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Careening around the towering Alps by train and gazing out at grand mountains, turquoise coloured streams, emerald green fields dotted with grazing sheep and cows, made me realize how much I was actually falling head over heels in love with Austria. The scenic ride from Zell am See to Innsbruck was one of the prettiest train rides I’ve ever been on and as I headed towards Innsbruck, The Heart of The Alps, I jumped from window to window to get a glimpse of the view on each side of the train.
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Innsbruck is the capital of the Tyrol (Tirol) region within Austria and is widely known around the world for its stunning mountain scenery, being a winter sports hub and of course, hosting the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. Innsbruck offers the perfect mix of urban life, beautiful nature, a historic Old Town and a dynamic food scene to cater to all sorts of visitors from around the globe. Mixing modern architecture with imperial, the streets of Innsbruck are charming and inviting whether you decide to visit one of the many traditional cafés throughout town, or simply walk along the River Inn to enjoy the views of The Nordkette Mountain.
I had one day to explore Innsbruck and even though the city is fairly walkable to all the main attractions, I could’ve easily spent an entire week in Innsbruck and not been bored one single bit. The people are friendly, the air is cool and fresh, the mountains were a spectacular site to see while wandering the streets and the coffee is strong; what more could you want in life, really?
Here is a list of my places to see and things to do while visiting Innsbruck, Austria.
Innsbruck’s famous and most popular landmark quite literally shines in the heart of the Altstadt. The Goldenes Dachl, or The Golden Roof, was completed in 1500 and is decorated with 2,657 fire-gilded roof tiles, which may look like gold, but they are actually copper; sorry to burst your bubble. 😉 The roof was ornately decorated to mark the wedding of Emperor Maximilian I to Bianca Maria Sforza. Maximilian watched the hustle and bustle of the city life, watched tournaments and festivals from the top while looking down on the festivities below him. The Goldenes Dachl cannot be missed, as you’ll be able to see it as soon as you enter the Altstadt. Be prepared for hoards of selfie stick enthusiasts trying to get a glimpse and photo of themselves with the Golden Roof. My advice, grab a coffee at a nearby café, watch the chaos, then when the crowds disperse, grab your shot. 🙂
Head To The Top Of Innsbruck Via Cable Car
The star of Innsbruck has to be the Nordkette Mountain Range. Boasting panoramic views of Innsbruck and the Karwendel area, which is the largest natural landscapes within central Europe, a trip to Innsbruck would not be complete without heading to the top via cable car. To access the top of the Nordkette, you must take a few modes of transport, starting from the city centre with the Hungerburg funicular near the Congress Centre. The futuristic stations are designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid and are beautiful and sleek in design. Take the funicular to 860 metres, followed by the first Nordkette cable car up to 1,905 metres to Seegrube, which offers a stunning view of Innsbruck and a restaurant and some shops. To continue making your way up, take a short walk to the Seegrube cable car station and then from there, you’ll make your way to all the way to the Hafelekar summit to enjoy insane views 2,256 metres high. All of this can be achieved within twenty short minutes. Take an extra fifteen minute hike to the summit cross, Karspitze, so you can brag to everyone back home that you reached the “Top of Innsbruck.”
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The Hofburg Palace
Considered one of the top three most culturally important buildings within Austria, next to the Hofburg Palace and Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, the Hofburg Palace in Innsbruck is definitely a site you should see. Complete with many ornate rooms, each more lavish than the next, this imperial palace will surely give you a glimpse as to how the Habsburgs lived back in the 16th-century. The palace is a mix of Renaissance and Baroque architecture and one of my favourite rooms in the entire palace was The Giants’ Hall (Riesensaal), which contains paintings of Maria Theresa’s children and grandchildren and now hosts many different events and banquets throughout the year.
No other street within Innsbruck has quite the fame that Maria-Theresien-Straße has. Founded approximately 700 years ago, this main street within the city is home to a ton of sidewalk cafés, shops, restaurants and of course, a dazzling view of the Nordkette Mountain Range. In 2009, Maria-Theresien-Straße was transformed into a pedestrian friendly zone, which has locals and tourists out and about in the streets on the daily and well into the night watching street performances and hanging out in the centre of the city. St. Anne’s Column stands proudly in the centre of Maria-Theresien-Straße and it is surrounded by four saints at the base of the column with a statue of Mary as the Woman of The Apocalypse above. Maria-Theresien-Straße is lined with beautiful pastel coloured buildings as well, which make for some great street photography and architectural shots.
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For the best views of the Altstadt and the colourful buildings below, make your way up 133 spiral staircase to the viewing platform of Innsbruck’s Stadtturm (City Tower). Just as the guards did for over 450 years back in the Middle Ages, you’ll be able to get a bird’s eye view of all the activity of the Altstadt 31 metres below your feet. Completed in 1450, the copper onion dome at the top wasn’t added on for another 100 years making it the highest point in the city at the time. The view from the top offers the perfect 360 degree view of Innsbruck, the Nordkette and the colourful buildings that line the River Inn.
The Triumphal Arch
Located at the southern end of Maria-Theresien-Straße, the Triumphal Arch, or Triumphpforte is one of the most notable landmarks in Innsbruck. Built in 1765, the Triumphal Arch was built for Empress Maria Theresa in honour of her son getting married, as well as her husband’s death. One side of the Arch symbolizes joy, while the other side symbolizes sadness. The Arch stands tall in the city streets and resembles similar monuments that you’d see in either Rome or Paris.
Eat Traditional Tyrolean Food
Living in the mountains through cold and snowy winters requires some hot and hearty meals and nothing beats a nice warm traditional Tyrolean meal. At the top of the Nordkette at Hafelekar, the Buffet Hafelekar really delivers when it comes to traditional dishes served up piping hot. It’s the perfect way to end a hike around the mountains. I opted for the dumpling dish surrounded in a warm beef broth that just reminded me of my grandmother’s soup. It was definitely delicious and super comforting.
Read more: How to Find Great Places to Eat While Travelling
Visit Café Sacher & Eat Sacher Torte
Yes, I know…Vienna may be the original home to the world famous Sacher Torte, but Innsbruck delivers the goods as well. The Sacher Torte was invented Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna, Austria and is considered one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties. In Vienna, the line up to get into the Café Sacher was out the door and flowing into the streets. I just couldn’t be bothered to waste precious exploration time to wait in a line for a piece of cake. Lucky for me, Innsbruck has a Café Sacher too! The Café Sacher is attached to The Hofburg Palace in Innsbruck, so after you’re done perusing through The Hofburg, head on over to devour a piece of that delicious Sacher Torte. I was able to just walk in, no lines, no waiting and grab a seat inside. The Sacher Torte is a work of art and people either love it, or they don’t. I personally loved it and I’m not even a fan of dark chocolate (it gives me migraines) but surprisingly, I ate the whole piece. The Sacher Torte consists of a dense chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam on top, coated in dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. It is traditionally served with unsweetened whipped cream, which was great because I found the cake icing to be fairly sweet. Fun fact: My grandma worked at The Café Sacher in Innsbruck back in 1968 when she moved to Austria with my grandpa and dad from Croatia a year before coming to Canada. 🙂
Read more: How To Spend 2 Days In Vienna, Austria
Wander The Altstadt (Old Town)
No visit to Innsbruck would be complete without spending a few hours wandering through the picturesque and colourful Altstadt (Old Town). Many historic buildings and attractions listed in this blog can actually be found within this area, so it’s a sightseeing must if coming to Innsbruck. One of my favourite buildings in the Altstadt would be the Helbling House. It’s Baroque exterior resembles an ornately decorated cake with fancy fondant details. The Helbling House was completed in 1732 by Anton Gigl and was named after Sebastian Helbling, who owned the building from 1800 to 1827. The Altstadt is a magnet for tourists, so getting there early, or later in the afternoon is your best time to avoid crowds. As you walk through the Altstadt, the smell of freshly baked breads, brewing coffee and other delicious culinary treats fill the air. Follow your nose and your stomach and tuck into one of the many cafés to enjoy a cappuccino and a sweet treat, so that you’re fueled up to keep exploring.
Walk Along The River Inn
After a bite to eat and a drink, take a walk along the gorgeous River Inn; the river which Innsbruck gets its name from. If you head to the Marktplatz, you’ll be greeted with an unobstructed view of one of Innsbruck’s famous street scenes along Mariahilfstraße; the row of colourful buildings with the imposing Nordkette in the background. When the sun hits the river and houses at the right spot, the river turns a sparkling turquoise and the houses burst with colours that even a Crayola crayon box would be jealous of. Photo tip: This same area is perfect for sunset gazing as well.
Buy The Innsbruck Card
If I’m going to buy a city card, I need to know that I will get my money’s worth and with the Innsbruck Card…I definitely did! I decided to snag a 24 hour Innsbruck Card during my visit and for the cost of € 43,00, the card paid for itself in no time. I was able to purchase the card before heading up The Nordkette, and use it towards my cable car ride up to the top. I was also able to visit The Hofburg for free and the Stadtturm for free. The Innsbruck Card is a great way to keep some of your dollars (Euros) in your pocket and it allows you to skip most of the lines as well. In total, I saved about € 20,00 just by buying the card. Like most city cards, the Innsbruck Card is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours and kids aged 6 to 15 years receive a 50% discount. The Innsbruck Card, like any city card, is valid from the time when it is first used. It is valid for the precise time stated, so exactly 24, 48 or 72 hours after the first use. This applies in every case, regardless of the time that the first use occurs. So, if you by the 24 hour card and use it at noon when you buy it, you’ll have until noon the next day before it expires. Kapeesh?
Innsbruck definitely spoiled me with its stunning mountain views, quaint cobblestone streets, friendly locals, great food and history. I didn’t want to leave. I know Innsbruck and I will meet again because when I find a place I truly, absolutely, whole-heartedly fall in love with, I know I’ll be back…I need to go back. I guess that’s why they call Innsbruck “The Heart of The Alps”; because maybe everyone that visits leaves a piece of their heart behind?
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Have any of you ever visited Innsbruck? Would you visit in the summer and autumn, or would you visit in the heart of winter to enjoy all of the winter sports available? Let me know in the comments below! xo
While in Innsbruck, I stayed at the PENSION STOI Budget Guest House just a short three minute walk from the train station. The rooms are comfortable and the staff is very kind and accommodating.
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