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Lying at the heart of the Tyrolean Mountains, Innsbruck offers the best of two distinct experiences. At once it is an attractive and lively city offering the chance to experience traditional Tyrolean culture as well as being a gateway to some of the best Alpine resorts, ideal for skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer.
Established on the Inn River in 1180, in the shadow of the Karwendel Mountains to the north and the Tuxor Vorberge to the south, Innsbruck became a politically and culturally important city in the 15th century under the Habsburg Empire. With its fame and wealth the city became an attractive proposition for foreign invaders and was at the centre of the resistance against Napoleon and his army of Bavarians and French.
In 1964 and then 1976 Innsbruck once again rose to international fame when Austria hosted the winter Olympics twice in the town, and the city today happily combines its historical past with its modern status as a Mecca for winter sports.
Having retained many of its old buildings, the "Altstadt" in the centre of town is a picturesque haven of medieval buildings and monuments set against a breathtaking mountain backdrop. The famous Golden Roof, or Goldenes Dachl, glimmers serenely, taking the limelight from the nearby palace and castle, all within a few minutes' walk of each other.
For outdoor types, you are spoilt for choice deciding where to go. For skiers and snowboarders, there are numerous resorts such as Axams, Seefeld and Stubai just on the doorstep and easily reached by train from the city. In the summer these mountain resorts are equally appealing, offering excellent walking and biking trails as well as the opportunity to visit the picture postcard villages of Mutters or Hall.
Not only is Innsbruck full of cultural and sporty attractions, but it also has a remarkable choice of restaurants and bars. It really is the big city in the Alps.



Goldenes Dachl and Hofburg Helbinghaus
One of the best known landmarks in Innsbruck, the gleaming Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) is made up of over 2500 gilded tiles which shine like real gold over the city (they are actually made of copper with a gold coating). Built by the Emperor Maximilian I, it helped place the provincial Alpine town on the map of cultural epicentres. Today it's a favourite for tourists who gather outside en masse to take photos. Many of the works of art, fixtures and fittings from the interior have now been put on display in the refurbished Ferdinandeum Museum but the small museum of the Maximilianeum can still be visited, and contains artefacts from the times of Maximilian I, for whom the Golden Roof was initially built.
To the immediate left of the Goldenes Dachl on the pedestrian mall is the Hofburg Helbinghaus. This ornately decorated building was originally a 15th-century Gothic townhouse, decorated with baroque stuccoes and front oriels by Anton Gigl. The building was later named after Hans Helbing who ran a small café out of the bottom floor in 1833. The building is closed to visitors, but is a marker of the changing tastes of architecture in the city.



Ferdinandeum Museum
Re-opened in 2003 following a two year refurbishment the Ferdinandeum is once again the must-see attraction in Innsbruck. Occupying the buildings and grounds of a baroque palace it contains the region's most extensive collection of art and artefacts from the Middle Ages to modern times. It was originally founded as a museum and art gallery in the early-19th century, although incredibly even this venerable age only makes it the second oldest such establishment in the country.
Particularly impressive are the collection of baroque and Renaissance era paintings and sculptures, when Innsbruck and Austria were influential and wealthy. The original sketches and models for the Goldenes Dachl are also on show here, as is the extensive collection of books and manuscripts that consitutes the provincial library. Other items in the collection include religious iconography and prehistoric artefacts recovered from the Alpine region where the climate has kept them in a marvellous state of preservation.



Maria Theresienstrasse
This attractive street has a couple of interesting monuments to look out for. The Annensäule (Pillar of Anna) was erected to commemorate the Bavarians being chased out of Innsbruck for the umpteenth time by the Tyroleans. This took place on 26 July 1703, the Day of Saint Anna, hence the name. Every Saturday night a light burns on top of the pillar.
At the eastern end of the street is the ornate Triumphpforte archway, built in the mid-18th century by Maria Theresia to honour the engagement of her son Leopold to the Spaniard Maria Ludovica. With the mountains rising high above the archway in the background it makes for an impressive sight.
If you look closely, you will notice that one side of the arch is covered with happy faces to celebrate the wedding, and may be surprised to note the sad faces on the other side. These mark the death of Maria Theresia's husband, Emperor Franz I, on the wedding day.



Ambras Palace
Archduke Ferdinand II had this medieval castle renovated in the 16th century, in the Renaissance style as a home for himself and his new wife. Besides moving his court here, he used the spacious surroundings to display his extensive collections of art and artefacts that he built up over the years of his rule.
Now displayed in the Lower Palace, the Archduke's collection is today recognised as one of Europe's oldest museums, even if it wasn't always open to the public. Ferdinand's tastes were eclectic if not a little eccentric, and the exhibits today run from arms and armour to the Wunderkammer ("Gallery of Wonders") wherein Frederick displayed the assorted oddments that New World explorers brought back to his court. The impressive art collection in the upper palace includes hundreds of works from masters such as Diego Velásquez, Tizian and van Dyck; also famous is the painting of a hirsute man.
The formal English gardens that surround the palace are a pleasant place to explore, with shaded paths and green lawns covering a wide expanse.



Imperial Palace (Kaiserliche Hofburg)
The Imperial Palace is a majestic example of the city's former glory. A sumptuous palace it stands at the city centre as it has done for over 500 years. Built by the suitably named Archduke Siegmund the Rich in 1460 and renovated by Empress Maria Theresia in the 18th century, the rooms hark back to an age of Austrian opulence, with Innsbruck at its centre. The highlights are undoubtedly the Habsburg portraits that adorn the walls of the splendid reception hall and the over-the-top rococo opulence of the Giant Hall.
Nearby you can find the Hofkirche, built in memorium to Maximilian I and containinng his mausoleum, a sombre but impressive structure in black marble. Although it is doubtless a tomb fit for a king, Maximilian isn't actually buried here. Some noble remains do reside in the Hofkirche however, the gorgeous Silver Chapel is the tomb of Archduke Ferdinand II and his beloved wife Philippine. It was for Philippine that Ferdinand moved from the city to Ambras Palace, the city elders objecting to the Archduke marrying a commoner.



Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art
Built in the mid-1500s initially as the "New Abbey" the building was converted into a schoolhouse in 1785 before being employed in its latest public role as a museum. Today it houses what is arguably the best collection of traditional Tyrolean folk art, furniture and clothing in the Alpine region. It provides a fascinating insight into the history of the Tyrol and how the local way of life has developed over the centuries.
Although beautiful this landscape of mountains and valleys can be inhospitable and cruel, and the collection is testament to the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the Tyrolean people over the centuries. Farm machinery and hand tools show how hard the Tyroleans had to work the land, while the reconstructed rooms, displays of furniture and scale models of traditional houses demonstrate the way the locals lived through most of the year. It wasn't all work, work, work though - there is an interesting display of carnival masks and costumes that were used in pagan celebrations across the region.



Innsbruck Cyclorama
The Innsbruck "Cyclorama" (Riesenrundgemälde) is a panoramic oil painting depicting the Battle of Bergisel. Staggering in scale, the painting covers over 1,000 square metres. The curved canvas is viewed from a platform in a rotunda - the elevation and the gallery viewing position, combined with a "real" foreground created from stage style scenery, creates the illusion that the painting is in three dimensions. It is an amazingly difficult and sophisticated painting technique, made all the more incredible when you discover that this example was painted at the end of the 19th century, by artist Michael Diemer, and the technique itself predates this by over a century.
The battle itself was of monumental importance to the region, being one of the final land battles ever fought for the Tyrol. The painting illustrates how under the leadership of Andreas Hofer, in 1809, Tyrolean farmers defended their land and their way of life from the better trained and equipped invading forces of the French and Bavarians. The Cyclorama puts you right in the thick of the action, surrounded by the broken wheels of gun carriages, the smoke of fires and the chaos of battle.



City Tower
The City Tower (Stadtturm) is an unmistakable landmark rising from the Herzog-Friedrich Strasse in the centre of the city. Although the bottom section is a familiar sturdy square clocktower, built from stone and dating from the 15th century, the upper section, added a century later, is markedly different. This section begins as an octagonal extension to the original but above that a bulbous copper cupola forms the very top of the tower. It is possible to climb up to the parapet below the cupola from where you can get unrivalled 360-degree views of Innsbruck and its surrounding mountains.



Zeughaus Museum
The Zeughaus is the second of Innsbruck's two must-see museums (the other being the Ferdinandeum). Housed in what was once an armoury during the time of Maximilian, the Zeughaus today houses an eclectic range of exhibits, drawn from all walks of life and epochs in the region. The collection is arranged in chronological order and takes the visitor on a journey through the Tyrolean geological and historical landscape.
From the fossils in the first hall, ranging from millions of years old to the last Ice Age, through the Napoleonic wars of the 18th and early 19th centuries the visitor is introduced to the factors that created the Tyrolean landscape and cultural identity. A series of special exhibitions is always ongoing.



Swarovski Kristallwelten
Swarovski crystal is renowned the world over for its clarity and innovative design and is sold everywhere in the form of ornaments, glasses and accessories. The manufacturer has always had its home in the village of Wattens, a town in the hills on the outskirts of Innsbruck and the Swarovski Crystal Museum offers a permanent display of crystals to view, including designs by Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol among others. The museum tour is recommended if you are interested in seeing an art that is considered uniquely Tyrolean.



Outdoor Pursuits
With its position in the middle of the Tyrolean Mountains, many people come to Innsbruck for its easy access to the countryside and its associated outdoor pursuits. Not only is the region a prime position for skiing, but it is also an ideal destination in the summer for mountain hikes, golf and, for the more adventurous, even paragliding.
The tourist office arranges free hiking and mountain biking tours in the summer from June to September. The only requirement is that you arrive on time for the tours at the specified location and if you opt to mountain bike you will be asked to put a small deposit down for the bike. You can choose from a variety of tours, varying from a sunrise hiking tour to an Alpine pasture hut tour.
If you're more of a golfer than a hiker, there are two public courses in the region. With a reasonable price tag and 18 holes at the Rinn course, beginners and advanced players will enjoy a game in the lush forested hillside above Innsbruck.
For thrill-seekers who want to see Innsbruck from on high, Parafly paragliding school offers tandem paragliding lessons and one flight. It's a fantastic way to see the valley and the city, but naturally you need a head for heights and a degree of physical fitness to attempt it.


 
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