An hour east of ski heaven St Anton am Arlberg is Innsbruck, the capital of the Austrian state of Tyrol. Tucked away in a valley in the middle of the Alps, the historically significant city was once the home of Emperor Maximilian I (back in the 15th century). Today, a slew of cultural riches gives Innsbruck an alluring contemporary complexion, but its contained size means it’s an easy day trip out from your snow-shredding vacation. So click off your skis, get off the mountain and revel in Innsbruck’s charming Old Town, fabulous modern architecture, adorable cafes and much more.
9:30: Start your day at the Tyrol Panorama for incredible views of Innsbruck and the staggering Alpine peaks that surround it. It’s a great way to get a lay of the land and to understand what makes Innsbruck a geographic wonder. The Kaiserjäger Museum here is outfitted with an exhibit that explains a victory by local rebels over Napoleonic troops in 1809 that guaranteed the Tyroleans’ freedom. The museum itself sits on land where those battles took place.
11:00: Head down to the Old Town to discover the riches of its meandering Medieval alleyways. But first, sustenance: on the edge of the Old Town in the Hofburg Imperial Palace is Café Sacher, a dining-only arm of the famous hotel in Vienna. Here, you can fortify yourself with coffee and cake (like the original sachertorte) in cozy yet regal environs.
Now it’s time to explore the city’s historic core on foot. Visit the 16th century Hofkirche. This Gothic church houses the black marble tomb of Emperor Maximilian I. And surrounding it are numerous towering statues of members of the emperor’s family. Other Old Town highlights include the Hofburg itself, in which you can see centuries-old soaring salons and apartments furnished with period pieces (gilded desks, baroque carpets, elaborate chandeliers and over-the-top frescoes); the Helbinghaus, a extravagantly Baroque building with angels on its exterior; and, perhaps most importantly, the Golden Roof — largely considered the architectural icon of Innsbruck, the roof (decorated with over two and a half thousand fire-gilded copper tiles) was made for Maximilian I to celebrate this marriage to the Duke of Milan’s daughter Bianca Maria Sforza.
1:30 : Break for lunch at Restaurant Lichtblick, an elegant rooftop dining room with fabulous views of the Innsbruck. The menu here focuses on gourmet dishes that orbit around mostly local ingredients. Warm up with a creamed vegetable soup and then try a local delicacy, dumplings — the kitchen offers an oft-changing selection of knödelen, from ones stuffed with meat and others made with cheese curd. The wine list is equally impressive and offers ample opportunity to partake of Austria’s most famous white varietal the Grüner Veltliner.
3:00 : Famous crystal company Swarovski was founded in Tyrol, and while there’s not enough time to visit its headquarters in Wattens today (a further 25-minute drive east of Innsbruck that’s really a day trip on its own), you can always pay homage to its very popular boutique in the middle of town. The old-meets-new storefront (vaulted ceiling plus a rotating collection of large-scale crystal installations designed by international artists) is a great spot to pick up something sparkly. While it’s a little bit out of the way (a 10-minute walk from the Old Town towards the central train station), a visit to Töpferstudio Kathrein is a must for beautifully crafted ceramics including modern-looking glazed tableware.
Then, take the funicular up to the Nordkette. It’s the mountain in the middle of the city. Yes, unforgettable panoramic views are everywhere, and if you come prepared you can even hike around once you make it to the summit. There are also eateries along the way where you can pop in for a hot chocolate. But what makes getting up to the Nordkette summit really special are the stations of the Zaha Hadid-designed Hungerburg (that’s the cable car service that goes from the city up to the mountain). These glossy, futuristic markers add great visual depth to the city.
7:00: You still have a drive back to the mountains so opt for an early dinner at Innsbruck’s most sought-after restaurant Sitzwohl. The multi-level venue’s second-floor restaurant has been difficult to book as locals and travelers alike have been consistently seduced by its modern design (wood foundation punctuated with bright citrus-y accessories) and innovative dishes including bacon-wrapped pheasant paired with spätzle or octopus-ink ravioli.
Images c/o Innsbruck Tourism
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