The Innsbruck old town is full of historic and architectural gems within easy walking distance of each other. With the Inn River on one side and the Nordkette mountain towering behind, the Innsbruck old town has a character like no other. This is my list of the top 10 things to see and do in and around the historic old town of Innsbruck, including some insider tips.
1. Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl)
A little balcony with a roof adorned with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles is the biggest attraction in the Innsbruck old town (known locally as the Altstadt). The Golden Roof in the heart of the historic centre was built around 1500 by Emperor Maximilian 1. Since then, it has become the symbol of Innsbruck.
Sightseeing in the Innsbruck old town is incomplete without a photo stop in front of the Golden Roof. For a picture that really captures the capital of the Alps, step back to include the Nordkette mountains in the background. If you have time, why not visit the Golden Roof Museum?
2. Innsbruck City Tower (Stadtturm)
The Innsbruck city tower is just a stone’s throw from the Golden Roof. First mentioned in 1450, the tower was manned by watchmen for many centuries. Their tasks included announcing the time every hour and warning the townsfolk about encroaching danger. In the middle ages, there was also a prison cell at the bottom of the Innsbruck city tower.
Why don’t you get some exercise and climb the 148 stairs to the viewing platform? From here you have a 360-degree view over Innsbruck and surroundings. The Nordkette mountains, Patscherkofel and the Bergisel ski jump are just some of the things you will see.
Insider tip: Climb the city tower when the Innsbruck Christmas market is on from mid-November to the end of December. You will be rewarded with views of the giant Christmas tree and Christmas market stalls from the top.
Read more: Reach an Alpine Peak in 60 minutes with the Innsbruck cable car.
3. Innsbruck Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
The Imperial Palace is about a 3-minute walk from the Golden Roof. I agree, there’s not much to it from the outside. But as the former residence of the Habsburg Dynasty, the interior of the Innsbruck Imperial Palace impresses with beautifully painted ceilings and portraits of illustrious imperial personalities, such as Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Maximilian I.
The palace was originally built by Archduke Sigmund the Rich in the mid-1400s. Highlights are the Giant’s Hall, the Guard Room, and the Hofburg Chapel.
Best insider tip: The Golden Roof, the Innsbruck City Tower, the Imperial Palace, and the Court Church are all included in the Innsbruck Card. Read when it is absolutely worth buying the Innsbruck Card.
4. The Court Church (Hofkirche)
Diagonally opposite the Imperial Palace is a Gothic church that was built by Emperor Ferdinand I in memory of his grandfather, Maximilian I. Consecrated in 1553, the church is home to the famous Schwarze Mander (Black Men). They are 28 impressive statues of Habsburg relatives and heroes (also including some women despite the name). The statues stand around a black marble cenotaph for Maximilian I.
The Court Church, which is on the edge of the historic old town of Innsbruck, also holds the tomb of Andreas Hofer, Tyrol’s national hero.
Tip: The Innsbruck Court Church and the Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art share the same entrance. If you have time, it’s well worth taking a tour of the museum. Don’t let the Krampus near the entrance frighten you away!
5. Triumphal Arch (Triumphpforte)
Innsbruck’s Triumphal Arch spans the southern end of Maria-Theresa Street and tells the story of a wedding and a funeral.
The Triumphal Arch was originally commissioned in 1765 by Empress Maria Theresa to commemorate the marriage of their son, the Duke of Tuscany (later to become Emperor Leopold II) to Spanish Princess Maria Ludovica.
Sadly, Maria Theresa’s husband Emperor Franz I died during the festivities. Thus the Triumphal Arch ended up depicting the wedding on its southern facade and the mourning of the Emperor on its northern facade. It remains a prominent landmark on the border of the Innsbruck old town.
6. Colourful houses along the Inn River
End your tour through the old town of Innsbruck with the perfect picture to remember the city by.
One of my favourite things to see in Innsbruck is the row of colourful houses against a mountain backdrop along the Inn River on Mariahilstraße. They are best photographed from the Innbrücke (Inn Bridge) or the Marktplatz (Market Square). The Marktplatz is also a good place to sit down to quench your thirst after your walking tour.
Read more: If you’re planning on visiting more Austrian cities, these are the 13 things you must do in Graz
Something for a rainy day or when you’re visiting Innsbruck with kids. Audioversum is an interactive science centre or museum with the main focus on hearing. Kids love it because they are allowed to touch everything and play fun games without noticing the educational value.
Apart from the permanent exhibitions and experiments, special exhibitions with a different theme change regularly. One of the most recent ones centred around the sense of smell, while the latest one contains some fascinating material about the human brain. Audioversum is opposite the Landhausplatz near the Triumphal Arch – not directly in the historic old town but not even a 5-minute walk away.
8. Horse-drawn carriage ride
Not everyone likes to indulge in things like carriage rides when travelling, but if you do the Fiaker carriage tours through the Innsbruck old town are very relaxed and informative. The guides relate many interesting facts that you won’t find in a guidebook. If it wasn’t for our Fiaker carriage tour, we would never have known that Dr Chris Barnard, the South African who did the world’s first heart transplant in Cape Town, spent some time working and teaching in the Innsbruck Hospital.
The horses and carriages are parked in front of the Hofgarten opposite the Congress station of the Nordkettenbahnen (just passed the Imperial Palace). We paid €20 for the horse and carriage with a guide, fitting 3 adults and 3 children into the carriage. That’s not too bad for 6 people.
9. Maria Theresa Street
A walk down Maria Theresa Street from the Triumphal Arch to the Golden Roof is compulsory to experience the essence of Innsbruck. Lined with well-preserved 17th- and 18th-century houses, it will only take you 10 minutes without stopping. But there is so much to see and do in between that you can easily allow half an hour for this. Even more, if you love shopping!
Keep your eye on St. Anne’s Column where the pedestrian zone starts and the main shopping begins. This momument from 1706 was erected to commemorate the withdrawal of Bavarian troops on St. Anne’s Day in 1703. Two shopping centres, the Rathaus Gallerien and the Kaufhaus Tyrol are on either side of Maria Theresa Street.
10. Cathedral of St. James
The Cathedral of St. James got its name because it was once on the Way of St. James, an important medieval Christian pilgrimage route. The original cathedral, dating from the 1100s, was badly damaged by earthquakes before it was rebuilt in the early 1700s.
Look out for the famous Maria Hilf painting by Lukas Cranach the Elder, a highlight of the interior. You will find the cathedral down Pfargasse behind the Golden Roof.
Where to find the Innsbruck old town attractions
Read more: Do you have time to discover more of Innsbruck? Also read my ultimate Innsbruck Sightseeing Guide with details about many more things to see and do in the area.
Practical tips for visiting the old town of Innsbruck
Where to stay
There are many great hotels with an old-world character in the Innsbruck old town. One with a very colourful history not even a minute from the Golden Roof is the Hotel Goldene Krone. If you stay here, you’ll be in the same company as famous historical figures such as Mozart, Goethe, and various royalty.
The best thing about discovering the Innsbruck old town is that you don’t need transport. All of the attractions and things to do listed above are within a 10-minute walk from each other. They are also walking distance from the main train station and the big inner city parking garages. There are many trains to Innsbruck arriving from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and the other major Austrian cities to visit. Check here for connections.
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