Salzburg or Innsbruck: Which City is Worth Visiting?

It’s an inevitable question when planning a trip to Austria – which city is worth visiting – Salzburg or Innsbruck? I too wanted to know which is more scenic.

Is it Innsbruck Austria, the alpine town in the middle of the majestic Nordkette mountain range? Or is it Salzburg, the historic cultural city?

Yes, and yes!

Salzburg vs Innsbruck – they both deserve to be seen. But which one will be your preference depends on what type of traveller you are. As travellers, we’re all different with varying interests and budgets.

Innsbruck or Salzburg
In this article, I break it all down for you from its attractions, to food, to day trips.
This will help answer the great debate of Innsbruck vs Salzburg Austria.

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Salzburg or Innsbruck Summary

If you are in a hurry, here are three quick, at-a-glance summaries of which is better Innsbruck or Salzburg by the type of traveller, your interests and when to go.

1. Type of Traveller: Innsbruck or Salzburg

a chart by the type of traveller comparing salzburg or innsbruck

2. Traveller Interests: Innsbruck vs Salzburg

chart showing travellers interests and comparing innsbruck vs salzburg

3. When to Go to Salzburg vs Innsbruck

chart comparing when to go to salzburg vs innsbruck

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Salzburg and Innsbruck: What are the Cities Known For?

Is Salzburg Worth Visiting?

view of city of Salzburg with mountains and castle when comparing innsbruck or salzburg

Salzburg is an Austrian city that lies very close to the border of Germany and is divided by the fast-flowing Salzach River.

The skyline of Salzburg is unbelievable. Picture this: the domes and spires of Old Town, the clifftop fortress looming above and the Eastern Alps in the background. It is postcard picture perfect!

And for that reason alone, this picturesque destination attracts millions of visitors each year.

Salzburg is known for its storybook Old Town, or Altstadt which is full of beautiful Baroque style buildings. And, most famously known for being the birthplace of Mozart, the famous composer.

Also, fans of The Sound of Music, the Julie Andrews classic movie, will recognize some of the city’s top sites as filming locations.

Salzburg is a perfect getaway for couples looking to enjoy romantic walks by the Salzach River and visits to Mirabell Palace, while families can explore the Old Town and take Sound of Music tours. Solo travellers will love the city’s arts scene and historic sites like Mozart’s birthplace, while luxury travellers can indulge in upscale accommodations, fine dining, and exclusive cultural experiences throughout the city.

Is Innsbruck worth visiting?

view of rooftops and mountains in innsbruck vs salzburg

Innsbruck, the capital of Austria’s state of Tyrol, offers the most majestic views of the jagged rock spires of the Nordkette mountain range.

Surrounded by snow-capped peaks and lush green landscapes, Innsbruck boasts unparalleled natural beauty. The mesmerizing scenery alone makes it worth a visit.

This city in the Alps is best known as a world-class destination for winter sports and hiking in the warmer months. Having hosted the Winter Olympics twice – 1964 and 1976 – this is a world-class skiing destination!

Innsbruck is also known for its architecture. The late-medieval Old Town is another storybook vision just like Salzburg, only a little smaller and more compact than its rival.

Innsbruck offers budget-savvy travellers a wealth of free or affordable outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, and exploring historic sites such as the Golden Roof in Old Town without breaking the bank.

Innsbruck or Salzburg: By Travellers’ Interests

Salzburg Attractions

mountain with alpine town with church steeple when comparing innsbruck vs salzburg

The best things to do in Salzburg Austria include:

  • Old Town (Altstadt): Begin your Salzburg adventure in the heart of the city, the Old Town. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it boasts narrow cobblestone streets, medieval structures, and vibrant squares. Don’t miss the iconic Getreidegasse, a charming shopping street where Mozart was born.
  • Hohensalzburg Fortress: Perched atop the Festungsberg hill, this medieval fortress offers panoramic views of the city and the Alps. Even if you decide not to explore the museum inside the views from the exterior courtyard are worth it!
  • Mirabell Palace and Gardens: Step into the beauty of Mirabell Palace, known for its stunning gardens featured in “The Sound of Music.” The Baroque architecture and well-maintained greenery make it a serene escape in the heart of the city.
  • Mozart’s Birthplace and Residence: Dive into the life of the musical prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, by visiting his birthplace and residence. The exhibits provide an intimate look into the life and times of the renowned composer.

Read More: How to Spend One Day in Salzburg Austria

Innsbruck Attractions

white building with pink flowers in window boxes with mountains in Innsbruck Old Town when comparing salzburg and innsbruck

The best things to do in Innsbruck Austria include:

  • Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl): While touring Old Town what to see in Innsbruck, the Golden Roof is an architectural masterpiece adorned with 2,657 gilded copper tiles. The structure, built for Emperor Maximilian I, symbolizes the city’s imperial past.
  • Imperial Palace (Hofburg): Explore the Imperial Palace, a window into the Habsburg dynasty’s influence on Innsbruck. The museum showcases lavish rooms, artifacts, and the beautiful Giant’s Hall.
  • Nordkette Cable Car: One of the best Innsbruck things to do, is to take the Nordkette Cable Car. Ascend from the city to the Nordkette mountain range for breathtaking Alpine vistas. In winter, it transforms into a haven for skiing enthusiasts.
  • Swarovski Crystal Worlds: A short trip from Innsbruck, this unique attraction in Wattens is a glittering wonderland of art and design featuring the world-renowned Swarovski crystals.

Read more: How to Spend One Day in Innsbruck Austria

✅ Salzburg gets my vote for top attractions, as they are more concentrated and within walking distance. What to do in Innsbruck is a bit beyond the city limits.

Salzburg Food + Drink

Let’s start with dessert. You can’t visit Salzburg without trying Sachertorte. This dense chocolate cake that melts in your mouth is layered with sweet apricot jam in the middle and is always topped with fresh whipped cream.

Salzburg cafe culture is as strong as it is in Paris. There are no shortage of cafes. I choose Café Sacher to enjoy my yummy Sachertorte (although it was one of the pricer cafes).

Then there is Mozartkugel, a chocolate-marzipan confection named after the musical genius himself. You can find this chocolate in any confectionary shop in Salzburg.

Other specialties include the Austrian classic Weiner Schnitzel and Bosna which is street food consisting of a bread bun stuffed with bratwurst sausage rubbed with spices and onions.

I recommend enjoying Wiener Schnitzel, at St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, one of the oldest restaurants in Europe that dates back to the 9th century.

For an authentic Austrian beer experience, head to Augustiner Bräu. This historic brewery, founded in 1621, offers a rustic beer garden where you can enjoy locally brewed beers.

Innsbruck Food + Drink

Traditional and hearty meals are what you’ll find in most restaurants in Innsbruck.

Dishes like cheese dumplings called Kaspressknödel are served with rich beef gravy or soup. I recommend indulging in this cheesy dumpling delight at Stiftskeller restaurant.

Or Kasspaetzle which are soft egg noodles or dumplings coated in cheese and baked (similar to our version of Mac & Cheese) with crispy fried onions. A typical Tyrolean lunch is Gröstl, pan-fried potatoes, bacon and onion with an egg on top.

Although there is no local brewery, I recommend a visit to the lively and fun vibes at Franzs biergarten.

✅ Salzburg gets my vote for food! I can never turn down marzipan chocolate or delicious Sachertorte.

Salzburg Day Trips

fountain with pond in Salzburg austria

If you are spending more than a day in Salzburg, you’ll want to add these day trips to your itinerary:

  • Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus): Venture just 30 km south of Salzburg to the Bavarian Alps, where the Eagle’s Nest perches atop the Kehlstein mountain. Hitler’s former mountain retreat offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes. Enjoy a scenic drive and a guided tour to delve into the history of this unique site.
  • Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains: A short 4 km from Salzburg, Hellbrunn Palace is a charming retreat with stunning gardens and the famous Trick Fountains. Explore the palace grounds, and don’t miss the entertaining water features that have amused visitors since the 17th century.
  • Berchtesgaden Salt Mines: Located around 25 km southeast of Salzburg, the Berchtesgaden Salt Mines provide a fascinating underground experience. Embark on a guided tour to learn about the history of salt mining while sliding down wooden slides and cruising across an underground lake.
  • Werfen Ice Caves (Eisriesenwelt): Approximately 40 km south of Salzburg, the Werfen Ice Caves are worth the slightly longer journey. Explore the largest ice cave system in the world, filled with intricate ice formations and awe-inspiring chambers.

Innsbruck Day Trips

square with green hedge and pink and white building in Innsbruck austria

If you are spending more than a day in Innsbruck, you’ll want to add these day trips to your itinerary:

  • Nordkette Mountain Range: Just a stone’s throw from Innsbruck, the Nordkette mountain range offers a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Innsbruck Austria things to do include taking the Nordkette Cable Car to Seegrube and Hafelekar for hiking, skiing, and breathtaking panoramic views of the Austrian Alps.
  • Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Wattens): A short 20 km trip east of Innsbruck leads you to the mesmerizing Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens. Explore the art installations and crystal wonders created by international artists, making it a unique and enchanting day trip.
  • Hall in Tirol: Within 10 km east of Innsbruck lies the medieval town of Hall in Tirol. Wander through its well-preserved historic center, marvel at the colourful facades, and visit the Mint Tower to learn about the town’s minting history.
  • Achensee Lake: Approximately 30 km northwest of Innsbruck, Achensee is Tyrol’s largest lake, surrounded by picturesque mountains. Enjoy a boat ride on the lake, explore charming villages like Pertisau, and savour the serene Alpine atmosphere.

✅ Salzburg gets my vote for day trips! One of the best experiences I’ve had is visiting Berchtesgaden National Park, and I think there is more variety of things to do nearby.

When to Go to Innsbruck vs Salzburg

Which is Better Innsbruck or Salzburg in the Summer

Visit Salzburg in the summer and you will be treated to the renowned Salzburg Festival, a world-class event that attracts music enthusiasts from around the globe.

Summer in Salzburg means enjoying the blooming beauty of Mirabell Gardens, perfect for a stroll. The city’s outdoor cafes and restaurants spill onto the streets, providing a charming backdrop for indulging in Austrian cuisine.

In contrast, Innsbruck offers an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with breathtaking alpine scenery, opportunities for hiking and adventure sports, and nearby lakes like Achensee for water activities.

Most travellers will want to go to Salzburg in the summer.

Salzburg or Innsbruck Which is Better in Winter

Salzburg’s Old Town, adorned with festive lights, becomes a magical setting for holiday strolls, with Christmas markets offering seasonal treats and handcrafted gifts.

Meanwhile, Innsbruck, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, exudes a cozy Alpine charm. The Nordkette mountain range becomes a winter playground for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts.

Most travellers go to Innsbruck for the winter sports!

FAQ About Innsbruck and Salzburg

How far is Salzburg from Innsbruck, and can I visit both in one trip?

Salzburg to Innsbruck are approximately 185 km (115 miles) apart. While it’s possible to visit both cities in one trip, the travel time between them is around 2 hours by train, so consider your itinerary and preferences.

How many days in Innsbruck and Salzburg?

Both Salzburg and Innsbruck can easily be seen in one day. However, if you want to experience more beyond just seeing the Old Town, I recommend you spend 4 nights in Salzburg and 2 nights in Innsbruck.

Can I easily access the Austrian Alps from Salzburg and Innsbruck?

Yes, both cities offer easy access to the Austrian Alps. Innsbruck is closer to the heart of the Alps, making it a more immediate gateway for mountain adventures. Salzburg is well-connected to alpine regions as well.

Are there good shopping opportunities in Salzburg and Innsbruck?

Both cities offer diverse shopping experiences. Salzburg’s Getreidegasse is famous for boutique shops, while Innsbruck’s Maria-Theresien-Straße is a bustling shopping street. Each city combines traditional and modern shopping options.

As a Holidaymaker

So have you decided which is better Salzburg or Innsbruck?

Depending on your traveller type, one will appeal to you more than the other. Rest assured, they are incredibly scenic and offer travellers many things to see and do.

You might be wondering how I added both to my itinerary. I took the ultimate road trip on the Alpine Road. It started in Berchtesgaden near Salzburg with a midpoint in Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany near Innsbruck. With a final stop in Lake Constance, the destination that is known as the four-country holiday hotspot.