Tirol's capital, Innsbruck, is a picturesque old town with medieval colorful buildings, surrounded by the Austrian Alps. This was the last destination on my trip to Austria and it was the first time in a week that I saw the bright sunlight. Innsbruck in winter is gorgeous - the snow clad mountains in the backdrop, the freezing waters of the river flowing through the middle of the city, the cozy and cute Christmas markets and the iconic Swarovski Christmas Tree becoming a part of the skyline, are all that makes this lovely town the perfect place to visit.If you have rented a car, you will have the convenience to travel around the town and outside to explore the ski slopes, winter activities, and beautiful mountains. Innsbruck is well connected with buses and trains so you're good even if you haven't been able to rent a car and want to rely on the public transportation.
Suggested to stay: Aldranser Hof
I found this really cute and cozy bed-and-breakfast in a small town located about 15 minutes away from the center of the city. As it was located at a height, the views from the room's balcony were amazing! I saw the best sunrise ever from here, over the snow-capped hills. It is located in Aldrans, which is connected by a half-hourly scheduled bus to the Old Town. Aldrans itself is quite laid back, so I suggest you stay here only if you want to be in a quiet place, with gorgeous views.
Old Town: Golden Roof, Hofburg Imperial Palace & Hofkirche (Court Church)
The Golden Roof in Old Town is one of the most popular places to visit in Innsbruck in winter. You will find a Christmas market right in front of the roof in the month of December. This is also where you will find the colorful buildings, made in the typical Austrian Late Gothic style, with decorated windows. With the snow-capped peaks in the backdrop and cobbled stone streets below, this famous roof is in a building that houses a museum which exhibits elements from the historical times, when this building was constructed.
Not too far from the Golden Roof is the Hofburg Imperial Palace, yet another historical building in the Old Town. This majestic palace is only next to the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna when it comes to the royalty and elegance reflected in its interiors. You can walk into the lavish living rooms, meeting rooms and bedrooms of the imperial Habsburg Dynasty in the 18th century. The ceiling painting and the portraits are worth admiring!
In the same area as the Hofburg Imperial Palace and the Golden Roof is yet another building of historical and religious significance in Innsbruck's Old Town - Hofkirche (court church). This is where the emperor Maximilian I was buried, in the watch of 28 statues lined up one after the other, forming quite an impressive sight. If you're visiting Innsbruck in winter, you will find another cute Christmas market right outside the church. This, however, is not one of the popular ones.
Visiting Salzburg? Read What to do in Salzburg in winter.
This one is a located above the town center, as you ascend over the hills. If you're staying in Aldrans, this is not too far from you. This palace served as the home of Archduke Ferdinand II in the 16th century. A medieval fortress in the 10th century was turned into a Renaissance Castle in the 16th century which is today, one of the largest museums in Tyrol.
One of the most impressive collections in Schloss Ambras is of the armors of warriors from several generations in the Spanish Hall. The lower castle displays some of the most amazing masterpieces from artists in the 16th century, whereas on the floor above, you'll find portraits of several rulers of Tyrol. If you're visiting Innsbruck in winter, you will love how the castle and its grounds are covered with a layer of snow, highlighting its majestic architecture and sober interiors.
The castle grounds are a great place to enjoy a stroll on a winter day.
Visiting Vienna? Read What to do in Vienna in winter.
Swarovski Crystal World
Swarovski Crystal World (or Kristallwelten, as they call it) is where you find the iconic water fountain oozing out of a giant figure's mouth. It is located outside the town, about 20 minutes away from the centre. Although you can find a very unique collection of crystals here, this place is more than a shop. It is an art and adventure park. There is, obviously, a fee to enter the crystal museum (EUR 20) and the interiors are quite mesmerising, with the highlight being the Crystal Cloud, comprising of over 500,000 crystals. If you're not interesting in shelling out money to go inside the museum, you can enjoy a nice walk in the garden outside where the water fountain is located.
If you're visiting Innsbruck in winter, you will find the lake surrounding the fountain frozen and also a massive Christmas tree located right next to the fountain, specially in December. After having seen several pictures of the fountain during summer, all lush green, I was very intrigued with the winter view, laden with snow.
Stroll along the river
The name of Innsbruck is derived from river Inn which flows through the city. If you're visiting Innsbruck in winter, it's the perfect time to enjoy a quiet stroll along the river, with the snow-capped Alps in the backdrop and the colourful houses lining the riverside. This is where you will find one of the best Christmas Markets of the town in the month of December, with a massive Swarovski Christmas Tree in the centre, that comes alive at night with ambient lighting.
Funicular to Nordkette & Seegrube Ski Station
If you are visiting Innsbruck in winter, you must visit Nordkette via the Seegrube Ski Station! Begin your journey with a cable car from the city centre, next to the river Inn, at the Congress Station, to the first stop at Hungerburg. Here, you will find a very small Christmas Market if you're there in December, with unbelievable views of the city below. This is, however, not the end of your journey. From here, you must board the aerial tramway called Nordkette Cable Car, to Seegrube Ski Station. The cost for the cable car to Hungerburg is about €6.80 for a round trip for adults, and €24.30 further up, to Seegrube.
Even if you're not a skiing enthusiast, I urge you to go all the way up to Seegrube Ski Station. Here is where you will find the 'Highest Nightclub in the Alps' called Cloud 9, an igloo bar that can be experienced only during the winter months. Unfortunately, the bar had not yet opened at the time I travelled, they were still setting it up. It usually opens end of December.
Maria Theresien Strasse or Maria Theresa Street is a bustling street, right next to the Old Town, with lots of shops, boutiques, charming cafes and restaurants. The architecture here is a lot more modernised than the Old Town, however, the street is of historical significance too. Long ago, when the Old Town was protected by the fortified walls and could only be entered through St. Jörgen gateway, people began to build their houses in the 'New Town', which is Maria Theresa Street today.
You will find ample places to sit and enjoy a meal or just shop around for souvenirs here. Global brands such as H&M & Northface also have stores in this area. If you're in Innsbruck in winter, specially in the month of December, you will find another one of the most popular Christmas Markets on the Maria Theresien Street - with twinkling trees and modern designs.
Bergisel Ski Jump
The structure of this ski jump will catch your sight while you're driving around in Innsbruck. Even if you're not a skiing enthusiast, you might want to go to the top of this ski jump, only for the fantastic views of the city that you can be lucky to experience from the top, on a clear and sunny day. A viewing terrace and a restaurant at the top of the tower are the perfect places to enjoy unobstructed 360 degrees views and a glass of hot Gluhwein (if you're visiting in December, of course).
If you're not into skiing like me but still want to enjoy some winter sports, there isn't a better place than Olympia SkiWorld near Innsbruck. Depending on what kind of winter activities you wish to experience, you can visit the specific area designated for those activities.
I visited two places - Oberperfuss Rangger Köpfl Ski Resort for tobogganing and Innsbruck-Igls for bobsleigh ride.
Innsbruck-igls is where Olympic level bobsleigh rides are available and if you're visiting Innsbruck in winter, you definitely want to be able to try the Guest Bobsleigh ride. However, you might need to book this is advance and these sell out very quickly! The bob sleigh track is 800-metre-long and the ride reaches speeds of up to 100 km/h. Extremely exhilarating!
Innsbruck-Igls is about 20 minutes away from the city centre of Innsbruck.
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Oberperfuss Rangger Köpfl Ski Resort
The ski resort is accessible by a shuttle bus from Innsbruck. However, since I had rented a car, it was an easy 30- minute drive away from the town centre. I specifically went here for tobogganing, something I really wanted to experience. The ski slope here is for beginners as well as pros and they have night skiing, on a flood-lit slope, available here.
You can rent a toboggan before you board the cable car to the beginning of the toboggan run or even walk (about 2 kms) to the top. The views from the top are absolutely breathtaking and the tobogganing experience was superb!
Try to catch the lovely sunset if you're here. I experienced one of the best sunsets I have ever seen here, with the clouds covering the entire city below and the sky turning orange over the snow-laden peaks. A bar and restaurant located right at the edge offers promising views, with a mug of hot chocolate.