I travel widely. Every year I spend months in many wonderful countries. So why do I hold Innsbruck, Austria, so deeply in my heart?
My recent visit to Innsbruck was my first to the Tirolean capital in five years and it encapsulated much that I love about Austria.
Many cities can morph into each other, but not so Innsbruck. Urban landscapes can be cold, grey, even drab, but not Innsbruck. It’s a bright, colourful, even joyful city that brings a spring to my being and makes me long for the dawn so another day of discovery can begin.
Five years ago my visit was a fleeting one. I had little chance to delve into Innsbruck’s long history, for example.
For me, the important thing about history is that it does not stand frozen in time. History is a living, breathing continuum of progress. And in Innsbruck that progression – in the forms of modern architecture and popular culture – complements the old.
I enjoy how Innsbruck harmonises modernity with tradition. The characterful old town epitomises the respect Austria has for its past. While at the same time a stylish, vibrant 21st century city forges ahead.
On my first visit, I was also taken aback by the snowy Alpine mountains that encircle Innsbruck. And the powerful River Inn, bringing those mountains into the city in the form of fresh glacial water, that whooshes under bridges and past its old town.
Innsbruck always feels good. I love its charming sweep of buildings from the pastel colours on the riverside to the Golden Roof
The Nordkette cable railway stations designed by the brilliantly talented, recently deceased architect, Zaha Hadid, are the futuristic gateway to these majestic mountains.
The mountains, sentries of nature and colour, stood proud against a bright blue sky on the sunny autumn days of my first visit, providing the most glorious backdrop any city could wish for.
Now, on my return, it was early July and the summer was in full swing. The sky was ever bluer, the sun shining brightly, and it was very warm, but the air that enveloped me was kept fresh by the Alpine breeze.
But then Innsbruck always feels good. I love its charming sweep of buildings from the pastel colours on the riverside to the Golden Roof with its 2,738 gold-plated tiles.
How many Austrians yodel like a cow or enjoy a skippy, arm-waving woodcutters’ dance?
In Innsbruck you can spend the morning at Swarovski Kristallwelten, or Crystal Worlds, the afternoon high up in the Alps and the evening listening to a free classical concert in the old town, and I did.
Swarovski Crystal World, in Wattens, twenty minutes from the city centre is a very contemporary, popular museum and art gallery. Here the world’s most popular crystals are used in an astonishing range of exhibits. I found the inventiveness with which they make use of the crystals fascinating, thought-provoking and quirky. You are greeted by a huge Giant’s head in the middle of the mountain-backed countryside. Stepping inside the giant, is like entering a world of strange crystal wonder with arresting artworks and intricate pieces crafted from crystal.
Back in the city, but high on the mountain, the stylish Bergisel ski jump – also designed by Hadid – is where I watched a practising ski jumper in awe.
Bergisel looms large over the city. I loved its style, its scale and the statement it made about Innsbruck’s determination to build on its past and regenerate itself.
Nearby, inside the very modern Tirol Panorama museum, my head swivelled as I tried to take in the huge, exquisitely detailed 360-degree panoramic painting of the third Battle of Bergisel, which took place in this very location, in 1809.
Innsbruck can also make light of itself. I attended a fabulously bonkers Tirolean evening of traditional food, song, dance, slapstick comedy, traditional costumes and a woman who yodelled like a cow. Really.
I’m sure it isn’t the truest representation of Tirolean culture, least of all a reflection on the rest of Austria – how many Austrians yodel like a cow or enjoy a skippy, arm-waving woodcutters’ dance? But everyone left with a huge smile on their face.
For me visiting Innsbruck, as with most of Austria, is akin to going home. There is a sense of excitement, of comfort as my plane lands and I feel very happy to be in a country where quality is the byword. Whether it’s in food, hotels, transport, shopping or the natural landscape, this country delivers a quality experience. And it can be visited all year round.
Innsbruck with its culture and natural beauty is a city of all ages, and for all seasons.
Go on a round trip of Austria
There are many other great cities and regions in Austria, read about the Upper Austria city of Linz on Borders of Adventure, secretly cool Graz on Inside the Travel Lab, things to do in Salzburg on Time Travel Turtle, or explore culture and nature in affluent Vorarlberg, on Global Grasshopper. You can also learn more about Innsbruck.
If you love Austria as much as we do, take a look at our top places to stay and things to do in Austria.