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 of Innsbruck, they probably think of skiing. That’s not surprising since the city has hosted the Winter Olympics twice. But this lively, welcoming and cosmopolitan city is appealing just about any time of year.
Innsbruck lies in a valley surrounded by the mountains of the Austrian Tyrol.
Its calling cards include medieval architecture, an interesting dining scene, and opportunities for adventurous activities. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the city and its environs are becoming known for summer sports like downhill mountain biking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. But you don’t have to be an active participant to enjoy all Innsbruck has to offer!
Historic Old Town’s must-see sights
A royal palace, a cathedral, cobbled streets, and classical architecture make Innsbruck’s Old Town one of Europe’s most pleasant city centers. 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, and enjoying the charming town square.
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. Emperor Maximilian I built this some 500 years ago as a vantage point to watch jousting, his favorite sport. The emperor made Innsbruck his capital and the Hofburg, his imperial palace. Empress Maria Theresa renovated, remodeled and refurbished it in the 1750s. Now it houses a collection of pink, gold, green and purple rooms accented by murals and frescoes. (Note: The exterior is currently being renovated so it is shrouded in canvas.)
The adjacent Court Church, a 16th-century grandiose tribute to Maximilian I, is well worth visiting. Marble reliefs and 28 bronze statues surround this black marble tomb. Although this is referred to as a mausoleum, the tomb is empty! The Holy Roman Emperor’s remains aren’t here; they are buried in a castle south of Vienna.
Innsbruck offers plenty of dining options. We joined locals at Café Konditorei Munding, Tyrol’s oldest café, and also dined at the 900-year-old Ottoburg, where each small dining room, with stone arches and wood paneling, had its own historical vibe. The traditional menu included schnitzel, venison stew, and apple strudel.
Tyrolean highlights near Innsbruck
Just a short distance away is the dramatic Bergisel Ski Jump tower, constructed in 2002. Its unusual design offers excellent city views from its 50m-high top. The Bergisel Sky café is a good place to stop for coffee or a light meal and enjoy the panoramic deck.
The Nordkett mountain range towers over Innsbruck. This outdoor playground, perfect for skiing and hiking, is part of the Karwendel Alpine Park, Austria’s largest nature park. Getting up to the mountains is easy; we walked from our hotel to Congress Station, right in town, where the 8-minute funicular ride to Hungerburg station starts. One of the highlights of this extremely modern funicular is the extraordinary design of the stations resembling icy glaciers.
Stops along the way include the Alpine Zoo, where visitors 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 housing such a complete collection of European alpine creatures.
Austrian alpine adventures
After reaching the Hungerburg station, we walked across a small square to the lower station of the cable car and took it to the Seegrube station at 1,905 meters. Here, you can enjoy a leisurely coffee at 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.
The Nordkette Climbing Arena, one of the highest climbing areas in the Alps, offers many single-rope routes with options for both beginner and advanced-level climbers.
Alternatively, visitors can enjoy spending their time as observers rather than participants.
Another cable car goes from here to the Hafelekar station at 2,256 meters, a 15-minute walk to the Hafelekarspitze, the actual summit at 2,334 meters where the views and the clear mountain air are invigorating. Both mountain lift stations are good starting points for hikes to numerous mountain huts and several are suitable for all ages.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- The ease of walking around the Old Town with its stunning architecture
- Traditional food at historic restaurants
- Being able to travel from the center of town to the top of the mountain by modern comfortable transport
- Good quality hotels right in the Old Town
- Check opening times for mountain transport.
- Opt for good walking shoes when walking uneven cobblestone streets.
- Be sure to drink plenty of water when at higher elevations. If you have any health conditions, talk with your doctor about appropriate precautions.
IF YOU GO
- If you are spending several days in Innsbruck, consider purchasing an Innsbruck Card that offers free entry to the city’s museums and main sights; and complimentary public transport, including buses, trams, the cable cars and the Sightseer bus; and a free guided city walk.
*All photo credits (except for lede photo): Phensri Rutledge