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Regensburg v Salzburg: Which German-speaking city should you visit?

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
Regensburg v Salzburg: Which German-speaking city should you visit?
Regensburg Clock Tower and multicoloured townhouses with tiled roofs. Photo: Pexels/Damir

The German and Austrian cities of Regensburg and Salzburg have a lot in common, but, from cultural differences to natural surroundings, there are many things that set them apart too.

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If you’re looking to take a break in a beautiful, German-speaking city, Regensburg and Salzburg are great choices. Both cities feature UNESCO-listed historic old towns, host vibrant cultural festivals and have fascinating historical and cultural heritage.

But which one is the right one for you?

Demographics

Remarkably, the two 'burgs, have nearly identically sized populations. According to the latest statistics from September 2023, Salzburg has a total population of 158,719, while Regensburg boasts slightly more inhabitants, and has just under a thousand less, with 157,443.

Regensburg's slightly smaller population is distributed over a larger area spanning 80.76 square kilometres, while the city of Salzburg is only 65.68 square kilometres total.

READ ALSO: READERS REVEAL: Is Salzburg a nice place to live?

Regensburg is a diverse city, home to people from around 150 different nations. Around eleven percent of its residents are foreigners, four percent have undergone naturalisation, and fourteen percent are ethnic German repatriates. In statistical terms, this demographic is collectively referred to as "individuals with a migration background," and constitutes roughly 30 percent of the overall population.

In Salzburg, around 32 percent of its inhabitants are foreign nationals, with 22,450 originating from other European Union (EU) countries and 28,937 hailing from non-EU nations.

Historical settings

Both cities are steeped in history and hold UNESCO World Heritage status.

Strolling the narrow alleys of Regensburg, with its cobblestone streets and well-preserved ancient architecture, you'll feel like you've stepped back into the Middle Ages.

Founded by the Romans over two thousand years ago, it carries a rich history that's visible in numerous landmarks. The most famous of these is the Regensburger Dom, a stunning Gothic cathedral that dates to around 1300, and which later became the model for Cologne Cathedral.

The Regensburg Cathedral can be seen behind colourful houses. Photo: Thomas Winkler/Unsplash

Also not to be missed is the iconic Stone Bridge, which dates back to the 12th century and the Golden Tower in Regensburg’s Old Town dating to the second half of the 13th century.

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Salzburg, on the other hand, is rich in baroque architecture, making it feel very 18th century - at the time when its most famous son - Mozart - was born there. 

The city's Baroque vibe transports visitors to a bygone era of opulence and artistic grandeur. The Mirabell Palace and Gardens epitomise this style with their elaborate stucco works and meticulously designed gardens, while Salzburg Cathedral, with its ornate façade and interior, showcases the Baroque influence in religious architecture.

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Cultural heritage

Regensburg's cultural identity is closely tied to its Bavarian roots. Beer culture thrives here, and traditional Bavarian cuisine, such as sausages and pretzels, can be found in its numerous beer gardens and cosy taverns. The city's twice-yearly Dult festival - a mini Oktoberfest -  features a colourful fair and a vibrant market and is a must-see for those seeking a taste of local traditions.

READ ALSO: 7 of the most beautiful castles to visit in Austria this spring

Salzburg, by contrast, is a city which is synonymous with music and high culture. The world-renowned Salzburg Festival is a celebration of classical music and theatre, attracting performers and enthusiasts from around the globe. The city has a refined cultural atmosphere, from its coffeehouse culture to the elegant dining experiences that accompany a night at the opera.

The Mirabell Castle in Salzburg. Photo: Japleenpasricha/Wikimedia Commons

On the less refined side of the entertainment spectrum is also, of course, the fact that Salzburg is the setting of The Sound of Music. Numerous tour providers offer trips to the movie's sets, some even with sing-along and dress-up options. 

Nightlife

Both cities have plenty of great restaurants and breweries to offer. But for those looking for a party, Regensburg is the better choice. Home to a large university, Regensburg is home to countless Kneipen (pubs). In fact, it even has the highest density of pubs in Germany.  

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Salzburg, though permanently full of tourists, has a more reserved feeling. The Innenstadt feels more like an outdoor museum than a party destination, whereas in Regensburg people still live and party in the city centre.

Natural baeauty

Regensburg's charm extends beyond its medieval architecture to the surrounding landscape. While it lacks the towering peaks of the Austrian Alps, the Danube River and the nearby Bavarian Forest offer visitors the chance to take a scenic river cruise or a woodland exploration.

Salzburg Cathedral. Photo: Pexels/Magic K

For cycling enthusiasts, the Donau Radweg (Danube bike path) passes through Regensburg and those eager for a swim can take a dip in the Seitenarme of the Danube, directly in the city centre.

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Salzburg's setting in the heart of the Austrian Alps offers a very different, but equally beautiful destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The majestic mountains are perfect for hikers, skiers, and nature lovers to explore their slopes or just enjoy the breathtaking views.

The Salzkammergut region, just a short drive away, also features beautiful lakes and postcard-perfect villages.

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