The beautiful Austrian city of Innsbruck ticks all the boxes as the ultimate destination winter wonderland. With its picturesque streets set against the stunning backdrop of the snow-covered Tyrolean mountains, this welcoming city comes alive as the winter nights draw in.
As well as a popular skiing destination, its glorious Christmas markets offer more than 200 stalls and are a huge draw during the festive season. Featuring the sounds of traditional Austrian brass bands, the twinkle of thousands of lights and artisanal crafts, these glittering bazaars will fill your heart with seasonal joy.
The Old Town Market in Innsbruck celebrates this year its 50th anniversary.
Christmas markets are a long-held tradition here, with the very first dating back to 1657. Now Innsbruck has seven in total and this year the Old Town market, which is the grandest of all, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Held at the old town’s landmark Golden Roof – a structure built originally for the wedding of Emperor Maximillan I around 1500AD – more than 70 stalls offer a cornucopia of festive delights.
Under this auspicious canopy, crowds flock from mid-November to just before Christmas Eve, to buy last minute gifts, hand-crafted decorations or snack on traditional kiachl, Austria’s sugar-covered fried dough pastry, a holiday favourite. The markets – known collectively by locals as ‘Christkindlmarkt’ – are located across the city and there really is something for everyone.
Marktplatz features Innsbruck’s famous Swarovski crystal Christmas tree; Daniel Swarovski founded his crystal cutting company, in Tyrol, in 1895. This is a family favourite thanks to its puppet theatre, carousel and story time sessions (from 25th November to 6th January).
Nearby, Innsbruck’s central shopping promenade, Maria-Theresien-Strasse, transforms into an extraordinary avenue of crystal trees and lighting (also from 25th November to 6th January), with whimsical stalls dotted along the pavements.
View of the Christmas market in Maria-Theresien-Strasse, a street that showcases the city’s baroque past.
At the foot of the Nordkette mountains, the Hungerburg market offers panoramic views of Innsbruck. The unmissable hybrid Hungerburgbahn funicular railway transports visitors almost 1,000 feet above the city rewarding them with stunning views. If you’re in the mood, try a glass of festive Glühwein (traditional mulled wine) or schnapps.
The Kaiser Christmas Market, which runs from 17th November to 23rd December, is situated at the base of one of Innsbruck’s most famous landmarks, the 50-metre high Bergisel Ski Jump. It was here that crowd favourite Eddie the Eagle made one of his famous Olympic qualifying jumps, in 1988.
In just a few minutes, the Hungerburg funicular takes visitors from Innsbruck’s medieval Old Town up to the Hungerburg area of the city at the foot of the Nordkette mountains.
For a more tranquil scene, St. Nikolaus market, which was the first here to feature electric light, in 1934, is named in honour of the season’s patron saint, and is the place to not just shop but enjoy live music and delicious homemade biscuits (from 24th November to 23rd December).
Last but absolutely not least, the Wilten market, at the Wiltener Platzl, is the place to make for if you like traditional handicrafts and regional culinary delights including sizzling sausages, strudel and roasted chestnuts (from 27th November to 23rd December).
But this is Innsbruck which means there’s a lot more to enjoy – especially if you love winter sports. The city, which twice hosted the Winter Olympic Games, once in 1964 and again in 1976, is a ski and snowboarding paradise, with 13 resorts spread over different terrains and altitudes.
Skiing in Kühtai (part of the Innsbruck region), the highest ski resort in Austria, with an altitude of over 2000m.
Featuring more than 300 miles of ski trails that cater to skiers of all abilities, including beginners and children, visitors can make use of the city’s Ski+City Pass, which means you can move around freely between the slopes, the city and the markets.
Most of the local ski areas are small enough to only warrant a single-day visit (unless it’s a powder day), with the exceptions being Stubai Glacier, Schlick, Kuhtai and Axamer Lizum, which challenge experienced skiers and require longer stays.
The choice is yours. From Santa to Salopettes, Innsbruck really is the city that winter was made for.
Innsbruck is accessible with flights leaving directly from Heathrow, Gatwick, London Luton and Stansted Airport. For the most up-to-date information on the city’s Christmas markets visit www.christkindlmarkt.cc
Words: Lisa Marks
Opening image: Christmas Market at the Marktplatz © Innsbruck Tourismus/Daniel Zangerl.