For most people Tyrol is synonymous with mountains, snow and tall trees. It is a top destination for skiing holidays in winter or hiking during summer. But many don’t look beyond. Tyrol isn’t just beautiful mountains and forests. Actually, the cities of Tyrol are just as worth exploring.
You can find the true essence of the region in the squares and churches, markets and monuments. Formed by part of Austria and part of Italy, Tyrol has a long and intricate history of battles, anecdotes, traditions and famous nationalist characters. It’s a Tyrol that many do not know, but all should.
Here are four of the best towns you should see in Tyrol, in all of which you will feel the particular spirit of the historical region among the Alps.
Innsbruck in one day
Tyrol was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until World War I and Innsbruck was its capital. Today, it’s still considered the main city of the region. Innsbruck means “the bridge on the river Inn”. It is a wonderful city where you can discover the extraordinary mix between an urban and mountain environment.
The historic city of Innsbruck is nestled between two Alpine mountain ranges. The city is strategically located along the Brenner Pass. The importance of the valley eventually gave rise to the evolution of Innsbruck into a cultural and commercial hub.
Walking around the centre is like stepping back into the Medieval Ages. The best symbol of that time is the Goldenes Dachl (golden roof), which goes back to the time of Maximilian I, the Holy-Roman emperor, when the city became the capitol of Tyrol. It is located in the heart of the old town and is covered with 2,576 gold copper tiles. Its museum offers, thanks to modern technologies, a very fascinating picture of medieval Tyrol.
To enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountains, you’ll have to visit the Civic Tower, which in the past was used as a prison. You can also see the Saint James cathedral, one of the most significant religious site in Austria.
Continue the view by going to the Imperial Palace, one of the most important cultural buildings of Austria. The palace was built in 1453 and was considered the most beautiful creation of the time.
If you are a shopping lover, you will not be disappointed, there are a lot of small shops and boutiques where you can buy souvenirs. Don’t leave the city without buying a “grappa”, the typical alcohol of the region. Originally made by farmers to survive the harsh winter, this “fire water” is strong!
However, Innsbruck is not only a medieval city – it’s also very modern. If you walk along the river you can breath the modern spirit of the city with the elegance and the cleanliness that characterize northern Europe.
You can have brunch in the Breakfast Club in the Landhausplatz, near the famous street “Maria-Teresien Strasse”. There, choose an omelette filled with speck and traditional cheese with baked bread right out of the oven. And all that in a cozy atmosphere.
If you like crystals, you can dedicate some time to go to the Swarovski Crystal Gallery, the biggest Swarovski shop in the world. After, stop at the “Kroll strudel cafe” for a authentic apple strudel.
Innsbruck’s natural trampoline for sky jumping is a must-see before leaving the city. Designed by the famous architect Zaha Hadid, it is an attraction for every kind of tourist, from the ski lovers in winter to all the visitors who simply want to enjoy the wonderful view from the top and have dinner at the ‘Im turm’ cafe.
Another symbol of Tyrol that you can visit is Sterzing-Vipiteno, the small town between Innsbruck and Bolzano. The town’s double name reflects its bilingual nature – the citizens grow up speaking both German and Italian, and switch between the two with ease.
With colored houses, shopping streets, picturesque medieval squares and a mountain landscape, the alpine town of Vipiteno in the Isarco Valley enchants its visitors. Actually, Vipiteno is widely considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The picturesque main street, formed by the Old Town and the New Town, still shines in the glow of the late Middle Ages and invites you to take a stroll.
The prosperity of the 15th century, when Sterzing was in the height of its splendor, is seen in the magnificent Gothic-style Town Hall.
Sterzing is famous all over the world for its delicious yogurt. In fact, the Vipiteno’s dairy often organizes events for school and groups to see the process and taste test the product! But you cant’t leave the village without tasting the exquisite desserts and cakes in the ancient bakery: The konditorei-cafe Prenn. For over 80 years, the Bar Pasticceria Prenn has been a top destination in Sterzing for visitors with a sweet tooth. Located in the heart of the picturesque old town this cozy cafe invites you to take some tasty hours relaxing. Hans-Peter and his sister Claudia run this family business, now in its third generation. The two use the original recipes created by their grandfather to create new and legendary sweets. Particularly famous are, for example, the Sterzing-apple strudel or apple pie with poppy seeds and the cake of buckweat. The light and fresh cuisine made with Sterzing-yogurt surely will awaken the senses.
From Vipiteno, go to Bozen-Bolzano. Like Vipiteno-Sterzing, it has a double name due to the bilingualism of the province.
The town is elegant and lively. Though it’s not a big city, it is always crowded. In summer, it’s a refreshing escape from the annoying heat of the south. In winter, it is famous for the Christmas markets, which can be found in Walther Square.
The town’s main square, it hosts many events throughout the year such as the Christmas markets, Speck festival and the pumpkin and flowers celebrations. Even if there are no events during your visit, go to see the impressive statue of the great German poet and soak in the unique atmosphere. The Austrian architecture and Italian cafes in Walther Square show the essence of Bozen.
It’s the perfect combination of two cultures: Mediterranean and Mitteleuropean.
Don’t leave Bozen without buying a local product, like speck. You can find a wide range of products in the daily market in Obstplatz, famous for one of the most beautiful fountains in Italy.
Those planning on spending more time in the city can check out a longer itinerary of the city’s history and art here. Historic and cultural rout
Last, but not least, is Trento, a unique place that will surprise you with its charm.
Take the funicular up the hillside and enjoy a wonderful view. See Trento from the top and have fun trying to guess the main sites of the city. One of the most impressive ones is the Science museum, “the Muse”, a popular creation by the architect Renzo Piani.
From there, you also can see the Dom, whose charm dominates the town.
I was lucky because I had a local guide who helped me to get the special atmosphere of the town, and explained me that, even though Trento is considered part of Tyrol, its inhabitants don’t feel a part of the region. In fact, they prefer speaking Italian and they feel closer to Italian traditions.
Though most visitors overlook the beautiful cities of Tyrol, I think it’s the only way to truly discover the region. Driving from one city to another you’ll enjoy beautiful sceneries, majestic peaks and the traditional farms, called “masi”, and be surprised by the special essence of this part of the world. With its tall trees and beautiful sceneries, this land is an authentic paradise for every kind of tourist. As Goethe wrote about Tyrol: “Here I have finally found a place of quiet, a place of peace, the like of which I could have only wished for”. I certainly felt the peace of Tyrol. Use this itinerary to find out for yourself!