Innsbruck, nestled in an alpine valley between two mountains, is the capital of the state of Tyrol and the largest of alpine cities. For the tourist, it's almost equidistant between Munich and Verona and has excellent rail connections to Salzburg, Vienna, and slightly more tedious transport to Hallstatt.
Innsbruck is well known as a winter sports center. Several modern winter Olympics and Paralympics have been held there, as well as the First Winter Youth Olympics in 2012.
Tourism is Insbruck's main source of income. Its main train station, Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof, is one of the busiest in Austria.
But Innsbruck's charms don't stop when the snow melts. The historic center is a fine one, and Innsbruck is the showplace for Tyrolean traditions and handicrafts. Allow two to three days. The major sites can be done as a day trip from Salzburg or Vienna.
Getting There by Air
Innsbruck Airport, Flughafen Innsbruck, is a mere 4 kilometers from the city center. It provides flights to other Alpine destinations as well as to larger airports like those in Frankfurt, London, and Vienna. City bus F takes 18 minutes to reach the city and the central train station.
Flights to Innsbruck (compare prices)
In Winter there's skiing, of course. In summer there's the Altstadt, the old town, which offers access to many attractions tourists come to Innsbruck for, including the Goldenes Dachl, the Golden Roof, a landmark from the 1500s with a balcony roof decorated with glistening fire-gilded tiles. There is a museum inside.
For views of the incredible setting of the Alps only major city, climb the 148 steps of the Stadtturm, the city clock tower built in 1450. It gets you 167 feet over the city. At the very least the climb will make you hungry for a lunch, perhaps some Hauspfandl (filet of pork with garlic, caraway, and brandy with green beans and bacon and spaetzle) at Weisses Rössl, a popular hotel restaurant conveniently located in the city center of Innsbruck.
If climbing is your thing, you can also climb the 455 steps of the Bergisel Ski Jump Tower designed by architect Zaha Hadid in 2001. Once you're at the top, besides the 360-degree view of the Tirol mountain scenery, there's a restaurant inside--so you don't have to worry about finding one while panting from the exertion. You can also take the funicular, but what fun would that be? The Innsbruck card includes this attraction (see below).
The Imperial Palace was completed in 1465. It's an elaborate Gothic castle with heated banquet hall which would eventually become one of the most important homes of the Habsburgs and the most culturally significant buildings outside of those in Vienna.
Tyrolean State Museums offer a glimpse into the arts and crafts of the cultures that have settled in the Austrian Alps. Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum on Museumstraße 15 holds artifacts from the Stone age to present times, over 30,000 years of art and history. Zeughaus is the former weapons depot of Emperor Maximilian I which will explain the Tyrol's archaeology, silver mining, salt extraction, tourism and participation in the World Wars. Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum is a museum of mountain folk art, from miniature nativity scenes to costumes.
Innsbruck's Alpine Zoo in Europe's highest zoo, featuring more than 150 species of Alpine animals. If you're lucky enough to plan a vacation that spans Thursday night, you're in for a treat, "From mid-July to the end of August, the Alpine Zoo offers a "tour in the evening" through the zoo under the special guidance of biologist Dirk Ullrich, who will provide a lot of information about the Alpine animal world. This guided tour takes place every week on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The meeting point is at the beaver enclosure, and the tour is a complementary part of the admission fee."
Finally, if you're into ornate imperial tombs, the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) should make your bucket list. It's inside the Hofkirche or Court Church. The tomb is flanked by 28 larger-than-life bronze statues, "which are known locally as the "Schwarzen Mander" (black men) and represent the Emperor's relations and role models," according to the museum literature.
The Innsbruck Card
An interesting option for travelers is the Innsbruck card which offers free entrance to all museums and visitor attractions as well as many interesting transportation benefits, including 5 hours of free bicycle rental. The card is offered in one, two, and three-day durations; it is expensive and becomes a much better value when more than one day is selected since you couldn't possibly do all the card offers in a single passing of the sun.
If you're the type of traveler who'd like to be somewhat independent but would also like to have a day planned in advance, Viator offers a package that includes dinner, a "snack" of famous sachertorte at Café Sacher Innsbruck, and dinner at Goldener Adler Restaurant, a highly rated restaurant with a loyal local following, according to a Frommer's review. For more information, see Innsbruck Combo: Innsbruck Card, Traditional Café, and Austrian Dinner.
Where to Stay
Besides the Weisses Rössl mentioned above, the four-star Romantik Hotel Schwarzer Adler is near the train station and has had recent renovations that include complimentary internet and an airport shuttle service.
You may wish to rent a vacation home or apartment for your stay in Innsbruck. HomeAway lists over 45 vacation rentals in the area.
Viator offers a couple of interesting nights out if you're looking for something special to do in Innsbruck. For example, you can take a Candlelit Mountain Dinner and Gondola Ride or see a Tyrolian Folk Show.