48 Hours In: Innsbruck

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With easy access to eight world-class ski resorts and a rich architectural heritage, the Tyrolean capital is the perfect place to explore this snow season, says Matt Barr

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Travel essentials

Touch down

Innsbruck, the Tyrolean capital, is that rare beast: a city that has managed tastefully to integrate its elegant past with modern dynamism. It is also one of Austria's most important winter-sports hubs, with eight world-class resorts within an hour of the city.

Innsbruck's ace-in-the-hole is that its airport (innsbruck-airport.com) is only 4km from the city centre. Gatwick is the main UK hub: easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com) flies daily and British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies five times a week; easyJet also flies from Bristol and Liverpool twice a week, while the main tour operators also offer a wide range of regional flying options every Saturday.

Bus F departs from the airport every 15 minutes and reaches the main station (1) 18 minutes later, for a fare of €1.80 (or buy a four-journey ticket for €5.90). A taxi shouldn't cost more €10 to most points in the city.

Innsbruck's position astride the Inn, at the heart of the Austrian Alps, means the city has a singularly dramatic appearance, with the peaks that loom over the town giving it an eerie grandeur. The Habsburg legacy in the city is equally impressive: the Old Town is the natural focal point for most visitors, who gravitate towards the Golden Roof (2) (actually comprising 2,657 copper tiles) on Herzog Friedrich-strasse, still the city's main landmark five centuries after it was built to honour Emperor Maximilian I.

Nearby, Touristinformation Innsbruck (3) at 3 Burggraben (00 43 512 53560; innsbruck.info) opens 9am-6pm every day. You can buy tickets for buses and trams, and the Innsbruck Card, which offers free entry to most of the city's key attractions as well as unlimited public transport: 24 hours costs €29; 48 hours, €34; 72 hours, €39.

Check in

The Hotel Grauer Bar (4) ("Grey Bear") is only 150m from the Old Town at 5-7 Universitatstrasse (00 43 512 5924 0; innsbruck-hotels.at). The rooms are four-star standard (with free Wi-Fi), and cost from €135 per double including breakfast. Or take a three-night package with Inghams (020-8780 4447; inghams.co.uk) for £449, including return flights from Gatwick.

The three-star Gasthof Dollinger (5) at Hallerstrasse 7 (00 43 512 267 506; dollinger.at) is another good choice if easy access to the slopes and the city is important. It's 15 minutes' walk outside the centre, but only 10 minutes' walk from the Hungerburg & Nordkettenbahn (funicular railway) that leads up to Seegrube, the closest resort to the city. The Dollinger has a traditional Tyrolean feel. Prices start from €350 for two people for four nights' half board, with a three-day lift pass included for each person.

For faded Habsburg opulence married to cutting-edge Italian design, try the five-star Grandhotel Europa Tyrol (6) at Südtiroler Platz 2 (00 43 512 5931 950; grandhoteleuropa.at).

Day one

Take a hike

A walk around this most striking of cities offers the chance to immerse yourself in the city's often bewildering array of architectural styles. The legacy of the Habsburgs in particular seems to emanate from every corner. Murmur secrets into your companion's ear at the tiny Whispering Arch (7) on Herzog Hof, before the obligatory stop at the Golden Roof (2) on Herzog-Friedrichstrasse.

For a better view of this landmark, and the city itself, climb the 148 steps of the City Tower (8), also on Herzog-Friedrichstrasse. Built in the 1440s (the cupola was added later), the tower is Renaissance in style and is tastefully lit at night. It opens 10am-5pm (to 8pm in summer), admission €3 (free with Innsbruck City Card). Continuing on Herzog-Friedrichstrasse is Innsbruck's grandest mansion, the 15th-century Helblinghaus (9) – a Gothic house with rococo stuccos that were added later. Moving roughly south-east, Herzog-Friedrichstrasse turns into Maria-Theresienstrasse. About halfway down it is dominated by St Ann's Column (10), built to commemorate the withdrawal of Bavarian troops from the city in 1703, while further to the south is the Triumphal Gate (11), built by the eponymous Maria Theresa to celebrate her son's marriage in 1765.

For lunch, seek out the scrumptious edible souvenirs on offer, such as locally sourced bacon (known as speck) at one of the "speckeries".

Window shopping

The main commercial street is the lengthy Maria-Theresienstrasse, a highlight of which is Kaufhaus Tyrol (12) – a striking mall that saw the old Bauer & Schwarz department store updated by David Chipperfield and reopened last March. It's a great example of the city's bold approach to architectural icons.

Slightly out of town, but worth a trip (on bus 4125 or 4169), the Burton Snowboards Flagship Store (13) at 111 Hallerstrasse (00 43 512 230 430; burton.com) is bursting with the latest boards.

Dining with the locals

Innsbruck's culinary offerings reflect the city, with traditional Tyrolean cuisine and more modern gastronomy co-existing happily. For the former, try the Weisses Rössl (14) at 8 Kiebachgasse (00 43 512 583 057; roessl.at), run by Klaus Plank and family. It has been an Innsbruck fixture since 1410, making it the perfect place to try local specialities such as groestl (pan-fried potatoes, herbs and meat topped with an egg) or kaiserschmarrn, a delicious, addictive pancake dessert.

Restaurant Ottoburg (15) at 1 Herzog-Friedrichstrasse (00 43 512 584 338; ottoburg.at; 11am-2.30pm and 6pm-midnight daily except Monday) is another ancient restaurant (reputedly dating from 1180) that mixes old and new cuisine.

The cutting edge of the Tyrolean restaurant scene can be found at The Pavillon (16), next to the Tiroler Landestheater and the imperial Hofburg (00 43 512 25 70 00; der-pavillon.at) – an intriguing cube-shaped building in a prime location. Chef Mansur Memarian's food has attained cult status, making booking essential.

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

The 16th-century Hofkirche (17) at Universitätsstrasse 2 is a spectacular Gothic church originally intended to be a mausoleum for Maximillian I. The emperor was actually buried in Vienna but his enormous black tomb remains – an Ozymandian monument to the faded glory of the Holy Roman Empire. It is surrounded by 28 imposing statues depicting the Emperor's ancestors. The Tyrolean folk hero Andreas Hofer, famed for leading a local rebellion against Napoleonic forces, is buried here too.

Out to brunch

Like any good Habsburg city, Innsbruck has a proud konditorei (café) culture. There are some beautifully preserved examples in the Old Town, such as Munding (18) at 16 Kiebachgasse (00 43 512 584118; munding.at) – serving the best hot chocolate in town since it opened in 1803. The incredible cakes and pastries are baked on site and only use local ingredients.

Cultural afternoon

Tyrol may no longer be a realm in its own right, but a strong sense of civic pride remains. Explore the region's rich folk history at the Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art (19) at 15 Museumstrasse ( tiroler-landesmuseum.at), open 9am-5pm daily except Mondays, admission €10 (free with Innsbruck Card). Then head to the nearby Hofgarten (00 43 512 584 803), the sprawling imperial gardens designed for the Habsburgs.

Take a view

The architect with the biggest recent influence on Innsbruck is Zaha Hadid. You'll spot her alien-looking designs for the stations of the new Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahnen around town, but her most imposing legacy to the city is the new Bergisel Skijump stadium (20), 20 minutes' walk south of the centre (00 43 512 589 259; bergisel.info). Once there you can either walk up the 455 steps or take a funicular and then a lift to the top. Summer opening hours between 9am and 6pm; winter opening hours 10am and 5pm, admission fee €8.50. Whichever you choose, the views of the cityscape more than reward the effort.

Snow escape

As with any ski trip based in a valley town, skiing in Innsbruck requires a certain amount of planning to make the most of it. Eighty-one lifts and 280km of pistes spread over eight resorts are included on the Olympia SkiWorld Innsbruck pass: Nordpark, Patscherkofel, Axamer Lizum, Muttereralm, Kühtai, Rangger Köpfl, Schlick 2000 and Stubai Glacier. With the option of a day in St Anton and Kitzbühel included on the Super Ski Pass, skiers are spoiled for choice.

The key is to evaluate your own level of expertise, keep an eye on the weather and ask as many of the ski-mad locals as possible for their recommendations. Free shuttle buses run from the city to each of the various resorts; check with your hotel for times.

If you're a complete beginner, consider Kühtai (00 43 5239 5222; schneegarantie.at), Muttereralm (00 43 512 548 330; muttereralm.info), Rangger Köpfel (00 43 5232 81 505; rangger-koepfl.at) or Schlick 2000 (00 43 5225 62270; schlick2000.at). All these resorts have wide, sweeping gentle slopes and good ski schools.

Intermediates should head to Axamer Lizum (00 43 5234 68240; axamer-lizum.at), a large resort with a wide variety of terrain, including some good off-piste and tree skiing. Another option, if you're ready to take on some steeper slopes, is Nordpark (00 43 512 29 33 44; nordkette.com), the most easily accessible resort from the city.

Experts have much to occupy them, with Nordpark having one of Europe's best fun parks and some short, steep chutes for real powder hounds. Axamer Lizum is also a favourite spot for expert freeriding or freeskiing, especially off the Götzner Grube and Pleisen chairs. Some challenging routes can be tackled over at Stubai (00 43 5226 8141; stubaier-gletscher.com). If the weather is clear, a longer ride over to Kuhtai's big, open bowls might be in order.

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