When I first arrived in Innsbruck, Austria in this past February, I instantly fell in love. The city looked ever so enchanting surrounded by imposing snow-capped mountains. I loved it so much, I immediately agreed when my friend invited me on a road trip to the city in May.
During the February trip, I stayed at a great AirBnB, which was more reminiscent of couchsurfing than staying in a hotel. This was no problem for me because I love couchsuring. You get to hear from a local what’s good and not as good in their city as well as learn about their experiences (although I find using this platform has been more difficult in recent years). Also while staying at Mavin’s AirBnB, we had a pommes party with his friends (i.e. we just hung out and cooked French fries), and if you know how much I love potatoes, you’ll know that this was a pretty big hit with me.
While on the excursion in May, we stayed at a campground at the Natterer See, which was beautiful! During the day, Kyle went mountain biking and I hiked through the mountains. The views over Innsbruck were incredible! We spent one day in Mutters and one day in Fulpmes. The last afternoon we had just enough time for a few hours in Innsbruck, which wasn’t very long.
To be honest, I preferred Innsbruck in the wintertime, but I’m one of those crazy people who actually enjoys winter. Also, the second time was spent mostly in the mountains, which I also favor opposed to being in a city.
The first time around, I got the Innsbruck card (the 48 hour one). Many cities have these cards now, and it really depends on how much time you have in a city and what exactly you’re looking to do. I would say in Innsbruck, if you’re going to do the Nordkettenbahnen (and you should and you will), then you should just get the card, because that attraction is expensive enough on its own (32 €). The card also includes public transit within the city for the duration the card is activated.
The following are the costs (as of 2017) for the Innsbruck Card:
24 h – 39 € 48 h – 48 € 72 h – 55 € (children are half price)
Here’s everything I was able to do on the card in 2 days:
(1) Nordkettenbahnen. You must do the Nordkettenbahnen! It was my top-number-one-favorite thing in Innsbruck. I could have spent the entire day up there it was so amazing and breathtaking. The Nordkettenbahnen (literally meaning “north chain trains”) is a series of 3 gondolas that ascend one of the mountains in the range north of Innsbruck. The stations are designed by Zaha Hadid, who also designed the Bergisel, a ski jump on the other side of Innsbruck.
At the Seegrube (station before the top), there is already an incredible view of the city. When I was there in February, they had lounge chairs out overlooking Innsbruck and the valley. I sat in one of the lounge chairs, eating my sandwich, just taking in the view. The weather was wonderfully sunny and clear. I could’ve sat there all day!
Seegrube is also the main station for skiing; there’s an additional lift there, so you have several options including skiing down to the previous station or taking the gondola up to the top and skiing from there (although this isn’t included in the card). From Seegrube, there’s the final leg of the gondola to the Hafelekar station.
I didn’t think the view could get even better, but it does! From the Hafelekar station, you can walk up to the summit of the mountain where there’s a cross to mark the peak. At the top, you’re surrounding by stunning snow-covered peaks everywhere with Innsbruck down in the valley far below. AMAZING!
In February, the hiking was a little tough (as there’s still enough snow for skiing), so I only hiked down from the Hungerburg station, which takes approximately an hour to get back to Innsbruck city.
(The InnsbruckCard includes other Bahnen in the area as well – Patscherkofelbahnen, Muttereralmpark (wish I knew that before I went in May!), Bergbahn Axamer Lizum (public transit there isn’t included (further indicated with “PTNI”)), Glungzerbahn (only in summer, PTNI), Bergbahn Oberperfuss Rangger Köpfl (PTNI), Bergbahnen Kühtai (only in summer, PTNI))
(2) Stadtturm. The city tower. The view from the tower gives you a nice overlook of Innsbruck from inside the city center. In the wintertime, I would say wait until the afternoon to go up because when it’s a little warmer the clouds will have dissipated so you get the best view.
(3) Kaiserliche Hofburg. Don’t miss this! I love castles, and would definitely say the Hofburg is one you shouldn’t pass up. It’s also in the middle of the Old Town, making it easy to get to.
(4) Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum. Tirolean Folks art museum. This eclectic museum has various kinds of arts and crafts on display, as well as an exhibit on old Stuben (living rooms or common rooms), and even some strange modern art. The museum is connected to the Hofkirche church which is also included in the ticket.
(5) Schloss Ambras. Bring a jacket! In the winter, the temperatures in the buildings weren’t much different than outside (or so it felt like to me). The castle complex is easy to get to with tram 3 from the Hauptbahnhof. Get out at the second to last stop and then follow the signs to walk up to the castle; the walk is STEEP (I believe the hop-on-hop-off bus stops directly in front). They have an impressive collection of armor and the Spanish hall was spectacular.
(6) City walking tour. Many cities have free walking tours, but Innsbruck does not. But it’s included in the card, so it’s like it’s “free”. On the tour, you learn about Innsbruck’s history and why it was such an important crossroads for Europe in earlier times.
Some things I didn’t manage to do on the card, but would’ve liked to do were:
Museum Goldenes Dachl. This museum is closed on Mondays and so I missed out on it the first time around. I paid to visit the second time, but I would say it’s more worth it with the card and not necessarily on its own, unless the topic thoroughly intrigues you. This museum is about Kaiser (Emperor) Maximilian, the father of the Hapsburgs, and the history of Innsbruck.
Alpenzoo. The Alpine zoo is included on the card, but I didn’t have time to visit, although I walked by it on my hike down from the Hungerburg.
Bergisel. Ski jump. The Bergisel looks impressive and is something I would have really liked to check out. This prominent landmark can be seen from everywhere in Innsbruck. Regardless of whether you come in on train or on the highway (from Germany) you will pass by this odd-at-first structure on your way into the city.
Swarovski Kristallwelten. Swarovski Crystal World. It seems like quite a unique place to visit. There is a free shuttle bus to get there, which departs from various locations in Innsbruck. A friend told me they have a really awesome playground there too.
Bike rental. You can rent a bike for free for 3 hours using the InnsbruckCard. I recently got a bike and don’t know why I didn’t start traveling by bike sooner! It’s such an excellent way to explore a new place.
More Innsbruck recommendations:
If you’re looking for a snack in Innsbruck, check out the Strudel Café Kröll. They have over a dozen different kinds of Strudel to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you’re in the main street, turn right at the Goldenes Dachl and the strudel café will be several meters down on your right.
For my veggie friends, there was a place between the Stadtturm and Goldenes Dachl which served a two veggie entrées each day around/under 10€ (one of which is vegan). It’s an easy way to get a quick vegetarian meal right in the city center. It’s located adjacent to a bio grocery store.
Regardless of what you like to do, Innsbruck is great in all seasons. They have skiing, snowboarding, and sledding in the winter and hiking, biking, camping, and climbing in the summer – there’s something for every outdoor junkie at any time of the year.