14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Innsbruck
Innsbruck lies in the wide Inn Valley at the intersection of two important traffic routes between Germany and Italy and between Vienna and Switzerland. One of Austria's most popular year-round vacation destinations, Innsbruck has retained its medieval Old Town with its narrow, twisting streets and tall houses in Late Gothic style. Wherever you are in this fun city, beautiful vistas of the huge ring of mountains surround you: to the north rise the jagged peaks of the Nordkette (North Chain), in the Karwendel range; to the south, above the wooded Bergisel ridge, are the 2,403-meter Saile and the Serles group; and to the southeast, above Lanser Köpfe, lies the rounded summit of the 2,247-meter Patscherkofel, so popular with skiers. The sports facilities built for the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympic Games still draw crowds of skiers and are the scene every year of national and international competitions.
See also: Where to Stay in Innsbruck
1 The Hofkirche and the Emperor's Tomb
Innsbruck's spectacular Court Church, the Hofkirche, was completed in 1563 in the local Late Gothic style. This three-aisled hall-church with its narrow chancel and off-center tower boasts many notable interior features, in particular its 18th-century high altar and side altars, and a choir screen from the 17th century. Other features include the monument to Andreas Hofer, whose remains were deposited here in 1823. The most important part of the church, however, is the spectacular Tomb and Museum of Emperor Maximilian I. Built in the 16th century, it's widely considered to be the finest work of German Renaissance sculpture. Conceived as a glorification of the Holy Roman Empire, the central feature of the monument is its massive black marble sarcophagus with a bronze figure of the Emperor from 1584, surrounded by a wrought-iron screen and 24 marble reliefs depicting events in the Emperor's life. Also of note are the 28 bronze statues of the Emperor's ancestors and contemporaries, including those of Count Albrecht IV of Habsburg and King Arthur of England, the latter regarded as the finest statue of a knight in Renaissance art.
Address: Universitätsstraße 2, 6020 Innsbruck
2 The Golden Roof
The arcaded Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, lined with handsome old merchants' houses, enters the Old Town quarter from the south and makes straight for the famous Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl). This magnificent Late Gothic oriel window, roofed with gilded copper tiles, was built in 1496 to commemorate Maximilian I's marriage to Bianca Maria Sforza and served as a box from which the court watched civic festivities in the square below (the house behind, the Neuer Hof, was a former ducal palace rebuilt in 1822). Made up of 2,657 gilded copper tiles, the Golden Roof's lower balustrade is also worth a look and is richly decorated with coats of arms, while the open balcony above boasts ten figural reliefs.
Address: Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse 15, 6020 Innsbruck
3 The Hofburg
Innsbruck's old Court Palace, the Hofburg - a former imperial residence originally built in the 15th and 16th centuries - was remodeled in Baroque and Rococo style in the 18th century upon instructions from Maria Theresa. Best viewed as part of a guided tour (available in English), highlights include its luxurious apartments with their fine painted ceilings. Particularly memorable is the Giant Hall (Riesensaal), a grand hall in polished marble and decorated in white and gold with many fine portraits of the Imperial family, and three large ceiling frescos from 1775. Other highlights include Maria Theresa's Rooms, Empress Elisabeth's Apartment, the Ancestral Gallery, the Furniture Museum, and the Painting Gallery.
Address: Rennweg 1, 6020 Innsbruck
4 Old Town Innsbruck
With its narrow house-fronts, handsome doorways, oriel windows, and arcaded-façades, Innsbruck's Old Town boasts many fine examples of old Tyrolese architecture and southern influences, along with many sumptuous Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo buildings. The semi-circular quarter of the Old Town, enclosed by a ring of streets known as the Graben (Moat), is now a pedestrian precinct and a wonderful place to pass the time of day. Highlights of a walking tour include the beautiful Baroque Helblinghaus, noted for its splendid stucco façade with cherubs and other decorative ornamentation. Nearby is the 16th-century Golden Eagle (Goldener Adler), an old inn once as popular with emperors as it was with writers like Goethe. Also worth visiting is the 57-meter-high Stadtturm, a watchtower built in the 14th century along with the adjoining Old Rathaus affording great views of the Old Town. Other interesting landmarks include the Ottoburg, a residential tower built in 1494; the Deutschordenshaus (House of the Teutonic Order) built in 1532; and the Burgriesenhaus (Castle Giant's House), built in 1490 for a court giant.
5 The Cathedral of St. James
In the Domplatz, Innsbruck Cathedral (Innsbruck Dom) - formerly the Parish Church of St. James - was raised to cathedral status in 1964. Notable for its imposing twin-towered west front and the high dome over the choir, it was built in Baroque style in 1724 and fully restored after WWII. Interior highlights include its ceiling paintings, particularly the Glorification of St. James; its rich stucco work by the Asam brothers; the High Baroque marble altars from 1732 with a famous image of the Virgin, Maria Hilf, from 1530; and a richly carved 18th-century pulpit. In the north aisle is the imposing monument designed by Hubert Gerhard dedicated to Archduke Maximilian, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. (If possible, try to time your visit to coincide with one of the cathedral's regular concerts.)
Address: Domplatz, 6020 Innsbruck
6 The Tyrolean State Museums
Innsbruck is home to a number of museums of international repute, particularly those under the Tyrolean State Museums umbrella. A must-see is the Tyrolean Folk Art Museum (Tyroler Volkskunstmuseum) adjoining the Hofkirche in the new Abbey (Neues Stift), home to extensive local art collections. Representing a variety of Tyrolese themes, highlights include replicas of brick-built houses with oriel windows from the Upper Inn Valley and half-timbered houses from the Ziller Valley, along with a rich store of costumes, traditional furniture, tools, glass, pottery, textiles, and metalwork. Also worth seeing is the Tyrolean State Museum (Tyroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum) with its rich collections relating to the history and art of Tyrol, including numerous works from the Gothic period, a gallery of Dutch and Flemish masters, and collections from pre- and early historic times. Other notable museums include the excellent Armoury (Museum im Zeughaus), with its collections of weapons and armor, and the fascinating Tyrol Panorama and Imperial Infantry Museum, centered around a huge panoramic painting of the city and region.
Address: Universitätsstraße 2, 6020 Innsbruck
7 Maria-Theresien Strasse
Lined with handsome 17th and 18th-century houses and numerous shops, bustling Maria-Theresien Strasse affords a magnificent vista of the mountains to the north. In the middle of this wide old street, directly in front of the Town Hall (Rathaus), stands St. Anne's Column (Annasäule), erected in 1706 to commemorate the withdrawal three years earlier of Bavarian troops on St. Anne's Day. Surmounted by a statue of the Virgin Mary, St. Anne stands on the base near St. George, the patron saint of Tyrol, and other saints. Also of note is the Altes Landhaus, a monumental Baroque palace built in 1728 with a sumptuous and elaborately articulated façade that now houses the Provincial Assembly and Provincial Government (Landesregierung). Other highlights include a 14-meter-high war Memorial, the Austrian Alpine Association Museum (Alpenverein Museum) with its extensive collection of Alpine art and historic climbing equipment, and the Servite Church built in 1615 with a fresco of the Holy Trinity. Finally, be sure to visit the Triumphal Gateway (Triumphpforte), at the southern end of Maria-Theresien Strasse, erected in 1765 to mark the marriage of her son Leopold (later Emperor Leopold II) to the Spanish Infanta Maria Ludovica.
8 The Hofburg District
In addition to its imperial Court Palace and Church, the area around the Hofburg offers much else worth seeing. Of particular interest is the Silver Chapel, built in 1587 as the burial chapel of Archduke Ferdinand II and named after a silver image of the Virgin and embossed silver reliefs on the altar. Other highlights are the Old University (Alte Universität), founded in 1562 as a Jesuit college, along with the University Library; the Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) with its mighty 60-meter-tall dome built in 1640; the Capuchin Convent (Kapuzinerkloster), built in 1593 and notable for its chapel altar with a painting of the Virgin by Lukas Cranach the Elder from 1528; and the Tyrolean Provincial Theater (Tiroler Landestheater Innsbruck), built in 1846 and home to operas, musicals, dance, and theatrical performances. Also worth visiting is the Hofgarten with its Art and Concert Pavilion.
9 The River Inn Walking Tour
There's no better way to spend time than exploring the beautiful riverbanks and esplanades of the River Inn. A great place to begin your walk is the Mariahilf District, noted for its Baroque Mariahilfkirche from 1649 with its wonderful 17th-century frescos, and the beautiful Botanic Garden and observatory. Next, head for the district of Hötting, home to the splendid Old Parish Church (Alte Pfarrkirche) with its tower rising above the new parish church from 1911. Afterwards, make your way to the Hötting Ridgeway (Höttinger Höhenstrasse) for its fine views of the city and mountains. A good place to end your walk is in St. Nikolaus District a little further downstream, notable for its Neo-Gothic church. Of interest to those in need of a little shopping therapy is the lively Innsbruck Market near the Old Inn Bridge (Alte Innbrücke).
10 Alpenzoo Innsbruck-Tyrol
Just one kilometer north of Innsbruck's Old Town center is the 15th-century Schloss Weiherburg, home to Alpenzoo Innsbruck-Tyrol. This beautifully situated zoo is well known for its collection of mountain animals from the world's Alpine regions - including mammals, birds, and reptiles - and is popular with both experts and tourists alike. All told, more than 2,000 animals from 150 different Alpine species are kept here, along with an abundance of marine life in the world's largest cold-water aquarium. It's a wonderful outing for kids of all ages, and well worth a visit for its views and park-like setting. Just a little further downstream from the zoo, on a hill above the River Inn, is the villa suburb of Mühlau, notable for its attractive Baroque church from 1748.
Address: Weiherburggasse 37, 6020 Innsbruck
11 Ambras Palace
Just a short drive southeast of Innsbruck, Ambras Palace (Schloss Ambras) was the residence of Archduke Ferdinand from 1563-95. In the Lower Castle (Unterschloss) are two rooms containing a fine collection of arms and armor, while on the first floor of the Kornschüttgebäude is a valuable art collection including many sculptures and applied arts. In the Upper Castle (Hochschloss) is the bathroom of Philippine Welser, Ferdinand's wife, along with numerous paintings and sculptures. Of particular note is the splendid Spanish Hall between the Lower and Upper Castles. One of the earliest examples of German Renaissance interiors (it was constructed between 1507-71), it has a beautiful coffered ceiling and many wonderful frescos of Tyrolese nobles on the walls. The grounds and courtyard are also worth exploring.
Address: Schloßstraße 20, 6020 Innsbruck
12 The Bergisel's Olympic Legacy
To the south of Innsbruck rises the 746-meter-tall hill known as Bergisel, famous the world over for its superb winter sports facilities. Highlights include the new Olympia ski-jump (Bergiselschanze) - constructed to replace the earlier Olympic structure - along with its stunning new tower, built in 2003, offering superb views over the city. Long before the Olympics, the hill had become famous as the site of the heroic battles of 1809 when Tyrolese peasants freed their capital from French and Bavarian occupying forces. On the north side of the hill, below the ski jump, stands a memorial to those who fought for their freedom, including the Andreas Hofer Monument built in 1893, a memorial chapel from 1909, and the Tomb of the Tyrolese Kaiserjäger (Imperial Riflemen). The hill is easily reached via the scenic Stubai Valley Railway.
13 Seefeld: Stunning Scenery and Superb Skiing
Well known as Austria's leading ski destination, the best of Innsbruck's many slopes are no more than a short bus ride from the city's hotels and resorts. All told, six different ski areas are linked by shuttle services, with a single ski pass covering in excess of 500 kilometers of trails. The nearby ski village of Igls has spectacular views over Innsbruck and ski runs suitable for all levels, while expert skiers will want to head for the Hungerburg-Seegrube, the gateway to the challenging runs of the Hafelkar. The Axamer-Lizum, the slopes of the village of Axams ten kilometers outside Innsbruck, and the Tulfes and Mutters areas also offer good intermediate terrain. One of the most popular year-round destinations is the small village of Seefeld, now a popular resort. Stretching out over the valley, the village's center is marked by the 15th-century parish church of St. Oswald with its fine frescos, sculptures, Gothic font, and wall reliefs. Also worth visiting is the Wildsee at the southern end of town, an attractive small lake with a beach and swimming pools.
14 Wilten Parish Church and Basilica
In Innsbruck's southern district of Wilten stands one of the finest Rococo churches in northern Tyrol, the twin-towered Wilten Parish Church. Built in 1755, the building's interior is decorated with superb ceiling frescos by Matthäus Günther and stucco-work by Franz Xaver Feichtmayr, while on the high altar is a 14th-century sandstone figure of Mary under the Four Pillars. Opposite the church is the large complex of buildings of Stift Wilten, an old abbey founded in 1138 and remodeled in Baroque style in 1695. Highlights include the 17th-century church with its large Gothic figure of the giant Haymon to whom legend attributes a share in the foundation of the monastery, and the Throne of Solomon above the high altar.
Where to Stay in Innsbruck for Sightseeing
Most of Innsbruck's main attractions are in its medieval Old Town, where narrow streets are lined by tall Late Gothic houses. Hotels in the old center or between it and the rail station are the most convenient, but the streets and esplanades along the opposite bank of the River Inn, in the Mariahilf District, are an easy walk away. Skiers who want to stay in town will find it easy to get to the Seefeld ski slopes, only a short bus ride from the Old Town hotels. Here are some highly-rated hotels in Innsbruck:
- Luxury Hotels: Filled with old-world charm, Grand Hotel Europa faces the rail station, three blocks from the Hofburg, with underground parking. In the shopping district at the edge of the Old Town, The Penz Hotel has a smart and stylish contemporary design. BEST WESTERN PLUS Hotel Goldener Adler is directly opposite the famous Golden Roof on Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, in a beautifully restored historic building.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the heart of the Old Town, on the market square opposite the ski bus stop, Hotel Maximilian is known for its sumptuous breakfasts. Mozart stayed in the historic Hotel Weisses Kreuz, where some of the well-decorated rooms have balconies and mountain views. Rooms on the upper floors of the modern high-rise Hilton Innsbruck, on Maria-Theresien Strasse, between the rail station and market square, also have mountain views.
- Budget Hotels: Basic Hotel Innsbruck is beside the river, just off Marketplatz in the Old Town. In a residential neighborhood along the river, near the zoo and a 20-minute walk from the Old Town, Hotel Heimgartl is in a charming house with free parking. A 10-minute walk from the center, Pension Bistro offers plain, comfortable rooms in an older building with no elevator.
Day Trips from Innsbruck
Swarovski Crystal Worlds
A short drive east of Innsbruck is Swarovski Crystal Worlds, an excellent museum and art gallery designed to showcase the world famous company founded by Daniel Swarovski in 1895. Centered around 14 chambers with impressive displays of artworks in crystal, highlights of a visit include the superb Crystal Dome, the Crystal Theatre, and the enchanting Crystal Forest installations, all displaying unique pieces made by contemporary artists from around the world. Perhaps the centerpiece of the attraction, however, is the fascinating Giant, a large landscaped waterfall in the shape of a human head that spews water from its mouth. (This fun attraction is currently expanding and is due to reopen in May 2015.)
The old Tirolese border town of Kufstein is a popular holiday spot boasting attractive lake scenery and good walking and climbing in the Kaisergebirge. A stroll through the town is very rewarding, taking you past the remains of old walls and moated towers, pleasant squares with their fountains and monuments, and many historical buildings. The highlight of a visit, though, is Feste Kufstein, the beautiful old castle that rears high above the town on a precipitous crag. First recorded in 1205, the fortress is notable for its 90-meter-high Emperor's Tower (Kaiserturm), and the massive Heroes' Organ (Heldenorgel) built in 1931. Boasting 4,307 pipes and 46 stops, it plays daily at noon in memory of those who died in two world wars and can be heard up to 13 kilometers away. The Kaiserturm also houses a local history museum, the Heimatmuseum, and is used as a venue for concerts and festivals.
Address: Kristallweltenstraße 1, 6112 Wattens