Josh had been itching for a big group ski trip since we moved to London, and chance brought several of his co-workers together for Christmas and skiing in Innsbruck, Austria. December is a perfect time to visit Innsbruck-- with the mountains, lights and markets, it’s absolutely magical. While Innsbruck itself doesn’t have too much to do, the surrounding area has a variety of different activities and excursions, which made for a perfect Christmas getaway.
Thursday 22 December
We took an early morning flight direct from London to Innsbruck and split the quick 15 minute cab ride to our hotel.
Sterzinger Strasse 1, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
The ski bus leaves from the train station in Innsbruck, so we picked a hotel nearby (this one was right across the street), which was a great choice. The hotel was nothing special, but it was clean and very inexpensive, and a quick fifteen-minute walk to the city center.
After checking in, we spent the afternoon wandering around Innsbruck, enjoying the many Christmas markets. There are a couple in the center of old town where we had lunch and glühwein (hot mulled wine). Innsbruck is such a charming and beautiful town to begin with, and when the festive Christmas markets are layered on top, it simply made for a magical place to explore.
From old town, we walked over to the funicular which took us half way up the mountain. There’s an option to continue all the way to the top of the mountain, but it was pricey and we knew we’d see good views when skiing so we chose to skip that. When we got up, we were treated to an amazing view of the town below and surrounding areas, which we of course enjoyed along with some glühwein. The Innsbruck sites advertised a Christmas market up there, but it was really just a couple of stalls. Once we’d had enough glühwein, we ventured back down and stopped at the cutest market of them all, right on the river. These markets had better variety and more interesting products than the markets in Prague, which was a nice bonus. A lot of the markets closed for the season on December 24, so we made sure to get them all in on the first day.
Ristorante & Pizzeria Da Rocco
Michael-Gaismair-Straße 7, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
We had tried going to a different restaurant first, but it was totally booked for the night. We asked if we could make a booking for the next night, but they told us they would be closed from then until January 9, which was surprising to hear. We were lucky to find this other place and to be seated right away. The food and service were both fantastic, and we had a ton of leftovers as well.
Friday 23 December
On Friday, Josh went skiing and Becca went to see some castles. There are two castles side by side in the mountains in Germany that are about a ninety-minute drive from Innsbruck, and the scenery along the way is stunning. We pre-purchased our tickets online, which was smart because the line to buy tickets was incredibly long and one of the castles was sold out by noon. It looked like there was a long line to pick up pre-purchased tickets, but we walked into the group ticket office and they gave us our tickets (and an earlier entry time) right away. We had some time to kill so we grabbed some food at one of the stalls in the town (there wasn’t much to pick from and everything was pretty expensive – bring your own food if you’re picky or on a budget).
Alpseestraße 30, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
The map said it would be a twenty-minute walk up to Hohenschwangau Castle, so we allowed plenty of time. We got up there in about ten minutes and then had to wait for our entry time. We had been warned that the tour was short, and couldn’t believe how quickly we were in and out. We loved our guide and the tour was perfect –when we’ve visited other castles the tour lasts forever, but this one covered all the essentials and we weren’t bored at all.
Neuschwansteinstraße 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
We had a bit of time before our entry to the next castle. It was incredibly grey and foggy, but we decided to hike up to the castle anyway in hopes that the weather would clear for some good photos. It’s about a thirty minute walk uphill, and there are a couple of shops and restaurants towards the top. Right when we got to the top, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. About ten minutes past the castle is Mary’s Bridge, which provides spectacular views of the castle (and had way too many people on it to be safe!). Again, the tour was quite short (around 40 minutes), and the insides of the castle were unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It’s said that Walt Disney took inspiration from this castle, and after seeing it, I totally see the connection. They were two of the more interesting castles that I’ve seen in Europe and well-worth the trip.
Stiftsgasse 1-7, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
From our experience the night before, we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to find a restaurant that could accommodate a big group without a booking. We got lucky and earlier in the afternoon our friends settled in at a beer hall, so we were able to join them there for dinner. The place felt like a classic German beer hall with great beer, and the food was delicious as well.
Saturday 24 December
It was still early in the ski season, and many of the mountains weren’t yet fully open, but everyone told us that Stubai Glacier was the place to go. To get to the ski resort area, we took the public bus that left from the train station. It took about ninety minutes and cost €7 round trip. We got off in Neustift, where we picked up our rental gear. Ski rentals are cheap in Austria – it cost €11 a day for skis, a helmet and goggles. We could have rented gear in Innsbruck, but this was cheaper and felt more convenient. After we all got kitted out in our gear, we got back on the bus and carried on to the glacier.
When we got to Stubai, we split up and four of us headed off to ski school. We booked a lesson through Schischulte Neustift, and it was a four-hour private lesson for €200. Josh went off and skied the mountain with our other friends, and Becca stayed behind to get her ski legs again. At the end of the day, we rented a few overnight lockers and crammed most of our gear into them so we didn’t have to carryit all back to Innsbruck.
Agnello Nero - A Casa Di Aldo
Mariahilfstraße 12, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Earlier in December we made reservations for Christmas eve and day, which was tough to do because many restaurants were closed for the holiday. Agnello Nero was cute and cozy, but the service was impossibly slow and we were all starving after a day of skiing. The food wasn’t our favorite, but we were just happy to eat after waiting over an hour for our meals.
Sunday 25 December
Sunday was another ski day, but unfortunately the conditions weren’t as great as the previous day. It was extremely windy, cloudy and lightly snowing/ hailing, We had wanted to go to the top of the glacier, where Josh had the best views on day 1. A little mishap with Becca’s ski prevented the group from making our way up there, which ended up being for the better because they closed the lifts because of the poor conditions..
Adamgasse 8 6020 Innsbruck
Dinner at Hotel Sailer more than made up for our disappointing experience the night before. The restaurant is spread out over several rooms and we practically had one to ourselves. Our server was attentive and funny, and the food was fantastic.
Monday 26 December
Monday morning we woke up and headed for the airport. We arrived back in London early enough to walk down to Chinatown for our traditional Christmas dinner.
On every trip we share our rose (highlight), thorn (lowlight), and bud (what we're looking forward to).
Rose- skiing (Josh), scenery (Becca)
Thorn- wind and bad visibility on the last day (both)
Bud- a week of vacation (Josh), Harry Potter studio tour (Becca)
If you go, things to know...
How long to stay? Innsbruck itself is pretty small and you can see everything in one day. It’s a great base for several different day trips in the area, so it just depends on what you want to see and do while you’re there. If you’re just planning to stay in Innsbruck, it can easily be done in a weekend.
When to go? December felt like the perfect time to be there because of the markets and festive atmosphere. January or February would give you more skiing options, but Stubai was great for a few days. Warmer weather would be a nice time for the hiking and other outdoor activities.
Where to stay? If you’re going to ski, we’d recommend staying in Neustift or one of the other ski towns closer to the mountain. Doing the ride from Innsbruck is okay for a day, but for more than that it would be easier to stay closer to the mountain. Neustift had a bunch of hotels, bars and restaurants and seemed like a pretty typical ski town, which would just be more convenient.