There’s no destination that excites me more than charming towns nestled in the heart of the Alps like Innsbruck. The awe-inspiring natural scenery and rich history of these places feel like something out of a fairy tale, satisfying my wanderlust in ways that only a few other destinations can.
Also, I have always been enthralled by castles perched on hilltops. They appear to have come straight out of my favorite fantasy novels and movies. If you are planning a trip to Innsbruck and are looking for this type of castle to visit, then Schloss Ambras is the one you should see.
Today, you will discover Ambras Castle, from its rich history to its stunning architecture. If you’re planning a visit, we’ll give you an idea of what to expect and whether it’s worth your time. And for those who decide to take the trip, we’ve included all the essential visiting information.
Traveling to Innsbruck, one can find beautiful tourist attractions even outside of town. For history buffs, art enthusiasts, and wanderers alike, the best example is no other than Schloss Ambras.
Schloss Ambras is the castle perched on a hilltop in the outskirts of Innsbruck; considered not only one of the top destinations in Tyrol but, most importantly, one of Austria’s most historical sites.
And would you believe it? Ambras Castle is the oldest museum in the world!
A visit to Ambras Castle would be like traveling 450 years back in time. Not only was it built in the 16th century but the exhibits you can find inside the castle dates back to the reign of Archduke Ferdinand II.
Ferdinand II is one of history’s most prominent collectors of art. And in Ambras Castle, you can find his collection of armor, natural objects, weapons, portraits, musical instruments, works of art, the newest scientific tools, and many more!
There’s more to tell about Ambras Castle. So, let’s get started with the details!
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Is Ambras Castle Worth Visiting
As someone whose life was transformed by the mountains and a fan of fantasy novels, the hilltop location of Ambras Castle with the stunning Alps in the backdrop immediately caught my attention.
However, as I explored and learned more about Ambras Castle, I discovered that it is more than just a picturesque landmark. There’s a reason behind its popularity among travelers.
In my opinion…
Ambras Castle is definitely worth a visit for its museum exhibits, especially the collection of armor worn by famous personalities in the 16th century. The castle’s artful chambers, mesmerizing murals, and remarkable Renaissance halls are also a must-see for anyone visiting Innsbruck, seeking exceptional beauty.
In addition to the beautiful things in the castle mentioned above, Ambras Castle boasts charming little details that you won’t want to miss. For instance, the castle features stunning gardens where you can spot colorful peacocks freely roaming around.
Besides being the world’s oldest museum, what makes Ambras Castle truly intriguing is its history steeped in romance and love.
The castle’s past revolves around the tale of a prince (Ferdinand II) and a commoner (Philippine Welser), which has inspired numerous works of art, including theatrical plays, novels, and paintings.
In the resources section of this post, I’ve included a link to the story of Ferdinand II and Philippine Welser. Understanding their story will enhance your experience of exploring Ambras Castle, enabling you to imagine the couple’s romance and royal presence permeating the castle.
Visiting Innsbruck, you must also check the following landmarks and attractions in the city:
- Golden Roof: Visit the Symbol of Innsbruck
- Hofburg: See What’s Inside Innsbruck Imperial Palace
- Hofkirche: 3 Reasons Why You Must See Innsbruck Court Church
- Stadtturm Innsbruck City Tower: The Best Views of Old Town
- Nordkette: How to Visit Innsbruck’s Best Natural Tourist Attraction
- Innsbruck Cathedral: 5 Beautiful Reasons To Visit
History of Ambras Castle
So, do you think Ambras Castle is worth visiting? Yes? Well, that’s great!
However, I strongly suggest delving into the history of Ambras Castle before visiting. Doing so will not only enrich your travel experience, but will also help you appreciate the castle’s timeless characteristics and historical significance.
Additionally, by learning about the castle’s history, you will discover the age of its parts and exhibits, which will make your visit even more immersive and transport you through time.
You can click here to skip the history of Ambras Castle and proceed to the Inside Ambras Castle section.
The story of the Ambras Castle begins in the 16th century with a young archduke named Ferdinand II. He was the second son of Emperor Ferdinand I and was appointed as the provincial sovereign of Tyrol in 1564.
Ferdinand II was a man of great vision and ambition, and he had a dream of turning the existing medieval fortress into a magnificent Renaissance castle for his wife, Philippine Welser.
To make this dream a reality, Ferdinand II commissioned two Italian architects to transform the castle.
They worked tirelessly, and in time, the fortress was transformed into a grand residence fit for a queen. Ferdinand II even constructed a grand hall beneath the Upper Castle called the “Spanish Hall,” which became one of the most artistically important halls of the late Renaissance.
The castle became the residence of Philippine, and Ferdinand II used it to house his extensive collection of weapons, suits of armor, portraits, natural objects, rarities, and precious objects.
The couple lived there happily until Ferdinand’s death in 1595. After that, the castle fell into a state of disrepair and was eventually sold to Emperor Rudolf II in the early 17th century.
After Ferdinand II’s death, the castle was no longer an official residence, and it was seldom lived in. Over time, inadequate preservation measures led to the loss of valuable books, manuscripts, and hand sketches, and soon the palace fell largely into disrepair.
Between 1855 and 1858, Archduke Karl Ludwig wanted to turn it into his summer residence, so he hired two architects, Ludwig and Heinrich Förster, to carry out his vision.
The architects incorporated the popular Neo-Gothic design features into the castle’s renovation. They made significant changes to the castle’s appearance, including a new western facade in the form of a stepped gable for the Spanish Hall.
The Upper Castle’s keep was also increased by adding a fourth floor and crowned with a narrow turret. A stair tower reaching the second upper story and a balcony was added to the south facade.
In addition to the castle itself, the architects made significant changes to the castle park.
The largest-scale alteration was the new approach ramp that was widely laid out from the Lower Castle to the Upper Castle. The front castle, which originally housed the dining hall, was transformed into ‘terrace story’ with battlements for added protection.
Today, visitors can see the results of the transformation and appreciate the grandeur of the castle and its surroundings.
After the Austria-Hungary Empire dissolved in 1919, Ambras Castle became the property of the Republic of Austria. In 1950, the Kunsthistorisches Museum took over the administration of the castle and its collections.
Throughout the 1970s, a comprehensive restoration took place, and several galleries were completed, including the Chamber of Art and Wonders, the Habsburg Portrait Gallery, and the Armouries.
Today, the art history museum Schloss Ambras Innsbruck is part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, and visitors can explore the fascinating history of the castle and its collections.
Inside Ambras Castle
In this section, I’ll share with you what they are and the must-see parts of the castle so that you can make the most of your visit.
As you may have learned from the castle’s history, a visit to Ambras Castle promises many beautiful experiences and discoveries. Yep, being one of Tyrol’s most notable landmarks, there’s no doubt!
In a nutshell, Ambras Castle can be divided into three distinct areas (Upper Castle, Lower Castle, and Castle Grounds). Four, when it comes to the kinds of fascinating things (Castle Museum, Exhibitions, Collections & Research, and Garden) that Ambras Castle offers to its visitors.
By the way, if you are planning to visit Innsbruck and looking for more remarkable museums to explore, I suggest Tirol Panorama Museum: A Must-See Historical Masterpiece.
From the lobby, the Armory is one of the first parts you can see during your visit to Ambras Castle. It is where you can find Ferdinand II’s extensive collection of armor, weapons, and portraits that belonged to famous personalities of previous centuries.
One of the notable things to see in the Armory is the Field Armor of Archduke Ferdinand II. It was worn by the archduke during his campaign against the Ottoman Empire and is a testament to the skill and bravery of the archduke.
Visitors to the Armory can also see the sharp lances that were used in the Scharfrennen. These lances could weigh up to 20 kg and were used by sport-lovers during Ferdinand II’s time to get their thrills.
One of the must-see exhibits inside the Ambras Castle armory is the giant at the end of the room.
This figure is a farmer character from Riva, a town located near Lake Garda. The giant is accompanied by the armor that belonged to the children of Ferdinand II and Philippine, Andreas and Karl.
Here’s a fun fact!
The Armory of Ambras Castle was originally known as the Heroes’ Armoury, and it contained 121 suits of armor that had once belonged to Europe’s most famous military commanders.
And based on the tour inside the castle, Archduke Ferdinand II faced quite a challenge in obtaining these armors from various knights and heroes. Because they often needed some persuading to part with them.
Going up to the second floor of the Armory (Baroque Armory), you’ll find a huge room with a ceiling painted in a stunning fresco known as the Starry Sky. I think it is yet another remarkable feature of Ambras Castle, as it’s a beautiful example of the Renaissance period’s fascination with classical mythology and astronomy.
This masterpiece was created by Giovanni Battista Fontana, an Italian painter who has several other works of art in various parts of Austria (i.e., frescoes in the chapel of Schloß Kaiser-Ebersdorf in Vienna).
Marveling at the painting, you’ll see it depicting the twelve signs of the Zodiac in a blue oval and the constellations within the signs. There are also Planetary Gods depicted on the sides.
Here’s another fun fact!
In the Starry Sky painting, there are characters from Greek mythology represented, such as Hercules, who was Ferdinand II’s admired hero and role model. Another notable character in the fresco is Perseus, who is shown holding the head of Medusa.
Apart from the spectacular Starry Sky painting, you can also find the armor and weapons from the Thirty Years’ War and Baroque period on the second floor of the Armory.
The hall is flanked by armors on both sides, giving the impression of guards standing watch while the archduke walks from one door to another.
Chamber of Art and Wonders
After visiting the Armory, you can proceed to the Chamber of Art and Wonders. This chamber houses an extensive collection of natural objects, exotic items from distant lands, classical antiquities, and Mirabilia, which are incredibly strange and wondrous objects created by artists in the 16th century.
Exploring the exhibits in the Chamber of Art and Wonders feels like walking through a real-life encyclopedia, with an array of items covering everything from A to Z.
Ferdinand’s inspiration for his museum came from Samuel Quiccheberg’s book on museums, which taught him how to collect and arrange objects for display. Samuel Quiccheberg is the librarian of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria, a brother-in-law of Ferdinand II.
Two exhibits that caught my attention in the Chamber of Art and Wonders are Anna Welser’s book and the painting of Regina and Rubino, the beloved pets of Ferdinand II and Philippine.
Anna Welser’s book provides insight into different cures using herbs and hygiene practices that were considered advanced for her time. Her book also includes recommendations for using clean utensils and separating illnesses affecting women, men, and children.
Do you want to be awe-struck by the beauty and grandeur? Don’t forget to see the Spanish Hall. For me, it’s the climax of a visit to Ambras Castle.
The Spanish Hall of the Ambras Castle is one of the most splendid ceremonial halls during the time of Ferdinand II. The archduke asked artists and craftsmen from different parts of Europe to build and decorate it.
While the true awe-inspiring spectacles of Ambras Castle are found within its halls, the door leading to the hall is a masterpiece in its own right. The intricately crafted door is a sight to behold and is sure to captivate visitors before they even enter the hall.
The Spanish Hall’s intricate door was crafted by Conrad Gottfried, a master of intarsia and cabinet making. He used a technique called fire shading, where the wood pieces are darkened by being placed in hot sand, creating greater depth and effect.
Upon entering the hall, one can’t help but be awestruck by the stunning painted decoration that covers the walls. The most striking feature of the interior is the 27 full-length portraits of the Tyrolean Counts that are proudly displayed throughout the room.
The series of portraits begins in the eastern corner with Count Albert I of Tyrol, then continues with the Counts of Gorizia-Tyrol and Margaret Maultausch, followed by the Habsburgs, and ultimately ends with the lord of the household of Ambras himself: Archduke Ferdinand II.
In addition to the portraits, the socle and window zones are adorned with allegorical figures and mythological scenes from Antiquity. They’re truly a feast for the eye.
On the east wall, the virtues are depicted, while on the north wall, scenes from the labors of Hercules are displayed. The west wall features depictions of the liberal arts and scenes from the history of Romulus and Remus.
The Spanish Hall stands as a freestanding building within the castle grounds of Ambras Castle. Adjacent to it is the Upper Castle, which by the way, has a beautiful courtyard. It features captivating artworks that are also not to be missed during your visit to Ambras Castle.
Courtyard and Upper Castle
Exploring the courtyard of Ambras Castle, you’ll quickly realize that it’s a place of beauty and mystery. Everywhere you look, you can discover something new.
But, the most impressive aspect of the courtyard is the paintings and architectural illusions that give the impression of a more open and spacious environment. The trompe l’oeil windows on either side of the courtyard create a symmetrical effect that adds to the magic of the place.
As you explore the courtyard, you will come across several notable depictions, such as the woman with her foot on a globe.
This depiction represents the personification of astronomy, with a planet at her feet. Her specialty is the movements of the heavenly bodies and their influence on human beings, so she must know all about the constellations and signs of the Zodiac.
Another interesting artwork that you will find on the walls of the courtyard is the depiction of drunkards.
This artwork is part of the triumphal procession of Bacchus, the god of wine. It symbolizes Ferdinand II’s love of wine and his desire to showcase the fact that princely life is not all about duties but also joys and pleasures.
The Upper Castle is more than just its courtyard. In addition to what we’ve already discussed, there are many other things to see inside, including the Chapel of Saint Nicholas, the Ambras Wellness Refuge, the Habsburg Portrait Gallery, and special exhibitions that change periodically.
You can learn more about them from the official website of Ambras Castle, linked in the resources section of this post.
Ambras Castle Visiting Information
If you decide to visit Ambras Castle, note that it is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for November, when it is closed. The admission fee for adults is 16 EUR, while reduced admission costs is 12 EUR.
Get an idea of how you can spend day(s) in Innsbruck:
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For those looking to maximize their Innsbruck experience, purchasing an Innsbruck Card is recommended.
The card provides free entry to the city’s museums (including Ambras Castle), one upwards and one downwards journey on lifts and cable cars, and free travel on the hop-on hop-off Sightseer bus, among other benefits. Swarovski Crystal Worlds and the Hall Mint Museum are also included in the card.
Note: Please remember to check for any announcements, updates, and holidays that may affect your visit to Ambras Castle. You can find this information on the official website of the castle, which is linked in the resources section of this post.
There are various ways to get to the castle, depending on your location.
If you’re arriving at Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof, you can take Post bus line 4134, which passes through Kaiserschützenplatz, Olympiaworld, Leipziger Platz, Pacherstrasse, and Landessportcenter before reaching Schloss Ambras Innsbruck. If you’re coming from another location in Innsbruck, you can take Tram line 3, Bus line C, or Line 6.
If you choose to take Tram line 3 towards Amras, you can get off at the ‘Philippine-Welser-Strasse’ stop and continue on foot for 1.2 km, which will take around 10-15 minutes. This route includes a steep climb along Amraser Strasse and Tummelplatzweg.
Alternatively, you can take Bus line C towards Luigenstrasse and get off at the ‘Luigenstrasse’ stop, then continue on foot for 0.6 km, which will take around 10 minutes. This route involves a steep climb across the castle grounds.
Another option is to take Line 6 towards Igls train station and get off at either ‘Tummelplatz’ or ‘Schönruh’ stop, and continue on foot for 0.4 km, which will take around 6 minutes. This route involves a steep downhill walk.
Schlossstrasse is the place where you can park your car if you go to Ambras Castle driving. It’s near the entrance to the castle.
You can only park there between 9 in the morning and 7 at night, and it costs 1 euro for every half hour that you park there. If you park for more than 5 hours, it will cost you 8 euros for the whole day.
You have to pay with coins, and there’s no way to get change. There’s only one machine where you can buy a ticket to park.
How long to spend Ambras Castle
If you’re planning a trip to Innsbruck and want to visit Ambras Castle, it’s good to know that you should plan to spend at least 2 to 3 hours there if you want to see all the best parts of the castle.
During that time, you’ll have a chance to explore both the Upper and Lower Castle, take a stroll through the castle’s gardens, and even take a break and grab a snack at the castle’s cafe.
Discover all the beautiful things and places in Innsbruck! Here’s where you can start:
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Sources: Ambras Castle Innsbruck
Here are the websites you can check if you want to learn more about Ferdinand II, Philippine, and the Ambras Castle.
- Ambras Castle – Gift of Archduke Ferdinand II to His Wife Philippine
- Ambras Castle — Visiting Information (Official Website)
If you are planning to visit Innsbruck and you don’t have accommodation yet, here’s where you can find the best hotel accommodation in Innsbruck.
You might also want to get an Innsbruck City Card.
The Innsbruck City Card is nice-to-have for visitors to Innsbruck because it offers one-time entry to museums and attractions, free public transport on buses and trams, access to a hop-on hop-off bus, a shuttle bus to Swarovski Crystal Worlds, and cable car rides, providing cost savings, convenience, and access to key attractions and transportation options for exploring the city.
You can learn more about the Innsbruck City Card here.
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