This interview was first published in The Simple Things in December 2023.
There’s no better way to get to the heart of a city than through the people who live there. This month, we asked travel writer Lea Hajner.
Interview about Innsbruck in the winter
How long have you lived in the city?
I was born in Vienna but in 2012, my tech job offered a three-month work away opportunity, igniting a passion for travel. I settled on Innsbruck where three months turned into 12 years, and it’s been home ever since.
Tell us what makes your city unique.
Innsbruck blends urban vibrancy with natural beauty. It’s compact, yet diverse, offering culture, nightlife and breathtaking mountain experiences. Its unique setting, surrounded by majestic mountains, means a lifestyle that any other city would find hard to match.
What does it feel in winter?
The arrival of the first snowflakes transforms the landscape into a magical wonderland. The snowy mountain tops are amazingly pretty and the lights and festive markets make the short days feel much longer.
What time of day do you most enjoy?
In winter, I cherish the sunlight. These are the days for indulging in saunas, fireside cosiness, or night time skiing sessions once the snow blankets the landscape.
What is Christmas in Innsbruck like?
Christmas in Innsbruck is steeped in charming traditions. On 5 December, the mischievous Krampus visits naughty children, while on the 6th Saint Nikolaus rewards the well-behaved. The 8th brings bustling Christmas markets, many of which fill the streets of the Old Town, line the Inn River or are just up the mountain at Hungerburg, which you can reach by funicular or bus from the city centre. Here you can sip hot Glühwein while looking down on the city and across to the surrounding mountains; it’s a magical experience.
What’s the nature like?
Innsbruck is nestled in a valley between the River Inn and Sill and surrounded by mountainous. The city itself is relatively flat, but the surrounding mountains soar to heights of 2,000 metres or more. Lower elevations are covered in lush forests and meadows, while higher up the landscape is steep and rocky. During summer, you can explore on hiking paths while in winter, the slopes become playgrounds for ski mountaineers.
Where’s your favourite outdoor space?
In winter, my favourite outdoor spaces are those where I can go ski touring or tobogganing – adventures that
involve hiking up, indulging in delicious hut meals then enjoying thrilling descents. Places like Rauthhütte, Sattelbergalm and Maria Waldrast provide unforgettable experiences in the mountains, while Viggartal all the way up to Boscheben is great for snowshoeing if conditions permit.
Tell us about the colours of your city.
The city is so colourful; along the River Inn (Innsbruck literally means ‘bridge over the Inn’), a row of pastel town houses stands against the lofty backdrop of the Nordkette mountain range. In winter, the low morning light creates a breathtaking and enchanting atmosphere.
What about the people who live in your city?
Of Innsbruck’s 130,000 residents, every fourth person is a student, bringing energy into our vibrant cultural scene. The spirit of the locals is deeply connected to their love for the mountains. If you’re not drawn to the peaks, chances are you won’t stick around for long.
Where do you gather with friends?
Who can resist sharing a pizza? La Trattoria not only serves the best but also offers a wonderful setting to gather with friends. Treibhaus is a versatile bar hosting concerts while Fuchs & Hase is known for its fantastic cocktails if you’re in the mood for something unique, often using home-made ingredients.
Tell us about eating in your city.
Look out for kaspressknödel, fried cheese dumplings often served with salad or sauerkraut. And make sure you try kiachl, a dish similar to fresh doughnuts topped with sweet cranberries or savoury sauerkraut if you visit the Christmas markets.
What’s your favourite way to get about the city?
Innsbruck is small, so a city bike or the public transport system will get you from A to B in no time. Plus, the local buses have recently been painted in beautiful pastel colours; I think they’re the prettiest buses I’ve ever seen.
What’s the shopping like?
A haven for outdoor enthusiasts! The city has outlets of renowned mountaineering and winter sports brands, offering a wide range of gear. You can find almost anything from a warm jacket to expedition boots.
Where do you like to escape to?
My favourite place to escape is the Axamer Lizum ski resort, just a 20-minute drive away. It’s a local gem, and here’s a secret: the kiosk at the top station serves the region’s best fries – fresh, crunchy and with breathtaking mountain views. Grab a seat on their sun chairs and savour the scenery.
What has been your best discovery about the city?
Conquering the once intimidating mountain peaks that
made me feel more welcome but also more at home in this beautiful Alpine city.
What do you miss most if you’ve been away?
The mountains, without a doubt, seeing them every day from different angles and in different light. It just feels like they’re part of the city life itself.
What would surprise a newcomer to your city?
How small Innsbruck is. You can ride a bike almost anywhere, and usually it’s much faster than taking public transport or your car. Just beware of addresses on hillsides, as you’ll be in for a steep ride! But also the chances are always high that you’ll run into the same person more than once, sometimes even within a day. Innsbruck is divided into 20 districts, and a fun way to explore them is by checking out the murals marked on the street art city map. Head to Hötting and St. Nikolaus if you want to see the oldest part of town, and make sure to stop by Wilten for hip downtown cafés.
What would you change about the city?
If I could change one thing, it would be the impact of the nearby highway that connects east and west, along with the heavy traffic heading north to south. I’d also love to see more diverse restaurant options, especially options for trying outstanding Asian cuisine, which is currently hard to come by in Innsbruck.
Where would you recommend somebody to stay?
I’d recommend Nala, a charming boutique hotel with unique rooms. If you’re looking for budget-friendly options, Montagu Bed and Beers is a great place to stay, too. Both offer comfortable and memorable experiences in Innsbruck. Or if you’re up for a unique experience, why not spend the night in an igloo at Kühtai, only 40 minutes from Innsbruck. Made of snow and ice, Kühtai sits 2,000m above sea level, and it’s a real experience. You begin with a winter hike, then eat cheese fondue followed by a plunge in the hot pot or the sauna.
The snowy rooms accommodate comfy beds, and at the end of the night you crawl into a super warm expedition sleeping bag.
Where would you live if you couldn’t live here?
What keeps me in Innsbruck is the wonderful blend
of people, mountains and a lifestyle that seamlessly combines city living with outdoor adventures. While
I could see myself living elsewhere temporarily, I’d likely return to Innsbruck at some stage.
“ The spirit of Innsbruck’s locals is deeply connected to their love of the mountains“
Lea’s favourite places in the city
- Favourite shop: Feinheiten In Innsbruck’s Old Town, this lovely store sells slow fashion and beautifully soft leather bags. feinheiten-innsbruck.at
- Favourite gallery: Die Bäckerei A former industrial bakery transformed into a lively cultural centre. diebaeckerei.at
- Favourite café: Fuchs & Hase
In the heart of the Old Town, this friendly bar makes incredible cocktails from scratch. fuchsundhase.bar
- Favourite restaurant: La Trattoria
Come here for Italian vibes, amazing Neapolitan pizza and tasty spritz. latrattoriainnsbruck.com
- Favourite hotel: Montagu Bed & Beers A modern hostel in an old building with a bar, where locals and tourists mix and mingle. montagu-hostel.com
- Place to see by night: Nordkette
Every first Friday of the month the Nordkette cable car runs until 11pm and the iconic peak, overlooking the city, is lit up. nordkette.com
- Best local Alpine experience: Hafelekar
Pack sturdy boots and take the cable car up to Hafelekar on Nordkette for amazing views.
- Best view: Patscherkofel
Take the cable car up to Patscherkofel, on a Thursday night when they run till late. Patscherkofelbahn.at
- One thing to see: SPURart
At this local ski and snowboard manufacturer you can learn how to build your own ride during a weekend. The boards are top notch. spurart.at/workshops
I hope you enjoyed this insight on my views on Innsbruck. Please let me know if you have any questions!