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Austria and Tyrol are synonymous with skiing holidays in winter. You may be surprised to find out there are many other exciting and satisfying things to do in Austria in winter.
Another way of coming down a mountain that requires much less skill than skiing is on top of a sled. Tobogganing is fun for the whole family. No wonder it is one of the top things to do in Austria in winter. You can opt for the easy way out by taking a cable car to the start, or try the more traditional way of walking up the track and pulling the sled behind you. We’ve always chosen the easy way out to make it less stressful with small children in the company.
Our recommendation: The toboggan run at the Elfer Lift in Neustift in the Stubai Valley. It’s a whopping 8km long, with a traditional restaurant on the way. You can rent toboggans at the lift station.
2. Visit Innsbruck’s museums
Winter in Austria is a great time to visit museums and exhibitions. Innsbruck doesn’t lack behind Salzburg and Vienna in this regard. The Golden Roof Museum, the Imperial Palace, the Court Church and the Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art are all within 100 metres of each other in the city’s medieval old town. Visiting them will tell you all you need to know about the lives and times of the Habsburg dynasty.
Or you could visit the Tirol Panorama on the historic Bergisel (and maybe even see someone in action on the Olympic ski jump). Ambras Castle, a Rennaissance castle in the hills above Innsbruck is another must-see historic building and home to Archduke Ferdinand II’s impressive armour collection.
3. Go hiking in Austria in winter
To really get close to nature in Austria in winter, hiking is an even better option than skiing. You can either head for the hills or the valleys on your own (staying on safe, well-marked paths) or join an organised snowshoe hike. A suitable warm outfit is essential. Snowshoes allow you to easily walk in deep snow off the beaten path.
Many local tourism organisations offer guided hikes in their respective regions. You can even rent or borrow snowshoes from them. A Nature Watch Hike in the Karwendel Nature Reserve close to Hall in Tirol is a good one to consider.
4. Relax in a thermal bath
Tyrol is home to a number of mineral-rich thermal spas where you can leave all your stress behind. The biggest and most popular spa is the Aqua Dome – Tirol Therme Längenfeld in the Ötz Valley (Ötztal), about a 30-minute drive from Innsbruck. Covering more than 50,000 square metres, the AQUA DOME caters for everyone. A separate children’s area with supervision and a free animation programme makes it a hit among families. If you’re looking for something smaller and less busy in Austria in winter, the sulphurous mineral spring water of Bad Häring near Kufstein is a good choice.
5. Visit a Christmas market
Spending an afternoon or early evening with your hands wrapped around a steaming mug of glühwein (mulled wine), eating kiachl (deep-fried dough delicacies) and roasted chestnuts while listening to traditional Christmas music is one of the great pleasures of winter in Austria. When the Christmas markets have a mountain backdrop like those in Tyrol the experience is even more magical.
Visitors to the Christmas markets in Innsbruck are treated to various markets spread out over the city. We prefer the ones in the old town and on the market square. The Christmas market in Hall in Tirol and Rattenberg also have a firm place in our annual Christmas market calendar.
6. Go ice skating
Gliding on ice instead of snow is another alternative to skiing and one of the popular things to do in Austria in winter. It’s cheaper and much less of an effort than to go skiing. You can rent skates at most ice rinks. Outdoor rinks with views of the Alps are an obvious choice on sunny days. We like to go to the one in Wattens near Innsbruck.
In the case of bad weather, the indoor rink at Olympiaworld in the Tyrolean capital is where you will find most skaters. Some villages have small ice rinks out in nature, while locals also ski on frozen lakes and streams at own risk. One such a spot is at the Klaus Äuele kids park close to the glacier in the Stubai Valley.
7. Stand on a snow-covered mountain peak
Fortunately, all the cable cars in ski resorts are not only for skiers. If you simply want to know what it feels like to stand on an Alpine peak and look out over snow-covered mountains as far as the eye can see, there are many cable cars to take you there without much effort. For example, the Hafelekarspitze above Innsbruck is a 15-minute walk from the top station of the Nordkettenbahnen.
The Top of Tyrol viewing platform on the Stubai glacier is another popular lookout point for non-skiers in winter. Tip: There is an igloo bar outside the Seegrube station of the Nordkettenbahnen for a few months in winter. Why not stop for a drink?
8. Taste some schnapps
If it’s cold outside, there’s nothing like a well-brewed schnapps to warm you from within if you happen to be in Austria in winter. Fortunately, you will find some of the best craft distillers in the world in Tyrol. There are no less than 4,000 local distilleries in the Alpine province. Each year, they turn 5 million kilograms of fruit into schnapps, spirits, and liqueurs. Around 40 of the finest distillers have opened their doors to the public to create a Tyrol schnapps route. When visiting one or more of these local distilleries you will learn all about the fine art of making quality schnapps while doing some “quality assurance taste tests”.
9. Attend a music or theatre concert
Austria is as famous for its classical music concerts as for its mountains. And you don’t have to be in Vienna or Salzburg to experience the best musical talent. Innsbruck has its own impressive provincial theatre company, while different regional initiatives such as the Tyrol Winter Festival Erl brighten up the short winter days.
You can also watch out for the Christmas concerts of the Wilten Boys Choir in the Court Church in the Tyrolean capital. An absolute highlight is the annual New Year’s Day Concert by the Tyrol Symphony Orchestra.
10. Stroll through an Alpine village
Quaint Alpine villages have a different charm to them in winter. Strolling through the cobbled streets, spending a quiet moment in a centuries-old church, gazing at the traditional window and door dressings, stopping to have a coffee or glühwein in a “gemutliche” café or stube (pub) – this is what makes winter in Austria unique and unforgettable.
You can even do a day trip with the train, stopping at different villages. Those with trains stopping near the centre, include Kufstein, Kitzbühel, and Seefeld in Tirol. Kufstein has an impressive fortress to visit, Kitzbühel is great for regional shopping, and Seefeld in Tirol is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Read more: If you do end up on the ski slopes make sure you read my ski tips for beginners in Austria. They may just save you some embarrassment.
Find accommodation in Austria in winter
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