Famous as a winter sports destination, Innsbruck is particularly vibrant during the chilly season, but also has plenty to offer visitors at all times of year.
The capital of Austria’s western state of Tyrol, the Alpine city is a visually appealing hotch-potch of Imperial and modern architecture, helping make it a delight to explore. During the winter months, temperatures plummet but – as the saying goes – there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. If you’re planning to visit Innsbruck in winter, or indeed at any time, here are 12 great things to see and do to inspire you.
Visit a top-class museum
Considered one of the finest regional heritage museums anywhere in Europe, the Museo Tirolés de Folclore y Arte invites visitors to discover how Tyroleans lived in days gone by. The museum is home to perfectly-replicated farmhouse rooms, along with an assortment of cultural treasures and artefacts such as handicrafts, painted chests, tools, and traditional costumes and other fashion items. The museum also hosts regular exhibitions on themes such as festivals, everyday objects, and social and political troubles experienced by the region in yesteryear.
Universitätsstraße 2 / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Among the most distinctive landmarks in Innsbruck, the Golden Roof museum is adorned with 2,657 fire-gilded copper shingles on its tiled rooftop. Situated in the heart of the historic centre, both the building and its dazzling ornamental roof boast illustrious histories, with the former built by archduke Friedrich IV in the early 15th century and the latter by the Emperor Maximilian, one of the most important rulers of Tyrol, for his wedding around 1500 AD. Today the museum is open to visitors keen to learn more about the life of the emperor through an assortment of artefacts and special exhibitions.
Herzog-Friedrich-Straße 15 / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Explore a charming Christmas market
Come wintertime, in the heart of Innsbruck’s Old Town, some 70 Alpine-inspired stalls crowd around a giant Christmas tree just in front of the famous Golden Roof, made with 2,658 fire-gilded copper tiles at the start of the 16th century. Visitors to the Innsbruck Old Town Christmas Market can feast on freshly-made kiachln (hot doughnuts), sugary toasted nuts and a mug of gluhwein (mulled wine) to the sounds of Austrian brass bands for a truly Tirolean Christmas experience.
Innsbruck Old Town / November-December each year
Walk in the footsteps of the Habsburg Dynasty
Originally built by Archduke Sigmund the Rich, the Imperial Palace is known as the Hofburg by locals, and is another major Innsbruck landmark. After extensive restoration work, the palace has been returned to its former 18th century splendour, and offers an intimate look at the lavish lifestyles and wealth of the former Habsburg Dynasty. Visitors can explore the Giant’s Hall, Guards’ Hall, Lorraine Room and Chapel, as well as the Empress Elisabeth Apartment, complete with 18th century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art.
Rennweg 1 / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Hit the ice track on a bobsleigh
Most people who have seen the cult movie ‘Cool Runnings’ have harboured an inner desire to hurtle down a narrow, twisting, iced track aboard a bobsleigh – and visitors to Innsbruck have the chance to fulfil that very dream at the Igls Bobsleigh Centre. Built for the 1976 Winter Olympics, the venue, located a 15-minute drive south of Innsbruck, is the only artificial ice bobsleigh run in Austria and offers the chance to experience the ultimate thrill at speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour. Depending on your confidence levels, you can either sit in a five-man bobsleigh piloted by a professional driver or launch yourself head-first down the run on a skeleton.
Heiligwasserwiese 1 / Mon-Sun 8am-6pm
Enter a dazzling crystalline world
Situated 20 minutes east of Innsbruck by road, Swarovski Kristallwelten (“Swarovski Crystal Worlds”) has grown to become one of Austria’s most visited – and unique – attractions since opening its doors in 1995. The site was created to mark the 100th anniversary of Swarovski Company and is spread over acres of beguiling grounds festooned with captivating features. A giant’s head, spewing water into a pond, greets visitors, leading onto a wonderland of gardens where a Crystal Cloud floats above a black Mirror Pool bedecked with 800,000 hand-mounted Swarovski crystals. For kids, there’s also an exhilarating Play Tower hosting a range of playing experiences.
Kristallweltenstraße 1 / Mon-Sat 9am-7pm Sun 9am-6pm
Test your skills at a ski jumping hill
Towering high above Innsbruck on the wooded Bergisel Hill, a 10-minute drive from the city centre, the Bergisel Ski Jump is a sight to behold. An inclined elevator whisks visitors up to a height of 250 metres, where intrepid skiers can test their mettle on the special porcelain in-run, with a landing area covered in fibre damping mats ready to cushion your blow once you reach the bottom. While it is mainly reserved for the ski jumping experience, the landmark also attracts tourists simply for its fantastic vistas, with the facility offering a panoramic café and viewing terrace.
Bergiselweg 3 / Weds-Mon 9am-5pm Closed Tues
Discover an array of Alpine animals
With its distinctive mountainside setting at the foot of the rugged Nordkette Mountain Range, Alpenzoo is home to more than 100 animal species, many native to the Alpine region, including ibexes, brown bears, otters, golden eagles and wolves. The zoo is carefully laid out so that most animals are in open areas designed to simulate their natural environments, with visitors following enclosed paths within these habitats. Kids love the on-site working farm where they can mingle with smaller animals such as Turopolje pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, and cows, and there are also picnic areas with outdoor seating.
Weiherburggasse 37a / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Take a scenic cable car ride
Designed by the iconic late architect Zaha Hadid, the Nordkettenbahnen is a unique architectural achievement – and one that can be admired at the closest of quarters. Visitors can hop aboard the panoramic cable car and begin their ascent, admiring how the elegant modern design of the stations contrasts with the rugged mountain landscape. After reaching the upper station at 2,256 metres above sea level, there’ll be a chance to soak up the breathtaking views of the city on one side and the untouched, pristine nature on the other.
Marvel at an ancient imperial tomb
Standing on the edge of Innsbruck’s old town, the Hofkirche is one of the city’s most important cultural landmarks. Relatively inconspicuous from the street outside, venture inside and you’ll discover the greatest imperial tomb in Europe. The Court Church was built from 1553 to 1563 to house the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I, with the ornate black marble tomb remaining the church’s centrepiece attraction. The church is also famous for its 28 over-life-sized Renaissance bronze statues, commissioned by the Emperor, that flank the tomb, as well as for housing one of the oldest playable organs in the world.
Universitätsstraße 2 / Mon-Sat 9am-5pm Sun 12.30pm-5pm
Relax in a public park
Providing the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, the Innsbrucker Hofgarten is a popular place to relax and unwind. The vast green expanse has been around since the early 15th century, but at that time was reserved for the aristocracy. Today the park is there for everyone, with plenty of benches, and picnic areas shaded by mature trees, plus a gazebo where youngsters like to gather and listen to music while older folk play chess or read the papers.
Kaiserjägerstraße / Mon-Sun 7am-5.30pm
Take in New Year’s Eve in style
There are few more scenic settings in which to see in the New Year than Innsbruck. For several days leading up to the big event and then for some days after, the traditional New Year’s Eve in the Mountains celebrations sees an array of exciting attractions and activities taking place across the city, including a colourful children’s event in the old town featuring games, craft stands, a puppet show and a circus area with real acrobats. And on the big night itself, revellers can celebrate with a New Year’s Eve run through the city centre, live music in front of the Imperial Palace, and an impressive fireworks display.