Though less well-known than Vienna and Salzburg, Innsbruck is one of Austria's largest and most interesting cities, home to more than 100,000 people. Despite its size, the Alpine city oozes small-town charm and makes a great base for exploring the many popular mountain and ski resorts in the Alps.
Visitors to Innsbruck will be struck by its picturesque location: ensconced in a valley, the city affords staggering views of the surrounding Alpine mountain ranges and the eponymous Inn River. It's also home to all manner of popular tourist attractions, such as the dazzling displays of sparkling stones at Swarovski Crystal World, a must-see for first time visitors.
Inhabited since the Stone Age, Innsbruck has, at various times, been the property of Rome, Bavaria, Germany and finally Austria. The capital of Tyrol province, the city's beautiful buildings are reminders of its history with Renaissance-style castles, Baroque cathedrals and Gothic monuments, including the Imperial Palace, Ambras Castle and Innsbruck Cathedral.
There is much to see and do in Innsbruck: the city boasts a number of museums dedicated to art, history and science; lush parks and zoos; and plenty of shopping malls and markets. Innsbruck is the cultural heart of the Austrian Alps and hosts a world-class opera, along with a wide range of restaurants, live music venues, bars and clubs. The two universities and various colleges in town ensure a lively nightlife.
But for many tourists, Innsbruck is simply a port of call on the road to the powdery slopes of the Alps, due to its location near Alpine ski resorts such as Kaunertal, Stubaier and St Anton. Indeed, Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice and sponsors many winter sports events each year.
Slowly carving out a reputation for itself as more than a ski town, Innsbruck should be near the top of any Austria to-do list. Regardless of whether you seek the romance of its broad avenues, picturesque location and classic charms or desire the white slopes of the much celebrated nearby ski resorts, you will not leave disappointed.