I fell in love with Innsbruck within minutes of stepping off the train. My jaw dropped when the spectacular and imposing Alps came into view as we walked towards our hotel.
The stunning Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings in the Old Town offer some insight into the diverse and prosperous history of the city.
We happened upon Innsbruck by chance. The stars must have aligned, so I wouldn’t miss out on such an incredible city. When planning our route from Munich to Verona, we noticed a train change in a city called Innsbruck. Since we would be stopping anyway, why not check another country off our list?
We managed to squeeze 2 nights in Innsbruck into our summer journey. Had I realized the love we would develop for the area, I would have allowed for more time.
Innsbruck is located in the western part of Austria. The city lies on the Inn River and is bordered by the Alps, with Germany to the North and Italy to the South. It is the capital of Tyrol state and the 5th largest city by population in Austria.
The history of Innsbruck is long and distinguished. Early inhabitants can be traced back to the Stone Age and the area has been populated continuously ever since.
Brenner’s Pass is just 30 km from Innsbruck, it’s proximity allowing the city to flourish as a transit station. It was a major transport and communications link and the easiest path through the Alps connecting the North and South during the middle ages. In 15 B.C. the Romans set up a military town to protect this important Alpine pass.
Emperor Maximilian I resided in Innsbruck in the late 15th century, helping the already prosperous city become a center for European politics and culture.
Tyrol was ceded to Bavaria during the Napoleonic Wars and wasn’t returned to Austria until the early 1800’s. Between 1943 and 1945, Innsbruck suffered 22 bomb attacks causing significant damage to many of the city landmarks such as the cathedral, Wilten and the train station.
Innsbruck is also associated with sporting events and even hosted the Olympics in 1964 and 1976. The 1st Winter Youth Olympic Games were also hosted here in 2012.
Things to Do in Innsbruck with Kids (or Without)
Once we booked the trip and I had time to research the city more thoroughly, I realized there were too many things to do in Innsbruck and not enough time to see it all. We arrived just after lunch, checked into the Hotel Weisses Rössl, then ran out to grab lunch and pickup our Innsbruck Passes.
We knew the Innsbruck city tour started at 2pm, and we wanted to begin our visit by getting acquainted with the city, so we made our way to the tourism office at Burggraben 3. There are tours each day leaving from there. One tour is in German and one in English.
We spent an hour walking with a certified guide through Innsbruck’s Old Town. History, points of interest and tips were all provided as we roamed through the city’s historic center. We stopped at popular spots such as the Golden Roof, Inn Bridge, City Tower and were even let into the old school house. When school attendance first became mandatory, there was only one building to accommodate the approximately two hundred students. My kids were shocked to learn that there was only one bathroom for all those kids 🙂
After our tour, we used our Innsbruck passes to explore the Imperial Palace. Free auto guides are also available. The current exhibition is THE LAST THINGS IN LIFE – An Exhibition about Death and Mourning 1765–2015. It was interesting to see the old death rituals, paintings, statues and photographs of children that died too young. Some of it was a bit much for Lucy, so we limited the amount of time spent there.
We then decided to see more of the city and jumped on the Sightseer hop-on hop-off bus at Congress. The stops are all well marked and commentary is available in six different languages.
We rode the bus through it’s entire route. As there was only one more bus running after the one we were riding, it didn’t leave much time for exploring the other areas and museums. We stopped briefly at Renaissance Château to explore the grounds and also spent a few minutes wandering around the Tirol Panorama Museum to snap a few pictures.
We had dinner at our hotel restaurant on the terrace. It’s one of the most highly rated restaurants in the area, serving Tyrolean specialties. The food and the ambiance were both good, serving as a pleasant ending to an already nice day. But in hindsight, we should have made reservation for an hour later and fit in a visit to Court Church.
We woke up early, had breakfast in our hotel and arrived at the Congress station by 8:30am to take the Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahnen cable cars up the mountain.
On the first leg of our journey, we rode in the Hungerburg funicular car stopping for a visit at the Alpine Zoo. I recommend getting to the zoo when it opens at 9am, so you can let the kids explore, then head the rest of the way up the mountain before it gets too crowded as it does later in the day.
The Alpine Zoo is located in the foothills of the Nordkette and features more than 2,000 animals and 150 species. This distinct zoo only features animals found in the Alps, making it a unique opportunity for kids (and adults) to learn about local animals.
There are 29 exhibits throughout the zoo – all with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. We saw animals such as Roe Deer, European Bison, Alpine Ibex, Moose, Chamois (goat-antelope), Brown Bear as well as many birds and fish species.
At the end of the zoo is a playground complete with swings, slides and a climbing tunnel. My kids found a working mini digger (1€) that they could operate and move around pebbles. They had a blast trying out the controls and seeing who could scoop more buckets of rock.
Be mindful that some of the zoo is relatively steep, so wear comfortable walking shoes. We explored the zoo in approximately one and a half hours with a brief time at the park. If we weren’t on such a time crunch, we would have let them play even longer.
After the zoo, we jumped back on the funicular, riding up to Hungerburg where you can explore the area, then connect to the Panorama Cable Car which takes you to the next station of Seegrube. But you’re not done yet! Climb aboard another cable car line and ride all the way to the highest station of the mountain – Hafelkar. You’ll have ascended 5,564 feet from Innsburck!
We walked up to the peak of the Hafelkar for more incredible views of the valley & Karwendel mountain range. It was quite cold and windy at this station, so ensure you have appropriate clothing.
How high do you go up into the Alpine Terrain?
- Starting at Congress Innsbruck – 560 m or 1,837 ft
- Alpine Zoo – 750 m or 2,460 ft
- Hungerburg -860 m or 2,821 ft
- Seegrube – 1,905 m or 6,250 ft
- Hafelkar – 2,256 m or 7,401 ft
There are many opportunities for outdoor enthusiast on the route. We witnessed many people hiking up the trails (brave souls) or taking the cable cars up the mountain, then choosing to hike down instead of ride. We also saw many people bringing their bikes onto the funicular. In summer, the ski slopes turn into trails for adventurous biking aficionados.
Each stop allows for spectacular opportunities for photographing the surrounding hillside or town of Innsbruck below, relaxing at one the restaurants, exploring museums or lounging in the chairs provided. My kids loved playing at the playground at Seegrube. Derrick and I admired the breathtaking views while the kids ran and played on the mountaintop swings and slides.
After heading back down the mountain to Congress, it was time for a quick lunch and visit to Swarovski Crystal Worlds. This attraction is something you could easily skip if you don’t have a lot of time in Innsbruck. It was interesting and the kids enjoyed it, but waiting around for the shuttle bus does eat up a lot of your day.
Swarovski Crystal Worlds opened in 1995 and is located in Wattens, an approximately 20 minute ride from Innsbruck Congress. The expansive grounds house 14 different attractions including the Giant, gardens, playtower, maze and more.
Start off your tour at the Entrance to the Giant and Chamber of Wonders. Artist André Heller created the Giant to watch over the Chamber of Wonders. The kids enjoyed walking into the Giant behind the waterfall as we entered the Chamber.
There are 16 chambers, each with a unique theme in the world of fantasy. One of the kids favorites was the Ice Passage. As you walk through the corridor, a series of crystalline tracks appear on the path you have taken. They ran back and forth watching the tracks appear and disappear.
More favorites included the Crystal Dome, Silent Night, Into Lattice Sun, Crystal Calligraphy, Eden, FAMOS, Crystal Forest, and Timeless. The artists visions for each chamber was remarkable. You exit the chambers into a huge Swarovski shop. If you are a fan of the crystals, now is the time to pick up a few new pieces.
Next, we wandered through the Art in the Garden and Derrick & I climbed the tower to watch the kids try the maze. The kids then played on the playground before we moved into the Playtower. The Playtower is four levels and at 20 m (65 ft), it’s one of the world’s tallest indoor playgrounds. Inside, one corner is a vertical net that can be climbed to reach each level. Play on trampolines, slide down a wooden hill on mats or through the tunnels under it, walk on ropes and zip down a huge 2 level twisty slide.
Parents are required to be with the children and socks are necessary for play. If you don’t have a pair, you can borrow from an available supply.
After the kids finished playing, we walked to the Crystal Cloud and Mirror Pool. The Crystal Cloud holds over 600,000 crystals! The kids ran down the walkway into the Mirror Pool so we could snap a picture. They said the water looked purple and loved looking at their reflections and how the crystals sparkled in the sunlight.
We finished up our tour looking around the Grand Plaza, then browsing the store.
Swarovski Crystal Worlds was pretty much the end of our day in Innsbruck. Once we arrived back at Congress, all the museums were closed for the night and the kids were exhausted. We walked around Old Town again, meandering through the Imperial Gardens and had dinner at a restaurant along the Inn River. It was a bit of a touristy restaurant, but the food was fine and views lovely.
The next morning we returned to the train station to continue our journey into Italy.
More on Innsbruck Attractions in Old Town:
:: The Golden Roof is located in the center of the Old Town. It is constructed of 2,738 gold-plated copper tiles. It was constructed for Emperor Maximilian I to serve as a royal viewing box, so he could sit and enjoy tournaments in the square below. Look closely at the paintings on the front of the balcony to see an image of the Emperor between his first and second wives.
:: St. James’ Cathedral is over 800 year old. But, due to earthquake damage, it was rebuilt in the 1700’s and again after sustaining heavy damage during WWII.
The inside of the church is exquisite with baroque ceiling frescos and unique stucco work. As you look around the church, try to spot the optical illusions. The ceiling appears to be domed but it is actually painted to give the effect. Looking up to the left wall of the altar, is the Phoenix wing painted or sculpted? Another illusion to spot – looking at the front of the church, can you spot the two painted “windows”?
The massive bronze tomb of Maximilian III resides on the left of the church.
The highlight is the masterpiece “Maria Hilf” painting by Lukas Cranach the Elder. The image of Madonna and Child has been copied thousands of times and can be found painted on buildings throughout Innsbruck.
There is a fee to take pictures. We decided not to pay during our walking tour thinking we would come back later to photograph the church. Unfortunately, time ran out and we didn’t make it back.
:: Imperial Palace was built by Archduke Siegmund the Rich around 1460 in late Gothic style. It changed and expanded many times over the years. The design we see today is from Empress Maria Theresa. She had the palace rebuilt in the Baroque style between 1754 and 1773.
The Giant Hall is one of the most impressive features. Huge oil paintings, all portraits of the imperial family (Maria Theresa’s children and grandchildren), line the walls and beautiful ceiling frescoes of Hercules are ready to be admired.
Another interesting feature of the museum is the Empress Elisabeth’s Apartment from the nineteenth century. Emperor Franz Joseph had the apartments customized for her, but she only stayed in Innsbruck a couple of times.
How Does the Innsbruck Pass Measure Up?
The Innsbruck Card allows travelers to discover museums and attractions free of charge. Public transport, the Sightseer hop-on hop-off bus plus lifts and cable cars can also be used free of charge.
There are 3 cards available:
:: 24 hours
:: 48 hours
:: 72 hours
:: 50% discount for children aged 6 to 15 years.
We had four 48 hour Innsbruck Cards. Now, that seems like a lot of money when paying all at once. However, it works out to a nice savings if you plan to make the most of the activities and transportation included with the card.
Personally, I think the best value would be the 72 hour card. I would have gone this route if we had more time. There were so many activities and museums that we just didn’t have time to experience. Another day of the pass would have been perfect and the price difference is only 6€ per adult and 3€ per child. Just one more museum would have made up that extra cost.
Tip: Present your Innsbruck card at the Swarovski store in Old Town to get a free surprise.
See all the Innsbruck Card savings and rates and savings.
A Few Things We Wanted to Do But Ran Out of Time:
- City bike rental
- Golden Roof Museum
- City Tower
- Court Church
- Grassmayr Bell Museum & Foundry
- Arsenal Museum
- Tirol Panorama and Imperial Infantry Museum (go inside)
- Patscherkofel cable car or Muttereralm gondola lift
We also didn’t use the tram or bus while we were visiting. Public transport is part of the pass and would have been great to get us back and forth to the museums we missed.
Can’t see the video? Click HERE
Not sure where to stay? Read our Hotel Weisses Rössl Innsbruck Review.
That sums up our 48 hours in Innsbruck. Have you been to Austria? What was your favorite city?
Disclosure: I was provided with an Innsbruck card by the Innsbruck tourism board to help facilitate this review.