Innsbruck, the Capital of the Alps

Innsbruck is located in the Austrian state of Tirol; surrounded by mountains, this small city is a busy ski resort in winter and a hiking paradise in summer. Innsbruck is well connected to the rest of Europe with an international airport and a railway station with direct trains to Switzerland, Germany and to other destinations in Austria like Salzburg and Vienna as well as to Verona and Venice in Italy.

View of the airport at Innsbruck

Getting around the city it is very easy thanks to its network of trams and buses. Tourists short on time can jump on The Sightseer, an hop-on hop-off bus stopping at all the major sights in the city. The Old Town, where most monuments and interesting buildings are located, it is fairly compact and can be visited on foot. To save on entrance fees and transport costs, an Innsbruck Card is highly recommended; it can be purchased with a validity of 24, 48 and 72 hours and it covers all transport around the city and its surrounding villages as well as one return trip on the cable cars and free entry to all museums and visitors attractions.

One of Innsbruck trams

View of the Innsbruck Sightseer

A frequent bus connects Innsbruck airport with the railway station in the city center; from there, it is a short walk the Old Town. Past the vast Eduard Wallnöfer Square with the Liberation Monument, walking through the Triumphal Arch is Maria-Theresien Strasse. This elegant pedestrianized street is lined with coffee shops with tables outside, beautiful buildings, shops and restaurants serving traditional Austrian food.

View of Innsbruck Liberation MonumentLooking up at Innsbruck Triumphal Arch

Two chairs and a table of a cafe'

St.Anne’s Column and Spitalskirche (Hospital Church) can be seen here and further along is the City Tower; climbing to the top will give the chance to get good views of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains as well as the street and the buildings below, including the beautiful Helbling House.

View of Innsbruck St.Anne's Column

View of Innsbruck Spitalskirche

Under the arches in Innsbruck

View of some houses in Innsbruck

Rooftops and mountains seen from Innsbruck City Tower

Buildings of Innsbruck Old Town

View of Innsbruck Helbling House

A short distance away is one of Innsbruck’s most famous landmarks: the Golden Roof. It was built for the Emperor Maximilian I and, it was from the terrace under the roof that the Emperor and his wife would observe events staged in the square below. A small museum can be visited in the building.

View of Innsbruck Golden Roof

The visit to the Old Town and its Imperial past can continue down Hofgasse and inside The Hofburg, the 16th-century Imperial Palace; the building housing the National Theater can be seen across the road and next to it is the Hofgarten, the landscaped royal palace gardens with a pavilion and a restaurant.

View of the National Theater in Innsbruck

From there, there are two options: to stay in town and visit some of Innsbruck’s churches like St.James’ Cathedral and The Court Church were the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I is located or, to get the funicular and get up to the mountain.

View of Innsbruck Court Church

Nordkettenbahnen is a system of funiculars and cable cars that takes visitors from Innsbruck city center to the upper station of Hafelekar 2256m above sea level; the stations were designed by the renown Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid . The first part of the journey starts at Congress Station with a stop across the river Inn before climbing to the Alpenzoo Station.

Looking up at Congress Station in Innsbruck

View of the funicular in Innsbruck

It is possible to get off here to visit the zoo before or after going up the mountain; the Alpenzoo is the first of its kind in the world housing over two thousand animals typical of the Alps including bears, lynxes, wolves and a moose.

View of the entrance to the Alpenzoo

One of the Alpenzoo bears

Two lynxes at the zoo

One of Innsbruck Alpenzoo wolves

View of Innsbruck Alpenzoo resident moose

For people deciding to stay on the funicular, the next stop is Hungerburg; from here there are very good views of Innsbruck but even better views can be seen by boarding the cable-car to the next station for the next stop: Seegrube. At 1905 meters above see level, snow can be found up here up to April; the area includes Cloud 9 igloo bar, a chairlift, sun loungers and a restaurant serving food and hot drinks.

View of Innsbruck funicular Hungerburg Station

Panoramic view of Innsbruck

Heavy snow on the mountain near Innsbruck

View of Innsbruck Cloud 9 igloo bar

Hafelekar chairlift in Innsbruck

A row of sun loungers in Innsbruck

For people not afraid of heights and suitably dressed, another cable-car run from Seegrube to Hafelekar, from there it is a 10-15 minutes walk to a view point at 2300 meters above see level where there are spectacular 360° views of Innsbruck and its surroundings. The contrast from the city to the top of the mountain could not be any different: it is quite common to leave Innsbruck city center on a sunny day and and 20 minutes later being skiing or just relaxing on a sun-lounge with snow all around  you.

The view from Nordkette cable car

View of the cable car at Innsbruck

Panoramic view from Hafelekar Peak

Red and yellow ski routes signs

Although Innsbruck can be visited over a long weekend, a longer stay will give the opportunity to visit its surroundings; Swarovski World, a museum dedicated to the famous crystals, is just outside the city and it is connected by a shuttle bus; both the bus journey and the entrance fee are covered by the Innsbruck Card. The entrance to the museum is through a giant (literally!) and inside there are 16 different exhibition rooms or, as they like to call them, Chambers of Wonders; the visit ends in what is considered to be the biggest Swarovski shop in the world. Outside there are manicured gardens and a labyrinth shaped as one the hands of the giant.

View of the entrance to Swarovski World

A colorful passage inside Swarovski World

Crystals in a white room at Swarovski World

Pyramid made of Swarovski crystals

View of the hand shaped labyrinth at Swarovski World

Another pleasant excursion outside Innsbruck is to the village of Igls. It can be reached by bus but a more scenic route is by tram through the forest. A change of trams is necessary at Wilten where the beautiful Basilica and the Monastery nearby can be visited; the Bergisel Ski Jump is a short uphill walk away.

Looking up at Innsbruck Wilten Basilica

View of the interior of Wilten Basilica

View of Innsbruck Wilten Monastery

View of Innsbruck Bergisel Ski Jump

From Wilten, tram number 6 travels to Igls with a stop near Ambras Castle en-route. The former residence of Archduke Ferdinand II is a Renaissance castle and palace; inside, the Chambers of Armour and the Chamber of Art and Curiosities can be visited and many portraits and sculptures can be seen.

View of Innsbruck Ambras Castle

Back on the tram, the last stop is Igls. It is a short walk from the station to the center of the village. Igls stands under the Patscherkofel mountain, the site of the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. A cable car goes to the top of the mountain, handy for skiers and snow lovers; for non-skiers the options are limited to a cafe serving food and drinks with beautiful views of the mountains around Innsbruck.

View of the church of Igls

View of the red Patscherkofel cable car

View from the upper station of the Patscherkofel cable car

A visit to Innsbruck would not be complete without sampling the local food, Austrian specialties like the ubiquitous Wiener Schnitzel, goulash and hearty stews with dumplings washed down with a beer or two; make sure to leave some room for apple strudel!

The view from Swarovski World

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