Discovering Innsbruck’s Altstadt (Old Town)

If you visit Innsbruck, Austria, you will likely visit the picturesque Altstadt (Old Town). Altstadt is the heart of the city and provides visitors and locals with a collection of medieval buildings, historic hotels, and modern restaurants. The main thoroughfare is cobbled, clean and offers a myriad of respectable side alleys to explore.

The old town is over 500 years old and the buildings that have been constructed throughout the centuries are maintained to retain their beauty and flair. There is great historical significance here and several insightful museums are hidden in various nooks of the old town (more on this in other posts). Altstadt has another purpose – to provide tourists with what they want: a centrally located, safe, colorful and non-intimidating place to visit.

In the time required to eat a very leisurely lunch, enjoying a coffee and just hang out (OK – 3 hours) at a cafe it is possible to see a dozen different tour groups parade by; each group with 30 or 40 participants taking in the sights, snapping pictures and chattering before being rushed off to the next destination bypassing much of Innsbruck itself.

Experiencing Innsbruck’s old town at different times during the day, and over multiple days is a fun way to learn more about the people of Innsbruck. Winter is a wonderful time to visit, but this article will cover visiting in the summer. Here are some discoveries made about the Altstadt over a month during the summer.

Altstadt in the Morning During Summer:
The streets are mostly empty of tourists. The sky is overcast but clearing. The light is soft and colors on the sides of buildings appear to be waking up. Delivery vehicles are parked outside shops to restock supplies before the tourists arrive later in the day. A healthy looking local woman jogs by then is quickly followed by a man on his bike. The sound of tables and chairs being unlocked is heard, then followed by the clank of being quickly placed on the cobbled streets in front of restaurants. Several a-frame-boards on the sidewalk offer breakfast, one entices people to an ‘American style’ breakfast. Some folks are sitting outside enjoying the morning with a coffee. The coffee is served in a ceramic cup on a saucer – never in a paper cup.

Altstadt in the Afternoon During Summer:
The streets are busy and packed with tourists. A woman who is part of a tour breaks away from the group; she is wearing a newly bought Dirndl, a traditional dress, and is staring up at the ornate buildings – she seems curiously out of place. She is so fascinated by the sights and almost bumps into a man who is walking his dog. A number of languages are being spoken by people in the crowd: German, English, Italian, Hindi, Japanese, Spanish, but quickly the voices seem to intertwine and blend together. A group of Scouts (both boys and girls) wearing colorful red shirts walk by. The uniforms were casual, yet pressed and well maintained. Tourists snap photos in front of the Golden Roof, the centerpiece of old town. Several silver-painted humans appear as statues on the street, they are only occasionally moving and surprising unsuspecting tourists. The smell of cigarette smoke is heavy in the air. People look at trinkets displayed outside a shop and dole out money to buy a memento of their trip. The smell of cooking is in the air and people are packed at tables that line the streets eating a variety of items, but mostly pizza. A bike zips in and out of the crowd and whizzes by almost clipping me. An older person says something in German to the rider as he is passed. A baby cries because he is tired and the Mom picks him up. People walk by with shopping bags under their arms. Many tourists are wearing basically the same type of commercial t-shirts, branded tennis shoes and bulky shorts, with the exception of their respective language, it is at times hard to tell who in the crowd is an American and who is European.

Altstadt in the Evening During Summer:
The pavement is wet from late afternoon rain. The sky appears a cobalt blue as the sun has long since set behind the towering mountains that loom overhead. Historic buildings are washed in beams of light and are beautiful to see. Some of the tables from the afternoon seem to have been stored for the night, but most of the tables closer to the Golden Roof are filled with late-night diners. Cigarette smoke is still prevalent but less than in the afternoon. The human statues have disappeared and some of the storefronts appear to be quiet and dark inside. Backpackers walk by heading to some unknown place to stay. People walk a little more slowly, some are arm-in-arm. More locals seem to be on the street. A woman in the topmost story of a building looks down on the crowd and continues to ‘people watch’ for about an hour. Children with dark features dart to and fro playing and some women wearing veils talk quietly among themselves at the side of the street. Occasionally the sounds of Middle Eastern and South-east Asian languages come from the back restaurants as the businesses close down. Some German-speaking teenagers are hanging out, smoking and looking bored, they are dressed as though they just stepped out from an American mall. One comes up carrying a skateboard, saying something dryly, then all walk down to the bus stop.

Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)
Innsbruck’s Altstadt (Old Town)
Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)
Innsbruck’s Altstadt (Old Town)
Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)
Innsbruck’s Altstadt (Old Town)
Some amazing gelato we found in Altstadt
Some amazing gelato we found in Altstadt
The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)
The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) is the centerpiece of Altstadt and probably the most photographed building in Innsbruck. Note the street artists picture on display at the lower right – it is Michael Jackson.
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