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Salzburg vs Innsbruck: What is Better to Visit?

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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?


Old Town Salzburg with Hohensalzburg Fortress in Forefront
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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 500 BC.

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, notably the shooting location for most of The Sound of Music. It 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 has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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: Famous Historical Landmarks in Austria

Things to do in Salzburg

Salzburg cityscape with Salzach River, Hohensalzburg Fortress, and historic architecture
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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 home to beautiful buildings, shops, restaurants, and beer halls.

For a grand walk, head off to the stunning Mirabell Gardens. Perhaps the most unmissable landmark is the imposing Festung Hohensalzburg (High Salzburg Fortress), which looms over the city. It’s likely the best castle in Austria.

The first stone of this huge, white fortress was laid in 1077 and it is one of the largest and best-preserved castles in Europe.

Fortress Hohensalzburg

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 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 to neighboring Germany for a brief spell!

Learn how salt was mined throughout the ages, try on some miners’ 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 the 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 pump the adrenaline.

Salzburg is also home to incredible retail destinations, ranging from the stunning EUROPARK to fantastic Schrannenmarkt, Grunmarkt, and Domplatz street markets.

Canny shoppers looking for good deals should hit Designer Outlet Salzburg, a five-minute walk from Salzburg Airport.

See Related: Best Whitewater Rafting in the World

Restaurants and Hotels in Salzburg

You’re spoiled for choice when looking for places to eat in Salzburg. 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. This establishment has room for indoor and al fresco eating, and the food is truly excellent.

For carnivores, check out Meet2Eat Salzburg for steaks and seafood, while vegetarians and vegans should try the hip, cozy GustaV, one of Salzburg’s best vegan restaurants.

When looking for places to stay, Salzburg has a pretty hopping Airbnb scene, but you should 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.

Hotel Sacher Salzburg

Perhaps the coolest part is that each room and suite is furnished and decorated individually, each personally 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.

Try the Sacher Bar for a wide range of drinks and live piano for nightcaps. My favorite place to stay is Hotel Bristol, located in Salzburg’s city center, mere steps away from the stunning Mirabell Palace, gardens, and some of Salzburg’s best retail districts.

Hotel Bristol Salzburg

Decorated with priceless antiquities, paintings, chandeliers, and objet d’art, this classic, old-school British-style hotel is the first and last word for 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. If you’re looking for something more relaxing, you can book a massage or borrow a good book from the hotel’s private library. Check out these best things to do in Salzburg with kids.

See Related: Vienna vs Salzburg


Colorful Houses Innsbruck, Austria
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

With evidence of human settlement reaching 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 people staying overnight nightly.

Innsbruck is defined by its preserved medieval, renaissance, and Baroque architecture, its academic institutes, its winter and extreme sports, and its breathtaking natural surroundings, nestled in 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 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 a distinctly Italian flavor (the 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

Aerial view of Innsbruck cityscape with Alpine backdrop showcasing historical architecture and mountainous beauty.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While Innsbruck is popular for 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! Check out these other best things to do in Innsbruck.

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. It is considered one of Austria’s three most culturally significant buildings, along with the Hofburg Palace (a different Hofburg) and Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.

If you’re a fan of palaces and castles, there are two more to enjoy: the great white beast Ambras Castle and the extremely yellow Büchsenhausen Castle.

One of the most popular sights for those walking in Innsbruck is the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), often regarded as the symbol of Innsbruck. In the square, there are plenty of great restaurants to try.

You can sit out on the terrace and enjoy views of the Golden Roof.

Golden Roof Innsbruck or known as the The Goldenes Dachl in Innsbruck
Kyle Kroeger / VIaTravelers

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 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, 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. At the same time, you tuck into a 3-course meal with a stein of local beer!

They’ve been doing this since 1967, 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 abilities.

If your tastes are slightly wilder, 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 two must-shop malls for anyone looking to burn some cash.

The enormous DEZ Einkaufszentrum 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!

See related: Best Party Cities in Europe

Restaurants and Hotels in Innsbruck

Traditional Apfelstrudel with Vanilla Sauce in Innsbruck, Austria - Authentic Austrian dessert.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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 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 a unique eatery that puts its 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 is the M+M Bar for classic cocktails done right in a setting where the old meets the 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 livelier atmosphere in this rockers’ heaven.

If you’re in town in winter and looking for somewhere REALLY cool to wet 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 cool. It frequently has incredible ice sculptures carved by local artists to admire.

Innsbruck has some incredible Airbnb choices for places to stay. When looking for hotels in Innsbruck, your options for great lodgings are legion. The 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 many attractions nearby that are 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, which guests can access 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 glass and steel architectural marvel is situated in the same building complex as the Rathaus-Galerie. The PENZ Hotel Innsbruck is a modern hotel that puts guests in the heart of the city.

Famous museums, galleries, shops, cafes, and bars are within walking distance. 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 on 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, a 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 beverage.

See related: 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 many similarities; they are alpine towns defined by their history, stunning surroundings, proximity to Germany and Italy, and beautiful old architecture.

Salzburg vs Innsbruck Conclusion

Salzburg Cathedral Baroque architecture and green domes against blue sky
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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. I can best sum up these places for tourists 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!

What is more scenic, Salzburg or Innsbruck?

You’ll get a heavy dose of culture, history, and 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 of an Italian influence. Both are near gorgeous mountain ranges but 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 airfare), 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 to get to Innsbruck?

Innsbruck is easily accessible by air, rail, and road. The city has an international airport close to Munich Airport in Germany. The city is 1 to 4 hours from most European destinations and 11 hours from North America. 

How easy is it to get to Salzburg?

Mozart Airport is the most likely entry point for international visitors and the easiest way to get to Salzburg. The airport is a few kilometers from the city center. Hauptbahnhof train station is in the town center, 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.

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