Visiting Nonnberg Abbey, Salzburg: Expectations, Tips & Info

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While exploring Salzburg, I discovered a wealth of historical landmarks and architectural attractions. Among them is Nonnberg Abbey, a site I highly recommend, especially if you’re planning a self-guided tour of Old Town Salzburg. In my view, Nonnberg Abbey is a fantastic addition to your itinerary, much like the Salzburg Cathedral, Hohensalzburg Fortress, Mirabell Palace, and Mozart’s Birthplace.

While Nonnberg Abbey’s church might not be as breathtaking as some of Europe’s famous churches, it’s a place where you can experience an enchanting cultural heritage at no cost. Particularly if you visit Nonnberg Abbey early in the morning, its unique musical offerings and charming ambiance could leave you with a memorable moment. You’re sure to get goosebumps when you hear the Gregorian Chants sung by the abbey’s nuns, all while taking in the old-world architecture of the place!

Nonnberg Abbey is also a great destination for fans of the Sound of Music movie. Parts of the abbey were used as filming locations for the movie. When you visit, you can almost picture the Von Trapp family’s daring escape to Switzerland!

To help you get the most out of your visit, I’m going to share everything I learned and discovered about Nonnberg Abbey. I’ll also share some tips! By the way, if you’re looking for ideas on how to explore Salzburg, you can check out my 1-day, 2-day, and 3-day itineraries for Salzburg.

The story of Nonnberg Abbey + my insights + architecture of the abbey.


As a Catholic, I’m always drawn to exploring churches, as you may have noticed from this blog’s Tourist Attractions category. These churches are a rich part of our heritage, and it’s inspiring to see how they’ve stood the test of time through centuries of division, war, and other challenges.

In Salzburg, there is one particular religious landmark that serves as a good example of this — Nonnberg Abbey. Impressively, it has existed since the year 715, making it the oldest continuously existing nunnery in the German-speaking world. Given its age and religious significance, it’s no wonder it is listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Historic Center of the city of Salzburg.

Founded in the 8th century, there’s no denying that Nonnberg Abbey has truly stood the test of time. However, if you visit today, you’ll find that its appearance has changed dramatically from its original form. Very little of its original Romanesque features remain. Instead, it’s mostly Baroque on the outside and Gothic on the inside — architectural styles that flourished in the period of the High Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Throughout its over-a-thousand-year-long history, the Abbey has faced several fire incidents, particularly in the years 1006 and 1423, which required extensive repairs and reconstruction. These repairs have altered the Abbey’s appearance — it has also undergone several improvements and additions.

In the late 15th century, the church’s crypt and choir were constructed, while in the early 17th century, three side chapels were added to enlarge the church. The last major improvement came in the late 19th century when Baroque style refurbishments were applied to the Abbey.

While the Nonnberg Abbey’s church may not look as gorgeous as other churches in Salzburg today, the beauty of visiting Nonnberg Abbey lies in its enduring monastic community. The story of Nonnberg Abbey is one of resilience and faith in the face of adversity — a true inspiration to all who visit.

Throughout its history, the Abbey has faced economic hardships, special payments, and taxes in times of war that often brought it to the brink of financial ruin. Yet, through it all, the spiritual life of the community remained strong and unwavering.

Even when the Reformation swept through Europe, Nonnberg Abbey stood firm in its faith. The political independence of the Salzburg archdiocese saved it from abolition by Emperor Joseph II, and though the Napoleonic era brought the loss of many possessions, the Abbey persevered.

Perhaps with the monastic prayers and through God’s protection, it even escaped abolition during the Nazi period and was able to offer shelter to other Salzburg religious communities during those difficult years.

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The Sound of Music’s connection to Nonnberg Abbey

While Nonnberg Abbey is known as the oldest continuously existing nunnery in the German-speaking world, it is most famous for its connection to the classic movie, The Sound of Music. It served both as a real-life setting for the story and a filming location, making it a notable tourist destination in Salzburg. Especially for fans of the movie, they often take tours around Salzburg to visit each of the movie’s iconic scenes in the city, including Nonnberg Abbey.

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The entrance and the Sound of Music's filming location in Nonnberg Abbey, Salzburg, Austria
The entrance and the Sound of Music’s filming location in Nonnberg Abbey
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If you aren’t familiar with The Sound of Music yet, its story is based on the real-life story of Maria Augusta Kutschera, who became a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey. She was sent to be the governess for the seven children of widowed naval captain Georg von Trapp and eventually fell in love with and married him.

The film follows Maria’s journey as she brings music and love back into the von Trapp family’s lives. Indeed, it’s a meaningful movie packed with beautiful lessons like the power of believing in yourself, understanding that running away doesn’t solve anything, the importance of family, and acceptance of rejection with grace.

While Maria and Georg von Trapp were married in the Nonnberg Abbey Church, their wedding scene in the movie was filmed in Mondsee, not at Nonnberg Abbey. Only the front gate of the Nonnberg Abbey and cemetery were featured in The Sound of Music. Here, you can recall the scenes in the movie which show Maria leaving the convent, the children asking to see Maria, and the Von Trapp family escaping Nazis with the help of the nuns who sabotaged the Nazis’ car.

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Expectations

As soon as you arrive at the entrance of Nonnberg Abbey, you’ll be able to quickly check off your goal of seeing the filming location of the Sound of Music: the gate. But don’t miss out on the full experience — be sure to step inside the abbey. The main church, gardens, and cemetery are all open to the public and offer a peaceful and serene experience as you wander through them.

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Read: detailed explanation of the experience inside Nonnberg Abbey

A friendly reminder before you enter: the convent is home to a community of Benedictine nuns, so please dress respectfully and keep noise levels low to help maintain the peaceful atmosphere.

As you enter the abbey, the welcoming Gothic main portal of the church with an old oak door will be right in front of you. Spend a little moment to appreciate the decorations of the portal: the wooden statues perched atop octagonal pillars. There stands Emperor Henry II, the Virgin Mary cradling her son, and the founders of the Nonnberg Nunnery, St. Rupert and St. Erentrudis. 

If you face to your right, you’ll see the cemetery with graves on both sides of the pathway that goes to the back of the church.  Good news if you’re visiting in the fall: the abbey and its cemetery in the autumn reveals an enchanting sight — the graves on the right are shaded by a tree with golden leaves. (I’m not sure if the tree still exists today. We can all wish!)

And the intricate wrought iron crosses standing above each grave? They add to the charm. Not to mention the religious artworks (relief sculptures) that are displayed on the exterior of the church — they are like little treasures to discover before entering the church.

Upon entering the church of Nonnberg Abbey, you’ll likely be liking the timeless appearance of its interior. However you must not expect much as the interiors of Nonnberg Abbey church looks like an ordinary Gothic church, adorned with stained-glass windows and airy vaulted ceiling. While it may not boast the most stunning architecture in Salzburg, it has a serene atmosphere that is worth savoring.

If you’re lucky, you’ll hear something magical — the sound of nuns praying in unison. It’s a spine-tingling experience straight out of a fantasy novel.

Before you leave the church, make sure you’ve checked some of its interesting features:

  1. The late Gothic winged high altar;
  2. ancient crucifix from the 14th century;
  3. and the 12th-century frescoes depicting different scenes from the Bible. (the remains of the original Romanesque building.)

Tip: At either end of the church, you’ll find a small box with a coin slot. Insert a 50-euro-cent coin and watch as the lights turn on, illuminating the church’s stunning frescoes and altar in greater detail for a brief moment. 

The altar at Nonnberg Nunnery is a treasure, with a rich history that spans centuries. It depicts the Virgin Mary, flanked by St. Rupert and St. Virgil, in eye-catching detail. Originally located in the parish church of Scheffau near Golling, just south of Salzburg, it was moved to its current home in 1853.

The Musical Experience

Of all the experiences to be had at Nonnberg Abbey, the most special is the church music and the singing of the nuns. However, you’ll need to rise early to hear it. The nuns sing every morning at 6:45 am. In Sundays and public holidays, however, they also sing at 7 in the evening.

What’s the reason why hearing the nuns in the Nonnberg Abbey singing is a special experience?

Nonnberg Abbey has a long tradition of church music, with a focus on Gregorian chant. It is known for its sound beauty, especially during May devotions. The choir women practice this monophonic, unaccompanied liturgical singing according to the school founded by the French Benedictine Abbey of St. Pierre de Solesmes. They sing the daily changing chants and antiphons of the Graduale Romanum and the Antiphonale Monasticum with organ accompaniment.

It’s a living tradition of this early church, another musical treasure of the musical city of Salzburg.

Visiting Information

As you might have read previously, while Nonnberg Abbey welcomes visitors, not all areas of the monastic compound are open to the public. The nuns still reside in the monastery, so visitors are only permitted to explore the church, garden, and cemetery. Entry is free, however, you might want to bring 50 cents to enable the lights inside the church for better viewing of the church’s interior.

If you’re planning a visit, there are a few other things to keep in mind.

Best Way to Get There

Finding Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg is a breeze! It’s perched on Festungsberg hill and can be seen from most parts of the city, especially from spots with wide open views like the Salzach River. But, here’s the abbey’s address in case you’re wondering: Nonnberggasse 2, 5020 Salzburg, Austria.

If you’re already in Old Town Salzburg, it’s easy to walk to Nonnberg Abbey. For example, if you’re in Kapitelplatz (which is south of Salzburg Cathedral), it only takes 10 minutes to walk there:

  1. Start from Herrengasse
  2. Turn right to Kaigasse
  3. Slight right onto Nonnbergstieg
  4. Continue onto Nonnberggasse, the destination will be on the right.

Just a heads up, the path from Old Town Salzburg to Nonnberg Abbey is uphill and includes some stairs, since the abbey is located on a hill.  If you want to hear the Gregorian Chant of the nuns in the morning, this is the shortest way you can take from the center of Old Town Salzburg.

For visitors looking for another way to reach Nonnberg Abbey, there is a pathway from Hohensalzburg Fortress that provides a less demanding route. To reach the fortress, visitors can take the funicular from Old Town Salzburg, which transports them up the hill in just one minute. Once at Hohensalzburg Fortress, signs will direct visitors to the walkway leading to Nonnberg Abbey. The pathway is downhill, making it easier to reach the abbey from the fortress.

Best Time to Visit

Nonnberg Abbey welcomes visitors every day from 6:30 am until nightfall, with closing times changing depending on the season. For a truly special experience, try to arrive before 6:45 am to entirely hear the beautiful Gregorian Chant sung by the nuns.

If you’re a fan of the Sound of Music or just want to enjoy some peaceful moments in the church, feel free to visit anytime outside of religious service hours. Just remember to be respectful and avoid exploring the area around the church during services.

Nonnberg Abbey is included in the Original Sound of Music Tour.

Resources

That’s all I have to share about Nonnberg Abbey for now! I hope you found this information helpful and enjoyable. If you’re interested in learning more about this beautiful abbey, check out the list of pages below for further discovery. 

Happy exploring!

If you’re still looking for accommodations for your trip to Salzburg, I recommend my partner’s hotel search and booking platform. It’s my go-to choice and I’m always impressed by their fantastic deals. I think you’ll find it useful as well. Please note, this is an affiliate link. What this means is that if you book your hotel using this link, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. It’s a wonderful way to support WanderInEurope and help us continue creating informative posts like this one. Thank you for your support!

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On your way up to Nonnberg Abbey in Festungsberg, you can already spot some beautiful views overlooking Old Town Salzburg. However, if you want to see more breathtaking views, I suggest visiting Monchsberg and Kapuzinerberg, or checking out these sunset and sunrise vantage points in the Old Town. For other unforgettable experiences in Salzburg, try exploring the city’s unique offerings or the beautiful discoveries awaiting you both inside and outside the town.

Lastly, there are also amazing day trip destinations from Salzburg that are just a quick train ride or drive away! Some places I recommend you check out include Berchtesgaden for unmatched views of the Bavarian Alps, Hohenwerfen Fortress for time-transporting encounters, Hellbrunn Palace for incredible works of art and old-world engineering, and St. Gilgen, a quaint village that’s also a filming location of The Sound of Music, much like Nonnberg Abbey.

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