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3 Ways to Experience Innsbruck, the Capital of the Alps

Whether you’re an artist, athlete, or historian, Innsbruck offers discoveries for all.

Copy of (c) Innsbruck Tourismus _ Tom Bause.jpg

The Zaha Hadid-designed Bergisel Ski Jump Tower in Innsbruck

Innsbruck Tourismus/Tom Bause

Austria’s central location in Europe has given it significant historic and cultural influence, impacting its neighbors and reaching around the world. Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in Innsbruck, where the Imperial Palace once served as the seat of the Habsburg Empire. Today, you can explore the palace’s hallowed halls and dozens of other baroque and Gothic architectural gems against panoramic views of surrounding Alpine mountain ranges. And if you associate mountains with beauty and adventure, there are views from the top at Bergisel Ski Jump, where you can watch some of the world’s most elite winter athletes train.

Immerse yourself in history at Ambras Castle

Ambras Castle

Ambras Castle

Innsbruck Tourismus/Christof Lackner

Innsbruck’s mountains are truly majestic. While the city center is a treasure trove of historic jewels waiting to be discovered, it’s worth starting your exploration further afield at Ambras Castle, a medieval fortress surrounded by lush gardens and verdant forests. It’s easy to see why the castle was Archduke Ferdinand II’s favorite residence and the center of the court’s cultural life.

Ambras Castle is considered the world’s first museum, and it still houses an impressive collection of armory and the Habsburg Portrait Gallery. The resplendent display is a comprehensive introduction to those who were a part of the world’s most storied monarchies. Among these is Emperor Maximilian I, for whom Innsbruck’s iconic Golden Roof was crafted in the city center from 2,657 copper tiles in honor of his wedding. Construction of the Imperial Palace, the official seat of the Habsburg Empire, was completed during his reign in 1500, and the gates of its baroque facade are open to the public for tours.

Discover culture, craftsmanship, and cuisine in the Tirolean Valley and beyond

Innsbruck is one of Austria’s epicenters for music and art, a legacy that dates to the monarchy. Centuries ago, the Court Theatre entertained Archduke Ferdinand Karl and his guests, but today, all are welcome to take in dance and theater performances and concerts. This impressive neoclassical theater is conveniently located just across from the palace.

The lush gardens at Swarovski Crystal Worlds are just as much a marvel as the sparkling Chambers of Wonder exhibits.

The lush gardens at Swarovski Crystal Worlds are just as much a marvel as the sparkling Chambers of Wonder exhibits.

Swarovski Crystal Worlds

For those seeking something more contemporary, Swarovski Crystal Worlds is a one-of-a-kind experience in the valley near the company’s headquarters in one of Austria’s most storied centers of craftsmanship. Founded by Daniel Swarovski in 1895 in Wattens, just outside of Innsbruck, Swarovski’s location was chosen for its bountiful rushing waters and hydroelectric power. Today, a topiary pond in the center pays homage to that history, with glittering treasures spread over 18 acres of pristine land. Inside, 18 futuristic Chambers of Wonder exhibits play tricks on the eyes in the best possible ways.

If you choose audio over optical, summer visitors can enjoy lyrical treasures of antiquities during the Innsbruck Festival of Early Music, when classic operas and rare pieces of music fill Tirol’s capital in July and August.

No trip to Innsbruck would be complete, however, without some of Austria’s most iconic entertainment: yodeling. Long before satellites and cell phones, yodeling was used to communicate across short distances in the Alps, and the tradition lives on as a local custom and entertainment. During a Tirolean Evening Show, you can enjoy folk dances and traditional costumes, too, served with a smile and Alpine comfort foods like Tiroler gröstl, a hearty dish with bacon, onions, and potatoes.

When adventure is in your nature, go to Nordkette

The cable car in Nordkette

The Nordkette cable car brings you to the Top of Innsbruck.

Innsbruck Tourismus/Christof Lackner

Comfort food like kasspatzln, or spätzle (small pasta-like dumplings with cheese), comes as second nature when recreation or transportation involves hiking or ascending great heights. You’ll find some of the best at 1809, the pretty glass-enclosed restaurant at Bergisel Ski Jump Tower, one of Innsbruck’s most iconic landmarks.

The snow sports-loving city has hosted the Olympics twice, and on many days, you can watch competitors train atop the Nordkette mountain range. The futuristic tower and the Hungerburgbahn funicular were both designed by late star architect Zaha Hadid. The funicular’s modern lines resemble a sleek glacier, and its cable cars put the “fun” in funicular—many are worth a ride for the views alone. You can also take the funicular and switch seamlessly to the gondola to reach Nordkette Mountain’s peak.

True adventurers, however, will want to ascend Patscherkofel mountain to hike through an 800-year-old pine forest or Mutterer Alm for a fast and furious ride down via Mountain Cart. Innsbruck is one of the few places in the world where you say, “It’s all downhill from here,” and that’s a good thing.

Learn more about Innsbruck, Capital of the Alps while planning your trip to discover some hidden gems in Austria.

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