Four spectacular views over the city of Innsbruck
The city of Innsbruck, located in the Tyrol region of Austria, is nestled in a valley, hugged by dramatic mountain ranges on two sides. This unique geographic setting offers spectacular views over the city from many different angles and elevations.
Innsbruck was the first city on our two-week Interrailing trip around Western Europe. Our first day was spent hiking in the Alps, exploring the Grawa Waterfall, so it wasn't until the second day that we finally had time to explore the city itself. Without intentionally planning to do so, our second and third days in Innsbruck ended up being all about finding the best views over the city. The following viewpoints are listed in chronological order of when we visited them, as it is difficult to rank them based on which offers the "best" view.
1) Innsbruck City Tower
After entering the Old Town and admiring the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), our first destination was the Innsbruck City Tower (Stadtturm). The tower, open year-round, costs only 4 euros to enter and is definitely worth a visit. After climbing 148 steps up one side of the double helix staircase, we ducked through a tiny door and emerged onto the narrow balcony.
The tower, located in central Innsbruck, offered fantastic 360º views over the city. It was a particularly perfect location to look down on the colourful buildings of Old Town. On a clear day, the tower would likely offer majestic views of the mountains rising up behind the city, but on the day we were there, clouds blocked any view of the mountainous landscape.
Tickets: Purchase at the tower
Price: €4 (€3 for students)
Next on our spur-of-the-moment itinerary was taking the Hungerburgbahn funicular up to the small village of Hungerburg, located 857 m (2,812 ft) up the mountain range north of Innsbruck. We boarded the funicular at Congress Station, just outside of Old Town. I was impressed at the modern design of both the funicular and its stations.
In less than ten minutes, the funicular had brought us through tunnels, over a bridge across the river and up 1,800 metres to Hungerburg. The viewpoint, located just outside of the station, offered sweeping views over Innsbruck and the surrounding countryside. Behind us, the mountains were still covered in a thick fog, but on the opposite side of the valley, snow-covered peaks were visible as the clouds parted momentarily.
We tried finding somewhere for lunch in Hungerburg, but the few restaurants we could find were unsuitable for our various dietary requirements, so we made our way back down the mountain. On the return journey, we made sure we were in the front compartment of the funicular, which offers the best views as you descend back into the city.
Tickets: Buy online here or at the station
Price: €10.90 (€9.80 for students) for a round trip-ticket
3) Innsbruck panorama point
After lunch, on the suggestion of our waitress, we headed south of the city centre, towards Bergisel Hill. It took us around half an hour to walk from the Old Town of Innsbruck to this viewpoint, just a few metres from the historic Urichhaus. It was fun getting to see the city from a new angle. On a clear day you would be able to see the Nordkette range of mountains dominating the view over Innsbruck, but once again, our view was blocked by clouds.
We also hiked in the nearby Sillschlucht (Sill Gorge), where a glacial blue river runs through a dense forest. I was shocked to find such unspoilt nature so close to the city centre!
If you're looking for other things to do in the area, this viewpoint is just minutes away from both the Tirol Panorama and the Bergisel Ski Jump, both which were already closed by the time we arrived.
4) The "Top of Innsbruck"
On our last morning in Innsbruck, the weather finally cleared enough that we could see the peaks of the mountains surrounding the city – at last! The boys managed to convince me we should pay the big bucks and travel to the "Top of Innsbruck." I wasn't convinced it was worth the money, but I was wrong and I'm glad they pressured me into joining.
Paul was meeting a friend in the city, so Brett, Dan and I bought our tickets at the Congress Station and began the 30-minute journey to the top. We rode the Hungerburgbahn again, and then transferred to the first of two cable cars, which brought us three-quarters up the mountain to Seegrube (the picture on the left below was taken the previous day when the mountains were still shrouded in fog). As the cable car climbed up the mountain, we were impressed to see people running and cycling on the steep winding trails below us.
At Seegrube, we transferred to a second cable car, which brought us to the ridge of the Nordkette range. Out the window, we watched as we flew over patches of snow and vast expanses of exposed rock.
The first thing that hit us when we arrived at the top was the cold. Having expected summer weather on our European trip, we were ill prepared for 2ºC. As we admired the view from the observation deck, we were startled to see a paraglider take off just metres away. I initially thought he'd been blown off the path, but as he dove down the side of the mountain, spinning upside down and gliding just metres from the cliff-face, we could see that he was in control and had obviously done this before.
While the view towards the city was lovely, the panoramic view on the northern side of the ridge, towards the the mountains in the Karwendel Nature Park, was even more spectacular. With freezing hands, Brett and I took photos as we watched sunlight filter through the clouds and dance across the mountains.
While waiting for Paul to arrive, Brett, Dan and I escaped to the warmth of the cafe at the cable car station. We ordered warm drinks and snacks to help fight the bitterness of the cold outside. Brett finally got to try some traditional Austrian goulash, and we shared a shot of schnaps, which really helped to warm us up from the inside!
Just a few metres away from where we were sat, was the start of the Innsbrucker Klettersteig, a "fixed rope climbing route." We had been disappointed to learn the trail was still closed for the season while we were visiting, but it quickly became clear why: within minutes of entering the cafe, the entire mountain had become enveloped in cloud and snow flurries spun outside the window. Changeable weather conditions like this would not make for a safe Klettersteig.
When Paul arrived, we zipped up our coats, pulled up our hoods and headed out into the storm. Despite the snow, we were surprised to find there was almost no wind, so the ascent to the top wasn't nearly as scary as I feared it might be. After a short climb, we reached the summit of Hafelekar – aka the Top of Innsbruck. At 2,334 metres (7,401 ft), we were at the highest point of the Nordkette. The cloud cover, however, meant we couldn't see a thing from the top viewpoint (starting a trend that, unfortunately, followed us to Switzerland and Italy).
Conscious of the dwindling time we had before we needed catch our train to Zurich, we made our way back down the trail to the cable car station. As we threw snowballs at one another, Brett and I realised it was the first time we had experienced proper snow together!
We took the cable car down to Seegrube, and then left the station to explore this location before making our way down the mountain. Brett took the opportunity to slide down a snowbank on his heels – he's never one to miss an opportunity for fun!
By the time we were about to board the second cable car, the clouds had cleared where we were, but we could see a layer of clouds below us in the valley. As we were waiting for the cable car to depart, the clouds raced up the side of the mountain, and once again, we were completely engulfed. The most spectacular moment of this cable car ride was when we broke through the white of the cloud and could see the city of Innsbruck spread out below us.
Tickets: Buy online here or at the station
Price: €42.00 (€39.00 for students) for a round trip ticket