Family Vacations to Innsbruck, Austria

Family Overview - Innsbruck, Austria
INNSBRUCK: classic Alpine scenery surrounds a town filled with medieval and Renaissance architecture (Photodisc)

Innsbruck Highlights

  • Ride a cable car to the mountain peaks above Innsbruck for a dramatic panorama of the Austrian Alps and beyond to Germany and Italy.
  • Go wild on the slopes of nine ski resorts surrounding Innsbruck, bombing home on skis in winter or bikes in summer.
  • Stroll the atmospheric medieval streets of Innsbruck's Altstadt for the full architectural (and gastronomic!) flavors of Old Austria.
  • Get a ski-jumper-eye's view of Innsbruck from the top of the Bergisel Ski Jump tower.
  • Learn to rock climb in the Alps.

Set at an altitude of 1,886 feet in a long pastoral valley in southwestern Austria, Innsbruck has to be seen to be believed. When you imagine classic Alpine scenery, you're probably picturing Innsbruck, a town brimming with fanciful medieval and Renaissance architecture that's framed by the beautiful 8,000-foot peaks of the snowcapped Tyrolean Alps. Of course, it's also true that Innsbruck is no hidden gem, so gets very busy at the expected times like high summer and Christmastime. Savvy travelers should, therefore, target the shoulder seasons for slimmer crowds and better prices.

With all that outdoor bounty on its doorstep, Innsbruck is unsurprisingly one of the world's great outdoor-adventure meccas. Whether your thing is hiking, rock climbing, skiing, or mountain biking, you'll find more than enough trail and rock face to suit even the most adrenaline-fueled fancy. The surrounding Alpine hills are filled with hundreds of miles of well-maintained trails for all levels and ambitions, including some fantastic above-treeline classics. The scenery speaks for itself, breathtaking to even the most hard-to-please teen. Other outdoor adventures—depending on fear threshold and vacation budget—include hot-air ballooning, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, bobsleigh rides, bungee jumping, and even sky diving. Speedsters can also rev things up at the twisting Go-Kart-Bahn Innsbruck.

Austria, of course, is a world-class ski destination, and Innsbruck is no exception. While big destination resorts like Kitzbühel and St. Anton are several hours away, there's action aplenty in the nine resorts in the hills and glaciers around Innsbruck. A well-organized transport infrastructure, plus good ski packages and multi-resort passes, mean that it's easy to stay downtown by night and hit the slopes by day. Alternatively, accommodations and amenities are plentiful in the town's 25 surrounding "holiday villages," especially if you're looking for more of a mountain experience. And that network of 80 chairlifts and 170 miles of on-piste terrain doesn't fall silent with the passing of winter, either. Innsbruck is a year-round adventure destination, with snowy piste doing double-duty as mountain-bike and hiking trails when temps start to rise each spring. (Likewise, with global warming beating back the Alpine snowline each year, the best of the scenery is still accessible, even if you have to traverse it on foot instead of by ski come winter.)

One of the best and most accessible ways to reach those high places is the Hungerburgbahn, a 100-year-old funicular railway that whisks thrill seekers and sightseers alike from downtown Innsbruck to the 2,800-foot Hungerburg Plateau above town. The awe-inspiring journey continues on the Nordkettenbahn cable car to Seegrube and the dizzying 6,000-foot heights of Nordpark Innsbruck. Here, an excellent network of skiing, hiking, and mountain-biking trails awaits depending on the season (as well as your stomach for extreme vertical). A final steep gondola ride lifts you to the 7,600-foot Hafelekar summit and an amazing Alpine panorama that extends all the way to Italy in the south and Germany in the north.

A little less lofty though with the same stunning views, the Alpenzoo is worth a visit for its unique collection of animal species native only to the Alps, many of them endangered. Creatures on display include eagles, vultures, otters, and wolves. As it's located on the lower slopes of the Hungerburg, families with younger kids should be sure to bring a stroller or baby backpack to manage the hilly terrain between enclosures. Purchase your zoo tickets at the Hungerburgbahn's base station and get a free return ride on the funicular.

Downtown Innsbruck is filled with lots of interesting things to see and do, as well as countless places in which to eat and shop. The central Altstadt (Old Town) is a rich meld of medieval, Baroque, and Gothic architecture, and a walking tour through here is sure to burn up a good chunk of your digicam memory stick. Don't overdo the cultural deep-dive, though, and be sure to break things up with gastronomic treats like ice cream, pastries, and other Austro-flavored goodies. Of the many historic sights to visit, the pick are the cavernous Hofburg, also known as the Imperial Palace, and beautiful Cathedral St. Jacob.

For a fine excursion a few miles outside of Innsbruck, head to the Schloss Ambras, a picturesque two-tiered castle built in the 16th century by Austria's Archduke Ferdinand II. The lower building houses a museum showcasing objects collected by the acquisitive ruler, including suits of armor, armaments, and curios from around the world. The upper castle is home to some 300 portraits of the Hapsburg rulers in all their pomp, painted by luminaries like Titian, Van Dyck, and Diego Velásquez. The sprawling gardens outside are another good place in which to soak in the mountain scenery.

Innsbruck has twice hosted the Winter Olympics, in 1964 and 1976, and the newly redesigned Bergisel Ski Jump is a good place to savor the town's five-ring legacy, not to mention the exhilarating view from the top of the tower. If you time it right, you might catch Innsbruck's big international ski-jumping competition in January or the athletes training on the synthetic surface during summer.

Tip: Parents hoping for a day of adult-oriented relaxation should consider enrolling the kids in the daylong children's program at nearby Natters Lake. Here, trained camp counselors entertain kids aged four to 12 with swimming games, magic shows, and even a Children's Olympics on and around the lake. The program is endorsed by the city tourism bureau and is free of charge for holders of the Club Innsbruck Card (which provides free access to the main Innsbruck attractions as well as public transportation).


Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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