When researching Innsbruck as a travel destination, you read about the Alps and their ski resorts accommodating family trips and couples looking for a romantic mountain getaway. You’ll also come across accounts of the charming old town being completely surrounded by peaks jutting out of the ground and its cutesy buildings featuring bright colors and rococo ornamentation. The history buffs will indulge in the old town, Gothic style castles, cathedrals, museums and multiple historic monuments throughout the town. You may also hear mention of Innsbruck being a college town. In fact, 25,000 residents are enrolled in the Universität Innsbruck (Innsbruck University). The total population is only estimated at 120,000. I imagine there has to be a substantial amount of people that decided to stay here after finishing school or dropping out due to the distractions a young student may be confronted with while living here. Welcome to Innsbrucklyn!
The term “college town” refers to much more than a town with a university in it. It’s got to have multiple factors clicking all together. It’s got to have the “cool factor”. So, what’s cool about Innsbruck? Let’s find out!!!
- Easy to transit: You can walk just about anywhere in town with no sweat, but most opt for bicycles or scooters. I don’t think I’ve met anyone in town that doesn’t own at least one bike. Some people have a city cruise and a mountain bike. You can go from east to west along bike paths on either side of the river cutting through town. You’ll see dozens of bikes stacked throughout the city. The town also offers many bus lines and trolleys for which you can buy a daily, weekly, or monthly card. I’m yet to see real traffic here and I don’t recall anyone blaring their horn to get the line moving, although I have heard stories about cows standing in the middle of the road like they own the place.
- Safety: Any savvy traveler tries to feel out the safety of the destination they’re in. Ask any Innsbrucker about deaths and they’ll be eager to tell you about how many people have been killed this year… by cows. Those darn cows again! I’m serious, these are the only violent deaths I’ve heard about. The only other crimes I know about are stolen bikes. The bicycle rule of thumb applies anywhere in the world “Lock it or lose it”.
- Green: Inhale real deep and release! Ahhhhhhhhh… It’s as green as it gets and real piney. Lush pine forests cover the mountains, tons of parks and green areas within the town, and everyone grooms their little gardens hanging out of windows or balconies. Even the hospital has a green rooftop. The city is also really clean. I rarely see litter and whenever you do see it, you feel compelled to pick it up and put it where it belongs. Cleanliness in a town is a good indicator that it’s residents are proud to be there. Innsbruckers are also very adamant about recycling. I received a thorough lesson in which bin to use for what and where their corresponding receptacles are out on the street. Very cool!
- Weather: Throughout the year, Innsbruck offers something for every taste. The summers can be hot, it’s been scorching hot since I arrived, even hotter than back home in the Caribbean. Everyone tells me that it’s not usually this beautiful and the weather is sure to change in a day or two. It hasn’t really. We’ve had a few light showers in the evening and some mornings start off gloomy, but that all clears away as the days approach noon, when the sun peaks out and shines upon Innsbruck with all it’s might. Winters are perfect for skiing and snowboarding. Spring is supposed to be beautiful as the mountains are still covered in snow and nature begins to erupt in full bloom. I’m really looking forward to fall, I can’t wait to see the leaves turn colors and hear the crunch beneath my feet as I walk along the Inn.
- Activities: If you’re here and you’re bored, it’s your fault. You can do so much with so little. Whenever the heat packs a punch, pack a picnic and head for the mountains or seek refuge at one of the many lakes (See) surrounding Innsbruck. One day when the heat was approaching 40 celcius, we visited Piburger See for a swim and some picnic action. No self respecting Innsbrucker would ever pack a picnic without the essentials; cheese, dark bread, sausages and coffee. We also brought some fruit currently in season; fresh strawberries, cherries and even picked raspberries and blueberries on a trail that circles the lake. Needless to say, I was blown away by the fact that we were picking fresh raspberries and blueberries. You can also go hiking or biking on dozens of trails all around the town. Within the town you can hit up the many pedestrian paths for a stroll, bike ride, skate or rollerblade. If none of the options listed above sound like your cup of tea, you can indulge in less physically demanding activities to kill some time. Head to the paths along the river and you will find ping pong tables, groups of people; friends or new acquaintances, engaging in a game of “Kubb” or “Viking, slack line, tai chi, yoga, frisbee, basketball, volleyball, and so much more. If you’re still seeking something more leisurely, just chill out with some friends and have a snack or some drinks. I’ve even seen people using mini grills with sausages and cuts of meat on it. If you didn’t plan ahead for the drinks, just chill until the Inn-Drinks dude rolls up with ice cold brews.
- Cheap Eats & Drinks: Making new friends and breaking the ice with a group of people in an unfamiliar place isn’t always easy. I’ve figured out the perfect approach for this sometimes awkward situation. In Innsbruck, all you have to do is approach a group of seemingly like minded folks and ask, “Where’s the best cheap eats in town?” The group will burst into a heated debate over where you can find the best kebap or bosna. You can also ask about everyone’s favorite bar and everyone will rave about their preferred watering hole. Hang back and play it cool and before you know it, you’ll be invited to check out one of these food joints or a local pub with less of a touristy feel.”Kebap” may surprise you as a go to choice for cheap eats, but like everywhere else in the world, immigrants have figured out how to set up restaurants that appease the needs of the drunken, late night eaters.
- Nightlife: The bars range from fancy rooftop bars, complete with a DJ playing some weird lounge version of a clubbanger, to grimy hole in the walls frequented by the old timer locals and students looking for no frills fun. You want hip hop? It’s here, I saw “The Pharcyde” perform on my first week here.
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- Looking for more of a grungy feel? Put on your Pantera shirt and head bang all night long at one of the rocking bars. Electronic more up your alley? Well, lucky for you, this is Europe and all the kids love that here. You can even find romantic joints where you and your sweetheart will be serenaded by live piano. Craft beer bars, old school pubs, banging clubs, you’ll find your spot soon enough.
If you’re anything like me, I have to issue a serious warning. It’s really easy to feel like you’re back in your early 20’s and go all “Old School” as you pound a tall boy before entering the club for a live performance or while chugging wine straight from the bottle as you join your friends for “a drink by the river”. For example, “a drink by the river” to me, means that we’re going to catch up with friends while we sip on some of Austria’s fine wine. In reality, they meant what I can best describe as a scene out of an electronic music festival. DJ’s bumping, clouds of smoke billowing, and hundreds of students and old timers like myself trying to blend into the crowd. Everyone has a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other as they fraternize with friends and unknowns. I’ve had to exercise some serious restraint to keep from experiencing too many “Frank the Tank” moments. Once it hits your lips, it’s so good… You’ve been warned.
All photos by Carlos Melgar