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An Invitation to Innsbruck

A sidebar to an Italian vacation delivers alpine adventure

A family vacation to the Veneto region of northern Italy to spend time visiting friends, family and cities like Verona and Venice, turned into a mini European adventure when we decided to head even further north for a few days.

A five-hour train ride transported us from one country to another. The train began meandering its way through scenic northern Italy, hugging the Dolomites. Soon the architectural representation of cultural influences changed the landscape as we inched closer to the border, from picturesque villas to distinctly Austrian homes bedecked with colorful flowers. Shortly we found ourselves in the alpine city of Innsbruck, Austria.

As with so many European cities, Innsbruck is supremely walkable. After walking from the train station to our hotel, we made our way to old town, Altstadt von Innsbruck. Down the block from the hotel and located at the south end of the main thoroughfare that takes you to Altstadt is Triumphpforte, a triumphant arch built in 1765 by Empress Maria Theresa on her namesake street Maria-Theresien-Strasse. The street features a mix of contemporary shops and restaurants set in and alongside historic, centuries-old buildings. Maria-Theresien-Strasse turns into the Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse where you’ll find the Rococo masterpiece Helbinghaus, and the impressive Goldenes Dachl, the Golden Roof. Arguably the city’s most iconic landmark, the Golden Roof was built between 1497 and 1500 by Emperor Maximilian I.

On our way to see the Golden Roof we wandered down tiny streets dotted with restaurants and shops. We tucked into Caroline’s Spiel-Art, a toy shop filled with handmade wooden toys, chess sets, dolls, medieval costumes and more. We even found ourselves in front of a delightful pretzel shop that offered a variety of soft and crispy pretzels of all shapes and sizes for sale.

On our second day, we traveled up the cable car to the top of the Nordkette, the mountains surrounding the city, where we played in some patches of snow, breathed in the cold air and were treated to awe-inspiring 360-degree views. It is easy to sing all the songs in “The Sound Of Music” on the way to the top (although, the movie was filmed in Salzburg, Austria, which is about two hours away by train).

Afterwards, we walked along Innsbruck’s namesake river, the Inn, with its glacial blue-green water. The beautiful hue is thanks not only to melting glaciers, but also due to the water being naturally filtered as it moves from mountains to the valley. The 322-mile-long river, which runs through Switzerland, Germany and Austria, is a tributary of the Danube, the second-largest river in Europe. The river led us to the 600-year-old Hofgarten, a gorgeously plush 25-acre park with a medieval-themed playground for children. We explored the park until sunset and headed back to our hotel for the evening.

The third day, we hopped on a dedicated shuttle that took us 25 minutes away to Wattens, Austria, home of Swarovski Crystals and the Swarovski Kristallwelten – Crystal Worlds.

Crystal Worlds is a magical playland for both children and adults, with art exhibits made of crystals and outdoor activities for young and old. The entrance to the main attraction – the Chambers of Wonder – is hidden behind a behemoth known as the Giant, who boasts a waterfall for a mouth. Each of the 18 chambers houses an exhibit by nationally and internationally recognized artists. One chamber held a collection of costumes worn by global superstars – think Elton John’s original Rocket Man jacket and the original slipper from the live-action film “Cinderella.” Another was created to house a magnificent and sparkling crystal tree created by Tord Boontje and Alexander McQueen.   

Back outside, we discovered more art exhibits, a four-story indoor playtower, an outdoor playground, a maze, a carousel and so much more. It was an easy way to spend an afternoon.

Throughout our stay, we ate our way across town and never skimped on traditional foods, tasting everything from Wiener schnitzel to spätzle. One of our favorite restaurants was Stiftskeller, just a few minutes walk from Goldenes Dachl. There was no host to seat us and we discovered we simply needed to sit down at an open, often communal, table and a server would greet us.

Our son loves dessert – what kid doesn’t? – but his preference was decidedly not authentically Austrian. His favorite spot was Tomaselli Gelateria on Maria-Theresien-Strasse. He insists it is better than any gelato he had in Italy, and he is nearing veritable gelato connoisseur status.

Although we could have packed more into our three-day escapade, we enjoyed many of the sights, sounds and tastes the Capital of the Alps has to offer.

Other must-see attractions

·      Tour the Markthalle to sample local farm fresh foods.

·      Visit the animals at Alpenzoo on your way up to Nordkette.

·      Check out the Bergiselschanze ski jump made famous at the 1976 Winter Olympic games.

·      Take in the Baroque styling of Innsbruck Cathedral, also known as Dom zu St. Jakom, and Hofkirche, a church featuring Gothic architecture.

As with so many European cities, Innsbruck is supremely walkable.

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