|View of the Goldenes Dachl, or Golden Roof, from the city tower|
Most travelers from North America are going to arrive in Innsbruck via rail coming from Salzburg or Munich. But, they're really missing out on a very cool, low-flying view over the city and the dramatic outcroppings of mountains between the clouds. Typically the city will be a quick pass through on the way to the mountains, especially during ski season, but this small city offers plenty for visitors to fill up 48 hours.
The beginning to any visit to Innsbruck should begin at the Zaha Hadid designed Congress station to take the Nordkettenbahnen, a series of cable cars, to the top of the Nordkette mountain range. Even though the thick clouds of a rainy day meant limited visibility over the city, the beauty of the rocky mountains and glimpse over the city make it worthwhile. One stop on this trip is the Alpenzoo, Europe's highest zoo. Since I lost my Innsbruck Card here, which covers all transportation and every sight you'd want to see, I walked the remaining trek down the mountain and across the river Inn.
After checking in to Hotel Innsbruck, which was far nicer than the website images would suggest, I took a late afternoon stroll through the the nearby alleys of the old town, checking out the various small shops and cafes. Afterwards I met with a guide from Tyrol Tourism to learn more about Innsbruck and the region over dinner at Wilderin, a cozy, modern Tyrolean restaurant before coffee and cake at Katzung, possibly the best coffeehouse in town. As rain poured down we took in late night drinks with a view atop a shopping center at 360 which, as you might guess, offers 360 views of the city.
One of the city's most energetic and enthusiastic guides is Frau Grassmayr, whose family has owned the Grassmayr Bell Foundry for some 400 years. After a quick visit through the family business we went to the Bergisel Olympic Ski Jump Tower and were lucky enough to see someone jump - despite the fact that it was September and there was zero snow. Nearby is the Tirol Panorama, a giant 1000m2 painting in the round which depicts a famous battle on the sight. It's covered with the card and just a short walk away from the Ski Jump Tower, so it's worth a quick visit.
Just outside the city, the 16th century Ambras Castle was built by Archduke Ferdinand II for his wife who, not coming from royal blood, wasn't allowed to live in the residence in the city. Inside there's a Habsburg portrait gallery of around 300 works from the 15th to 19th century, a Spanish Hall with wall paintings and detailed woodwork and a small armory. What's somewhat unique is the Chamber of Art and Curiosities, with some off the wall and some flat out morbid collections by Ferdinand II, from rare coral to portraits of Vlad Impaler.
The medieval old town offers a few 'must-see' attractions. The 16th century Hofkirche has the tomb of Emperor Maximillian joined by 28 bronze statues of the Emperor's ancestors, wives, and a couple random inclusions, such as King Arthur of England. The court palace, the Hofburg, offers the usual period furniture and other antiques, perhaps notable for an apartment used by the beloved (by Austrian royalists anyway) Empress Sissi.
One of the most popular sights is the Goldenes Dachl, thought it is little more than a copper tiled roof. After a quick look, wandering through the arcades and winding streets is a far more rewarding experience with this medieval gem. Further along Maria-Theresien Strasse offers a more open space to check out the 17th and 18th-century houses and shops, and provides a beautiful vista of the mountains.
One of Austria's most famous attractions is the recently expanded Swarovski Kristallwelten, which is part art exhibition, part museum and part shopping experience. I was particularly happy to see an installation by Brian Eno. A special bus runs from the Congress station to nearby Wattens well into the evening during peak travel season. Taking the final bus meant that it wasn't crowded.
Not surprisingly, this is one of the more expensive attractions, with current day tickets costing € 19. Considering the Innsbruck Card costs costs € 33 for 24 hours and includes virtually everything else you'd want to see and transportation, it's especially worthwhile if you plan to go here.
Want to know more? Click here for my AFAR guide to Tyrol and Vorarlberg.
Click here for current prices and details for the Innsbruck Card.