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How To Spend a Weekend in Innsbruck, Austria’s Altstadt in the Alps

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Updated: 12th October 2023

Innsbruck, Austria’s fifth largest city, might not be as famous for culture and classical music as the likes of Salzburg or Vienna, but its reputation as a snowy winter wonderland – especially with skiers and snowboarders – has been celebrated for centuries, long before the city first hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964. But that doesn’t mean all the best things to do in Innsbruck are winter sport focused, and if you venture to Austria in summer, you’ll enjoy an excellent weekend city break with plenty of castles, culture, museums and mountains to keep you busy.

Personally, I’m much happier up in the jagged snow-capped peaks with hiking boots on rather than skis, and during a long weekend in Innsbruck, you’ll have plenty of chances to explore the trails across the city’s loftiest peaks as well as everything else this underrated European city has to offer. With cable cars and funiculars practically delivering you from the gorgeous Altstadt (Old Town) to the highest points in around 30 minutes, you can easily combine a city break with your nature fix here.

Innsbruck's storied Old Town is a treat
Innsbruck’s storied Old Town is a treat

Two days in Innsbruck is a good amount of time to get a feel for the city and explore some of the best museums and attractions, but if you want to spend a few solid days hiking, then I’d suggest extending this Innsbruck itinerary – especially if you also wish to take day trips into the magnificent countryside that makes the Tyrol region of Austria a true outdoors playground.

From learning about the Habsburg dynasty and Tyrolean culture to afternoons hiking amongst nature, here’s how to spend a summer weekend in Innsbruck, planned out as either a two-day or three-day itinerary.

Is the Innsbruck card worth it? (and other FAQs)

If you plan to experience most of the top things to do in Innsbruck during your visit, then the Innsbruck card is a great investment. In most cities, I don’t recommend these cards, as it’s often hard to get real value from them. However, in Austria, I generally find they are worthwhile, especially when you account for how much individual lift passes are. 

With free access to palaces, the Swarovski Crystal World, a few different cable car rides (including the Nordkette) and the Bergisel ski jump, the savings soon add up. I’ve highlighted in the article which things in this Innsbruck itinerary are included, and you can see a savings calculator here.

When is the best time to visit Innsbruck?

Innsbruck is a city of two stories; in winter, you’ll find skiers and snowboarders strolling the streets clutching their gear, either heading up or returning from the snow-capped slopes of one of Europe’s best winter destinations. With highs of around 4°C and lows slipping below zero, this is a true winter wonderland with Christmas markets and pistes in full swing. Innsbruck in summer, however, is a different story, and temperatures regularly reach around 25°C in July and August.

If you’re coming to enjoy all the best things to do in Innsbruck that aren’t snow-related, then summer (or late spring and early autumn) is the best time to visit – although in the shoulder months such as March, April and October, you’ll still have plenty to do between the museums and local attractions, often with better deals on accommodation.

Another benefit of visiting during summer is the Innsbruck welcome card which is offered complimentary by participating partner hotels between May and October if you’re staying for at least two nights. The card has various benefits, such as free public transport, some guided tours and other activities. This differs from the Innsbruck card, which I’ve discussed in further detail above.

Is Innsbruck worth visiting?

Innsbruck is one of the best cities to visit in Austria and well worth a trip, no matter if you want to hike in the mountains, visit cultural attractions and museums, or just enjoy strolls around a historic centre while enjoying Tyrolean and Austrian cuisine and beers. I’d suggest at least two days in Innsbruck to experience the city, although you could also use it as a base to explore more of the nearby nature.

Should you visit Innsbruck or Salzburg?

If you’re deciding between Innsbruck or Salzburg, then the answer is really both. Each city has its own charm and attractions, with Innsbruck perhaps being better suited to nature and outdoor activities, while Salzburg is more about culture and classical music. Still, they both are great gateways to all of Austria’s natural attractions and perhaps after spending two days in Innsbruck, you could take the train (it’s only two hours) to enjoy a visit to Salzburg too.

Does Innsbruck have an airport?

To make the most of this Innsbruck itinerary, you’ll want to arrive as quickly and easily as possible, and the city’s airport is just 20 minutes by bus from the centre. In winter, there are more seasonal flights. However, in summer, the airport is connected to London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and other major European cities. You could also travel to Innsbruck flight-free from the UK, I’ve shared the route I took at the end of this article.

Does Innsbruck have snow year-round?

During my long weekend in Innsbruck in June, I found the Nordkette range still, with some now at its highest points. While this is certainly not skiable, it does add a bit of magic to the setting, and given the height of the range (over 2250 metres), a little fresh snow in the summer isn’t out of the question.

Things to do in Innsbruck: your weekend guide

My suggestions for this weekend in Innsbruck itinerary are based on arriving Friday and then departing on Sunday or Monday (if a long weekend). All suggestions should work with the varied opening hours; however, it’s always best to check closing times to check that you experience everything there is to do in Innsbruck without any unexpected closures, especially as these are summer opening hours and in winter, they could vary.

Arrival and Check-in: where to stay in Innsbruck

After getting to Innsbruck, it’s time to dump the bags and head out for dinner – but where should you stay for your long weekend in Innsbruck? Luckily, you have plenty of choices – from city-centre hotels to more country-style Alpine lodges on the fringes. Here are a few of my central suggestions of where to base yourself. 

Budget(ish) – Montagu Hostel

Innsbruck and Austria aren’t the most wallet-friendly countries, but there are a few hostels in the city, and this is one of the most popular choices for a reason. Set just across the bridge from the Old Town, the clean and modern wooden decor is pretty chic for a hostel, and there is a range of dorm options, including pod-style and bunk-free choices – check reviews and prices here. There are also a few campsites not far from the city.

Stage 12 Hotel by Penz is right on the main square
Stage 12 Hotel by Penz is right on the main square

Mid-range – Ibis Hotel

I’m really not a fan of chain hotels, but I had a really late arrival at the station and so I booked my first night here. It’s a pretty modern Ibis, has a 24-hour reception, and is literally in front of the bus and train stations, so it works as a fair-priced and relatively central stay. Check prices.

Premium – Stage 12 Hotel by Penz

This is where I stayed for my most recent visit, and the cocktail bar (one of Austria’s most popular and award-winning) is what really put this hotel on the map. There are a lot of good things about the family-operated Stage 12 – the sauna is fantastic, the aforementioned bar, the city centre location (it’s right on the main square), modern and comfortable rooms, and the very generous breakfast buffet. However, you’ll want to choose either a mountain or Old Town view room to make it worthwhile, as the view from my standard room (into an office building, with little privacy) was a bit disappointing. Check prices.

Colourful houses by the river during summer in Innsbruck
Colourful houses by the River Inn before dinner

Friday night: River Inn strolls followed by dinner and drinks

If you’re lucky enough to arrive before sunset, there is no better place to enjoy an orientation walk than along the River Inn, which cuts through the city. Stroll through the Old Town and head towards the Mariahilf district, where pastel-hued houses in mustards, baby blues and salmon pink line the river.

Once back on the Altstadt side, you’ll find a lively nighttime environment around the Markthalle, where evening entertainment and bands (in summer) provide a perfect start to your two days in Innsbruck. There are a few restaurant choices near the river, such as Glorious Butcher or Soultans, or you’re just moments from the Old Town if you’d prefer something a little more traditional.

Innsbruck's Golden Roof dazzles alongside the summer beer serving terraces
Looking down on Innsbruck Old Town from the City Tower

What to do in Innsbruck on day one (Saturday)

Day one of this Innsbruck itinerary is going to focus on the main highlights, both in the Old Town but also the city’s most famous mountain range, the Nordkette. These things to do in Innsbruck can be easily bundled together into a self-guided walking tour thanks to the Altstadt’s compact size.

Morning: Old Town (Altstadt) Walking Tour including the Golden Roof and City Tower

Enter the Altstadt via the Triumphal Arch (Triumphpforte), one of the city’s most famous landmarks and gateways to the Old Town. Constructed in an Italian style, the entrance was built on the order of Empress Maria Theresa (you’ll be learning plenty more about her over this Innsbruck weekend) as both a memorial for her husband and to honour her son.

From here, follow the Maria-Theresien-Straße, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, which also acts as a pedestrianised square in parts, to the early 18th-century Annasäule column, soaring in the middle. Continuing straight ahead, you’ll arrive at the City Tower (Stadtturm), which offers some of the best views of the city from above. The tower is open from 10 AM – 5 PM and included in the Innsbruck Card.

Back on ground zero, you’ll be in the heart of the Altstadt, where some of the city’s most iconic and beautiful architecture surrounds the small square. On one side, you’ll see the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) shimmering with more than 2500 gilded copper tiles above the frescoed balcony. Constructed around 500 years ago on the instruction of Emperor Maximilian I, it’s the most famous thing to do in Innsbruck, although many of the works of art have now been moved into the city’s museum for protection.

Another architectural highlight in the same spot is the ornate Hölbling Haus, with its beautiful baroque facade. If you’re lucky, classical musicians will be performing here, so grab a table for a coffee. Alternatively, the grand Dom Cafe-Bar makes a fantastic espresso a short stroll away.

Enjoy views across Innsbruck from Restaurant Seegrube
Enjoy views across Innsbruck from Restaurant Seegrube

Lunch: Restaurant Seegrube

While the Old Town is a great place to enjoy lunch, I’d personally suggest heading up the mountains to eat instead. From the Golden Roof, you can easily and quickly walk to the Innsbruck Station Congress, where the funicular-like inclined railway will take you to the first Hungerburgbahn station. From here, ride up to the Nordkette Mountain Range, arguably the best place to visit in Innsbruck. It only takes around 30 minutes the whole way. If you have the Innsbruck Card, the funicular and gondola are included (which is one of the card’s biggest savings).

Stop at the Seegrube station, where a restaurant of the same name has excellent views overlooking Innsbruck below. Here, you can order some traditional Tyrolean mountain dishes to keep you powered throughout your weekend in Innsbruck. There might be a bit of a wait for an outside table, as the dishes are pretty reasonably priced for the location (around €20), but you can enjoy the views or walk around the Path of Perspectives, with its overhanging viewpoints and chill-out areas.

The Nordkette landscape feels a world away from Innsbruck's Old Town
The Nordkette landscape feels a world away from Innsbruck’s Old Town

Afternoon: Explore Nordkette, the ‘Top of Innsbruck’

After lunch, it’s time to ride the final stretch of the cable car (also included in the Innsbruck Card) to the ‘Top of Innsbruck’. Even in summer, you’ll find a very different landscape from the lower level here, and I found a fair chunk of snow even in late June.

From the highest viewpoint at 2334 metres, you’ll enjoy panoramic views across the valley, while behind, you can admire the jagged-toothed views of the Nordkette, which is part of the Karwendel, Austria’s largest nature park. Taking a hike around this area is perhaps one of the top things to do in Innsbruck, so there might be some lines for the gondola, but once you see those cinematic landscapes, I’m sure you’ll be in awe like I was. Sadly, in summer, the cable car closes before sunrise, although for those who fancy it, you can make an alternative route back down on foot.

A typical Tiroler Grostl with a view at Flo Jos
A typical Tiroler Grostl with a view at Flo Jo’s Restaurant

Evening Dinner & Drinks: Flo Jo’s and Cafe Bar Moustache

If you’re following this Innsbruck itinerary for the weekend, then it’s Saturday night, meaning there’s plenty of nightlife to enjoy in the city. For dinner, I’d recommend Flo Jo’s in the Old Town as it’s on a nice quiet corner away from the more touristy streets, and it has a good choice of burgers and modern cuisine alongside traditional dishes and decent beers. I actually had the best Tiroler Gröstl (a typical dish of potatoes, beef, bacon and egg) of my trip here on the terrace, enjoying the views, before moving into the funky interior to try a few other beers.

There are plenty of other great bars I visited, but one I particularly liked for its laid-back vibe and decent beer selection was Cafe Bar Moustache (cash only). It’s open to 2 AM, which is a bonus if you want somewhere to enjoy a more peaceful beer in the early hours.

Rear views of the Hofkirche - Photo's aren't allowed inside the Hofberg
Rear views of the Hofkirche – Photos aren’t allowed inside the Hofberg

What to do in Innsbruck on day two (Sunday)

If you just have two days in Innsbruck, then this second day presents a couple of options, depending on whether you prefer the mountains or museums. You might also want to consider the things to do in Innsbruck on day three below to plan the best day to suit your interests. 

Morning: Hofburg, Hofkirche and the Tyrolean Folk Art Museum

There’s a decent collection of museums in Innsbruck, but trying to cram them all into one visit wouldn’t be fun. These three were my favourites, and given a few hours, they will provide you with an insight into the city’s history and the culture of the greater region too. All three of these museums are included in the Innsbruck Card.

I’d suggest starting at the Imperial Palace (Hofburg – 9 AM – 5 PM) as early as possible, as it is one of the most popular things to do in Innsbruck. Inside photos aren’t allowed, but it’s a rather grand space with some very interesting exhibitions, both in the permanent and temporary spaces. Another of Emperor Maximilian I’s contributions to the city, the building dates back to 1500, the same as the Golden Roof. However, much of what you see now is the influence of Maria Theresa, the Habsburg Empire ruler from 1740-1780. She adored Innsbruck and this palace, and much money was spent on decorating and renovating the space; future rulers also left their marks, although none quite like she did.

Across the street, you can then visit the Court Church (Hofkirche) and Tyrolean Folk Art Museum, which are accessed through the same entrance and open from 9 AM – 5 PM. It won’t take too long to visit the Hofkirche, which is most famous for the life-size sculptures that act as ‘guards’ to Emperor Maximilian I’s tomb.

The museum, however, I found even more fascinating – apart from the quite creepy life-size model room – as they have reconstructed traditional and typical rooms from homes across the region inside, allowing for a real glimpse into Tyroleon culture. The other exhibitions on arts, crafts and costumes (the woodwork especially is exquisite) will take at least one hour to appreciate.

Views from Das Kofel up the Patscherkofel
Views from Das Kofel up the Patscherkofel

Lunch: Ludwig Burgers or Das Kofel up the Patscherkofel

Depending on which of the following options on this Innsbruck itinerary you choose next, here are two lunch options. I highly recommend Ludwig Burgers in the Old Town, which serves some excellent choices using interesting local produce, or the Das Kofel restaurant atop the Patscherkofel for more mountain panoramas from the wide windows. I only stopped here for coffee, but the huge portions looked as delicious as the views.

Afternoon option one: Patscherkofel for more mountains

Nordkette isn’t the only easily accessible mountain range from Innsbruck, and the Patscherkofel across the other side of the valley is another great often. Less lofty, the trails here are more typical Alpine, and I enjoy a nice stroll here, stopping at the Alpine Botanical Garden as Das Kofel for breaks. The cable car station is easily connected to the Old Town by bus, and there are a few cute villages, such as Iglis, you might want to stop at on the way. The transport and gondola are included in the Innsbruck Card.

Swarovski Kristallwelten shimmers even brighter in summer
Swarovski Kristallwelten is a fantasty land

Afternoon option two: Swarovski Kristallwelten (and Hall in Tirol)

Even now, I’m still a bit speechless about Swarovski Kristallwelten (9 AM – 6 PM), as it’s like stepping into a fantasy world. After walking through a giant garden head decorated by Swarovski crystals (the company was founded here), you’ll be whisked into a whimsical selection of rooms where snow falls, star-studded outfits worn by stars on red carpets, and all and any kind of imitation diamond artwork you could think of. There’s also a gorgeous garden – with more crystal decorations – looking out onto the Alps.

It’s a hard place to try and describe, but seeing as Kristallwelten is included in the Innsbruck Card (including the bus transfer), it’s worth a visit if you’re curious. On the way back, stop off in Hall in Tirol, a pretty town with some beautiful buildings.

Traditional plates and decor at Stiftskeller
Traditional plates and decor at Stiftskeller

Evening Dinner: Stiftskeller

If you’re ready for another traditional dinner, then I can’t recommend Stiftskeller enough, which in turn, was suggested to me by a local. It has a huge beer garden terrace in the old town, but eating inside is a good idea due to the traditionally decorated wooden-clad dining room with frescoes. If sampling a variety of traditional dishes is one of the main things you want to include on your Innsbruck itinerary, this place is a goldmine. Schnitzel, roasted porks, cheese spaetzle (pasta-like dish), and goulash all feature, alongside a decent choice of Austrian beers – this place has even been brewing its own since 1516.

Zaha Hadid's Bergisel Ski Jump is a year-round sporting wonder
Zaha Hadid’s Bergisel Ski Jump is a year-round sporting wonder

More things to do in Innsbruck on day three

If you are able to enjoy Innsbruck for a long weekend, then there are a few more famous sights around the city’s limits to explore. Alternatively, you could consider taking a day trip slightly further afield. 

Morning: Bergisel Olympic Ski Jump

One of the most famous reasons to visit and things to do in Innsbruck in winter is skiing, and even if you come here in summer, you can still spot some daredevil jumps at the Bergisel Olympic Ski Jump site. The jumpers usually practise between 10 AM and 12 PM, but the location is equally as impressive as the tower designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid whose modern building now occupies one of the venues from the 1964 Winter Olympics. Even if you only have two days in Innsbruck, you might still want to make an hour to come here, especially as it’s included in the Innsbruck Card.

Views from Restaurant SKY at the Bergiselweg, Innsbruck
Views from Restaurant SKY at the Bergiselweg, Innsbruck

Lunch: Restaurant SKY at the Bergiselweg 

The restaurant, which looks over the ski jump at Bergisel, has some of the best views in the city, so if you’re already here, why not grab a bite to eat? I only had coffee and apple strudel – absolutely delicious – but they have a full lunch menu. Just be sure to get in as close to lunchtime as possible to get one of the tables next to the windows for the best views. 

Ambras Castle, Innsbruck, backed by mountains
Ambras Castle, Innsbruck, backed by mountains

Afternoon: Ambras Castle

Fancy squeezing another castle into your Innsbruck itinerary? Then hop on the tram to Ambras Castle (open 10 AM – 5 PM), included in the Innsbruck Card. I actually found Ambras more interesting than the Hofburg, so it makes for a solid alternative option to the city centre palace too.

Claiming the often disputed title of the ‘Oldest Museum in the World’, there is a fascinating collection here, including a very intriguing and somewhat vulgar ‘Plate of Fools’. You’ll also find all the usual suspects: armour, portraits and sculptures, alongside some more unique pieces, such as the Ottoman collection. Another heyday castle of the Habsburg Dynasty, there’s an interesting story about hidden love which unfurls in these 16th-century walls, alongside some impressive grand rooms, with the Spanish Hall a particular standout.

Two arrows point to different view points against a snowy backdrop
Where to next?

Day trips from Innsbruck

There are some fantastic day trips nearby to Innsbruck, both in the Tyrol mountains and also other towns, villages and sparkling lakes. Plus, you could always consider travelling to another city, such as Salzburg – however, these are all a little closer.

Escape to Lake Achensee

One of the most impressive lakes in the region of Tyrol, turquoise-fringed Lake Achensee is dreamy, making it an ideal day trip on a summer’s day. By car, it will take around one hour, while public transport involves a train to Jenbach followed by two buses – if planned well, the journey will take around 80 minutes.

Fortress side-trip to Kufstein

Kufstein is a smaller town to the west of Innsbruck and is most popular for the imposing Kufstein Fortress, which towers above surveying the river. Sadly, I only spotted it from the train, but if you wish to enjoy a day trip here, it will only take 40 minutes by rail.

White water rafting on the River Inn

If you’d like a little more adrenaline when planning what to do in Innsbruck, why not go on an alpine white water rafting adventure along the River Inn, the same body of water which cuts through the city.

Summer hiking trails in Innsbruck, atop the Patscherkofel
Summer hiking trails in Innsbruck, atop the Patscherkofel

How to get to and around Innsbruck, Austria

It’s easy to explore all the best things to do in Innsbruck by public transport – especially if you have the Innsbruck card, as it includes most transport. The city has trams and buses, and the local trains are also great for reaching nearby places. That said, for much of the city centre, exploring by foot is easy – it’s flat and relatively compact. If you plan to visit the mountains as part of your Innsbruck itinerary, the funiculars and cable cars are well appreciated and help to ensure the Alps are accessible for all. 

Travelling to Innsbruck by train and public transport

If you’re coming from elsewhere in Austria, reaching Innsbruck is pretty quick and easy. From Salzburg, it takes around two hours, while Vienna is around six hours.

My corridor breakfast on the OBB Nightjet
My corridor breakfast on the OBB Nightjet

Travelling to Innsbruck flight-free from the UK by train

If you want to visit Innsbruck from the UK without flying, the best option is to arrive by train, although the bus also works, and I found the scenic daytime journey through Switzerland rather spectacular as I was coming from spending two days in France.

To make the most of your long weekend in Innsbruck by train from the UK, you’ll want to take the Eurostar from London to Amsterdam in time to make the OBB Nightjet service to Innsbruck, which departs at 19:30, arriving in Innsbruck just after nine am. I’ve ridden the Nightjet both in the seating carriages (which, being six seats facing each other, wasn’t so comfortable) and in the couchette option, which was much nicer thanks to the wake-up call breakfast, showers, and bed. If you book in advance, you’ll get the best deals.

On the return journey to London, I actually went back via Nuremberg and Frankfurt, two cities I’d wanted to call in for a while, before taking the night bus to get the early-morning Eurostar from Brussels. Whichever way you go, there are plenty of options for other pit-stop destinations en route.

Travelling to Innsbruck by plane

In winter, there are more seasonal flights. However, in summer, the airport is connected to London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and other major European cities.

Hiking The Asitz Mountain is one of the best things to do in Austria
Hiking The Asitz Mountain is one of the best things to do in Austria after visiting Innsbruck

Where to travel after Innsbruck

If you’re planning a weekend in Innsbruck as part of a longer trip in Austria, then you’re in luck; it’s easy to get between the country’s main cities and attractions by train.

From here, you could continue to explore all the top things to do in Salzburg (two hours by train), explore Saalfeden Leogang (a little over two hours) and hike my favourite peak, The Asitz Mountain, or continue to enjoy one of the best Austrian city breaks in Vienna, the country’s grand capital (around five to six hours).

There are so many amazing things to do in Austria, including some lesser visited spots like the sustainable city of Graz, which is a bit of a detour, one of my favourite cities in Europe – here’s my city guide to Graz to get you started!

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