It’s a crisp, blue-sky morning as we ride the cable car across slopes of white high above Innsbruck, Austria. When most people think about Innsbruck they probably think about skiing. The city has twice hosted the Winter Olympics so that is not surprising, but, as we found, there is much more to this lively, welcoming and cosmopolitan city that make it appealing anytime.
The city is in a valley surrounded by the mountains of the Austrian Tyrol. There is medieval architecture to admire, an interesting dining scene, and plenty of adventure-type activities. As well as skiing, the city and its environs are becoming well-known for summer sports like downhill mountain biking, rock climbing, and white water rafting but you don’t have to participate in those to enjoy it here.
The Old Town
Innsbruck’s Old Town is one of Europe’s most pleasant city centers. There is a royal palace, a cathedral, cobbled streets and buildings in classic styles. My wife and I spent hours wandering the streets intrigued by the beautiful Baroque Helblinghaus with its splendid stucco façade; the 57-meter-high Stadtturm, a watchtower built in the 14th century, the wonderful town square, and many other places.
Surprisingly, Innsbruck’s most famous landmark is a roof. The Goldenes Dachl is covered with some 2,600 gilded tiles that sparkle in the sun. Some 500 years ago, Emperor Maximilian I built this as a vantage point to watch jousting, his favorite sport. We admire the building from the street and are suitably impressed.
Maximilian I made Innsbruck his capital and the Hofburg, his imperial palace. It was renovated, remodeled and refurbished by Empress Maria Theresa in the 1750s and is now a collection of pink, gold, green, and purple rooms. There are murals and frescoes everywhere. The outside is currently being renovated again so it is shrouded in canvas.
The adjacent Court Church is well worth a visit as it is a 16th century grandiose tribute to Emperor Maximilian I. His black marble tomb is surrounded by marble reliefs and 28 bronze statues. This is referred to as a mausoleum, but the tomb is empty! Apparently the Holy Roman Emperor’s remains are buried in a castle south of Vienna, not here.
Just a little way out of town is the dramatic Bergisel tower of the city’s ski jump which dates from 2002. Its unusual design offers an excellent view of the city from the top of the 50m-high jump. The Bergisel Sky café is a good place to have coffee or a light meal and there is a panoramic deck to enjoy.
Go into the mountains
Towering over Innsbruck is the Nordkette mountain range which offers skiing, hiking, and fabulous views. It is part of the Karwendel Nature Park, Austria’s largest. Getting up into the mountains is easy for anyone and the trip is really enjoyable. We walked from our hotel to
Stops along the way include the Alpine Zoo where you can experience the alpine animal world with more than 2,000 animals and 150 species. This claims to be the only themed zoo in the world that is home to such a complete collection of European alpine creatures.
One of the highlights of the extremely modern funicular is the extraordinary design of the stations. The four stations are said to resemble icy glaciers and are quite startling.
After reaching the Hungerburg station, we walk across a small square to the lower station of the cable car. This goes to the Seegrube station at 1,905 meters. Here, there are plenty of things to do: stop and enjoy a coffee in the restaurant or on the terrace, take an easy walk to a stunning viewpoint, or watch mountain bikers or skiers take on Europe’s steepest ski trail. The young-at-heart can brave a zipline.
It takes about 20 minutes to get from here to the Nordkette Climbing Arena. There are many single-rope routes with options available for both beginner and advanced-level climbers but you can enjoy just watching the efforts of others.
There is another cable car that goes to the Hafelekar station at 2,256m. It is then a 15 minute walk to the Hafelekarspitze, the actual summit at 2,334m. Both mountain lift stations are good starting points for hikes to numerous mountain huts and several are suitable for all ages. The views and the clear mountain air are quite invigorating.
Back in the city centre, the mountain excursion has made us hungry so we join locals at Café Konditorei Munding, Tyrol’s oldest café. Later, we enjoy the stone arches and wood paneling of the 900-year-old Ottoburgwhere each small dining room has its own historic vibe. The menu is traditional, with schnitzel, venison stew, and apple strudel.
If you are spending several days here, I recommend the Innsbruck Card. This covers entry to the city’s museums and main sights; the use of public transport, including buses, trams, the cable cars, and the Sightseer bus; a guided city walk; and three hours bike rental. Prices are: for 24 hours, €43; for 48 hours, €50; for 72 hours, €59.
IF YOU GO
Opening times of the mountain transport: Congress Station to Hungerburg: Mon-Fri, 7.15am-7.15pm; weekends/holidays, 8am-7.15pm. Hungerburg to Seegrube: daily, 8.30am-5.30pm; Fri also 6pm-11.30pm; Seegrube to Hafelekar: daily, 9am-5pm. Services run every 10 minutes. Price: Congress Station to Hafelekar round-trip: €34.50 adult, €31.10 senior
Images: Phensri Rutledge