December is one of the most beautiful months to travel. Specifically to countries that have an intense christmas atmosphere. The decorations and the christmas markets make everything a tiny bit more beautiful. As such, one of the most popular countries to visit during the festive months is Austria. Popular for its various christmas markets, culture, architecture, food, and scenery, Austria is an ideal destination. So, this year I planned a 6 day road trip in northern Austria, which included 4 of the most popular destinations: Innsbruck, Salzburg, Hallstatt, and Vienna. It is a very scenic road trip which you can do any time of the year! I hope that this post will inspire you and help you plan your own road trip in Austria!
To avoid having a very long post, I decided to split it into two parts. As a result, in this post I will give the trip details and my highlights of Innsbruck and Salzburg. For Hallstatt and Vienna read part 2 here.
The route, flights, and car
The main route that I followed is the one shown in the map below. This included some off the motorway routes (choose “Avoid Motorways” in your satnav) which offer more scenic views and easy access to some small villages which you can use as a pit stop.
Because my road trip started from the west and ended in the east part of the country I booked two separate flights:-
- 🛬: I landed in Innsbruck, where I also picked up my rental car.
- 🛫: I returned from Vienna, where I also dropped off my car.
This made my trip easier and saved a lot of time travelling! To rent a car, I recommend Rentalcars.com – they compare many different car agencies and get you the best price. However, you should be aware of two things: 1) make sure you get unlimited mileage on the car (otherwise you pay a lot if you go over), and 2) get full insurance for extra piece of mind.
1 day in Innsbruck
First stop, Innsbruck. I only stayed here for a night but wished I had for longer! Innsbruck is a small medieval town located by the Inn river and surrounded by mountains. The river itself is one of the most important elements of the city and is also part of its name! “Bruck” comes from the German word “Brücke”, which means bridge. And so, Innsbruck means “bridge over the Inn river”. The baroque and gothic architecture of the buildings, painted in lively pastel colours, the river, and the mountains, make Innsbruck uniquely beautiful. They also had christmas markets on each corner!
During my stay in Innsbruck, I chose to stay in the Stage 12 hotel. It is a really nice hotel located in the heart of the old town by Maria-Theresien-Straße – the most popular street in Innsbruck. The rooms are modern and spacious with a view of the mountains. It also offered private/secure parking! The parking is not free, but the hotel offers a valet option at a reduced price. I really enjoyed my stay there and highly recommend it!
One of the best things about Stage 12 is its location. Right in the heart of Innsbruck, the hotel is only a couple of meters away from the restaurants and shops. And once you’ve left to go and explore, you’re welcomed by this beautiful view:
As you walk around, you can’t really miss Innsbruck’s old city tower. It’s one of the “must” places to visit as once you’re at the top, it offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city. The entrance is around 3.50€ (cash only).
The tower consists of 133 steps up the spiraling staircase which leads up to a 31-metre-high viewing platform.
From here, you can get a stunning view of the medieval streets of Innsbruck, the alps and surrounding mountains, and the river Inn.
The Golden Roof
Just below the old tower, you will find one of the most important landmarks in Innsbruck; The Golden Roof – a roof of 2,738 gold-plated copper tiles, originally built for Emperor Maximilian I. Although this was originally designed to serve a royal box for the emperor, during my visit, the box was occupied by trumpetists playing christmas songs 🎺!
The Christmas Markets
Innsbruck didn’t just have one, but three different christmas markets scattered across the whole city. The markets are really close to each other, and so the whole town seemed to be like a big endless christmas market. It was stunning! The hot chocolate with homemade marshmallow was delicious and the cups they came in were so cute I had to keep it! Here are a few photos from strolling around the town and its markets..
The Inn River
Whilst strolling around, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to explore the area by the Inn River. There you will also find the quite popular area with the row of colourful houses. In combination with the mountains and the river, the colours of these houses stand out, especially during the sunset. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to take the following picture, where the I popped the colourful houses out of the black and white background.
The Triumphal Arch
At the southern end of the popular Maria-Theresien-Straße street, you will find another impressive landmark; The Triumphal Arch. If you look closely, you will notice that the north and south sides of the arch portray two different life/death events…
Not too far away from Innsbruck’s town, you can catch a train and two cable cars from the city centre, that can take you up to over 2km altitude in just 20 minutes! You can book your tickets here. Before you visit make sure to check the weather on the live webcam on the same website.
Unfortunately, during my stay, the cable cars were out of order, so I could only go to the Hungerburgbahn stop. Although I was gutted that I couldn’t go all the way, the views from that point were still great. From there you can also hike through the forest down to the Alipne Zoo. It is a really nice and peaceful walk!
I really regret not staying at least one more day, but who knows, maybe one day I will have the chance to visit it again! Next stop was Salzburg!
En route to Salzburg
There are a few routes you can take to go to Salzburg from Innsbruck. One of them includes the motorway route, which is the fastest but also the less scenic one. I chose the route that crosses through Germany and passes through the following places from Innsbruck; Hall-In-Tirol, Worgl, Kufstein, Traunstein, and Salzburg.
Indeed, this was one of the most beautiful drives. It included driving through small lanes in the Austrian countryside with the mountains in the background, snow, passing through beautiful picturesque villages, decorated gardens, and a gorgeous a sunset. On the way, I only stopped in Hall-In-Tyrol and Kufstein. I also quickly passed through Swarovski World to see the famous waterfall mountain. Here are some pictures:
3 days in Salzburg
Salzburg is a popular Austrian destinations, not only because it is home to Mozart and “The sound of music”, but also because it has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its stunningly preserved baroque architecture and unique blend of German and Italian influence! It is a beautiful town with many things to explore and it is definitely worth visiting; specifically during the festive seasons!
This time I stayed at Holiday Inn Salzburg. The hotel offered parking and was a 15 minute walk from the old city centre, which made it a great choice!
Altstadt (Old Town)
Slazburg’s old town is really beautiful. There you will find the famous shopping street; Getreidegasse. It is a lane with countless local and high end shops, narrow houses tightly nestled together, romantic passageways and courtyards! Strolling around and getting lost in the heart of Salzburg is a must!
In the same street, you will also find Mozart’s house/museum. If you are interested in his work and want to learn more about his life, you should definitely pay a visit. You should also attend a concert featuring Mozart’s work played by local musicians! It will take your breath away!
Below are some photos from strolling around the old town’s little streets where I discovered a lot of chocolate shops, the red bull store, and many more!
If you find yourself in Salzburg you should not miss visiting the Hohensalzburg Fortress. This castle isn’t only the biggest fully preserved castle in Central Europe, but it is also the emblem of Salzburg City. It is worth paying for the full ticket that includes access to all exhibitions and the very top part of the castle, from which you can get amazing panoramic views of the city.
Whilst you stroll around the old town centre, at the foot of the castle, you will come across the Salzburg Cathedral. The entrance is free.
“Salzburg’s Cathedral is probably the city’s most significant piece of church architecture and its ecclesiastical center. With its magnificent facade and mighty dome it represents the most impressive early Baroque edifice north of the Alps. Its origin is closely connected to the ecclesiastical principalities demeanour and growth.“
To the right of the River Salzach, you will find the Kapuzinerberg Hill. It is a 640 meters-high mountain home to churches, an abbey, hiking paths, and even chamois! The walk to the view point, although it is a bit steep, is peaceful and gorgeous. Of course, when you reach the top the views are just breathtaking. I actually think they are better than the views you get from the top of the castle…!
Christmas Markets & Decorations
Similarly to Innsbruck, in Salzburg you will also find many christmas markets in different locations of the city! They’re unique and cozy, and you’ll often see local people either drinking hot wine or cider whilst socialising or supporting local businesses by buying christmas gifts from their stalls.
Hangar – 7
Near Salzburg’s airport is the Hangar-7 exhibition centre. It is a unique building which hosts the historical Flying Bulls aircraft fleet and a collection of Formula 1 race cars. It was really impressive and if you have any spare days, you should check it out.
One of my absolute favourite highlights of my time in Salzburg was catching the cable car and going for a walk at the top of the Untersberg Mountain; the highest mountain around Salzburg. The cable car connects the base station in Grödig/St. Leonhard (456 m above sea level) and the summit station of Geiereck (1,776 m) rising 1,320 m in altitude. The views from the top, as you can probably imagine, are just mind blowing. However, what I love the most about walking at the top of the mountain was the silence. It is so peaceful that suddenly all your thoughts and worries also disappear! I have never felt this anywhere else.
To be continued..
These were all the things I discovered during my visit in Innsbruck and Salzburg. I hope that you found this post interesting and that it has inspired you to visit these places. The 2nd part of this trip, focusing on Hallstatt and Vienna, will be up soon.
Until next time..
P.S Check out my latest post here.