Innsbruck is much more than a ski hub, with futuristic architecture, imperial history, cosy cafes and surprisingly banging nightlife
The capital of the Austrian state of Tirol neatly combines an impressive mountain setting with a storied and historic past. Stroll through the city’s old town and you’ll feel like you’ve gatecrashed the set of a medieval movie; look up, and you’re surrounded by the peaks of the Nordkette mountains. This is a city that beats to an outdoor rhythm, albeit one with a young, vibrant alter ego thanks to a student population of 30,000. What’s more, since “starchitect” Zaha Hadid added a touch of science fiction to the city’s skyline, in the form of the Hungerburg Funicular and the Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck has confirmed that it has one foot in the future, too.
Innsbruckers have been buying their food at the vast covered market, Markthalle 1, on the banks of the Inn since 1406. You’ll find farmers selling direct alongside a new generation of foodie stalls. Try Tirol-style sausages or red venison bacon. Pause at one of the many bakers to buy Faschingskrapfen (doughnuts) or strudel. The fillings aren’t limited to apple: nut-filled Nussstrudel or savoury beef Lugenstrudel make a change. Treats & Co at the back of the hall serves a farmer’s breakfast every day.
Nordpark is a small but challenging ski hill with impressive views of the city centre. You reach it by cable car from the Hungerberg plateau, which you can get to on the funicular that starts just outside the city wall at the Zaha Hadid-designed Hungerburgbahn 2 – an amorphous, illuminated station that aims to imitate the shape of the Alps in winter. Make the 20-minute trip, even if you don’t ski, to enjoy the panorama.
The Innsbruck outpost of Vienna’s glorious Café Sacher 3, feels a bit like a library but there’s no better place to sample authentic Austrian cafe life. Indulge in Austrian Gulaschsuppe and Viennese classics such as Wienerschnitzel followed by silky, chocolate-topped Sachertorte (€4.95 a slice). Non-smokers may object to the overspill from the smoking area.
Exploring the city’s old town gives a glimpse of its lavish imperial past. The gothic Hofburg Imperial Palace 4, former seat of the Habsburg dynasty, was built in 1406 and is filled with Renaissance art, opulent furniture and family souvenirs. The central ballroom, the Giant Hall, is hung with impressive life-size portraits of the royal family. At the nearby HofKirche 5, King Arthur and 27 other giant bronze statues guard the empty tomb of Maximilian I.
At Café Munding 6, even Mary Berry would be impressed by the super-crisp pastries on offer. The cafe, which is over 200 years old, claims to be the oldest Konditorei-Café in Innsbruck. It’s a stone’s throw from the Golden Roof (see below), the coffee (€2.70) is roasted on the premises and the owners make jam from fruit harvested at local farms.Nungwi Village
Innsbruck has five Christmas markets around the city centre, each with its own USP. Every evening at 5.30pm, trumpeters step on to the balcony of the Golden Roof (Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse) 7 – an old-town landmark decorated with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles – and entertain the crowds with Christmas songs. At Marktplatz, 8, on the banks of the Inn, the centrepiece is a 13m Christmas tree studded with 170,500 Swarovski crystals and a petting zoo.
Time for a pre-dinner drink. Real schnapps is surprisingly smooth and light – at S’Culinarium 9, there are hundreds to try. People don’t talk much about Austrian wine but they should – it’s good. Sample some of the best at Invinum 10, a wine bar and wine shop.Nungwi Village
Go outside the city walls to Landestheaterplatz, where the menu at Pavillon restaurant 11, reads like a selection from a Masterchef final. The restaurant, which used to be the entrance to an underground car park, is a two-storey glass cube that sits between the 19th-century Tirolean State Theatre and the 15th-century Imperial Palace. Highlights are wild venison with a chervil confit, and nougat ice-cream with popping candy. It’s not cheap but it’s worth a splurge (€67 for five courses).
Innsbruck’s restaurant and bar scene is surprisingly banging for a place that is the size of Doncaster: the drinking and eating needs of the students are served by some fashionable watering holes and a cerebral cafe culture. At Cafe Bar Moustache (cafe-moustache.at) 12, you’ll find swarthy young guys with windburn and unruly facial hair discussing the quality of powder at Nordpark, the city’s local ski hill. But they could also quite easily be chatting about the “performance literature” that took place here earlier in the week.
• The trip was provided by Tirol tourism office. Easyjet flies to Innsbruck from Gatwick, Bristol and Liverpool from £32 one-way, excluding fees and taxes. Bus route F runs from the airport to Innsbruck’s main station in about 20 minutes. The Innsbruck Card gives unlimited travel on public transport, one ascent and one descent on any cable car, funicular or lift, plus discounts at shops, restaurants and museums (€31 for 24 hours)