24 Hours in Innsbruck: Mountains and Magic…
The snow-covered Alps follow you around wherever you go in the beautiful little town of Innsbruck, tucked away in a cosy corner of Western Austria. Pastel-hued houses line the streets, a sight that is sure to stop you in your tracks as you cross the bridge over the winding Inn river, which incidentally gave the city its name – Innsbruck or the bridge over the river Inn.
We spent 24 hours in this colourful city on our journey through Austria. Here’s a rundown.
4pm: Christmas Magic Begins
Winter magic has taken over the streets as we make our way into town, just a few weeks before Christmas. As November ends and the autumn leaves begin to fall announcing the arrival of colder days, it’s time for the twinkling Christmas markets to pop up all over the city. Follow the lights and the melodious sounds of the carollers and you find yourself right in the thick of all the action!
In the Old Town, the famous Golden Roof is the backdrop for Innsbruck’s oldest and most charming Christmas market. Stall holders welcome you with a smile and a friendly “Grüß Gott” – the traditional greeting. And quickly win you over with their playful questions and curiosity over where you have travelled from to visit their winter wonderland.
Moments later, the square begins to resonate with Christmas melodies as a group of male singers appears on the Golden Roof, dressed in black robes and golden trumpets in hand. As you walk around this fairy-tale, with a glass of warm Glühwein in hand, look out for the viewing platform right in front of the famous roof – an ideal spot for that Instagram-worthy click!
Stop by the famous stall in front of the City Tower for a taste of the traditional Kiachl – a fried pastry served in both sweet and savoury versions. And if you really want to take the decadence to its highest notch (and what are Christmas markets for, if not that!) try the sugar-dusted sweet version filled with cranberry jam!
Travel Tip: Across the street, right next to the “innbrucke” or Inn Bridge, you will find a bigger Christmas market with little wooden cabins reminiscent of chic Alpine chalets, where you can warm your hands on the open fire. Of course, the hot and spicy wine refills are enough to keep you warm as well – served inside pretty Ceramic cups, which you can keep or return for a small deposit. Our favourite site in this market however was the colourful carousel, where you can stop for a dreamy ride into nostalgia.
8pm: Mixing with the Locals
After a short rest back at our Airbnb, we step out for a drink in town. While there are many popular nightlife spots and rooftop bars in and around the Old Town, we choose to stay on the other side of the river to explore this lesser-known area. The M+M Bar offers a relaxed atmosphere to kick back after the long day, and it helps that they have over 150 delicious cocktail options on the menu!
What really charms us though are the many smaller bars on the street outside, running parallel to the river. These quieter neighbourhood haunts are frequented by locals – one of those places where everyone knows one another. We enter one of these “hole-in-the-wall” joints and find ourselves in the midst of a small, warm gathering, fuelled with beers and popcorn. As we settle down on our bar stools and order some GnTs, the entire gathering orders a round of the same drink as a sign of welcoming us into their group. It’s one of those cherished travel moments you know you will remember for a lifetime.
9am: ‘Morning Sunshine
The next day dawns with clear skies, making for an eagerly awaited sight as the sun creeps up in the horizon. It’s the perfect opportunity to ride up to the snow-covered Alps. But not before breakfast!
Aren’t holidays the best when you don’t have to make too many decisions? So, we walk down to The Breakfast Club in Old Town, where they offer up customised breakfasts for your taste; including one that is aptly titled “Get Ready for the Mountains”!
Later, we walk across the iconic “inn” bridge where many a traveller has stopped by to click Innsbruck’s colourful houses – surrounded by white mountains above and blue waters below. With the sun above us, the late morning light is perfect to capture the sight from all angles.
11am: Alpine Views
Innsbruck calls itself the city in the heart of the Alps, and with good reason! Within less than an hour, you can leave the city behind and reach the untouched, raw beauty of the stunning Alps.
We began at the Congress station, where you will find the funicular which rides up the mountain. One ticket takes you all the way to the top – which includes the funicular to Hungerburg and subsequent cable car rides to Seegrube (6,250 ft) and Hafelekar (7,401 ft).
Pro Tip: We had the Innsbruck City Card, which includes one round-trip to the top. Along with free entry to many of the top attractions in and around the city. Totally worth it if you plan on visiting the tourist spots, as we did.
Level One: Hungerburg
We swipe our city card at the Congress station and enter the funicular. As the ride emerges from the tunnel, the city sights are thrust away to make way for an Alpine jungle. Through the withered tree branches, one catches sight of the city falling far away below; the distinct curves of the Inn river drawing our eyes across the valley.
If you have time (and especially if you have kids), you can get off at the station before Hungerberg to visit the Alpine Zoo – one of the highest in the world. If you head straight to Hungerberg, it would be the last station on the furnicular.
Hungerburg emerges as a sleepy town, with hardly a person in sight other than our little group of fellow travelers. Across the street, an open terrace offers 360-degree views and photo ops with the Tyrolean countryside and sprawling Alps. This is also the precise spot where the Christmas market opens in a few hours, which is on our list on the way back down.
Level Two: Seegrube
From Hungerburg, the cable car leads to the next two destinations. First up, Seegrube greets us with snow and a restaurant where we can sit down and break for a meal and drink, with one of the most breath-taking views of Tyrol. The sunny day offers clear views of the mountain ranges to the south, a rare sight we are told later by a local who happens to share the table (and views) with us.
We listen to our friend as he shares anecdotes of the land, introducing us to the many towns and villages spread out below. This strip of land is sandwiched between mountain ranges that exist as gateways to Italy in the South and Germany in the North. And so, it’s ideally placed to visit on a trip across these countries, especially if you are traveling through Southern Germany or North West Italy.
As the Sun passes its peak at noon, our friend bids adieu to hike his way back to his village, about two hours away by foot. Hikers are a common sight in the area, spotted easily from the cable car as it crosses over Alpine jungles.
Pro Tip: If you are here in the Winter (December to April), you will also find the mesmerizing Igloo Bar up and running at Cloud 9, next to the Seegrube station. With beautiful ice sculptures and a sprawling terrace, it’s a great place to catch a drink on a sunny winter day.
Level Three: Hafelekar, The Top of Innsbruck
After another cable car ride, we reach the highest point of our mountain run – Hafelekar. At 7,401 feet, it’s also called the Top of Innsbruck. There’s a small viewing platform, full of people waiting to click the panorama followed by a quick selfie or two. But the real treat lies higher at the summit, which is another short hike from the station – about 10 to 20 minutes depending on your speed and weather conditions.
It’s a slippery slope but worth every effort as reaching the Top of Innsbruck bring up views of what lies on the other side of the mountain. Untamed wilderness and lush jungles come into sight as you reach the summit and if you’re lucky, you might even catch sight of a few elusive mountain animals.
It’s well past two as we start to make our way back down the mountain. The sun begins to set at around 4PM in the winter. So, if you are planning on catching a panoramic sunset from the Alps, make sure you reach a good viewing spot much before sundown.
Our choice was the Hungerburg Christmas market. Small in size, the market here nevertheless makes up with its quite charm and stunning views. It’s the perfect timing to warm up with a glass of hot Gluhwein in hand and watch the sun set in the horizon. This is sure to be one of the most memorable experiences you will take back from your trip to Innsbruck.