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Innsbruck – The Jewel of the Alps

Innsbruck, the jewel of the Alps is truly a gem.  Not only for its unforgettable “golden roof” but for its beautiful cobbled streets, churches, and lookout point.  Think imperial monuments and contemporary urban design.  Olympic records and opulent past splendor.  Open to the world and rich in traditions, the Tyrolean capital has always been a city of many faces.

Steeped in centuries of colorful history, Innsbruck features a range of fine examples of Imperial splendor bestowed on the town by many Habsburg rulers with a penchant for architecture and creative arts.  Some of the town’s most significant monuments date back to the late 15th century, marking the early heydays of the Austrian monarchy.

On my visit I was taken on a journey back in time with an enchanting array of splendid architectural gems from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical period.

Nordpark Cable Railways located near the alps.
Entrance to the Nordpark cable railways

One of the most memorable parts of my backpacking adventure was getting to the Nordpark Cable Railways and taking a cable car to the 2256-meter high Hafelekar.

In no other place in the world is the dividing line between an urban area and rugged mountain terrain so thin.  Imagine having lunch in town, browse the shops, and then change to a mountain restaurant for a leisurely afternoon coffee.  In Innsbruck this is reality, thanks to a total make-over of the rail and cable ways leading up to Nordkette, a Mecca for skiers, snowboarders and hikers right on Innsbruck’s doorstep.

View of the Eastern Alps from Innsbruck
The Eastern Alps in Austria and the adjacent regions of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy and Slovenia.

From the first section with two gondola cable cars, I was taken from Hungerburg to Seegrube and ultimately to Hafelekar.  For me this meant fast access to the Nordkette off-piste slopes and back-country, as well as the sun terrace where I was able to just lounge in the sun.

Thanks to the careful adaptation of the upper and lower terminus buildings, which date back to the 1920s, the new mountain link provides an unusual and interesting contrast between state-of-the-art technology and architecture of special historic interest.

The high populated Inn Valley on one side contrasts with the genuine wilderness of the Karwendel Alpine Park on the other side.  The visual opposition between city and mountains makes the impressions collected unforgettable.

Another breathtaking view from the Hafelekar mountain at an altitude of 2,334 metres.
Another breathtaking view from the Hafelekar mountain at an altitude of 2,334 metres.

Once back in the charming Old Town, a classic Austrian hybrid of Gothic and Baroque, I found one of Innsbruck’s greatest tourist attraction and certainly its most characteristic landmark: The Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl).
Built by emperor Maximilian I., this outstanding alcove balcony shows stone reliefs depicting acrobatic morisque dancers and the emperor himself with his two spouses Maria of Burgundy and Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan.

The Golden Roof
The Goldenes Dachl

Besides being a museum this building also houses the Permanent Secretariat of the International Alpine Convention. The secreteriat provides support to the decision-making organs of the Convention, it favors the exchange of experience and knowledge about the Alps and is in charge of public relations for the Alpine Convention.

Across from the Golden Roof at Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse I came across the Helblinghause.  This original 15th century Gothic mansion  is an outstanding example of bourgeois grandeur in the Old Town, in later years richly decorated with stuccos.

The house is named for Sebastian Helbling, who operated a small Café in there in 1833.  The historic structure was completely refurbished in the years 1979 and 1980.

The building on the far right is the Helblinghaus
The building on the far right is the Helblinghaus
Innsbruck Imperial Palace at dusk
Innsbruck Imperial Palace at dusk

Another allure of the jewel of the alps is the imperial palace – once was seat of the Tyrolean sovereigns.

At the end of the 15th century, as Emperor Maximilian I. held court at Innsbruck, the Imperial Palace had already today’s dimensions.  Empress Maria Theresia renovated the existing palace in the monumental baroque style.


Originally, over 700 years ago, this street in Innsbruck’s “New Town” consisted of just a few farmhouses.  The Old Town was enclosed by a well-fortified circular wall and could, from here, only be entered via the St. Jörgen gateway. It wasn’t long, however, before many members of the aristocracy began building their houses on this street in close proximity to the local rulers of the time.

During the Baroque period, many of those houses were remodeled into opulent palatial residences that, today, are still a delight to behold.

Further impressive monuments to the city’s past include the St. Anne’s Column, the Chapel of St. George in the Palais Gumpp and the Triumphal Arch, while the Kaufhaus tyrol and Rathauspassagen shopping precincts provide a contemporary yet harmonious contrast.

The actual street itself was also transformed in 2009 into an elegant promenade with granite paving and benches and street lamps made of brass and wood.  The north end is fully pedestrianized while the south end has wide pavements.

St. Anne's Column
St. Anne’s Column

The many pavement cafés, outdoor restaurants and splendid buildings, along with attractive boutiques and the indoor shopping precincts Kaufhaus tyrol and Rathauspassagen, make the Maria-Theresien-Strasse the perfect place to stroll, linger, browse and shop.

St. James Cathedral
The huge two-towered front of the St. James Parish Cathedral dominates the square at the northwest of the Imperial Court.

If you like seeing churches and cathedrals the Dom zu St. Jakob is a sight worth visiting.  Based on designs by the Baroque architect Johann Jakob Herkommer, this church was rebuilt between 1717 and 1724 on the site of an earlier Gothic church. It is roofed with domes and has a lavish Baroque interior, part of which was executed by the Asam brothers. One of its chief treasurers is a precious Madonna and Child on the main altar, painted by German master Lucas Cranach the Elder.

The elaborate Innsbruck carillon sounds for peace. In the north aisle, look for a 1620 monument honoring Archduke Maximilian III, who died in 1618. The most recent renovation works date from the years 1992 and 1993.

Innsbruck is one of those places you go to when you want to experience gorgeous scenery, charming towns and a very traditional culture. Whether  you arrive in the snow-covered Innsbruck or in the summer when you can expect clear, blue skies, you might just fall in love with the gorgeous city and all of its surrounding towns.

Have you been to Innsbruck?  Or would you like to go?

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