Tyrol is as pure alpine as Austria gets, with mountains that make you want to yodel out loud and patchwork pastures chiming with cowbells. After the first proper dump of snow in winter, it's a Christmas-card scene, with snow-frosted forests and skiers whizzing down some of the finest slopes in Europe. Summer is lower key: hiking trails thread high to peaks and mountain huts, while folk music gets steins swinging down in the valleys.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Tyrol.
Picturesquely perched on a hill and set among beautiful gardens, this Renaissance pile was acquired in 1564 by Archduke Ferdinand II, then ruler of Tyrol, who transformed it from a fortress into a palace. Don't miss the centrepiece Spanische Saal (Spanish Hall), the dazzling Armour Collection and the gallery's Velázquez and Van Dyck originals.
Grabbing attention with its pearly white facade and cupolas, the Hofburg was built as a castle for Archduke Sigmund the Rich in the 15th century, expanded by Emperor Maximilian I in the 16th century and given a baroque makeover by Empress Maria Theresia in the 18th century. The centrepiece of the lavish rococo state apartments is the 31m-long Riesensaal (Giant’s Hall).
Innsbruck’s pride and joy is the Gothic Hofkirche, one of Europe’s finest royal court churches. It was commissioned in 1553 by Ferdinand I, who enlisted top artists of the age such as Albrecht Dürer, Alexander Colin and Peter Vischer the Elder. Top billing goes to the empty sarcophagus of Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519), a masterpiece of German Renaissance sculpture, elaborately carved from black marble.
One of Tyrol’s true architectural highlights is the ochre-and-white Zisterzienstift in Stams, founded in 1273 by Elizabeth of Bavaria, the mother of Konradin, the last of the Hohenstaufens. Set in pristine grounds, the monumental facade stretches 80m and is easily recognised by its pair of silver cupolas at the front, which were added as a final flourish when the abbey was revamped in baroque style in the 17th century.
Swarovski crystals sparkle in all their glory at the fantasy fairy-tale Kristallwelten. A giant’s head spewing water into a pond greets you in the park, where you will also find the attention-grabbing Crystal Cloud, embellished with 800,000 crystals and drifting above a mirrorlike pool and a crystalline-themed playground, tower and labyrinth for kids.
Innsbruck's golden wonder and most distinctive landmark is this Gothic oriel, built for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519), lavishly festooned with murals and glittering with 2657 fire-gilt copper tiles. It is most impressive from the exterior, but the museum is worth a look – especially if you have the Innsbruck Card – with an audio guide whisking you through the history. Keep an eye out for the grotesque tournament helmets designed to resemble the Turks of the rival Ottoman Empire.
Lifted high on a rocky crag like an offering to the alpine peaks that surround it, Kufstein's turreted castle provides a fascinating insight into the town’s turbulent past. The fortress dates from 1205 (when Kufstein was part of Bavaria) and was a pivotal point of defence for both Bavaria and Tyrol during the struggles. The round Kaiserturm (Emperor’s Tower) is a 1522 addition.
It’s a bizarre feeling to slip out of sandals and into skis in midsummer, but that’s precisely what draws people to the Stubai Glacier. The glacier is a year-round skiing magnet with more than 110km of wide, snow-sure pistes that are great for cruising and intermediate skiing. Summer skiing is limited to between 2900m and 3300m.
An easygoing family hike is the 5km (approximately three-hour) loop through the dramatic 200m-high Rosengartenschlucht, where boarded walkways make for a gentle ascent and afford sterling views of a waterfall. At the top, the walk continues through forest and along a trail overlooking the Lechtaler Alps. You can't miss the Blaue Grotte, a cave pool that is a startling shade of blue.