Although often thought of as a winter sports destination, Innsbruck promises much more than rugged terrain. Situated in the valley of the Inn River, the capital of the Tyrol region is vibrant year round thanks to a wealth of restaurants, shops, and nightlife spots. But it’s the city’s colorful community and drop-dead gorgeous views that have won over so many visitors.
Gothic and Baroque architecture dating back as far as the 12th century anchor Innsbruck alongside an idyllic Alpine backdrop. But spectacular views aside, spend a day or two and you’ll quickly realize that there is much more breathing life into this charming mountain town.
Impressively, Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics twice – in 1964 and 1976 – as well as the Winter Youth Olympics in 2012. Though it’s considered an epicenter for skiing and other cold-weather activities (the Nordkette Mountain cable car ascends higher than 2,000 meters in 20 minutes) a trip at any time of year proves that this city rivals many of its European neighbors for food, drink and culture.
Restaurants and Cafes
The tiny Bistro Gourmand (Templstraße 4), delivers beautiful and flavorful dishes. Step away from traditional Austrian eats and allow Chef Thierry Aragona to work his magic in the kitchen, preparing excellent French cuisine. Foie gras, beef tartare with quail egg, rabbit filet, sea bass Colbert (stuffed with mussels, shrimp, and eggplant) and other classic choices line the prix fixe and a la carte menus. The great atmosphere and friendly service regularly ensure that dining at Bistro Gourmand is a memorable night out.
The hotel has stood in Old Town since the 1600s, but the reliable restaurant, Altstadtwirtshaus Gasthof Weisses Rossl (Kiebachgasse 8), continues to draw scores of locals. The traditional Tyrolean delicacies – think schnitzel and spaetzle as well as pan-seared fish matched with potatoes and wilted spinach – are cooked without flaw. Be sure to save space for the palatschinken – a heaping portion of powder-sugar-dusted pancakes, garnished with a dollop of plum sauce – one of the most well-known and decadent Austrian desserts. While the tavern is cozy in winter, request a table outside on the terrace in warm weather.
It’s no surprise that you’ll eat some of the tastiest strudels anywhere at the quaint Strudel Café Kroll (Hofgasse 6) in the heart of Old Town. The most popular sweet version, apple, is the must-try flavor. But for savory options, Café Kroll bakes melt-in-your-mouth strudels such as ham and cheese, herb and bacon, and vegetable mozzarella, each fantastic for a grab-and-go meal. Besides strudel you’ll find croissants, bread, coffee, and a full breakfast made with “eggs from happy chickens” and served all day starting at 6 a.m.
A café meets wine bar meets restaurant, Café Sacher (Rennweg 1) is located in the Hofburg Imperial Palace. A legendary destination with outposts in Vienna and Graz, Sacher features filling plates of Viennese cuisine, two favorites being Wienerschnitzel and grösti. In warm weather, meals and spirits should be savored in the interior courtyard, where you might consider chugging an Aperol spritz. Or, act like a local and listen to one of the free promenade concerts hosted every Wednesday in July. No meal is complete without a slice of the famed Original Sacher Torte, a delectable layered chocolate cake paired with a fluffy puff of whipped cream, best served with tea, coffee or red wine.
Bars and Beer Gardens
A visit to Innsbruck isn’t complete without a stop at Fischerhausl (Herrengasse 8), a circa 1753 bar that whips up delicious bites. Here you’ll encounter one of the loveliest patios in town and a varied menu that includes salads, meat dishes, vegetarian options and gluten-free recipes. Frittatensuppe – a Tyrolean soup made from beef, veggies and noodles – is a specialty and worth tasting. Fischerhausl is a great spot to imbibe as well. Quaff a local beer in the ground-floor bar or in the Biergarten.
Oenophiles may want to check out Invinum (Innrain 1), an Old Town wine bar and shop that features a variety of Austrian bottles, with selections rotating monthly. Visitors can sample seven wines including three white, three red, and a sparkling, should they opt for the Invinum Tasting. Order meat, cheese, olives, and pretzels to cleanse the palate between tastes. Note that this bar allows smoking inside so sipping wine outside may be more pleasant (for non-smokers) when the weather is mild.
Beautiful and cozy inside, Dom Café Bar (Pfarrgasse 3) satisfies a late-night urge for a cocktail or nosh, as well as an anytime craving for caffeinated drinks like a macchiato, espresso and Irish coffee. Choose from a bevy of local brews, wines by the glass (many are Austrian) as well as bubbly pours of Prosecco and Veuve Cliquot. When hunger calls, peruse the menu, which overflows with salads, sandwiches, sausages and desserts, ideal for a casual meal.
A shoebox-size wine bar-cum-shop, S’Culinairum in der Altstadt (Pfarrgasse 1) stocks a vast selection of Austrian wine like the dynamic and acidic Riesling Eiswein, plus more Gruner Veltliner than anyone can taste in a single sitting. Meanwhile, schnapps is plentiful here too. Choose from apple, blueberry, peach and other flavors, all handcrafted. Yes, you can taste before you commit, and that’s part of the fun at Culinarium. Sip in the cellar, or from March through September, grab your glass or bottle and head outside.
Situated in one of Innsbruck’s oldest buildings and close to the storied Golden Roof, Swarovski Kristallwelten Store (Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse 39) gives shoppers the chance to peruse two floors of flashy accessories and blingy jewels. Wandering through this sprawling store makes perfect sense if you’re on the hunt for a unique gift, souvenir or even a little eye candy for yourself. A sparkling stockpile of gems and crystals, the flagship stocks collections from Oscar de la Renta, Karl Lagerfeld, Roberto Cavalli, and a host of other respected designers. Don’t miss the figurines, Christmas ornaments or Swarovski’s elegant home collection. When you’ve maxed out your credit card, opt for a glass of wine at The Bar.
Assuming the feel of a small-town shop but in the midst of the big city, hole-in-the-wall store Feinheiten (Pfarrgasse 8) sells clothing, jewelry, home furnishings and other pretty things from young, up-and-coming designers. Much of the inventory is derived from natural materials and the craftsmen produce goods in small batches. Also, the shop stocks yogawear, plus an impressive collection of paper goods such as cards, notebooks and calendars. A viable choice for both special occasion presents and everyday items, Feinheiten features a gift registry for blushing brides and their grooms.
Austrians pride themselves on Markthalle (Herzog-Siegmund-Ufer 1-3), a farmer’s market where visitors can see, smell and taste a variety of local and imported products ranging from fruit to cheese, bread and fragrances. Beyond picking up foodstuffs for a quick meal, travelers can also snag a bite at one of the emporium’s in-house eateries. Try Arabic cuisine at Soultan’s, tarte flambée at The Frenchman, and sausage and sauerkraut at Sausage & Bliss.
Enter the arched entrance of Speckeria (Hofgasse 3) and feast your eyes on walls, shelves, and a display case overflowing with meat. Purveying some of the tastiest smoked meat that will ever hit your lips, this gem of a shop’s specialty is “speck” or smoked bacon. The tiny deli sells various versions of cured meat, cheese, bread and soft pretzels, pickles, as well as wine and beer. Grab a few slices of wild boar or venison and settle into the café with a glass of Zweigelt or bottle of beer, or purchase your cold cut platter to go.
Browse more than 50 stores at Kaufhaus Tyrol (Maria-Theresien-Straße 29), a multi-floor modern mall downtown. Designed by architect David Chipperfield, the award-winning shopping center is a home for beloved brands like Levi’s, Swatch, Esprit, Massimo Dutti, and dozens of other labels for the fashion-forward. Complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the building is not only convenient but a bonus for tag-along friends and family.
Parks and Plazas
An oasis that hangs on the eastern edge of Old Town across from the Hofburg, Hofgarten provides a pleasant locale for people-watching and a peaceful respite from the bustle of the city. Discover a plethora of benches, lush plantings, flowers, and towering trees, not to mention a delightful café in the center of the park. A life-size checkerboard encourages park-goers to challenge one another at a game of chess while onlookers observe.
Perched in the hills of Innsbruck, Park of Ambras Castle (Schloßstraße 20) provides a magnificent backdrop for one of the country’s most celebrated medieval castles and a welcome retreat during a city break. Expect manicured gardens, lush lawns, and a pond in this public green space that dates back to the 16th century. Though you’ll have to pay admission to enter Ambras Castle, there’s no charge to roam the grounds or pose with the wild peacocks that inhabit the park. Note that this park is closed for the entire month of November, so check the website for opening and closing times.
Landhausplatz or Eduard Wallnöfer Square (Eduard-Wallnöfer Platz 3) was once one of the most neglected public spaces, but now it’s one of Innbruck’s most intriguing attractions. An inspiring example of modern architecture, the plaza boasts the grand Liberation Monument, which remains dedicated to the freeing of Austria from National Socialism in 1945. After an overhaul of Landhausplatz in 2011, more than 100 names were added to the monument, in remembrance of those who died at the hands of the Nazi regime. Also standing in the square is the Pogrom Monument, which mimics a giant menorah, plus a fountain, and two drinking fountains. Due to the ultra-smooth concrete surface, the historic plaza is a hotspot for skateboarding and scooters. Don’t be surprised if you encounter skaters whipping around and practicing tricks.