If you're looking for something a bit different with your next city break, perhaps something a little more adventurous, then Innsbruck comes highly recommended. Known as the Capital of the Alps, it's an alpine-urban, sporty, dynamic and cosmopolitan place with a huge dollop of tradition and charm.
The fifth largest city in Austria and located in a broad valley surrounded by stunning high mountains, Innsbruck is renowned for its winter sports – it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, as well as the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics.
It's home to lots of interesting museums including its own Audioversum, an interactive science centre around hearing, and the Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art – which includes arts and crafts, religious folk art and festive costumes of Tirol's past. There's even Grassmayr Glockenmuseum where you can learn more about the Grassmayr family’s 400 years of bell-making and, rather wonderfully, can have a go at ringing a few bells yourself.
It also has unique mountain trams, views to die for from everywhere you look and some of the most beautiful old architecture in the world. This is certainly where you can get your city culture and your outdoor adventure fix, all in one hit. Read on to discover more about the capital city of Tirol in western Austria.
Where to stay
For those of you who love to ski or snowboard in winter, or hike and cycle in summer, we suggest splitting your break in two – staying up in the mountains for the first leg of your trip and finishing up in Innsbruck itself.
For great value for money, we suggest the 4* Hotel Mooshaus in Kühtai. A night’s stay costs from €103 pp (two sharing) and includes access to an Endless Sky Pool – a beautiful infinity pool that looks out across the surrounding snow-capped mountains. A day’s lift pass in Kühtai costs from €25 per adult and €15.50 per child – not bad for the Capital of the Alps.
Then, when you're ready to go back down the mountain, the aDLERS Hotel in Innsbruck costs from €67.50 per person (two sharing) per night. A contemporary hotel and considered to be the city's latest hotspot, you can sip a cocktail and enjoy a panoramic view from its 12th-floor bar, watching the sunset over Innsbruck.
You could also try Nala, a charming boutique hotel in a quiet neighbourhood of Innsbruck. Every room is unique and we especially love the cute bar on the ground floor.
Things to do in Innsbruck
Before you do anything else, grab yourself a 24-hour Innsbruck Card, which costs from €39 each. Other cards available cover 48 or 72 hours. It'll give you access to loads of stuff for free or offer generous discounts.
Start your adventure by exploring Innsbruck's old town. It's over 800 years old and home to many sights and attractions that reflect the city's colourful history. The Golden Roof, for example, was where Emperor Maximilian I watched jousting tournaments during his day – its museum is definitely worth a visit. Or there's the magnificent Imperial Palace where lavish celebrations were held in its incredible ornate interiors. Not forgetting Hofkirche, one of Europe's finest royal court churches.
Ambras Castle, meanwhile, is one of the biggest attractions in Innsbruck, and one you'll particularly like, as it's linked to Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595), who promoted the arts and sciences as a true Renaissance prince. He established the magnificent Ambras collections and had a museum facility built in the lower castle to house them, designed according to modern criteria from the time. Today, it's home to the Habsburg Portrait Gallery where you can see the work of famous artists such as Lukas Cranach, Anton Mor, Tizian, van Dyck and Diego Velásquez.
There are many walking tours available if you fancy letting someone else do all the hard work and showing you the main attractions. We recommend the "Classic Walking Tour", which gives you an excellent overview of Innsbruck's fascinating history.
At some point during your trip, you simply must visit Bergisel – a ski jump designed by the late great Zaha Hadid. Either take the stairs (there are more than 450 steps) or enjoy a quick ride up in its lift. There's a viewing platform offering a breathtaking panorama of the Nordkette range. You can even enjoy some food here in its own restaurant.
Then, clinging to rock at the foot of the Nordkette mountain range, there's Alpenzoo where you can get close to alpine wildlife. Take a short walk up the hill from Hungerburg to see golden eagles and chamois.
Where to eat
Our top spot for breakfast in Innsbruck goes to Breakfast Club. With all-day breakfast and brunch, you can expect decent coffee and something to suit all tastes – we enjoyed a little of the organic bread and local cheeses. Or there's Cafe Sacher in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, offering quite the old world Habsburg charm. For snacks on the go, try a strudel from the bakery at Kröll.
If you want to try something authentically Austrian for lunch or dinner, then Die Wilderin is a good shout. Based in Innsbruck's old town, the chef Alexander Reis cooks up modern interpretations of Austrian classics, including tender boiled rump of ‘Tyrolean Grey’ beef and succulent roasted duck. Or perhaps Stiftskeller is more your cup of tea – it's a bit more laidback with a large beer garden and lots of hearty pub grub.
Another recommendation for food is Bistro Gourmand, a French restaurant that isn't the cheapest option but certainly deserves a mention. Chef Thierry Aragona's menu of classic Mediterranean dishes will not disappoint. Or, for a meal with a great view of the Alps, check out Lichtblick on the seventh floor of Rathaus Galerien (there are lots of decent vegetarian and vegan options available here too).
Where to drink
In Austria, you've got to try a little of its local craft beer. Tribaun is a good place to start. It offers a particularly helpful beer tasting experience where, for 90 minutes, you can learn the difference between ale, lager, stout, porter, IPA and pale ales. Nice.
If you're still standing after that, then head to Moustache – an excellent café during the day but, more importantly, a craft beer bar at night. Or there's Elferhaus, a popular haunt for the creative crowd in the old town. This is where you'll find a huge range of beers and hot meals served all day, all at very reasonable prices.
For something a little more sophisticated, we recommend 360°, a decent wine bar and lounge with – you guessed it – 360-degree views of Innsbruck from its balcony.