Fancy a cheap weekend away? With a bit of culture and some stunning nature on your doorstep? Good food and reasonable prices? Then Innsbruck might be exactly what you’re looking for.
When it comes to towns like Innsbruck, the Austrian Tourist Board must not believe its luck. Medieval buildings, along with the obligatory pastel-coloured buildings from Austria’s later imperial past that I always associate with the country, and to top it all looming in the background the impressive Nordkette mountain range. In short, it’s a tourist board’s dream!
Not only that but most of what you’ll want to see is in short walking distance of each other in the Altstadt (Old Town). Given the sweltering heat at the time of my visit this was a definite plus. You can buy the Innsbruck Card which offers good value for money, as it seems to give you free entry to almost anything a tourist is likely to visit. And if you’re planning to go up by cable car to the top of the Hafelekarspitze mountain, then it’s worth getting the Innsbruck card for that alone. The fare to the top being almost the same price as the Innsbruck card.
First on my list however was the Hofkirche (Court Church). This is home to the cenotaph of Maximilian I, surrounded by 28 larger than life bronze statues, colloquially known as the Schwarze Mander (Black Men). This is despite the fact that several of the statues are definitely women! It’s one of the most impressive examples of Renaissance art you’re likely to see. It also seems quite fitting and rather Austrian that this grand memorial to Emperor Maximilian is at one end of Austria while his actual corpse is over 300 miles away at the other end of the country in Wiener Neustadt.
Just across the courtyard from the church there are also 3 rooms containing an audio-visual display about Emperor Maximilian. As one section finishes, the door automatically opens for you to enter into the next room. However, as I was the only member of the public there at the time, it was actually quite spooky, particularly in the third room which turned out to be full of statues, swathed in cloth, representing the Schwarze Mander. Call it too vivid an imagination on my part, or simply having watched too much Dr Who as a child, but I was rather relieved to get out of there!
Then it was onto the Hofburg (Royal Palace) which, in addition to all the art work relating to Empress Maria Theresa, includes five rooms that had been decorated to suit the tastes of a much later Austrian royal, Sissi. Sissi is big business in Austria. From a British perspective, she’s like the Princess Diana of Austria in that she was a famous beauty, unhappily married into royalty – in her case Emperor Franz Josef – and who was at constant loggerheads with the stifling formality of court life. As with Princess Diana, Sissi met a tragically young end, stabbed to death by an anarchist while in Switzerland of all places. By the bye in the evening in summer there are free classical concerts held in the Hofburg’s courtyard, which are worth popping along to, if only because it seems rather apt to listen to some Mozart or Strauβ while you’re here.
Then it was up the Hafelekarspitze which, given the sweltering heat, meant it was still boiling hot despite being 1, 400 miles above sea level. It has to be said that one of the advantages of holidaying in Austria is that even up a mountain, the restaurants are still reasonably priced. In a similar location in Britain you’d probably have to take out a small loan just to cover the drinks bill. Likewise in the tourist magnet of the Altstadt, restaurants were still offering reasonably priced meals. This is in stark contrast to many other tourist hotbeds around the world, where it is de rigueur for restaurants to hike their prices to unimaginably inflated levels in order to fleece those poor tourists foolhardy enough to refuse to wander from the beaten track.
The other advantage about Austrian restaurants is that, as a rule, the food is great and you get decently sized portions. On the other hand, in a country where coffee and cake is a cultural institution, it’s definitely not the place to go if you’re looking to lose weight.
The Innsbruck Card also allows you free travel on local transport including on the sightseeing bus which is worth availing yourself of as it takes you to the more out of the way places such as Schloss Ambras (Castle Ambras) and the monument to the Tyrolean freedom fighter, Andreas Hofer.
Last but not least I visited Innsbruck’s most famous building das Goldene Dachl (The Golden Roof). Of course, this being Austria the roof is not in fact made of gold but bronze. At this point, I broke one of my life’s guiding principles – getting my money’s worth – and decided Innsbruck Card be damned, I was off to bed. It was sweltering and I had been pouring sweat just sitting on the bus. I was told by a local it was 39°. Fortunately being old school British, I had no idea what that actually meant apart from the fact it was hot. Had I known that in proper English it meant over 100° Fahrenheit I would no doubt have keeled over there and then!
If like me you decide to visit Innsbruck in July, don’t do what I do and book a hotel without air conditioning. It might be environmentally friendly but it makes for an uncomfortable night’s sleep. Also don’t do that British thing of bringing a cardigan AND coat, just in case. In Britain, this is merely a realistic understanding of the vagaries of the British weather system. In the Tyrol when it’s over 100° the “just in case” will NEVER happen; and you will just end up lugging them around which a) is knackering and b) you end up looking like an idiot.
I arrived in the Tyrol by train. Austrian trains are cheap if booked in advance, and the ÖBB (Austrian Trains) website is also easy to use. My first class 5 hour + train journey from Graz to Innsbruck cost me a mere €34 (£25). That was FIRST CLASS, folks! A price that us British rail users with our privatised rail services can only fantasise about! Mind you, we’d be grateful to pay that for second class travel and with a bit of luck get a seat thrown into the bargain! Yes, the train does seem to stop at places where no one seems to either get on or off; and consequently it is a very long journey but the scenery is amazing, particularly when you pass by somewhere such as the awe-inspiring Zell am See. Homewards bound I flew home where the bus to the airport cost a staggeringly low €2.30 (£1.70). I pity any poor Tyrolean when, landing at Gatwick, he’s faced with the cost of how much a train is into good old London town.
All in all, Innsbruck is a great place to go for a weekend. You can grab a bit of culture, grab a bit of nature and getting out and about is easy and cheap. Just don’t bring your cardie (in summer at least)!