48 hours in Innsbruck



Because of its magnificent location in the middle of the Austrian Tyrol, Innsbruck is a great place to go for a weekend at any time of year; it has all the cultural attractions of a small city, but is only a cable-car ride away from the mountains. In December, there is the added attraction of a Christmas market, as well as a series of concerts at various different venues, including some of the churches and the Folk Art Museum.


Since the Stansted-Innsbruck flight ended, there are no direct links from the UK. The cheapest and easiest way in from London is probably on Go (0845 605 4321) from Stansted to Munich, then the two- to three-hour train ride to Innsbruck. From elsewhere in the UK, KLM offers connections via Amsterdam to Innsbruck itself - likely to be cheapest through discount agents.


The best place to look for somewhere to stay is in the Altstadt, or old town, where rooms tend to be quieter because of the lack of cars. Innsbruck's most elegant hotel is the ancient Goldener Adler, at Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse 6 (00 43 512 586334). Doubles here start at AS1,600 (£76) and singles at AS1,080 (£51); this includes breakfast and taxes. More modestly priced, but just down the road at number 31 is the Weisses Kreuz (00 43 512 59479), which has been offering accommodation to merchants and farmers coming into the city's market for more than 500 years. It has been updated in recent years, and has some attractive rooms; doubles start at AS1,060 (£50) and singles at AS730 (£34), and the price also includes breakfast and taxes.


Most of the sights are on the right bank of the River Inn, from which the town takes its name. The oldest part of town, the Altstadt, is a small area between the river and the semi-circle of road known as the Graben (now a street, but once the route of the old moat that surrounded this part of town). Delivery vehicles are allowed down the cobbled streets at certain times of day, but otherwise pedestrians can wander around uninterrupted. A good orientation point is the Sprungstadion ski jump - built in 1964 for the winter Olympics - that sticks up rather incongruously on the southern side of town.


There are plenty of interesting nooks and crannies in the Altstadt. Start near the information office (6) on Burggraben, at the point where Maria-Theresien-Strasse turns into Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, and walk down the street, past the old houses and solid brick arcades. In front of you is Innsbruck's most famous landmark, the Goldenes Dachl, or Golden Roof, which covers a building housing the Maximilianeum, a memorial to the Emperor Maximilian. From this point a series of alleyways leads into the Domplatz, and the church of St Jakob. Behind is the Hofburg, which was once the palace of Leopold III; parts of this are currently being restored, but the rooms that have remained open are worth a look. This is Habsburg territory, and if you are serious about sightseeing, it might be worth buying an Innsbruck card from the tourist office, which offers free admission to most of the museums, and free public transport.


A light lunch is often difficult to find in Austria, where the emphasis seems to be on calories. There are plenty of places, though, on Maria-Theresien-Strasse where you can find a sandwich: try Nordsee, which specialises in fish, or Wienerwald (11) , which, although it is part of a chain, serves a decent lunch. If you find coffee and cakes hard to resist, try the Café Brazil at Leopoldstrasse 7, near the triumphal arch, or the Café Central in the Central Hotel on Gilmstrasse.


The Tyrolean Folk Museum, part of the Hofkirche complex in Universitatsstrasse, is a fascinating reflection of village life over the centuries in this part of Austria. There are cooking utensils, clothing and interiors of old Tyrolean chalets, as well as examples of traditional medieval crafts. An entire room is devoted to a collection of Krippen, or nativity scenes, made by woodcarvers from the villages around Innsbruck; the tradition of carving continues in these areas to this day. There is also an interesting collection of photographs and costumes from past carnival celebrations in and around Innsbruck.


The main shopping area is Maria-Theresien-Strasse, which stretches from the Graben south as far as the triumphal arch. There is a Kaufhof department store halfway down the street, as well as various smaller shops. The streets in the old town are also worth browsing through if you are looking for something more unusual: this is a particularly good place to start if you are looking for antique prints.


If you are a serious beer enthusiast, you may want to try out some of the local brews at Theresienbrau, a noisy beer hall at Maria-Theresien-Strasse 51-53 (00 43 512 587580); most of the beers it serves are brewed on the premises. If you are looking for something more sedate, like a glass of sekt , the local sparkling wine, the best option is to go to the bar of one of the hotels.


For a typical Austrian meal, the best restaurant in town is generally reckoned to be at the Goldener Adler hotel; this is where the locals go if they want something special. Not a great choice for vegetarians, the menu has plenty of pork and chicken, although often cooked in slightly lighter sauces than one might expect. Less expensive, but with plenty of atmosphere, is Sweet Basil, at Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse 31 (00 43 512 584996).


The Hofkirche, once the chapel of the imperial court, no longer functions as a church, but it does contain one of Innsbruck's most impressive attractions, a mausoleum to the Emperor Maximilian. His empty tomb - he was actually buried in Wiener Neustadt, south of Vienna - is surrounded by a couple of dozen larger-than-life bronze figures of knights and various European royals, real or imaginary, including our own King Arthur, whose statue was sculpted by Dürer.


Innsbruck is one of very few cities that actually has mountains within its boundaries. If you want to go into the Alps, either for a walk, a day's skiing, or just to look at the view, take the funicular railway, the Hungerbergbahn, from its base station at the point where Rennweg meets the river. This takes you in two stages to the cable car, and from there you have access to the Seegrube and the Hafelkar.


The Restaurant Seegrube (00 43 512 293375) is more than 6,000ft above the city, at the first cable- car stop up the mountain. It is open for lunch every day, and serves a selection of traditional Austrian dishes. There is a panoramic view across Innsbruck, which is also worth seeing at night, but this is only possible on Fridays, when the cable car continues running until 11.30pm.


A couple of miles outside the city, the Schloss Ambras is well worth a visit for its quiet location and interesting history. Originally built in the Middle Ages, this was the home of Ferdinand II and his wife Philippina Welser, a commoner with whom he fell in love and whom he was banned by his father from marrying for some years. The castle is set in a lovely garden, in the hills above the city. Some of the rooms are filled with displays of armour, including some small suits designed for children. Minibuses run regularly up to the castle from outside the Landhaus on Maria-Theresien-Strasse; make sure you find out when the return service will be leaving, otherwise you could be waiting for some time in the cold.

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