This travel guide to Innsbruck is part of my #YearInAustria project, where I set out on a city-hopping tour at the start of summer to uncover the urban hubs of Innsbruck, Salzburg and Graz. My aim is to show you how not all Austrian cities are the same and how they are easy accessible, so you can see different sides to the country even in a short time. Innsbruck was my first stop.
There’s no city quite like Innsbruck and its mountainous walls, for this is the very first thing you will notice upon arrival. The ‘Capital of the Alps’ – while being an urban basin filled with 800 years of history – is defined by the peaks and alpine forest slopes that hug it.
What to See in Innsbruck – The Historical Old Town
Literally picture perfect, you can’t go wrong with any angle of the city and all the things to do in Innsbruck. Despite always wanting to look up, I first started to explore the urban grounds below before heading up to various elevated viewpoints for an alternative angle on the city layout.
It’s quite the entrance into Innsbruck’s Historical Old Town. I started at the Triumphal Arch that faces the mountainous backdrop of the city. It was built in 1765, commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa to commemorate the marriage of her son and now stands proudly on Maria-Theresien-Straße – the most navigable thoroughfare from which to enter the cobbled stoned streets and alleyways of late-Gothic architecture.
The Historical Old Town is tiny, but packed full of sights and traditional eateries (once you weave past all the souvenir stores). Here you can wander into the past by visiting the Hofburg Imperial Palace, Hofkirche Court Church, City Tower and the glimmering Golden Roof with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles (which makes it quite the star attraction).
What to Eat in Innsbruck – Traditional Tirol Eats
No trip to Tirol is complete without re-fueling with a local dish such as the Tiroler Gröstl (a potato and meat fry up, topped with an egg). What to eat in Innsbruck is easy, but choosing where to go from the vast choice available can be hard.
The two best traditional establishments include Weisses Rössl, the oldest restaurant in the city that dates back to 1509 or Stiftskeller, which is set within an old monastery. For those craving strudel, see how long it takes you to choose one of the many sweet or savory options at the Strudel Café Kröll in the Old Town. It’s a rite of passage after all the historical wandering. I decided on chocolate and raspberry in a move away from my usual straight-apple choice.
What to See in Innsbruck – The Nature Haven and Cityscape in One
What’s unique when you visit Innsbruck is that it is an accessible nature haven and cityscape all rolled into one, where cable cars to the city’s darling 2000m high Nordkette Mountain leave from the very heart of the city. In less than 20 minutes you can reach Austria’s biggest nature park, Karwendel and Europe’s highest (Alpine) Zoo alongside various viewing platforms.
The avant-garde design of the three main Nordkettenbahnen cable car stations combines Innsbruck nature trails with modern design without impacting on the visual elements of the landscape.
During both my visits to Innsbruck, I was always curiously drawn to the Inn River for a stroll, with its famous multi-coloured townhouse views and green spaces as a backdrop.
Travel to Innsbruck to See its Modern Side in Trendy Downtown
Modern trends intertwined with the preserved old is one of the exciting things to see in Innsbruck. The Downtown area adjacent to the Historical City Centre is where you’ll find everything from the 360° (panoramic) bar or Trobaun for its huge selection of world craft beers on tap and the more swanky hangouts like Erlkönig. Swap old cafes for hipster coffee shops like Max Standard and Crema and try to score a table in the busy burrito joint, Machete, which is a local favourite. A city that’s home to 30,000 students and a lot of young professionals, it has a vibrancy that compliments that within its centuries old offerings.
A short distance in the opposite direction of the Old Town and the Nordkette range is the 50m high Bergisel Olympic Ski Jump Tower. It’s one of my favourite places to visit, both in keeping with the winter sport pastime Austria is known for and watching the ski jumpers, but also as a platform for one of the best views of Innsbruck.
On the short trek up to the entrance, I stopped at the Tirol Panorama Museum, where history is depicted with a modern approach via a giant 1,000 metre-squared panoramic painting.
And with a state theatre and an opera, 30 museums and art galleries, as well as a year-round timetable of festivals that take place in the old palace Historical Old Town grounds, Innsbruck is quite the pulsating modern town, considering its small size.
Things to Do in Innsbruck Outside of the City Centre
Outside of the centre of the city you have further options for a historical or modern fix. I’m not one for tourist buses but the ‘Sightseer’ bus was surprisingly interesting, passing through Innsbruck’s outer neighbourhoods and got me out to areas including to the hillside where you will find Ambras Castle. This Renaissance castle built by Archduke Ferdinand during the 16th century and home to the Chambers of Art and Curiosities and all manner of weird and wonderful collections he built up.
Many flock to the famed Swarovski Crystal Worlds, which ranks as one of Austria’s most visited attractions. Bling and excessive in parts, the brand shows off its sparkling craftsmanship via exhibitions, art installations and a crystal tree garden, upping the ante on the usual showroom model.
Innsbruck urban landscape was craved out right in front of a dominating mountain range, giving it a unique makeup that cannot be found or replicated anywhere else in Austria. Providing the best of the country’s great outdoors with a long history and trendy modernisation, you have it all in one place, without having to travel very far at all.
Things to Know about Visiting Innsbruck:
- Innsbruck is well-connected by the ÖBB rail network. I travelled from Vienna to Innsbruck in 4-5 hours and then onto Salzburg – a journey that takes approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
- I stayed at the funky Nala Hotel, the city’s only boutique and art design hotel that is less than five minutes walk to the Triumphal Arch and Maria-Theresien-Straße. Every room has its own unique design, which you can browse through on the hotel’s website. I stayed in ‘La Suite Pan on Rama’ and I’m keen to check more of them out!
- The Innsbruck Card grants to access to all the city’s museums and art galleries and all forms of local transport, including the shuttle bus to Swarovski Crystal Worlds and all cable cars. It also includes discounts for listed activities and outlets. It costs:
- 24 hours: €39
- 48 hours: €48
- 72 hours: €55
- 50% discount for children (6-15 years)
- For more information visit the Innsbruck Tourism Website. For further information about planning your trip around Austria visit the Austria Tourism website, where you can also keep up to date with all my adventures.
Alongside social media using the hashtag, you can also keep up to date with all my adventures on the Austria Tourism website.