Innsbruck’s Old Town is full of contrasts: Colorful Gothic mansions pop against the mountain backdrop, and centuries-old church spires compete with some of Austria’s most interesting modern architecture. The Habsburgs made Innsbruck their home somewhere around the 1500s, which means plenty of Imperial relics still dot the inner city.
After a bite at adorable Breakfast Club, head to pick up your Innsbruck Card, which gets you access to many of the sights you'll be visiting. Up next is Innsbruck’s landmark, the Golden Roof. It was built for the wedding of Emperor Maximilian I to Bianca Maria Sforza and comprises 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles.
Just behind the Golden Roof, find the Cathedral of St. James, another reminder of the Habsburg’s power over Innsbruck. The opulent Baroque cathedral holds the tomb of Emperor Maximilian III, the great-great-grandson of Maximilian I. Another highlight is the painting of “Mary of Succor” by Cranach above the main altar.
Walk along Burggraben street to one of Innsbruck’s most impressive Habsburg landmarks. The Imperial Palace stretches out against the Nordkette mountain range with a bright Baroque facade. During the 15th century it served as the official seat of the Habsburg Empire and thereby became an important nexus of European power. Take a guided tour of the state rooms, the breathtaking banquet hall, the Imperial apartments, and the place tower.
Hop next door for a look at Innsbruck’s Imperial Court Church, which was meant to be the final resting place of Emperor Maximilian I. His elaborate tomb sits empty (Maximilian’s remains lie near Vienna), but 28 larger-than-life bronze statues of historical figures still watch over the cenotaph. These “Schwarzmander” were created over the span of 53 years and involved contributions from a long list of famed 16th century artists.
Take your lunch at 1905 m (6,250 ft) by going up to Nordkette mountain range! Simply hop on the cable car down in the Old Town and get off at Seegrube station, where a panoramic restaurant waits for you. The menu is packed with Austrian classics like cheese dumplings and of course a classic Schnitzel!
Those who can’t get enough of mountain views should board the Hafelekarbahn cable car and continue on to 7,400 feet (2,256 m). The summit of Hafelekar mountain is just a 10-15 minute easy hike from the cable car and gets you the best-possible panorama over Innsbruck. Snap a photo with the summit cross before making your descent down the mountain to the Alpine Zoo stop.
Innsbruck has one of the highest elevation zoos in Europe: the Alpenzoo nestles against the Nordkette mountains and offers refuge to endangered species that roam the nearby mountains. Visit 2000 animals, which include ibex, marmots, bison, lynx, snow hare, wild boars, wolves, and even Alpine snakes and lizards.
Restaurant Das Schindler has a modern dining room with black chandeliers and a colorfully-lit bar. The food is equally flashy with menu items like braised veal and suckling pig dim sum. Order a la carte, or commit to a 3, 4, or 5-course menu.
Innsbruck’s Court Theater used to entertain Archduke Ferdinand Karl and his guests - today you can attend concerts, dance performances, theater, and other culture events in the heart of Innsbruck. Head over to the neoclassical theater building opposite the Imperial Palace for a night worthy of archdukes and emperors.
Pastries, cakes, and oven-fresh bread line the vitrines at Cafe Munding. Tirol’s oldest cafe cooks up a sweet or savoury breakfast inside a charming Medieval mansion. After loading up on food and coffee, it’s time to head to the Swarovski Crystal Worlds shuttle bus, which is included with your Innsbruck card. The bus takes you to the crystal maker's iconic headquarters in nearby Wattens, where a glittering world of art sprawls across 18 acres of land. Discover 17 "Chambers of Wonder," which are organised like a museum of crystal-inspired art and located next to a decorative pond.
You can either opt for an exclusive lunch at Daniels, Swarovski's in-house gourmet eatery, or make your way to 1809 at Bergisel Ski Jump Tower. This glass-enclosed spot is perfect for travellers who appreciate a dramatic setting as well as a killer "Tiroler Gröstl."
Continue towards the Bergisel Ski Jump, a sleek metal tower that pokes out of the forest. It was designed in the early 2000s by architect Zaha Hadid and routinely hosts some of the world’s elite ski jumpers for training and competitions. Between May and October on Wednesday through Monday you can watch ski jumpers soar, or take the 455 steps to the top if you’re feeling sporty yourself.
Visit the Tirol Panorama Museum, home to one of the few remaining 19th century panoramic paintings showcasing Tirol's struggle for freedom. It was here, in the 19th century, that fierce military battles were fought between the proud Tiroleans and the Kingdom of Bavaria.
To finish out your day of sightseeing, head to the Grassmayr Bell Foundry, which dazzles with tradition and craftsmanship. Grassmayr bells can be heard in over 100 countries around the world and it all starts in the man-sized casts at their Innsbruck foundry. Watch the artisans produce and restore their hefty bells (each one weighs around 10 tons) and learn about why Grassmayr found international success with their brass creations.
Innsbruck is all about local food - especially when it comes to meats and produce. Restaurant Die Wilderin takes this philosophy to the next level by sourcing a highly seasonal menu almost entirely from nearby farms. Find the names and location of the producers right next to the daily offerings of fresh veggies, herbs, and highest-quality meats.
Don’t leave Innsbruck without a visit to the romantic Schloss Ambras, perched on a hillside of the city. Built in the 16th century, it's divided into a lower and an upper castle, and features the remains of a medieval fortress, extensive gardens and forests. This was the emperors’ favourite residence and the centre of his court's cultural life. Schloss Ambras is also home to a museum that houses the Habsburg Portrait Gallery. The Innsbruck sightseer bus and tram line number 6 take you there directly.
Just beyond the castle, Innsbruck's rural side starts to show. Small villages skirt the city, like Lans and Igls, which count among the most beautiful. On a sunny day, you can walk to the town squares of Igls and Lans and experience the rural quiet of their historic hearts. Highlights include the picturesque architecture, golf courses, and the Lanserhof - a ritzy spa hotel with amazing amenities.
Try a real Tirolean village tavern for lunch, such as the Wilder Mann Restaurant in Lans! The restaurant is rustic, cozy, and modern all at once.
A walk around Lake Lans is not only rewarding for outdoor enthusiasts. The gentle landscape surrounding this small lake is easy to navigate and doesn't require more than basic fitness levels. Bask in the views of Innsbruck's iconic mountain panorama and dip your toes in the water of a real Alpine lake! Swimming is allowed, so you might see the locals sunbathe and splash around during the summer months.
Equally popular with Innsbruckians is the cable car to Patscherkofel mountain. This is the domed elevation opposite the Nordkette, which provides great views in summer and even some skiing in winter! Visit the 800 year-old pine forest on top of the mountain before making your way back into the city for a special final evening.
If you are interested in a traditional evening show featuring yodel-songs and folk dances, book a ticket for a Tirolean Evening. A traditional Tyrolean dinner is served at 7:30 pm at the Gasthaus Sandwirt. The show itself, which has been performed by the Gundolf family for over 50 years, starts an hour later. Shows are performed daily from April to October, and 2-3 times a week the rest of the year. Tickets can be booked online, with a special discount available for holders of an Innsbruck Card.