An essential guide to Innsbruck
Vibrant and packed with history, Innsbruck’s a city where medieval buildings sit next to fashionable boutiques and alpine peaks dot the horizon in every direction. It’s easy to reach by bus or train too, so you can take it all in on a day trip from one of our Lakes & Mountains resorts. Make sure you don’t miss any of its best bits with this run-down of the must-see sights.
The Old Town
Also called the Altstadt, the Old Town is at the heart of the city. Higgledy-piggledy lanes are lined with colourful buildings, and you can explore side alleys and cobbled courtyards around every corner. Drift between the craft shops and souvenir stands, then get a taste of the area from stalls selling cured meats and cheeses. Speaking of food, this is the perfect place for a proper sit-down meal too, with authentic restaurants where you can discover other local specialities, from smoked sausages to dumpling stews.
Watching over it all is the Stadt Turm – the Town Hall’s onion-domed tower, where city guards kept watch during the Middle Ages. And it’s well worth climbing the 51m to the top to get a bird’s-eye view of the ancient streets below.
The Golden Roof
Head to the southern edge of the Old Town to see one of the city’s most famous sights, the Golden Roof. Built in 1500, it was named for the 2,657 burnished copper tiles on the roof of the ornate balcony. You’ll see them shimmering in the sun from a distance, but the balcony’s even more impressive up close. The wooden walls are covered in frescoes and carved panels that show what life was like in Innsbruck during medieval times. Back then, royalty would often use the balcony to address crowds and watch the jousting tournaments that took place in the main square below.
To learn more about the Golden Roof and Innsbruck’s history, pop into the museum next door. It’s filled with historical objects that bring the story of the city to life, including a collection of elaborate helmets that were used in the tournaments.
This is Innsbruck’s main street, and the Triumphal Arch at its southern end separates the old and new parts of the city. Look up to see the statues and gold inscriptions on the arch – they’re both a celebration of Archduke Leopold’s marriage in 1765 and tribute to the sudden death of his father, who died just days before the wedding.
Walk under the arch and onto the wide boulevard lined with Baroque mansions, once home to Innsbruck’s aristocracy. Nowadays, it’s the place to go for high-end retail therapy, whether you’re after jewellery, designer clothes or specialist sports gear. At the other end is a pedestrianised plaza with the marble St Anne’s column at its centre – the street here is lined with cafés, so pull up a seat and watch the hustle and bustle of city life over coffee and cake.
Imperial Palace and Gardens
Head away from the Old Town toward the River Inn to find this picture-perfect Baroque palace, with its white walls, copper domes and elaborate window frames. It was home to the Hapsburg royal family during the 18th century, and you can still get a glimpse of how they lived the high life if you head inside. The Empress Elisabeth spared no expense when she had the place built, and her personal apartments have been restored to their former glory with original furnishings, tapestries and works of art.
After exploring the palace, head outside to see the grounds. Royals came here to escape the stress of court life, but the high walls that separated it from the city are long gone and now it’s a peaceful park that’s free for everyone to enjoy. Take a leisurely stroll along shaded avenues, play a game of giant chess or find a spot by the ornamental lake for a picnic lunch. And before you leave, make sure you pop into the Palmtree house. It’s home to an impressive collection of over 1,800 tropical plants, including the extremely rare Santa Cruz water lily.
Bergisel Ski Jump
Set high on a hillside above Innsbruck, this spot has hosted winter ski jumping competitions since 1925. The tower and viewing platform were added in 2001, and now it’s one of the best places to go for panoramic views of the city. Designed by famed architect Zaha Hadid, the structure itself is hard to miss, with its distinctive curves and polished steel panels – it’s even won some international awards.
You can take a direct bus from the city station to the base of the jump, where a funicular will whisk you to the top in a couple of minutes. Then from the viewing platform, you’ll be able to see views of Innsbruck, the Inn Valley and the Nordkette Mountain range beyond. And if you’re here between May and July, you might even spot ski jumpers training on the dry slope for the World Cup Four Hills Tournament, which is held here every January.
Innsbruck’s castle is just a short walk from the ski jump and is well worth a visit to see works by famous painters like Old Masters Velázquez and Van Dyck in the gallery. Afterwards, spend some time wandering through the lavish apartments and impressive, 43m-long banqueting hall that were added by Archduke Ferdinand II in the 1600s.
It might look like a luxurious Renaissance palace now, but it wasn’t always this way. First built in the 10th century, it guarded the city against invaders during the Middle Ages, and you’ll still get a feel for those times in the castle’s armoury. Look out for the giant suit of armour that was made for a knight who was 2.6m tall, as well as the curiosity cabinet, which is filled with unusual objects – from a petrified shark and a trick chair designed to trap unsuspecting visitors.
The best places to eat and drink in Innsbruck
From mid-morning coffee stops to places for lunch, Innsbruck’s filled with culinary hotspots.
Just a few steps from the Golden Roof, Katzung’s one of Innsbruck’s oldest coffee houses. It was opened over 200 years ago by a pastry chef who worked for the royal court – and the standards are just as high today, with a tempting selection of pastries, chocolate tortes and fruit-filled cakes. Enjoy your sweet treat in the traditional salon, surrounded by antique furniture and gold-framed paintings. Or sit out on the cobbled square and watch the world go by instead.
It’s worth booking a table here for the view alone – Hotel Adler is the tallest building in Innsbruck, and you can see the whole city and the mountains beyond from the rooftop restaurant. As for the menu, it’s not your usual Austrian fare, and you can expect to see lots international-inspired dishes – from things like herb-coated pork with truffle-infused mashed potato to Asian-style cauliflower fritters with a spicy sesame and chilli crust.
For a fill-your-boots meal, you can’t beat a beer hall. And the Siftskeller definitely ticks the box, with its authentic atmosphere and rustic décor – picture long, wooden tables and vaulted, stone ceilings hung with bunches of hops. Dig into platefuls of traditional Austrian food, like roasted pork knuckle and dumplings or go for Tiroler gröstl, which is made from fried potatoes, bacon and topped with an egg – imagine a full English done the Austrian way. And for something to drink, try a radler. One of Europe’s must-try drinks, it’s a refreshing mix of beer and the herb-infused soft drink called Almdudler.
Inspired to see Innsbruck for yourself? Take a look at our Austrian holidays and take a trip to the Tyrol this summer.
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