Cable Railways, Castles, Culture and Cake
24 Hours with an Innsbruck City Card
It’s hard to see any city in the world in 24 hours and really do it justice. But if your time and budget are limited some are definitely easier than others. We got a flavour of the city of Innsbruck over 24 hours between extreme adventure activities in Ötztal and Zillertal. Our secret weapon, and an adventure in itself, was the unusually good value Innsbruck City Card. If you want to know what to see in Innsbruck Austria, follow this itinerary and see how much castle, cable car, culture and cake you can pack into 24 hours.
What to see in Innsbruck Austria in 24 hours with an Innsbruck City Card
Innsbruck is one of those rare cities that manages to feel uncrowded and unpolluted. This is possibly down to its healthy mix of culture and the outdoors, and its open vista with easily accessible mountains and the pretty river Inn that runs through the valley. As a tourist you can pretty much cover the main monuments on foot. But with a long imperial history, an established museum route and plenty of outdoor trails, there’s a lot to do. That’s where the Innsbruck City Card came into its own for us. Unlike some other European city passes that only offer discounted experiences, once you’ve bought it the Innsbruck City Card gives you free transport and free entry to selected attractions, including some big ticket items. Here’s what we managed to pack into 24 hours in Innsbruck.
Day 1 5pm: Nordkettenbahn
The crack of lightning is so loud I jump and squeal like a five year old. A storm is always so much more intense when you are right in the middle of it. Innsbruck, the pastel shaded Austrian City that earlier spread itself before us like a baby blanket, is now obliterated by layers of dark cloud, woven through tightly with rain. I wonder how the creatures are coping in the Alpine zoo just above us; the highest altitude zoo in Europe. They’re probably more used to this changing feast of weather than I am. Tirol is one of those places where you think the rain will never stop and then an hour later you are sitting under a sun shade with an ice cream.
From the city to mountain top in twenty minutes
We are part way up the Nordkette Cable Car route. Two cable cars and a funicular take you from downtown Innsbruck onto the mountain above the city. It’s a “must do” – not only do you get a spectacular view of the city (as we did before the rain set in) you also get to wander in nature park Karwendel, Austria’s biggest mountaintop nature park. If the weather changes, you can take shelter in the cafes scattered at every stage including restaurant Seegrube, near the summit (at 1905 metres altitude) or the tiny cafe at Hafelekar, the top station (2256 metres). At Hungerburg (300m up) you can hang out in the space age funicular station, designed for the city by the late architect Zaha Hadid. (More about her later.)
The cable car is one of two things that makes the City Card such great value as it is a high price item. The other is Swarovski Crystal World and Museum with combined shuttle bus. Do one of these and you’ve almost made your money back on the card in your first couple of hours.
Day 1 7pm: Imperial Palace Courtyard
The courtyard of Innsbruck’s elegant Imperial Palace is full of people and the air is electric. But not with a storm this time. The evening has dried up the rain and there is silence and anticipation as we’re about to welcome on stage the conductor of the city’s Philharmonic Orchestra. Tonight, and every night in July, there is a free promenade concert in the courtyard. And even better we watch it eating Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte chocolate cake in the courtyard restaurant as the final notes of Wagner flutter up into the diminishing night. From high mountain to high culture in a couple of hours; that’s Innsbruck.
Day 2 7am: Innsbruck Old Town
Stuart and I leave the kids sleeping in Hotel Innsbruck and explore the city by foot as it is waking up. We start at the bridge, one of the most recognisable parts of the city due to the pastel rows of waterfront houses. Within minutes we tick off the Golden Roof on Herzog-Friedrich-Straße – the city’s most famous landmark. But in this city, the fourth largest in Austria, we get the most pleasure just randomly looking up. Innsbruck is an intriguing mix of modern and imperialist history and culture. There are an unbelievable number of styles of architecture within the same street and sometimes even on the same building. Gothic, Rococo, Baroque, it’s all here for the design nerd to spot. But what I love is the sketches and paintings on the walls. Delicate and fine – like a precursor to today’s street art.
Day 2 10am: Schloss Ambras
Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck’s famous castle, also bewitches me with its culture. The Renaissance castle is itself a work of art, but certain rooms grab my attention and don’t let go. The Spanish Hall, constructed for Archduke Ferdinand II in the 1500’s, is the most obvious wonder (you can also see a classical concert here sometimes.) Meanwhile the fine grey grisallie painting al fresco in the courtyard of the Upper Castle make the flat walls appear 3D. I sit for a while looking at the detail of the hero’s and heroines as the kids play on a giant board game. The Chamber of Art and Curiosities also delights us with it’s weird and wierder exhibits; tiny landscapes made entirely out of coral, portraits of a family of hairy people, (really hairy people!) and intricate locks and keys. To get the most of this castle, try and beat the coach tours in. We arrive just before 10am and just about manage to stay ahead of the crowds.
Day 2 12pm: Tirol Panorama museum
We have decided to get around today using the Sightseeing Tour Bus. This is free on the Innsbruck City Card, along with certain tram and bus routes. After the castle we head for the Tirol Panorama. This atmospheric museum portrays a battle that took place on 13th August 1809 when the Tyrolean people fought for the freedom of Innsbruck against the Bavarian army. Before you start to snooze can I just say this is no ordinary way of presenting a story. The Tirol cyclorama is a circular work of art of 1000 square metres with a free audio commentary that takes you right into the heart of the battle.
Day 2 1pm: Bergisel Ski Jump Stadium
It’s a quick walk from the Panorama to another of Innsbruck’s landmarks. Zaha Hadid turned her hand to many buildings and also designed the gratifying curve of the Bergisel Ski Jump Stadium. The panoramic building on top was allegedly built to resemble a ski jumpers knee. It wasn’t always such a futuristic complex – Bergisel Ski Jump Stadium hosted the 1964, 1976 and 2012 Winter Olympic Games; you can stand beneath the Olympic Rings and flame holder. Walk up the 450+ steps or take the funicular and lift to the top. Between 9am and 6pm you can check out the views of the cityscape from the SKY panoramic café that does the most delicious apple strudel. It even appears looking like a ski slope!
If you also time it right you can watch some jumping as the stadium hires athletes to keep the tourists entertained. We watch Thomas, a 22 year old former international champion, do a show jump and I catch up with him afterwards. Now a student in economics he leaves the serious ambitions of Olympic fame to the up and coming generation of jumpers. He is one of a handful of ski jumpers the stadium employs to entertain the crowds with up to five jumps a day and to lead guided tours.
Day 2 3pm: The Bell Museum
Cameron collects bells so we feel a visit to Innsbruck’s family run bell museum and foundry is a suitable end to our day. Glockengießerei GRASSMAYR is a chance for the kids to get off the bus and let off some steam by chiming bells to their hearts content. Although it won the Austrian Museum Prize, it’s an unassuming, charming little place and you learn a little about how a bell is made too. But don’t let the kids run free in the gift shop – a little cowbell can set you back a big amount of Euros.
Day 2 4pm: Innsbruck Old Town
The last hour of our ticket finds us back on the Sightseeing Bus heading for the Marketplatz, listening to the final parts of commentary through headphones provided. But we can’t resist hopping off and heading for one last tour of the beautiful Altsdadt. On the way we take in some of the installations in the Swarovski Crystal Store as we don’t have time to do Swarovski World.
This has been a whirlwind 24 hours of culture and sport and mountaintop adventure; a combination of things that define this outdoor oriented city. If only we had time for another 24!
Innsbruck City Card
The Innsbruck City Card costs €39 for 24 hours, €48 for 48 hours and €55 for 72 hours. Children from 6 to 15 years are half price. It includes free entrance into all of the attractions listed above and many more. For our family of five we calculate it costs €136.50 for 24 hour City Cards compared with €243.10 it would have cost for travel and entry to the attractions above we visited, a saving of €106.60. If we’d been able to pack more in we could have saved even more! The key to saving is identifying the big ticket items and careful planning to pack in as much as you can as efficiently as you can without wiping everyone out!
The Sightseeer hop-on hop-off bus is included in the pass and runs clockwise around the city approximately every 40 minutes from 9.15 am. Last bus depends on the season but you need to be finishing up about 5pm in order to get back downtown. The pass also includes free use of public transport on all IVB routes within Innsbruck and free travel on the IVB’s scenic tram lines to Igls and Mutters/Kreith plus use of the Crystal Worlds Shuttle. If you prefer to travel under your own steam the pass includes a guided city walk (available daily) and free city bike rental for 3 hours (rental shop: Die Börse, Leopoldstrasse 4).
The Nordkette Cable Car route runs every fifteen minutes. The Hungerburg funicular will take you to Hungerburg station in just under ten minutes. You can stop off at the Alpine Zoo on the way. Then it’s a short walk to the cable car station where two cable cars take you to the top. 1 return trip right to the top is included in your City Card.
Bergisel Ski Stadium is open June to October, from 9:00 to 18:00 daily and November to May, from 10:00 to 17:00, (closed on Tuesday.) You can book a 90 minute tour with Thomas or one of the other ski jumpers for €170.
Schloss Ambrass opens 10am-5pm all year round except November.
Tirol Panorama is open 9-5 all year round with extended hours in July and August on Thursdays (till 7pm).
Glockengießerei GRASSMAYR open all year round from 9-5pm. Guided tours are available by prior arrangement and outside normal opening hours by arrangement.
Alpine zoo is open all year round from 9-5pm.
Where we stayed
We stayed at Hotel Innsbruck, just near the market place. Built on the foundations of the former city wall, this hotel is all about location. It’s a five minute walk from the Golden Roof and surrounded by lovely bars and restaurants. But it also has one of the biggest spa facilities in the city. Double and triple rooms are big and comfortable but you can book a family suite.
Disclosure Note: Our trip to Tirol was arranged and supported by Visit Tirol and Innsbruck Tourism. Thanks also to DFDS Seaways who supported our crossing to Europe between Newcastle and Holland. As ever, all the riding around on buses and cable cars, mountain walking, bell ringing, cake eating and ski jump envy was our own. As are the words, opinions, experience, photography and videography.