Cradled by a ring of mountains in the valley of the Inn River, Innsbruck is an Austrian alpine city that mixes medieval charm with cutting edge architecture and miles of snowy ski resorts. You get all the energy of a big city blended with the beauty of a Baroque village. Six different ski slopes criss-cross along the mountainside, each linked by shuttle buses and covered by a single ski pass – suited for snow plough wizards, off-piste experts and après aficionados. Come summertime, once the ski goggle tans have faded and the ski suits have been shoved to the back of the wardrobe, Innsbruck comes alive again with open-air music concerts, bustling farmers markets and vibrant beer gardens. Whether you’re visiting when the streets are transformed into a winter wonderland or want to hike the evergreen hillside during summer, these are the 12 best things to do in Innsbruck.
1. Wander through the postcard pretty Old Town
Goldenes Dachl, :@ljmoss87
Crowned by the Nordkette mountain chain and lined with pastel-coloured, medieval houses adorned with ornate windows and stucco facades, the historic Old Town – also known as Altstadt von Innsbruck – is Innsbruck’s most photogenic neighbourhood. Take a stroll down the car-free Maria-Theresien-Strasse and pick a pavement-side café to sip huge hot chocolates or, once the sun is shining, Aperols. Arguably the city’s most famous landmark, be sure to stop by the glittering Goldenes Dachl whose roof consists of 2738 copper tiles. The bejewelled building was constructed in 1496 by Emperor Maximilian as a royal box for him to watch the jousting taking place on the street below.
2. Have a picnic in Hofgarten
Stop by Innsbruck Market Hall to plunder the farmers’ stalls in search of fresh meats, cheese and just-baked bread before settling in for a picnic in the glorious grounds of Hofgarten. Once the snow melts away, the grassy surrounds are filled with locals soaking up the rays and sampling Austrian beer – try Zillerthal Bier – from the lively beer garden.
Innsbruck Market Hall: 7.00am – 6:30pm Tuesday to Friday, 7.00am-1.00pm on Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday
Hofgarten: 6am – 5:30pm, Monday to Sunday
3. Tour the imperial halls of Hofburg Palace
The crisp white imperial palace is one of Innsbruck’s most impressive buildings. First built in the 15th century, it was given a Baroque makeover by Empress Maria Theresia (the only woman to rule over the Habsburg dominions), who decked out the grand building in polished marble, floor-to-ceiling frescoes and opulent silk wall drapes. Head to the palace’s centrepiece Riesensaal (Giant’s Hall), that’s covered in paintings of Maria Theresia’s 16 children, including a portrait of a young Marie Antoinette. Selfies in front of the elaborate throne in the Throne Room are obligatory.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday: 9am -5pm
4. Catch a cable car to the top of Nordkette
The hills are alive with the sounds of… snowboarders, hikers, mountain-bikers and the screams of the daredevils tackling the alpine zip line. Part of Austria’s largest national park, thrill-seekers head to the hills to cascade back down on skis, bikes, or on their bums – we’re talking about sledges, of course. The less adrenaline-inclined among us should make the twenty-minute journey via cable car for the jaw-dropping vistas of Innsbruck. In the summer months, follow the sign-posted hiking trails to trek through wildflower-filled pastures and past cows sporting impressively decorated cowbells. To reach the very top of Nordkette you’ll need to hop on the sleek funicular (one of Iranian architect Zaha Hadid’s creations) from the Congress Station at the centre of the city, switch to the cable car at Seegrube station, then either mountain bike or take the final cable car to Hafelekar station. Reward yourself with a hot chocolate from the mountainside chalet.
Opening times: Daily from 8.30am, check the website for the day’s schedule
5. Ski down over 2800km of pistes
With slopes rising to over 3000m and snow falling until early April, Innsbruck attracts an array of snow enthusiasts. Beginners, shaky skiers and those who are just here for the après will want to start at the nearby village of Igls, which has gentle slopes suited to all abilities. Those who are snow-sure and looking to tackle beasty black runs are better suited to Hungerburg-Seegrube, the gateway to the challenging runs of Hafelkar. Plenty of places in the city centre have reasonably priced equipment to hire for first-timers or for those of us who can’t fit our ski boots in our backpacks.
6. Brave the Bergisel Ski Jump
Part of the medley of contemporary architecture that sits side by side with grand Baroque buildings is the Bergisel, a steel-and-glass ski jump that rises above the city like a staircase in a stately home. Designed by Iranian ‘staritecht’ Zaha Hadid, the dramatic ski jump regularly hosts competitions and from May-July you’ll catch athletes practicing for the Winter Olympics. Even if you don’t fancy cascading down the slope at full pelt – Eddie the Eagle, we applaud you – climb the 455 steps (or two-minute funicular ride) for spectacular views of the city.
Opening times: June to October, daily from 9.00am – 6.00pm
November to May, daily from 10.00am – 5.00pm
Price: €10 for general admission
7. Bottle the scent of the Alps at Acqua Alpes
And inhale. There’s no better scent than the smell of freshly mowed meadows, crisp mountain air or the intoxicating scent of the Alps. The perfume atelier Acqua Alpes has managed to bottle the smell using water that trickles down from the mountains. Pop in and spray yourself with the unique scent or to purchase a special souvenir – just don’t be alarmed if the cows follow you home!
Opening times: Monday – Sunday: 10.00am-6.00pm
8. Scoff strudel in cute cafes
A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but in Innsbruck there’s only one sweet treat we’re scoffing and that’s strudel. The sweet-layered pastry is an Austrian classic and is traditionally stuffed with chunks of spiced apple. Strudel Cafe Kroll in the centre of the Old Town has perfected the classic apple flavour, as well as giving the strudel a modern update. Try the savoury herb and bacon, ham or cheese versions.
9. Discover the weird and wonderful at Ambras Castle
Just outside the city, perched on a hill of beautifully manicured gardens, Ambras Castle contains artefacts from Innsbruck’s fascinating history. Take a tour of the imperial apartments, the romantic 43-metre banquet hall and the Portrait Gallery, which holds over 200 valuable paintings from the Habsburg Dynasty. Known as the world’s first curated art gallery, the Art and Curiosity museum is stuffed with the weird and wonderful collectables of Archduke Ferdinand, from gravity-defying stilts to the Fangstuhl, a slightly sinister chair designed to trap drunken guests at Ferdinand’s famously wild parties. It’s one of the top things to do in Innsbruck, so it’s best to buy tickets online.
Opening times: Daily, 10.00am-5.00pm
10. Sample Tyrolean delicacies
Visiting Innsbruck and not sampling schnitzel (a thin slice of meat covered in breadcrumbs) is practically a sin. Don’t forget to try it alongside other homemade Tyrolean dishes at Gasthaus Anich. The wood-panelled, chalet-esque restaurant also serves local delicacies such as bacon dumplings, heart-warming goulash and pork roast smothered in beer sauce.
Opening times: Monday – Saturday, 9.00am – 12.00pm
11. Climb the watchtower
If you can’t get an Instagram-worthy shot in front of the glittery golden roofs (and trust us, it’s pretty difficult squeezing both you and the standout tiles into the same photo), then opt to climb to the top of the watchtower, located in the middle of the Old Town. Built in 1450, the gothic stadtturm boasts views across the roofs of the Old Town – see how many of the shops original historic signs you can spot.
Opening times: June to September, 10.00am – 8.00pm, October to May, 10.00am – 5.00pm
12. Sink Austrian dark beer in an ale house
Coupled up in between the iconic Golden Roof and national theatre, Stiftskeller is a much-loved alehouse that’s been serving brews, Bavarian classics and dark beers since 1930. We’re pretty sure it’s been packed ever since. They take brewing seriously here – the beer is brewed according to the ancient German beer purity law of 1516, which states that nothing other than barley hops and water should be used. Visit on Thursdays and Fridays to sample beer straight from rustic wooden barrels, or on weekdays try the popular Dunkles Bier, a dark beer brewed in Munich. Christmas time sees twinkling gingerbread chalets pop up in the beer garden serving mulled wine and slices of stollen, while in the summer the beer garden is packed with locals, students and visitors.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday, 10.00am – 12.00am
Ticking everything off your ‘what to do in Innsbruck’ list can be pretty pricey. Especially seeing as some of the attractions – Nordkette cable car we’re looking at you – are eye-wateringly expensive. Consider buying the Innsbruck Card (expect to pay €43 for 24 hours) which includes all your public transport, entry to multiple museums and the Nordkette cable car all the way to the top. You can purchase it online, from the tourist office in the Old Town, most hostels or from Innsbruck Airport.
Where to stay in Innsbruck
Marmota Hostel is ideal for backpackers seeking a quiet and restful retreat after all the sightseeing and sports are done! It’s located in a quiet street and only 500 metres from Ambras Castle.
If you’re looking for a cosy hostel to escape from the cold, Montagu Hostel is a winning pick. This new, ultra-sleek hostel will provide a warm hot chocolate and some yummy sandwiches while you socialise with friends.Compare all hostels in Innsbruck
Be it hiking through the dreamy meadows, skiing up a storm, or just enjoying a cup of hot chocolate in town, you’ll always find some great things to do in Innsbruck.
Have you been to Innsbruck? What was your favourite thing to do? Tell us in the comments below.
About the author:
Fleur Rollet-Manus is a fully fledged travel addict who can often be found racking up air miles, sitting on an oversized suitcase wrestling with an already strained zip or clutching an extra large coffee whilst penning her latest fashion/beauty/lifestyle/adventure/disaster.
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