On Christmas 1818, the Christmas song “Silent Night” was sung for the very first time in Oberndorf near Salzburg. The two creators of the song — the priest Joseph Mohr and the teacher Franz Xaver Gruber — also spent most of the rest of their lives in SalzburgerLand. Joseph Mohr was born in the City of Salzburg and worked in many of the province’s municipalities. Franz Xaver Gruber came to Arnsdorf in 1807 as a 20-year-old, after his training as a teacher and his first year of work experience. It was in Oberndorf where the two met for the first time: Their shared passion for music was what laid the foundation for their life-long friendship.
This 4-day trip — starting in the City of Salzburg — leads through SalzburgerLand and all seven Silent Night locations: These are the most important stations in the lives of the two men who created the song that changed Christmas forever.
Day 1 “Experience Salzburg’s Christmas magic”
The City of Salzburg on the northern edge of the Alps and in the heart of Austria is considered among the most impressive of Europe’s Baroque cities. The archbishops of Salzburg had considerable influence on the city’s architecture, making Salzburg what it is today: A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular destinations for city travellers from around the world. Especially during the Advent period, the city transforms into a magical scenery, with its imposing squares and fountains, its narrow alleys and passages. The Salzburg Christmas Market on the Cathedral Square is counted among the oldest and most famous in the world: But the many courtyards at Hohensalzburg Castle or in front of the Hellbrunn Palace also harbour atmospheric Christmas markets around this time of the year. Among Salzburg’s highlights are:
- A guided city tour through Salzburg following the traces of Joseph Mohr, the author of the original “Silent Night” poem: Together with a knowledgeable guide, stops include the Salzburg Cathedral’s baptismal font with which both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well as Joseph Mohr were christened, but also the famous Steingasse lane or the University of Salzburg.
- A visit of the Salzburg Museum, harboured within the Neue Residenz in Salzburg’s Old Town.
Day 2 “A day in Oberndorf. Where it all began…”
From the City of Salzburg, you can either hop straight onto the Salzburger Lokalbahn train or take your own car to the little town of Oberndorf, around 20 kilometres away. The ride with the Salzburger Lokalbahn only takes around 30 minutes and passes through the idyllic Flachgau region. The stop in Arnsdorf is more than practical, as the town happens to be another Silent Night location: This is where the song’s composer — Franz Xaver Gruber — lived and worked for nearly 22 years.
In 1816, Oberndorf was separated from Laufen: Whilst it was added to Salzburg, Laufen remained under Bavarian rule. A difficult situation for the small population just off the Salzach river: Oberndorf did not possess any kind of infrastructure of its own, neither an administration nor even its own church. Today, a stroll over to Laufen across the Salzachbrücke bridge, which opened in 1903 and was considered among the most beautiful bridges in Germany when it was inaugurated, certainly pays off. Similarly to Salzburg and Hallein, the facades of the houses here are of the Inn-Salzach style typical for the region. And to this day, there remains quite a little bit of sailor’s magic in Laufen. Furthermore, the shores of the Salzach river offer a magnificent view of the Untersberg mountain range, the Göllmassiv, as well as the Tennen Mountains to the south.
Highlights in Oberndorf and Arnsdorf:
- A visit to the world-famous Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf’s Silent Night district, as well as the redesigned museum in the renovated vicarage. Here, visitors get to explore the history of “Silent Night” on two floors. The museum’s focus lies on the period of the song’s origin and dissemination, as well as the surroundings in which it was created. Guided tours are also available.
- There is an Advent market and a Silent Night Special Post office in Oberndorf during the early Christmas period: From here, you can send your Christmas letters into the whole world marked with a special Christmas postal stamp, right from where “Silent Night” was sung for the very first time.
- A walk to the “Unserer Lieben Frau Mariä Heimsuchung” Pilgrimage Church in Maria Bühel near Oberndorf. The pilgrimage motifs in the church that was erected between 1670 and 1673 relate to the Salzach river’s shipping industry, which was a crucial lifeline for the right at the time. The altar images were created by the artist Johann Michael Rottmayr, a Laufen native and one of the most important masters of Italian-inspired monumental art.
- In Arnsdorf, a visit to the Silent Night Museum in Austria’s oldest, still operational school building. This is where Gruber lived for 21 years and wrote the song’s melody.
- Finally, a viewing of the famed “Maria im Mösl” Pilgrimage Church.
Those travelling by car should consider a side trip into Hintersee in the Fuschlsee region (Salzkammergut), roughly 55 kilometres away: Here, Joseph Mohr worked as a vicar for nearly nine years. On the newly created Theme Trail, you can walk from the parish church all the way to the beautifully located Joseph Mohr Memorial Chapel.
Day 3 „Mariapfarr in the Salzburger Lungau region and Wagrain in the Salzburger Sportwelt”
South of the Radstadt Tauern mountain subrange, you will find the Salzburger Lungau region with its 15 municipalities and 13 valleys. Salzburger Lungau is a UNESCO Biosphere Park and a true paradise for landscape and nature lovers. Mariapfarr, where Joseph Mohr created the original “Silent Night’ poem in 1816 as a young assistant priest, is counted among the sunniest places in Austria. Not far from Mariapfarr, the meanders of the Longa river invite visitors to a romantic stroll. In 2015, a large media campaign selected the river as the most beautiful spot in SalzburgerLand and the third most beautiful in all of Austria.
Highlights in Mariapfarr:
- In the Silent Night Museum in Mariapfarr, you will find a reconstruction of Mohr’s old room in which he wrote the world-famous song, as well as the little silver altar.
- Pay a visit to the renovated Pilgrimage Church and the Silent Night Fountain on the newly erected Joseph Mohr Square
In the afternoon, the journey continues from Salzburger Lungau to the 65-kilometre-distant Wagrain in the Salzburger Sportwelt, where Joseph Mohr spent the final years of his life. This is also where he is buried and keenly remembered by the town’s population for his strong social commitment and engagement.
The author and poet from Salzburg Carl Heinrich Waggerl (1897 to 1973) also spent fifty years in Wagrain: With five million sold books and translations into countless languages, Waggerl is considered one of the most widely read German-language authors of the 20th century.
Highlights in Wagrain:
- On the well-signposted Wagrain Culture Walk, you can get a real feel for the magic of the little town in which Joseph Mohr lived for so long. Spanning around an hour and a half, the trail leads to Wagrain’s parish church, the church containing the Joseph Mohr Memorial Organ and Mohr’s final resting place, and several other destinations.
- A visit to the Silent Night Museum in the Pflegerschlössl castle. Here, visitors can discover more about the lyrics of the song that was translated into over 300 languages and dialects. Furthermore, the museum is thematically dedicated to “The Course of Time”.
Day 4 “From Hallein back to the City of Salzburg”
It’s around 50 kilometres from Wagrain to Hallein. Today, the lively little town is the Tennengau district’s capital city and possesses an irresistible charm as a result of its narrow alleyways and the kind of architecture that is typical for the Inn-Salzach region. At the Dürrnberg mountain, at whose foot the town is located, precious salt has been mined for centuries and was then transported down the Salzach river. Those who are interested in the history of the Celts in Hallein, the Salzach river’s shipping industry and Salzburg’s archbishops, should pay a visit to the Celtic Museum. At the Dürrnberg mountain, you will also find the “Hallein Salt Mine”, the oldest exhibition mine in the world.
Additional highlights in Hallein:
- Franz Xaver Gruber, who composed “Silent Night”, lived in Hallein from 1835 until his death in 1863. He worked as a choirmaster and parish organist and was thus able to dedicate himself to his great passion, music. During Advent, an actor will assume the role of Franz Xaver Gruber and take visitors on an entertaining stroll around the town.
- A visit to Hallein’s parish church with the new Silent Night Organ.
- A visit to the newly renovated Franz Xaver Gruber Residence in the Silent Night Museum Hallein with Mohr’s original guitar and the autographs II, IV and V. This is where Gruber wrote a document on 30 December 1854 clarifying the song’s authorship and also proving that it was created it Salzburg.
Incredible local cuisine is never far when travelling SalzburgerLand: The “Via Culinaria” is a 190-page-long guide that is free of charge and includes 260 delicious addresses in the City and Province of Salzburg. The addresses are categorised into nine theme trails and are also subdivided into several regions to make navigation easier. Whether confectionaries, award-winning restaurants or cosy guesthouses: This is where connoisseurs of any kind will find just what they’ve been craving!