Max Reinhardt, another of the Salzburg Festival’s founders. 

As a result, Elektra has strong ties to the festive and is a must-see for opera enthusiasts. Elektra is actually based on Sophocles’ Electra; however, the story is modernized and barely resembles the original story. 

Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Anyone attending the Salzburg Festival will want to experience the music of one of Salzburg’s most famous sons, Mozart. While there are plenty of concerts concerning Mozart at the Salzburg Festival, one of the best ways to appreciate his artistry is by seeing Cosi Fan Tutte.

This two-act Italian-language opera shows off Mozart’s musical versatility. The opera discusses a range of themes, including fidelity, war, and forgiveness.

Top venues at Salzburg Festival

The performances at the Salzburg Festival take place at several different venues, from operas performed in classic concert halls to plays produced alfresco in the town square. Here are some of the venues to watch out for while attending the Salzburg Festival.

Großes Festspielhaus

Salzburg Festival Großes Festspielhaus

Also known as the Large Festival House, Großes Festspielhaus is one of Austria’s premier concert halls. Großes Festspielhaus was designed by Clemens Holzmeister in the 1950s, with help from acclaimed composer Herbert von Karajan.

The Großes Festspielhaus can seat over 2,000 guests and has a stage that is over 100m wide, making it one of the widest in the world. With such a large stage, it’s ideal for hosting the Salzburg Festival’s operas and orchestral performances.


It was Max Reinhardt who had the idea of turning Salzburg’s Winter Riding School into a theatre. This Baroque-style auditorium is state-of-the-art, and uniquely features a retractable roof, which provides a magical ambiance to the performance space.

Domplatz (Cathedral Square)

Cathedral Square was the first venue used in the Salzburg Festival and undoubtedly one of the most magical. The square is transformed during the festival into a theatre that can seat over 2,000 people. 

The stage is set up in the shadow of Salzburg Cathedral, which was constructed during the 17th century. Domplatz is where the Salzburg Festival’s seminal performances of Jedermann take place. It is worth noting that during bad weather, Jedermann is moved indoors to the Großes Festspielhaus.

Salzburg State Theatre

Salzburg State Theatre
Salzburg festival

Salzburg State Theatre is one of the most famous venues in Austria. Constructed in the late 19th century, the Salzburg State Theatre boasts ornate architecture and beautiful frescoes painted on the concert hall’s ceiling. Salzburg State Theatre often hosts the fanciest affairs taking place during the Salzburg Festival. 

Final Thoughts

Whatever your plan is for the Salzburg Festival, you’ll undoubtedly see some amazing cultural delights during your visit. Tickets to performances can be pretty pricey, so you might prefer to wander around the city and take in the atmosphere instead. 

If you are planning on attending a performance, consider Jedermann at the Cathedral Square. This historic play started off the whole festival, and seeing it performed outside in front of Salzburg Cathedral is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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