There is a palpable uniqueness to the atmosphere of Innsbruck. Sure, it has all to do with the altitude and the way light behaves differently in the mountains. But there's more to it than just science. What makes Innsbruck unique are the intangibles that only your senses can detect and no machine can measure. Like the fragrant combination of Alpine geraniums blooming in the countless window boxes as it mixes with the scent of work-warmed horses, which mingles with that ever-present smell of the cold, wet granite that exudes from shaded cobblestones. Marry the sensual singularity of the city with the regal palaces, orderly bourgeois homes, the many public gardens and squares filled with artists, students, and happy generations mingling and sipping the best beer in the world, and it becomes clear why visitors have been flocking to Innsbruck for centuries. Here is just a sampling of things that keep folks coming back:
Die Goldenes Dachl — The Golden Roof
Every city has its "must-see" and Innsbruck's mandatory sight is the Goldenes Dachl or the Golden Roof. Along the edge of the main square in Altstadt, the Golden Roof is easy to find and entirely worth checking out. This symbol of the city was built around 1490 to celebrate the wedding of Maximilian I to Bianca Maria Sforza. Putting it mildly, the union was not a success, (Max was reputed to use his queen as collateral when he was arrears on his debts) but the city did get an iconic, three-story high bay window with a stunning roof made of 2,657 fire-gilded copper shingles.
Bergisel The Ski Jump
Innsbruck hosted the 1976 Winter Olympics where native son, Karl Schnabl won the gold medal in the large hill ski jump at Bergisel. As the first Austrian to win a gold in ski jumping, Schnabl became a household name from Vienna to Feldkirch and Bergisel hill became hallowed ground among the fans of the sport. Along with being a quasi-sacred site, Bergisel is the best place to see, and fully grasp, just how far a ski jumper drops before taking flight. This tower in the mountains has also become a pilgrimage site for architecture and design aficionados. The late British/Iraqi architect Zahad Hadid designed the elegant curvilinear tower structure in 2002. Her design provides visitors a stunning 360 degree view of the surrounding Alps.
Maximilian’s Mausoleum in the Hofkirche
Q: Who’s buried in the tomb of Maximilian I in the Hofkirch mausoleum?
A: Not Maximilan I.
In fact, the tomb is empty. But the caretakers of Innsbruck’s Court Church are not about to let a perfectly good tomb go un-admired. The Emperor’s cenotaph was ornately and elaborately built to honor all that was great about Maximilian, and judging by the quality of the workmanship and the magnificence of the 28 life-size and larger figures (three of them based on designs by Albrecht Dürer), old Max must have been a great guy. If you’re really in need of honoring an Austrian, you’ll also find the tomb of Andreas Hofer here. Hofer is a Tyrolean folk hero who lost his life attempting to stop Napoleon's advance through the Alps.
You would think that Innsbruck is as an unlikely a place to find an authentic English-style garden as it is to find, next to that same garden, a remarkable Italianate palace. Perhaps as startlingly would be, that within that palace you'll find works by revered masters like Lucas Cranach, Titian, Van Dyck and Velásquez. The Ambras Castle is a kind of cultural matryoshka, or Russian nesting doll, which, as you examine one layer, you find another within as intricate and interesting. From the intimate spaces of the castles interior, to the vast galleries housing enough armor to suit a battalion, to the expansive gardens replete with prim hedges and proper topiary, the Ambras Castle can tick every box on a traveler's cultural checklist.
Schwaz Silver Mine
Skiing, then mining, have long been primary revenue generators in alpine Tirol. For a long time it was the other way around. When mining was the best game in the region, the Schwaz Mine, 19 miles outside of Innsbruck, was the silver producing capitol of the continent. During the 15th and 16th centuries the state of Tirol was one of the wealthiest places on earth. The huge quantities of silver mined here helped keep the powerful banking interests of the Fugger family, and later the Hapsburgs, afloat. While the mine was tapped out long ago, you can still travel 800 meters into the mountain, dressed in full miner regalia and explore the many hand-dug and black-powder cut caverns.
Innsbruck is more than just Alpenglühen (alpenglow) and Alpenhäuser (charming mountain homes), or Skilaufen (skiing) and Wandern (hiking), even Gröstl (a delicous fry-up of bacon, onion and potato) and Kiachl (pastry). It's the soulful center of Tirol.
We begin and end our spectacular adventure The Best of the Dolomites in Innsbruck and it's well worth spending an extra day or two exploring the city!