Winter in Austria means two things in particular: tourists that come for the Christmas markets and tourist that come for the start of the skiing season. If you’re unsure of what activity to undertake first but you’d like to try them both, then Innsbruck is without a doubt the right place for you.
The city’s name meansbridge on the river Inn: the river Inn begins close to St. Moritz and passes through Innsbruck and its many buildings painted in pastel tones, before flowing into the Danube.
Surrounded by mountains that are clearly visible from wherever you look in the city, Innsbruck’s history goes as far back as the Roman empire, but rest assured that here you’ll find the best weinstube (the traditional pub) in the region.
Let’s start at breakfast: to avoid walking around for ages looking for the right sort place for your morning coffee – because winter mornings in Austria are already rather cold – you can be sure of finding the best cup of coffee in the city near the Golden Roof, the symbol of the city of Innsbruck.
The Caffè Munding is an absolute must: first opened in 1803, it’s the oldest patisserie in the entire Tyrol. Whether you prefer a pastry covered in chocolate, one with dried fruit or with raspberries, here you’ll be taken care of by a family that has been making the best pastries in the Tyrol for the past 214 years.
Now it’s time to decide: would you like to go skiing – the Olympia Skiworld connects nine ski resorts together – or you can make the most of the daylight by taking a stroll through the Hofgarten, the public park that was once the Innsbruck Imperial Gardens.
Hofgarten is over 600 years old, and during this time it has changed its look more than once, first it conformed to the Renaissance style then the Baroque before finally turning into an English landscape garden. Here, you can admire several trees that were planted by the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria herself – as well as old men playing with giant chess-boards, where you need both hands to move a piece.
I suggest having a light lunch, because you should spend the afternoon looking around the Christmas markets that are packed with delicacies too – and to make space for the dinner I’ve planned in full Austrian style. I suggest you try a soup or a salad at my Indigo am Rathaus: since it’s up to you to make your choice you will be unlikely to leave the place feeling unhappy!
Now it’s time to venture into the maze of little streets which make up the old town centre of Innsbruck, where you can admire a mixture of traditional Tyrolean, Gothic and Rococo buildings. You’ll find the Golden Roof, built by the Emperor Maximillian I, and the City Tower, completed in 1450, rivals for your attention in an area known as the heart of the city of Innsbruck.
They say that the inscription on the Golden Roof, actually incredibly hard to read, says:
Take it as a precious piece of advice and don’t waste time: start looking around the Christmas markets of the city of Innsbruck. Partly because the sun has begun to set, leaving the bright Christmas lights to guide you around the city.
Of course, that as well but not exclusively. It’s a guide for exploring Innsbruck in winter, a time when Christmas spirit and skiing competitions are at their best: why lock yourself up in a museum when from mid November the streets are filled with lights and fragrant aromas?
You could always come back in another season to see the aristocratic and imperial residences scattered around the city, as well as the many baroque churches. For now, enjoy the drinks and traditional local delicacies sold at the many stalls that fill the squares and the streets of Innsbruck – but remember to leave some space for dinner.
To end your day on a positive note, I suggest you book a table at the Tiroler Weinstube. You will have to leave city centre for a bit, but it’ll be worth it: the traditional food served is really good and the portions are generous too, but the ambience will win you over completely.
Seated on a wooden bench, you’ll be holding a badly printed but extensive menu, surrounded by middle aged Austrian gentlemen sitting in groups or by themselves. Remember to greet the other punters as you enter and as you leave: in fact this is considered to be basic good manners, so much for the widespread notion that Austrians aren’t that friendly. When you eat at a Weinstube such as this, even the most scowling of Tyroleans will reveal his heart of gold.
Villeroy & Boch
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