Vienna is the obvious go-to choice when visiting Austria for the first time, however, the capital of Tyrol, Innsbruck, is an understated Alpine gem. You should visit both cities at least once – but here are a few reasons why Innsbruck should take precedence.
It’s got the best of both worlds
Gorgeous, mountainous scenes and a modest city with plenty of culture and history to uncover – Innsbruck offers the opportunity for holiday boasting, with equally exciting urban and rural sites. Although Vienna does contain plenty of green spaces (around 50% to be exact), it doesn’t rival Innsbruck in terms of spectacular scenery.
Our Lady statue in old town of Innsbruck, Austria | © Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock
Experience Tyrolian culture
Innsbruck is the capital of Tyrol – a region of Austria with its own distinct character and style. Visiting Innsbruck offers the chance to sample some traditional Tyrolian cuisine. Among the best dishes are groestl (roasted potatoes, speck, and onions topped off with a fried egg), peckknoedel (dumplings with pieces of bacon) and kaesespaetzle (spaetzle sautéed with a variety of mountain cheeses and garnished with fried onions). The Markthalle, the city’s most renowned food market, is one of the best places to get to know the local cuisine, or head to one of Innsbruck’s many Austrian restaurants.
It’s a winter wonderland
Austrian Christmas markets are among the most famous in Europe – adored for their quaint charm and cosy aesthetic. Innsbruck is a champion of Christmas, with snow-laced Alpine surroundings providing the perfect backdrop for the charming Christmas villages that pop up around the city. One of the most popular is the Maria-Theresien-Strasse market – a dreamy, festive paradise with stalls, selling homemade trinkets, and Austrian food and drink (warming Glühwein is a must).
Snow Innsbruck | © Joergelman / Pixabay
Enjoy a surprisingly lively nightlife
Although you might not expect it, given its somewhat timid façade, the city centre has unexpectedly vibrant after-hours. Partly thanks to the university student population, there is a number of cocktail bars and small nightclubs to explore. A good place to start is at the Café Bar Moustache – a hip and friendly joint offering excellent coffee and cake in the daytime and cocktails in the evening. Check out our guide for some other recommendations of great places for a tipple.
Go on epic hikes
Even the walking-weary should experience what Innsbruck has to offer in the way of hikes. Whether embarking on a full-blown mountainous adventure or a more relaxed amble in the surrounding countryside, you won’t be disappointed by the natural beauty you’ll discover. Check out this website for details on 50 of the most popular trails.
Mutters near Innsbruck | © Ascher/Courtesy of Österreich Werbung
Peace and tranquility
Vienna is by no means a raucous capital, however in the summer months the city centre can get crowded – with the touristy areas particularly swarming during peak times. Visiting Innsbruck, you’re more or less guaranteed a peaceful time away, with the option of the lively nightlife available if you feel so inclined.
It’s a winter sports paradise
Being a prime winter sports hub is largely what Innsbruck is known for – and for good reason. There are countless ski resorts dotted around the region, with some epic slopes and incredible views. The city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, and it has always garnered a reputation as a paradise for skiers, snowboarders, skaters, and cross-country hikers. There are eight primary resorts to choose from, all designed for people with varying degrees of ability – from beginner’s baby slopes to epic, sharp drops for adrenaline seekers. Grinzens, located southwest of the city, is home to the highest skiing village in Austria, boasting fairy-tale landscapes and a wide range of jumps, slopes, and a natural ice rink.
Experience amazing ski slopes | © Austrian Tourist Board
There is no better way to see Innsbruck than from above. For those who don’t enjoy hiking or find gliding a little too dicey, the cable car offers a great option to experience the scenic delights surrounding the city. Swooping across the country’s largest natural park, Karwendel, visitors can enjoy an uncompromised, panoramic scene of the complex landscapes below. Designed by architect Zaha Hadid, the car picks people up from the Old Town and ascends them 6560 feet (around 2000 meters) up into the clouds in about 20 minutes.
Innsbruck is full of architectural gems. From the glorious Golden Roof in the Old Town, to the Brutalist-style Ambrau Brewery, there are plenty of intriguing buildings to discover. One of the most impressive structures well worth a visit is the Bergisel Ski Jump. This futuristic structure, also designed by star architect Zaha Hadid, juts out of the greenery like an alien antenna – in stark contrast to its lush natural surroundings. In addition to the incredible views from the top of the tower, visitors can catch show-jumpers in action from May through to October – a dramatic experience they can watch while enjoying breakfast at the panorama restaurant.
Innsbruck Christkindlmarkt | © HeatherLWilliams/Flickr
Vienna is a fantastically cycle-friendly city, however Innsbruck is even more so, if that’s even possible. From mountain biking around the rocky terrain to more relaxed biking around town, it’s perfectly suited for exploring on two wheels. There is a wide spectrum of different routes to choose from and many outlets offer both mountain bikes and e-bikes.