Some of my fondest childhood memories take me back to my auntie and uncle’s summer house in the mountains. I remember sitting on the front porch cuddling with my beloved cats; I remember patrolling the garden with an empty yogurt cup in search for slugs; I remember the view down into the valley with the icy blue river and beautiful town. I also remember being down there, in the exact same town where my aunt and uncle lived throughout the year. When I leaned out of the window and looked to the right, I could see the mountain peaks throning high above us. Ever since, had Innsbruck, Tyrol’s capital in the Inn valley, been my favorite city in Austria.

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When I recently had the chance to go back to Austria in the summer, I knew it wasn’t Vienna (my home town) that my heart was longing for, but Innsbruck and its breathtaking mountain views. And what can I say, I fell in love all over again! Here are ten reasons why you will too!

1) Surrounded by mountains

My love for Innsbruck is inseparable with this view – the Nordkette (‘Northern Chain’ of the Alps) framing the Inn valley from the north creates a dramatic backdrop that is not easily matched by any other city in the world. Some might find the mountains surrounding Innsbruck on all sides restricting, or even claustrophobic, to me those mountains are a symbol of freedom. The freedom to get in touch with nature whenever I want; the freedom to grab my hiking or skiing boots for after-work or weekend adventures; the freedom to clear my head with a portion of fresh air and a good view. Although I never lived in Innsbruck long-term, just the sheer thought of these mountains makes me sigh. Returning to Innsbruck every once in a while just refreshens my perspective.

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To take in this view to the fullest, get aboard the underground train from the city center to Hungerburg and from there take the cable car Hungerburgbahn up to Hafelekar mountain station – all of them are designed by the amazing Zaha Hadid (like the Riverside Museum in Glasgow). All of a sudden you are on 2256m and your options are endless. You can either stay around the mountain station for little strolls or lunch/dinner with incredible views of Innsbruck at the Seegrube restaurant (open late only on Thursdays); or you tighten your boots to climb or hike one of the many trails leading into the mountains.

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2) A cool and yet down-to-earth vibe

Although I love nature and always need it close-by to re-connect, I’m a city girl at the bottom of my heart. With only 130,000 inhabitants, Innsbruck is considerably small, but with another 30,000 or so students on top of that, the situation changes considerably.There are several universities attracting young people from all around the country and abroad – for example from the University of New Orleans, partner city of Innsbruck. What this means in terms of city-scape is that there are loads of cool places to hang out – parks, cafes, co-working spaces, bars and restaurants – WiFi is everywhere and there is a general young vibe in the air. And yet, Innsbruck has nothing of the uber-hipster attitude of other oh-so trendy towns of Austria (I’m looking at you, Vienna!*). Despite its coolness, Innsbruck and its people are still very down-to-earth, always friendly and welcoming.

*I’m allowed to say that – I’m from there.

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3) It is SO close to nature

I can’t stress enough how perfect is the combination of urban and natural playgrounds Innsbruck has to offer. I woke up in my city centre hotel, The Penz, had breakfast with a view over the Old Town (some of the best in the city), and then boarded the STB tram (Stubaitalbahn) to head out into the surrounding hills. Within something like 20 minutes and for just a few Euro I reached the bottom station of the cable car Muttereralmbahn from where my adventure started. In company of half my family (who had popped by from Vienna) and mountain guide Heinz I climbed up to 1,608m – just kidding, we took the cable car…

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The rest of the day we spent following the Mutterer Almenrunde, an easy hike with little up and down, leading from one alpine chalet to the next. On a clear day you get great views all across the Inn valley, over Innsbruck and over to the peaks of the Nordkette, but we were blessed with mystery fog and a little drizzle. Like in a fairy tale forest! At the end of our walk, we reached another stop of the STB tram (Kreith) and another 30 minutes later we were back in central Innsbruck – a great day out without needing a car!

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4) The men are sizzling hot

Who doesn’t like some eye-candy when they travel across Europe… Going to Innsbruck is a little bit like going to British Columbia – most guys move to or stay in the area because they want to be close to the mountains. They are the thrill-seeking outdoorsy kind – skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, climbing, kite-surfing, you name it. And with that comes the right body – do I really need to say more?

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If you’re planning a girls weekend (or even a hen party) to Innsbruck, you could also get a guided tour around the ski-jump with one of the athletes – he will even jump for you. It’s expensive, but oh-so worth it!

5) The breakfast clubs

The culinary landscape of Innsbruck is all about breakfast and brunch. There are hundreds of cafes, restaurants and lounge bars offering breakfast and brunch specials, and the locals love it – make sure to make a reservation or prepare to wait a little for a table in one of the best spots. Here are some of my favorites:

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The Penz: Allegedly the best breakfast in town, maybe the free refill process has something to do with that… Anyways, the restaurant of The Penz restaurant is on its rooftop, with indoor and outdoor seating, which means gorgeous views and the sun tickling your nose and a light breeze in your hair. The breakfast buffet is massive and so diverse – exotic fruit (like toasted maraca OH MY GOD!), a variety of jams and honey, sweet little sins on tiny plates and of course the classics for British or continental breakfast. Yummy!

Das Schindler is another local favorite, and would I not have had a reservation, I would have waited for quite a bit. All ingredients and produce come from the surrounding farms and taste really fresh. You can choose between a la carte breakfast or a set ‘menu’ which includes a lot of food, a hot drink and some juice. I went for the ‘Schindler Breakfast’ because it gives you a taste a great Austrian classic: traditional ham thinly cut and served with freshly grated horse-radish – a delight!

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A few more options, which were recommended to me but I couldn’t  possibly eat any more, are: The Breakfast Club where you get breakfast all day; and the various locations of Bäckerei Ruetz because it is a local bakery chain with great bread and free coffee refill if you order the Baker’s Breakfast.

6) The picturesque Old Town is not a tourist trap

The Old Town of Innsbruck is world-famous for it’s golden icon, the Goldenes Dachl. And indeed, the car-free alleys and lanes are filled with tourist groups from all over the world. It’s a great place to explore, take photos and stroll around with ah’s and oh’s without having to fear any tourist traps though.

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You get great ice-cream at Tomasseli (there is one at Maria-Theresien-Straße, but also one smack-bang in the centre at Hofgasse), a Pia’s Vintage shop in Seilergasse sells high-end brands like Chanel bags (only open Monday to Friday) and at the market hall right you find fresh organic produce from the area and can take it all for a picnic right next to the river.

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7) The surprising food scene

Let’s just continue with more food. Despite the city’s size there are a lot of amazing restaurants and culinary variety to discover. Of course, you should try some typical Tyrolean food – the alpine chalets up in the mountains are the best places for that. Definitely don’t miss Kaspressknödel (a veeeery rich dish: fried cheese eaten on its own or in a clear soup) and Schlutzkrapfen (pasta filled with cheese or meat – similar to Ravioli).

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Down in the city though, your choice of international food is endless. Some of my favorite places were Gösser’s for meaty dishes – the outdoor seating is great for lunch time – Ludwig Burger for the best burgers in town (some might say, the best burgers are at …?) and La Taqueria for the most amazing Mexican food, I have ever tasted in Austria. So unexpected!

PS: If you are vegan, don’t worry – most restaurants offer vegan options!

8) Going out has endless options

In a student town like Innsbruck there are loads of options on how to spend a night. While in winter you get the classic acres ski everywhere (for a little more classy acres ski feel head up to Seegrube), summer is all about the outdoor venues. Go watch a film at Zeughaus open air cinema (back next summer) – the programme consists mainly of oldies and classics. For a special screening experience try the Silent Cinema, where you get a pair of wireless headphones to enjoy the film without disturbing the neighbours (also hopefully back next summer).

As one of the new outdoor bars left in town, the Hofgarten Cafe is a great option for a sunny beer in the afternoon or electronic beats at night. If you have your own wheels, or a friend with a car, definitely head out to Sillschlucht, a local favorite when it comes to picnic-style drinking. Bring a blanket, a couple of beers and you’re sorted for the evening. All you need to sort out is who’s the designated driver…

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Of course, there are also loads of bars and clubs to choose from as well. One of the newest popular areas is St. Nikolaus over on the other side of the river Inn. There are plenty of bars to choose from, but M&M stands out in particular. In the old town I really liked the bar Moustache and neighbouring club Aftershave (just the names themselves…) and the event space around Bäckerei (which is a concert venue but also a co-working space during the day).

9) It’s a bike-friendly city

I love bicycling,  and cruising a new city with a bike is my favorite method to get to know its neighbourhoods and vibe. Innsbruck has many bike lanes all over town, and a city bike rental scheme, that is really to use, also for visitors. You need to register online first – it’s in German, but really simple: enter your phone number (international numbers works too) and full name, accept the terms and conditions and click on ‘Zahlungspflichtig bestellen’. Then you need to enter your credit card details; every time you get a bike out your card will be charged automatically. At the bike stations you can switch the display language to English, so it gets even easier!

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For a great days out, cycle along the river Inn – to the east the bike path leads to Hall in Tirol, to the west it goes all the way to Telfs. You see, there is plenty of Tyrolean country side to be explored on two wheels!

10) It’s a women’s world

Finally, one for the girls! For the first time in Austrian history, Innsbruck voted for a woman to become mayor of a state capital in 2002. Her name was Hilde Zach, and say what you want about politics on this blog, it is still great to roam a city whose modern face has been majorly shaped by a women. Hilde Zach did a lot for the city, especially in terms of renovations and modernising its structures. She and her office also commissioned some of the greatest architectural icons of today’s Innsbruck, like the stations of the Hungerburgbahn by Zaha Hadid (another awesome woman). Zach ended her public service in 2010 and it’s sad to say, that she passed away one year later, but as of today, Innsbruck is in the hands of a female mayor (Christine Oppitz-Plörer).

Beyond the political influence of women, there are also some great female-run projects based in and around Innsbruck, like Weiberwirtschaft, a design studio that works with asylum seekers in the area, or the gorgeous design, chocolate and soap shop Tiroler Edles, where you can shop for handmade soap and chocolate, and design specialities from the region.

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Innsbruck has a lot of surprises waiting for you. It’s easy to reach (via it’s own airport or Munich, which is just a 2 hour drive away), has a cool vibe and gives you a lot of urban and outdoorsy options. Do you still wonder why I think Innsbruck should make it onto your European bucket list?

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.

Thank you Tirol Werbung &  Innsbruck Tourismus by helping me out to visit my favorite place in Austria!