One of the most interesting things you'll discover in Innsbruck is the city's Imperial heritage. Of course the Habsburgs built the Imperial Palace (and you should take your time walking the opulent State Rooms), but there is another palace in town. Well, actually it's a castle and it thrones on a small hill in front of a breathtaking mountain backdrop: Ambras Castle looks like something out of a fairy tale, but there's a lot more to it than just a pretty facade and garden. Inside, the treasures of Archduke Ferdinand II are on display, including the Habsburgs' portraits, armor, and curiosities. Ambras was built to hold Ferdinand's vast collection, making it the oldest museum in the world and a fascinating place to explore in Innsbruck. Check out the stunning Spanish Hall where classical concerts are held in the summertime.
At first glance the headquarters of Swarovski crystal and Grassmayr bells don't have much in common apart from their location near Innsbruck. And yet, both factories-turned-museums are lovingly curated collections of Tirolean culture and success stories of small, family-run businesses. The Swarovski Crystal Worlds dazzle with history and, well, crystal, while the Grassmayr Bell Foundry 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's City Tower helped tower guards keep watch over the city as far back as the Middle Ages and today it's a great spot to gaze over the city and see some incredible 15th century architecture. Once you've gotten your snap of the Golden Roof, which hovers just behind the tower's viewing platform, head south to the Bergisel Ski Jump. This Zaha Hadid designed Olympic ski jump tower is like the sleek, cosmopolitain cousin of Innsbruck's City Tower. It has a viewing platform at the top and between May and October on Wed-Mon at 10am-3pm you can watch ski jumpers soar in front of the impressive Nordkette mountain panorama. In the winter months you might get a view at some official national teams trainings. Make sure to grab a drink or snack at Restaurant Sky at the top!
The Habsburg-constructed Imperial Court Church is certainly the city's most famous house of worship. You can feel the presence of Austria's ruling family in the Gothic memorial of Maximilian I. Wilten Basilica is another stunner on the southern edge of town, rigth by Bergisel ski jump. It's hands-down the most beautiful Rococo church in Austria with interior decorations that look otherworldly. The architects weren't stingy with the gold leaf and made sure that every square-inch was covered with frescoes, stucco, or marble. Legend has it that Roman legionnaires already prayed in the church site some 1600 years ago, giving the Wilten Basilica an ancient and facetted history of devotion.
In Innsbruck you simply have to explore the lofty heights of the Nordkette mountains. Just jump on the Zaha Hadid-designed cable car in Old Town and before you know it, you're standing on top of a teetering Alpine ridge with Insta-worthy views of the city. But the Nordkette can get crowded and sometimes you're craving more of a backcountry experience: Enter the Patscherkofel. This 7,369' mountain sits south of Innsbruck and is a hot tip for hikers, bikers, and skiers in winter. There is a cable car (although no star architect was involved in its construction) and a summit hike for more ambitious outdoor explorers. Rent a mountain bike, visit one of the Patscherkofel's adorable mountain huts for a snack, and enjoy a different perspective of Innsbruck. The Zirbenweg Trail - or stone pine trail - leads through 800-year-old protected stone pine forests on the mountains. It's great for casual hikers and forms part of the Eagle's Walk long distance trail.
There is no shortage of hiking trails in Austria's "Capital of the Alps." The quickest way to get moving is by taking the Nordkette cable car from Old Town and pick a trail that starts at the station. If you want a gentler Alpine experience, try starting your day with some energizing yoga on the Muttereralm instead. The Muttereralm mountain lies south of the city and offers marvelous views of the city with the Nordkette range in the background. Every Wednesday in July and August a group meets at 8am at Muttereralm Park base camp to flow together and enjoy a delicious post-workout breakfast. Greet the sun from up high and feel completely in tune with Innsbruck's incredible natural surroundings. €29 covers the class, breakfast, and the cable car or shuttle bus.