Innsbruck makes the perfect destination for a short winter excursion, both for winter sports lovers and not, as it combines both city and mountain activities. Innsbruck lies in the western part of Austria close to Germany and Italy. It is the capital of Tyrol, one of the federal states in Austria. Here is a winter itinerary for 5 days in Innsbruck.
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Do you like winter excursions? Then, you may want to check out my winter itinerary for Chamonix!
Overview of 5 Days in Innsbruck Winter Itinerary
In this 5-days long winter itinerary for Innsbruck, you will find time to explore the city and its museums, go to the nearby Nordkette mountain range, visit the birthplace of Swarovski crystals and enjoy the views from Patscherkofel. The itinerary below is based on my own visit to Innsbruck in January 2019.
Innsbruck is one of the largest cities in Austria; hence you will find frequent air and land links with many European cities. Overall, it is easy to move around on foot and by public buses and trams, so there is no need to rent a car to follow the itinerary below. You can even get free transportation by purchasing the Innsbruck Card from the tourist office. The card also gives you free entry to many attractions and cable cars in and around Innsbruck, and it can be valid for 24-72 hours.
Where to stay?
The best area to stay in Innsbruck is in and around the old town and the Maria-Theresien Street. This is where you can find most of the attractions, as well as many restaurants and cafes. Besides, there are many public transport links in this area that will allow you to easily visit any place that is not reachable on foot, such as the Alpine Zoo and the Swarovski Crystal World. When I visited, I stayed in the Hotel Innsbruck [AD] opposite the Inn River and behind the Old Town. The best part was that we had amazing views over the Nordkette mountain from our Superior Nordkette room.
Day 1 – Get to know Innsbruck
Take the morning to arrive in Innsbruck and settle into your accommodation. Then, enjoy the remaining daylight time to get to know the city centre.
Maria-Theresien is the main commercial road in Innsbruck. It has a variety of shops, restaurants and cafes as well as a wealth of souvenir shops. On one end, you can find Triumphpforte (Triumphal Arch), a historical arch that commemorates a wedding and a death. On the other end, you will find the old town. Part of the road is pedestrianised which is ideal for long walks. Spend the rest of the day here.
Where to stop?
- Innsbruck Tourismus to get some maps and information about Innsbruck; you can also purchase the Innsbruck Card from there.
- Innsbruck Town Hall to marvel at the exterior of the building.
- St Anne’s Column to take the famous photos of the column with background the snowy mountains.
- RathausGalerien and Kaufhaus Tyrol for some shopping and eating (if you are a Hard Rock Cafe fan you will find one in RathausGalerien).
- Tirol Shop Innsbruck to shop some tyrolean souvenirs
- Triumphpforte to have a look at the famous arch of Innsbruck.
How to get there?
There are many buses that stop close to the area, such as buses A, M, J and C that stop at Maria-Theresien-Straße and buses S, F, R that stop at Anichstraße/Rathausgalerien. The Innsbruck train station is also a short walk away.
If you are coming from the airport then, bus F connects the airport and the Baggersee via the city centre and the train station. There is a bus every 15 minutes every day except on Sundays and public holidays when there is a bus every 30 minutes.
Day 2 – Exploring Innsbruck Old Town
This day is dedicated to learning more about Innsbruck and its history by visiting some of the museums, castles and palaces of the city.
08:30 Markthalle Innsbruck
Start your day by visiting this local market to stock up some fresh produce for your lunch/dinner. Inside the market hall, you can find a few places where you can have your morning coffee as well.
How to get there?
The Markethalle should be a short walk away from most places in the city centre. But if you are staying outside the centre, then many buses stop by the Marktplatz such as H, K, W, J and A.
09:00 Walk along the Inn River
Continue your morning with a walk along the Inn River to admire the colourful houses of Innsbruck. I recommend taking some photos from the Marktplatz, crossing the Innbrücke bridge and then walking in the Waltherpark, before returning to the city centre.
09:30 Imperial Palace
The first attraction to visit is the Hofburg, i.e. the Imperial Palace, which is one of the most important palaces in the whole of Austria. It was built by Emperor Maximilian I in the 1500s and it was extensively refurbished by Maria Theresa in the 1700s. Today, the place is converted to a museum where you can see the staterooms, the tower, the chapel and the imperial apartments.
Tip: Keep an eye on their events list for any interesting events in the courtyard of the palace. When I visited I attended an evening light show about Emperor Maximilian I.
Find out more about Imperial Palace here.
11:30 St. James Cathedral/Innsbruck Cathedral
St. James Cathedral is another important place to visit in Innsbruck. The current cathedral dates to the 18th century, however, the place was used for religious purposes since the 11th century. The cathedral is built in Baroque style and inside you can find numerous works of art. The most notable is the “Maria Hilf” painting, an image of the Madonna and Child by Lukas Cranach the Elder.
Find out more about the Innsbruck Cathedral here (German website but Google Translate works well).
12:30 Golden Roof and Helbling House
Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) and Helbling House are two buildings difficult to miss when visiting the old town of Innsbruck. The first one is best known for (what else?) its golden roof, while the latter is known for its Baroque style decorations at the exterior of the building. From the two, only the Golden Roof is open to the public as a museum, where you can learn more about the life of Emperor Maximilian I, the person who ordered the creation of the Golden Roof building.
Find out more about the Golden Roof here.
Unfortunately, the golden roof museum is not open on Mondays during the winter season and it is even closed for the whole of November. If it is closed when you visit, you can fill this timeslot, by visiting the nearby Museum of Tyrolean Regional Heritage (Volkskunstmuseum) and the Court Church (Hofkirche), where you can find the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I. Another option is to visit the Tyrolean State Museum (Ferdinandeum), a historical museum about the area.
Find out more about the Tyrolean State Museums here.
13:30 City Tower
Next stop in your old town walk, should be the City Tower. The city tower offers some great views over the area from a height of 31m. Although it may not be as high as other observatories, it stands well above its nearby buildings, and hence it offers unobstructed views over the mountains. Note that, as the building is more than 500 years old, there is no elevator and the only way to get up is to ascend the 133 steps.
Find out more about the City Tower here.
14:15 Imperial Gardens
After a quick lunch in the Old Town, head to Imperial Gardens (Innsbrucker Hofgarten) for a short walk while waiting for the shuttle bus to arrive for the Swarovski Crystal Worlds which is the next activity of the day. The most interesting part of this park is that once it could only be visited by royals who resided in the nearby palace.
15:15 Swarovski Crystal Worlds
Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Swarovski Kristallwelten) is a place dedicated to artwork made using Swarovski Crystals. The attraction is situated in Wattens, opposite the Swarovski Crystals factory. Once you arrive there, you will be greeted by The Giant, a large waterfall at the entrance of the Chamber of Wanders. Inside the chamber, there are various thematic rooms that feature the works of different artists using Swarovski Crystals. At the end of your experience, you will find some information about the crystals themselves as well as one of the largest Swarovski Crystal shops (there is a sister store in the Old Town of Innsbruck too).
Apart from the Chamber of Wanders, you can also wander in The Garden. The Garden features a beautiful Mirror Lake with some Crystal Clouds, a maze, an observation platform and more. I suggest visiting the garden before entering The Giant, as it will get dark if you leave it for later. Note that during the winter and especially when snow is present, parts of the garden may be closed. Before leaving the place and assuming you are not about to miss the last shuttle bus (which is at 19:05, apart from the Christmas period when the last one is at 21:05; the previous bus is at 17:35), you can take a break at the Daniels Kristallwelten restaurant and cafe, either for a quick snack, dinner or drink.
Find out more about Swarovski Crystal Worlds here.
How to get there?
There is a shuttle bus that takes you from Innsbruck to the door of the attraction in Wattens. The bus departs from the train station and then makes a stop opposite the Congress Building (at the side of Imperial Gardens closer to the Imperial Palace), before continuing to Wattens. Based on the current schedule there is a bus departing from Innsbruck, Congress/Hofburg at 14:44. Alternatively, you can take the bus from the train station which departs at 14:40. In general, there is a shuttle bus every two hours starting at 08:40/08:44 until 16:40/16:44.
Walking Route Directions:
Day 3 – Nordkette Mountains
Nordkette is the winter sports paradise of Innsbruck. Only a funicular ride away followed by a cable car ride and you will be in the full mood for skiing. Along the way, don’t forget to stop at the Alpine Zoo and at Hungerburg to enjoy the views. The best part of the day is that you don’t need to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy the mountain, as there are many activities to fill your time. Although, if you indeed enjoy skiing, then you may want to skip the other activities to allow more time on the slopes.
Find out more about Nordkette here.
09:00 Alpine Zoo
The Alpine Zoo (Alpenzoo) is not an ordinary zoo. As the name suggests, this place is focused on the conservation of animals that are native in the Alps. It works for the protection of many specious, and within the zoo, you will be able to see some of the 2000 animals they keep. It is one of the highest zoos in Europe in terms of elevation at 750 m. This means that you will be able to have some great views over Innsbruck. Inevitably, this does also mean that the zoo is built on a hill, and a lot of walking may be required to explore all the enclosures.
Find out more about the Alpine Museum here.
How to get there?
There are different ways to reach the zoo: on foot, by car, by bus or by funicular. If you choose to walk, it may take up to half an hour from the city centre. If you drive, then there is a paid car park at the entrance of the zoo. To take the bus, you need to get to Marktplatz (opposite the Marketehalle Innsbruck) and take bus W. There is a bus every half an hour.
However, the most scenic (and most expensive) way to reach the zoo is by funicular. The funicular (Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahn) departs from Congress Innsbruck towards Hungerburgbanh. Along the way, the funicular also stops at Löwenhaus and Alpenzoo before reaching Hungerburg. There are different ticket types, but the Innsbruck-Hafelekar ticket suits best for today’s itinerary. No matter the way you choose to get to Nordkette, the Congress station of the funicular may worth a visit on its own due to its impressive architecture, designed by Zaha Hadid.
This is where you will take the Nordkette cable car to reach the higher elevations of the mountain and do some winter sports. Before boarding the cable car, take a short walk around the area and enjoy the views over Innsbruck. If you want, you can also visit the small Cable Railway Museum to see how the cable cars you are about to board evolved over the years.
How to get there?
You can get there using the same means of transport you used to get to the Alpine Zoo. In other words, you can walk (about half an hour), drive (there is a car park behind the cable car station), take bus W up to the end of the route, or continue the funicular ride to Hungerburgbanh.
13:00 Seegrube Station
Take a short break to have lunch at the panoramic restaurant at the Seegrube Station. Here, you will also find a shop, a great vantage point for some photos as well as some trails to explore. A very popular trail is the Seegrube Panorama circular trail which takes about half an hour to walk. You can also enjoy Cloud 9, an igloo bar with ice sculptures right next to the station. If you fancy, check out the Nordkette Skyline park.
How to get there?
The easiest way to reach Seegrube is to take the Nordkette cable car from Hungerburg.
15:00 Hafelekar Peak
The final stop of the Nordkette cable car is the Hafelekar Peak, at 2300m offering fantastic views of the area. Enjoy the view over the Karwendel Mountains and pose at the Top of Innsbruck viewpoint. Depending on your interests, you may want to embark on a winter hike or hit the slopes. Note that the last cable car departs from Hafelekar at 17:00.
How to get there?
Get the Nordkette cable car for its final leg from Seegrube to Hafelekar.
Return to the city centre for some dinner and a relaxing evening stroll. See Day 1 for some ideas on things to do in the area.
Day 4 – Tour of Innsbruck
This day will take you to experience a fairytale castle, a world-famous ski jump stadium and an important painting. The easiest way to move between these places is to use the hop-on-hop-off Sighseer bus. It will be more expensive than using public transport, but it will give you the convenience of stopping at the entrance of each attraction. Note that those with an Innsbruck Card get this ride for free. The bus departs from Marktplatz and makes 18 stops. There is a bus every 40 minutes.
Find out more about the Sighseer bus here.
10:30 Ambras Castle
Start your day with a visit to the Ambras Castle (Schloss Ambras), built on a hill a bit outside the city centre. If you are landing to Innsbruck in a clear day, you may even be able to spot it from your plane seat, as the plane passes very close the city. This fairytale-style castle has a number of interesting exhibits and rooms, including the Habsburg Portrait Gallery to fill a couple of hours. You can also walk in the gardens of the castle and spot some of the peacocks that are kept there. The castle has also a restaurant, where you can have some lunch. If you finish early, then why not walk a bit in the park around the castle (Schlosspark Ambras). Note that the castle is closed in November.
Find out more about the Amras Castle here.
How to get there?
Take the first Sightseer bus of the day from Marktplatz that departs at 09:55. To get there follow the instructions to Innsbruck Marketehalle from Day 2. You will need to get off the hop-on-hop-off bus after 10 stops at Schloss Ambras Innsbruck.
13:30 Bergisel Ski Jump
Enjoy some panoramic views over the city from the top of a world-class ski jumping stadium. The 250 m tower was designed by architect Zaha Hadid and apart from helping athletes perform their jumps, it also has a restaurant, where the public can enjoy a meal over the city. So, if you didn’t have anything at the Ambras Castle this is your chance to get something to eat. The best part is that you don’t need to walk to reach the observation platform, as it is easily accessible by a lift.
Find out more about the Bergisel Ski Jump here.
How to get there?
Take the 13:10 Sightseer bus from Ambras Castle and get off three stops later at Tirol Panorama/Bergisel.
15:00 Tyrol Panorama
Tyrol Panorama with the Museum of the Tyrolean Imperial Infantry (Tirol Panorama mit Kaiserjägermuseum) is another popular stop for many visitors to the city. The museum is divided into two sections. The first hall is about the recent military history of Tyrol. Moving further into the museum in the Tyrol Panorama section, you will encounter the “Myth of Tyrol”, a 360o painting that describes the Third Battle of Bergisel. The 1000 m2 canvas depicts aspects of the lives of Tyroleans and their fights for freedom in 1809.
Find out more about Tyrol Panorma here.
How to get there?
The museum is across the Bergisel Ski Jump Stadium, close to the bus stop.
17:00 Innsbruck Old Town
Finish your day with a walk at the Old Town. Wander around the small streets of the city for one last evening. You can also stop to try some traditional strudel at the Strudel Cafe Kröll in the old town. Expect to find a large variety of sweet and savoury swirls.
How to get there?
Take the Sightseer bus from Tirol Panorama/Bergisel at 16:17 (earlier bus is at 15:37, the last bus is at 16:57) and get off at the end of the loop at Marktplatz. Alternatively, you can stay on the bus and get off at the next station which is at Maria Theresien Str or the one after which is the train station. Both of these stops are possible even if you take the last bus. Then, you can walk to get to the Old Town.
Day 5 – Patscherkofel
As this is the last day in Innsbruck, only one activity is included. Feel free to make it as long or as short you want based on your departure time.
The last activity is again dedicated to the slopes. This time, I recommend visiting Igls village just outside Innsbruck and getting the cable car to Patscherkofel at 2246 m. The place is ideal for skiing and snowboarding for all levels as there are many ski pistes of various difficulties, as well as a handy shop that rents out sports equipment. If you prefer not to ski, you can still visit Igls and get the cable car up to the mountdain just to admire the views over Innsbruck. Then, simply take the cable car to return to the base station.
Find out more about Patscherkofel here.
Alternative: If you prefer a shorter activity, or have returned early from Igls and still have some time to spare, then you can visit some of the Tyrolean State Museums I recommended above, i.e. the Volkskunstmuseum, the Hofkirche or the Ferdinandeum. All of them are close to the Old Town.
How to get there?
Of course, you can get there by car, as there is paid parking available at the Patscherkofel Valley station. For those that rely on public transport, you can use bus J. The bus passes from different points in the city, including the Marktplatz. There is a bus every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 15 minutes on public holidays. Get off at the last stop (Igls Patscherkofel) which is right at the entrance of the cable car station.
P.S. Feel free to move the days around to suit the weather, as cable cars can close on short notice based on the weather conditions.
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