If you’re a fan of travel in Europe, particularly around stunning Austria, the cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg should each have a well-deserved place on your bucket list.
As great as it would be to visit both places in one vacation (don’t worry, I’ll lobby for that argument), normal, human constraints, like time and money, might force you to pick between the two for your next Austrian adventure.
So, what’s the difference between Salzburg and Innsbruck?
- Which has a better nightlife?
- Which has more history?
- Which is better to hike?
- What is more scenic, Salzburg or Innsbruck?
Read on as we ask; Salzburg vs Innsbruck: What is Better?
Table of Contents
The ancient city of Salzburg (or Salt Mountain) is the fourth-largest city in Austria. People have inhabited the ground Salzburg lies on from as early as 500BC.
These early settlements would eventually become the basis of the Roman settlement of Iuvavum.
As the name suggests, Salzburg’s primary source of income was originally from salt mining, which helped turn the city into a massive center for trade in Europe. Salzburg would also become one of Europe’s most profitable gold mining towns.
Salzburg has multiple claims to fame, notable among them being the shooting location for most of The Sound of Music, but is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of one of mankind’s most brilliantly minded composers; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Nestled in the gently rolling Austrian countryside, with the alps framing the city, Salzburg is famous for its well-preserved Baroque architecture, much of which have been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The feel of Salzburg is a unique blend of old and new where medieval, meets renaissance, meets Baroque, meets modern in a surprisingly compact, bustling city.
See related: 13 Famous Historical Landmarks in Austria
Things to do in Salzburg
Whatever you plan on doing, consider making things easier (and cheaper) by getting your hands on a Salzburg Card.
This will get you free or discounted entry to many of Salzburg’s favorite attractions as well as free use of Salzburg’s excellent public transport.
There’s something for everyone in Salzburg, such as the Salzburg Zoo, the Salzburg Museum and the Museum of Natural History.
The primary draws are the city’s history and abundance of beautifully preserved Baroque architecture.
Salzburg is a fantastic place to spend a day or two walking the streets, admiring the city at street level. The Getreidegasse is one of Salzburg’s oldest streets and is home to some beautiful buildings, shops, restaurants and beer halls.
For grand walk, head off to the stunning Mirabell Gardens.
Perhaps the most unmissable landmark is the imposing Festung Hohensalzburg (High Salzburg Fortress), that looms over the city.
The first stone of this huge, white fortress was laid in 1077, and is one of the largest and best preserved castles in Europe.
If you’re more interested in Salzburg’s musical history, there are numerous tours throughout the city that explore Mozart’s birthplace and young life in Salzburg, as well as tours covering the filming of The Sound of Music.
Out of all of them, we’d recommend the Salzburg: Mozart, Old Town & More tour, which is about $55 per person. This tour will give you a greater understanding of young Mozart and how the musical genius found his feet and his fame, as well as a whistlestop tour around Altstadt (Old Town), where most of Salzburg’s most impressive Baroque architecture can be found.
You can also check out The Original Sound of Music Tour, which is about $60 per person.
Here you’ll get to learn more about the stories behind this legendary musical, from how the movie’s hit songs came into being, to Dame Julie Andrew’s prolific cursing that would make a marine blush!
See related: Vienna vs Salzburg: What’s Better to Visit?
If you’re looking to spend a day doing something a little different you can try the superb Salzkammergut: Salt Mine, Lakes, and Mountain Tour. This incredible tour will take you over water, underground and even over to neighboring Germany for a brief spell!
Learn how salt was mined throughout the ages, try on some miner’s overalls, and see how minecarts operate.
Then take a relaxing lake cruise to the charming German town of Berchtesgaden (once the summer getaway of Austria’s least favorite son, Adolf Hitler), then back over to Austria to little town of St. Gilgen, where Mozart’s mother was born and the beautiful Gothic St. Wolfgang Church.
Pretty adventurous right? No?
Then perhaps you should try the Baumgarten: Action Whitewater Rafting Adventure! Just 30 minutes from Salzburg, this is a beautiful spot for nature lovers and thrill-seekers that serves as a great place to learn about the area surrounding Salzburg, as well as pumping the adrenaline.
Salzburg is also home to some pretty incredible retail destinations, ranging from the stunning EUROPARK to fantastic Schrannenmarkt, Grunmarkt and Domplatz street markets.
Canny shoppers looking for good deals are advised to hit up Designer Outlet Salzburg, a mere five minute walk from Salzburg Airport.
See related: 12 Best Travel Apps for Europe
Restaurants and Hotels in Salzburg
When looking for places to eat in Salzburg, you’re really spoiled for choice. The first that springs to mind is Restaurant Jakob’s Esskultur.
Owned and operated by husband and wife team Jakob and Elisabeth, this high-end eatery serves refined Austrian and international classics. There’s room for indoor and al fresco eating at this establishment and the food is truly excellent.
When looking for places to stay, Salzburg has a pretty hopping AirBnb scene, but you should really consider some of the incredible hotels that Salzburg has to offer.
The Radisson Blu Altstadt is among the nicest hotels in town.
Known for its traditional Tyrolean styling and superb in-house restaurant, Symphonie (where a complimentary breakfast buffet is served daily between 06:30 and 10:30), this member of the Radisson Blu chain was established in a 14th-Century building, conveniently located near some of Salzburg’s most popular attractions in Old Town.
Perhaps the best perk of staying here is that guests receive a 1-day bonus card with a 10% discount for a selection of stores in the nearby Designer Outlet Centre!
Hotel Sacher is another great place for lodging in Salzburg.
First opened in 1866, this, historic, traditional hotel is on the banks of the Salzach River, featuring spectacular views of the city as well as Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Perhaps the coolest part is that each room and suite are furnished and decorated in an individual fashion, each personally decorated by the hotel’s owner Elisabeth Gürtler. Furnishings include paintings of all ages and origins, as well as silk wallpaper.
The hotel restaurant, Zirbelzimmer, is a prime spot for fine eats if you don’t want to stray too far. The world famous in-house Café Sacher Salzburg serves the hotel’s signature dessert (the recipe of which is a closely guarded secret); the Sacher Cake. For night-caps, try the Sacher Bar for a wide range of drinks and live piano.
My personal favorite place to stay is Hotel Bristol, located in Salzburg’s city center, mere steps away from the stunning Mirabell Palace and gardens as well as some of Salzburg’s best retail districts.
Decorated with priceless antiquities, paintings, chandeliers, and objet d’art, this classic, old-school British style hotel is the first and last word in terms of luxury lodging.
A breakfast buffet is served daily in the Crystal Room, decorated with enormous crystal chandeliers. There’s the award-winning in-house restaurant, Polo Lounge, which serves international and Austrian specialties, cooked to perfection.
After dinner, The Sketch Bar & Lounge hosts regular piano evenings for you to enjoy an adult beverage to.
If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, you can book yourself a massage, or borrow a good book from the hotel’s private library.
See Related: Vienna vs Salzburg
With evidence of human settlement reaching back to the stone age, Innsbruck (Bridge on the [River] Inn) is another truly ancient city in Austria.
It has historically served as a trade hub, a center of learning, and a seat of the Holy Roman and later Austrian Imperial court.
As the nation’s 5th largest city, it is also the state capital of Tyrol and one of Austria’s biggest tourist destinations; it’s not unusual for the city to see over a million of people staying overnight nightly.
Innsbruck is defined by its preserved medieval, renaissance and Baroque architecture, its academic institutes, it’s winter and extreme sports and it’s breathtaking natural surroundings, nestled is a green valley, wrapped up in the looming Karwendel Alps to the north and Patscherkofel and Serles ranges to the south.
The city is home to a number of prominent financial institutions, making it a much traveled to destination in the world of European finance and commerce. It is also home to the headquarters of Swarovski!
Innsbruck has a more open feel, and has a distinctly Italian flavor to it (the close proximity to Italy probably helps).
Being home to 2 universities and several colleges, as well as being a great base camp for people looking to hit the slopes, it’s also quite a young, energetic town.
See Related: AARDY Travel Insurance Review
Things to do in Innsbruck
While Innsbruck is popular for the skiing, snowboarding, hiking and a whole host of extreme sports, it’s not all for adrenaline junkies – after all this town has a long history of academia!
Whatever you end up doing, make sure you look into the Innsbruck City Card.
This nifty pass will get you free rides on certain bus routes (and discounts on others), free shuttle rides to certain attractions, free or discounted entry to most of Innsbruck’s top attractions and one free uphill and downhill cable car ride at Nordkettenbahn, Patscherkofelbahn and Glungezerbahn cable cars!
Honestly, getting a cable car ride on any of the cable cars is a life-changing experience, even if you have no intention of doing any snowboarding. Try the Top of Innsbruck: Round Trip Cable Car Ride for about $50 per person.
The views you’ll get of Innsbruck and the Alps are beyond stunning.
For other more relaxed activities, there are a ton of museums, galleries and marvelous old buildings to admire.
The Hofburg (Imperial Palace) of Innsbruck is one example, and is considered one of Austria’s 3 most culturally significant buildings, along with the Hofburg Palace (it’s a different Hofburg) and Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.
If you’re a fan of palaces and castles, there are 2 more to enjoy; the great white beast that is Ambras Castle and the extremely yellow Büchsenhausen Castle.
One of the most popular sights for those walking Innsbruck is the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), often regarded as the symbol of Innsbruck.
Completed in 1500, the roof is covered in 2,657 gleaming copper tiles. The roof was the finishing touch for a Royal observation box in honor of Emperor Maximilian I to mark his wedding to Bianca Maria Sforza. Maximilian and Maria would use the balcony to observe town festivals, chivalric tournaments, and other events that took place in the square below.
Booking a Private Tour with a Local Guide is a great way of seeing some of these sights, particularly the Golden Roof, and only costs about $36 per person.
One of the other more relaxed days out in Innsbruck is touring Swarovski Crystal World in neighboring Wattens for as little as $23 per person.
Explore this zany world and discover the gardens of the Giant. There’s a family-friendly play-tower, and a superb café and restaurant, and the gift shop is something else. This place is a must for fans of glassware, crystalware or anything shiny!
Another great family activity is hanging out with the Gundolf Family for an evening, as they regale you with traditional Austrian folk music and tales, while you tuck into a 3-course meal with a stein of local beer!
They’ve been doing this since 1967 and it is a beloved institution.
As mentioned earlier, Innsbruck is home to some thrilling winter sports. Snowboarding is a particular local favorite and the slopes surrounding the city are ideal for any skiers or snowboarders of varying ability.
If your tastes are on the slightly wilder side, book yourself the experience of a lifetime with the Innsbruck: Paragliding Adventure for $135 per person.
The views of the city and her breathtaking surroundings are utterly unparalleled as you cruise hundreds of feet above them, the alpine wind whistling around your ears. No wonder the company’s motto is “Live Your Dreams”.
Innsbruck is home to some pretty fabulous retailers for shopaholics. There are 2 must-shop malls for anyone looking to burn some cash.
There’s the enormous DEZ Einkaufszentrum that has a little bit of everything and an extensive food court.
Then there’s the visually striking Kaufhaus Tyrol, home to a number of high-end labels and the awesome WIKI World for young kids to spend some energy while you spend your holiday money!
Restaurants and Hotels in Innsbruck
Innsbruck has no shortage of fine eateries to sample, you might have even heard of the first one! Die Wilderin, is the new kid disrupting the scene, sourcing its ingredients exclusively from the state of Tyrol.
The fare here is mostly traditional Austrian and Tyrolean cuisine, with a few international dishes, all expertly cooked to perfection and beautifully presented.
My personal favorite place to grab a bite was Machete – Burrito Kartell. This place is awesome for two reasons; #1 they don’t take themselves too seriously, #2 they take burritos VERY seriously! It’s really a unique eatery that puts its own Austrian spin on a Mexican classic.
Not sure what you want to eat or where? Maybe all of it sounds too good to miss. If so, sign up for the Innsbruck Food Tour for $135 per person!
The nightlife in Innsbruck is definitely something to check out, as there are some incredible bars, pubs, and guest houses to be sampled in town.
Among the coolest places you can grab a drink are the M+M Bar for classic cocktails done right in a setting where old meets new.
- Liquid Diary is another great spot; you’ll come for the signature cocktails and stay for the decor…and the cocktails!
- Zappa Music Bar is one of the top student joints in the city, hosting live music in an even livlier atmosphere in this rockers’ heaven.
If you’re in town in winter and looking for somewhere REALLY cool to whet your whistle, Cloud 9 – Iglu Bar is the place to be!
At 1,905 meters elevation, right next to Seegrube Station, this literal igloo bar, open from December to April is literally cool and frequently has incredible ice sculptures carved by local artists for you to admire.
For places to stay, Innsbruck has some incredible AirBnb choices. When looking for hotels in Innsbruck, you’re options for great lodgings are legion.
First mention goes to the city’s namesake hotel, Hotel Innsbruck. Sitting on the Inn Bridge by the bank of the Inn River, this is an ideal location to take in spectacular views of the city and the surrounding alps.
Leisure travelers will find plenty of attractions nearby, easily accessible by foot, including the Hofburg, Goldenes Dachl, the Congress Center, and the Landestheater.
One of the hotel’s main draws is its two-floor wellness facility that can be accessed by guests free of charge. It includes two spa areas; the basement spa comes with an indoor pool, an aroma steam bath, a Finnish sauna, and a sensory shower.
The Panorama Spa on the 6th floor offers an aroma steam bath, organic sauna, solarium, a Luis Trenker infrared cabin, a massage room, and an ice fountain. Massages and access to the sunbed are complimentary for all guests.
Next is The PENZ Hotel. One of two Penz hotels in Innsbruck, this architectural marvel of glass and steel is situated in the same building complex of the Rathaus-Galerie. The PENZ Hotel Innsbruck is a modern hotel that puts guests in the heart of the city.
It’s a walking distance of famous museums, galleries, shops, cafes, and bars. The Golden Roof, a famous landmark, is also located nearby.
The hotel’s rooftop houses an American Bar, where guests can enjoy a relaxing drink at the terrace for stunning views of the Alps.
Lastly is perhaps Innsbruck’s most famous hotel, aDLERS Hotel. This upscale accommodation is the tallest hotel in Innsbruck, so expect the most breathtaking views of the city and Tyrol’s heights while staying here.
No Innsbruck hotel is complete without a fully-equipped sauna, and Adlers does not disappoint. Located on the 11th floor, the in-house spa features a bio sauna, Finnish sauna, a steam bath, and an infrared cabin. Massages are free for all guests.
The world famous aDLERS Bar and restaurant on the 12th floor serves Austrian and international cuisine with special menus available upon request and is one of the most awe-inspiring places you’ll ever grab a bev.
See related: 13 Best Affordable Castle Hotels in Europe
Salzburg Vs Innsbruck Comparisons & FAQ
We’ve gone into some of what each of these fantastic cities has to offer, so how do they compare? Both Innsbruck share a lot of similarities, namely they are both alpine towns, defined by their history, stunning surroundings, proximity to Germany and Italy and their beautiful old architecture.
- What is more scenic Salzburg or Innsbruck? You’re going to get a heavy dose of culture, history and both man-made and natural eye candy no matter which town you visit (honestly, they’re close enough to each other, you should visit both!). Scenery wise, both cities are gorgeous. The architecture in Salzburg is a little more Germanic and Innsbruck’s has more Italian influence. Both are near gorgeous mountain ranges, but they are a little closer and more visually striking in Innsbruck.
- What about hiking Salzburg vs Innsbruck? Both are home to some fantastic hiking opportunities. Generally speaking, you’re in for a tougher hike in Innsbruck and the weather there is slightly less predictable.
- What does a trip to Salzburg cost vs Innsbruck cost? Budgeting for a decent hotel, food, drink, excursions and transport (excluding air fare), you’re looking at around $200-$300 per person per day in Salzburg and about $150-$250 per person per day in Innsbruck.
- How easy is it getting to Innsbruck? Innsbruck is easily accessible by air, rail and road. The city has its own international airport, and is also very close to Munich Airport in Germany. The city is from 1 to 4 hours from most European destinations and 11 hours from North America.
- How easy is it getting to Salzburg? Mozart Airport is the most likely entry point for international visitors and by far the easiest way to get to Salzburg. The airport is a few kilometers from the city center. Hauptbahnhof train station is in the center of town, around a 10 minute walk from the Old Town. Again, Salzburg is from 1 to 4 hours from most European destinations and 11 hours from North America.
- Is Salzburg worth visiting? Absolutely, see above.
- Is Innsbruck worth visiting? Definitely, see above.
See Related: Best Travel Backpacks
Salzburg Vs Innsbruck Conclusion
So, Salzburg or Innsbruck? Innsbruck or Salzburg? Which is better?
Neither. They’re both fantastic cities that will give you the vacation of a lifetime.
The best way I can sum up these places for tourists is by asking; “what do you want from your vacation?” and “is budget a primary concern?”
If you’re the musical sort, looking for a relaxing getaway, some great food, and a slower pace of life, head to Salzburg. If you are a night owl, the prowl of the town, or off to the piste and rip up the powder, head to Innsbruck.
Likewise, if budget is a concern, Innsbruck is the place to be.
Can’t decide on either? Well, I have just the thing for you! Book a ticket for the Innsbruck and Swarovski Private Day Tour, for less than $1,200 for a group of 8, and see these two amazing Austrian cities up close!
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