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Seven reasons to visit Innsbruck

Louisa Wilkins visits this exciting city in the southwest of Austria and discovers that the only problem you'll have there is deciding what not to do

By Louisa Wilkins
1 Nov 2011 | 12:00 am
  • Innsbruck has a colourful past with the Habsburg empire and Napoleonic wars.

    Source:Supplied picture

The Tyrol region is referred to by Austrians as a wilderness. This is largely because 85 per cent of the region is mountainous, which made for a hard lifestyle in previous centuries. These days, this wild terrain provides the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as offering jaw-dropping natural beauty at every turn. The other benefit of the rugged natural landscape is that the Tyrol region's capital city, Innsbruck, is tightly compacted into the little space it could find between the mountains, meaning that nothing is ever that far away. Ask how far it is to any of the sights and there is a standard answer of "Umm, about 20 minutes" - even Italy is only 20 minutes away apparently. For families with children of different ages and interests, or couples looking for a destination where both partners can satisfy their various holiday needs, Innsbruck holds the answer. Check out our list of reasons why this beautiful and action-packed city should be your next holiday stop.

1. For the woman who loves to shop

Between November 15 and January 6, Innsbruck comes alive with evening winter markets. The Traditional Market is an institution with locals, who go to meet up with friends, buy gifts and enjoy traditional food, like hot doughnut balls eaten with sauerkraut. For crystal delights, try the Modern Market; for foodies, the Panoramic market; for vintage items, the Flea Market; for children, the Family Market, which has a petting zoo, rides, a puppet theatre and more; and for a cultural evening, the Artistic Market, which offers storytelling for adults, live music and arty gift ideas. www.christkindlmarkt.cc

Don't miss... Ice skating at the Sparkassenplatz in the centre of the city. Open every day from November 18 until February 19, from 10am until 10pm.

2. For the outdoorsy family

Tyroleans live a very active, outdoorsy lifestyle and when in Innsbruck, with all the facilities and natural elements on offer, it's difficult not to want to try them all out. While there are lots of activities on offer in Innsbruck city itself, there are also Alpine retreats set up to cater to all ages and interests. One of the best of these is Hotel Schwarz, which is around 40 minutes from Innsbruck, located in the foothills of the mountains. Here, you can play golf and tennis, go horseriding, trekking, mountain biking and Nordic walking, go skiing in the winter, swim in the indoor and outdoor heated pools and jacuzzis all year round and if you're brave you can even swim in the mountain lake. There is also a spa, a discreet cosmetic surgery clinic, babysitting facilities, children's activities and a petting zoo. This family-run resort has the intimate atmosphere of a cosy boutique hotel, but with all the facilities of a five-star resort and is just as popular with newly-weds and couples looking for a calming health retreat as it is with families. www.schwarz.at

Don't miss... An early morning swim in the brain-freezingly cold Alpine lake when the sun is just rising, with mountains towering over you on both sides. Invigorating, both physically and mentally.

3. For the adventure-hungry teens (and adults)

Not only does Innsbruck have an Olympic ski jump, but it also has an Olympic bobsleigh track, which is open all year round to adrenaline-seekers who fancy hurtling down the 1,210 metre-long track in less than a minute. You're kitted out with helmets and told to keep your neck stiff. However, the bobsleigh goes so fast that, within seconds, your helmet is bouncing between the rollbars like a ball in a pinball machine. It feels a lot faster than it looks and is definitely worth a go when in town.

Don't miss... The 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games, which is being held in Innsbruck in January.

4. For the man who loves watching sport

Innsbruck has hosted the winter Olympics twice (1964 and 1976) and has an Olympic-standard ski jump to show for it. Wherever you are in Innsbruck, you can spot the Bergisel ski jump looking over the city in all its retro-cool cement splendour. Take a cable car to the top (look out for the scratches on the ceiling of the cable car from competitors' skis) and look down the steep slope, where skiers reach speeds of around 90km per hour. www.bergisel.info

Don't miss... Lunch at Restaurant Bergiseltower above the ski jump level with fabulous views over the city.

5. For the bling-lovers

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the area is Swarovski Crystal World, which can see 7,000 people through its doors in one day and has had more than 10 million visitors since opening in 1995. Installations from artists, such as Salvador Dali, alongside vast amounts of Swarovski crystals, makes the whole experience quite surreal. kristallwelten.swarovski.com

Don't miss... The huge Crystal Dome room, in which 590 mirrors have been made into a dome shape, giving you the feeling of being inside a cut crystal.

6. For the historian

Innsbruck has a colourful past with the Habsburg empire and Napoleonic wars. There are plenty of museums and well-preserved historical sites documenting the different eras of rule in the area, such as the famous Golden Roof in the city centre, which was a wedding present from a Habsburg ruler to his rich second wife.

Don't miss... The Tyrol Panorama, a panoramic painting depicting the 1809 Battle of Bergisel when the peasants from the region joined forces to fight Napoleon's army. It is displayed in a circular room, where visitors stand in the middle to get a 360˚ view of how the city would have looked during the war.

7. For the snow enthusiasts

Austrians are pretty much born with skis on their feet, with most of them claiming to have been skiing from the age of three. Cable cars can get you from the city centre to more than 2,000 metres above sea level within 20 minutes, so people from Innsbruck often nip off for a quick ski after school and work, or even early morning. There are more than 200 ski trails and 200km of trail for cross-country skiers. Don't miss... The skiing lessons on offer for kids and adults. With great childcare options available, parents can leave the nursery slopes behind for a while, and head to the harder trails for some me-time. www.ski-austria.com. A

Where to stay in the city

Grand Hotel Europa

Directly opposite the train station and a five-minute walk from the town centre, this hotel is the perfect venue for your city break. While from the outside it looks quite formal, inside it's warm and full of character, with spacious, rooms and luxury suites kitted out in full Tyrolean wood to offer a traditional wood cabin experience. The hotel houses a restaurant, bar, gym, sauna and an outdoor sundeck. Prices start at Dh790 for two people in a standard room, including breakfast; or Dh1,870 for two in a Tyrolean Suite, including breakfast and soft drinks. www.grandhoteleuropa.at

Getting there

Austrian Airlines flies daily to Innsbruck, with a short stopover in Vienna. Prices start from approximately Dh2,500 per person.

By Louisa Wilkins

By Louisa Wilkins

Editor