Visiting Innsbruck’s Hofburg — What’s Inside?

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Surrounded by mountains in every direction, Innsbruck gives a first impression that it’s a destination all about outdoor activities. You know, skiing, hiking, and nature sightseeing. However, that impression changes once you arrive in the city. Specifically when you start exploring Old Town Innsbruck, you see that Innsbruck is more than just nature. I discovered many picturesque scenes that transported me back in time, along with beautiful and interesting discoveries!

And when it comes to beautiful architecture, Innsbruck’s Golden Roof, which is also an unmissable attraction, is only just the beginning! Besides the Innsbruck Cathedral and Innsbruck Hofkirche, another place worth checking out is Innsbruck’s Hofburg. While it might not rival the grandeur of Vienna’s Hofburg, there’s no question that this is one of the most eye-catching landmarks you’ll come across in Innsbruck. Also known as the Imperial Palace, this landmark is just a few steps away from the Golden Roof and Stadtturm (City Tower)

Actually, if you’ve made the climb up Stadtturm to take in the unique view of the Golden Roof and the stunning 360-degree cityscape that includes Nordkette, chances are you’ve also caught sight of Hofburg. This landmark in Innsbruck is the largest! Well, that’s in terms of floor area, but still. So, let me now share with you everything I discovered inside Innsbruck’s Hofburg. 🙂

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In a nutshell, the Innsbruck Imperial Palace stands as a testament to the Habsburgs’ legacy in Innsbruck, dating back to the 1500s — the time when Emperor Maximilian I declared Innsbruck as the capital of the empire. The Hofburg served as the royal residence for a period, until the capital was eventually relocated to Vienna.

Read: History of Innsbruck Hofburg

Understanding the history of Hofburg Palace can definitely enhance one’s visit to the palace. It provides visitors with a deeper appreciation of the architectural and artistic heritage of the palace. 

Also, by knowing about the palace’s rich history, visitors can imagine what it must have been like during the reigns of the Habsburgs and other historical figures who lived there. This can help transport visitors back in time and make their visit to Hofburg Palace even more memorable and meaningful.

The history of Hofburg spans 7 decades. It’s a long read but worthwhile if you’re interested in history. 

The story of Hofburg starts in the 1300s when the Counts of Görz-Tyrol, the current rulers of Innsbruck back in the day, started to transform the old city walls to a palace.

You can see the parts of the old wall still present in the current-day Hofburg. These include the South Roundel, which was once a gate called the Rumer Gate or Saggen Gate or Heraldic Tower; the North Roundel, which was once a round tower; and the Corner Cabinet museum room, which was once a rectangular defensive tower.

The old town wall went from the Rumer Gate to the round tower and then to the rectangular tower, which you can still see in the palace’s façade today.

In 1361, the House of Habsburg started ruling Tyrol. They were big contributors to the development of the Imperial Palace.

One of them was Duke Leopold IV of Austria, who was in charge between 1395 and 1406. He bought houses and properties near the palace and two gardens outside the town walls. These gardens are now called the Court Garden.

In 1446, Archduke Sigismund became the ruler of Tyrol. He expanded the Hofburg area by buying houses on Hofgasse and gardens near the cathedral. 

That year, he started building the Hofburg with the main building along Rennweg and part of the south wing along Hofgasse. He finished some rooms and a chapel in the east wing and even held a banquet in a heated hall in 1463. 

Sigismund also added a room with large windows and a winding staircase in the Rumer Gate and turned it into a living room. They also built an armory called the Harnaschhaus, where they made and stored suits of armor.

The Hofburg was made bigger and more beautiful in the late Gothic style under Emperor Maximilian I. It became known as “the most beautiful building of the late Gothic period.”

In 1495, they added to the north of the palace for Maximilian’s second wife, Bianca Maria Sforza. They moved the imperial apartments and banquet hall to the second floor, where the Giants’ Hall is now located. They also added an entrance hall to the north.

Between 1520 and 1530, the Hofburg was transformed into a building complex with courtyards and became the permanent residence of Emperor Ferdinand I and his family. 

However, a fire destroyed sections of the Hofburg a year later when Emperor Ferdinand I moved in. So, Ferdinand brought in Italian architect Lucius de Spaciis to redesign the east wing and create a new banquet hall.

The tall, pointed roofs in the Gothic style were slowly replaced with lower roofs that had triangular shapes at the top, which were typical of the early Renaissance style.

The Hofburg Palace was transformed from a Gothic palace to a Renaissance castle under Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria (1529–1595). He hired master builder Giovanni Lucchese to do the renovations in the Italian style. 

Also, during the improvement of The Hofburg palace, murals in the former chancellery rooms were added, as well as the paintings and the lavish furniture in the Golden Tower. It was also at this time that the Silver Chapel was added to the palace. 

In the 1600s, the Hofburg palace in Innsbruck was not renovated because of the Thirty Years’ War. This has caused the palace to fall into disrepair, and only important repairs were done. So, the royal family moved to Ruhelust Castle and later to Vienna, which replaced Innsbruck as the heart of the empire. 

In the 18th century, the Hofburg building underwent renovation in the Baroque style under the rule of Empress Maria Theresa. The reconstruction project began in 1754 and lasted until 1776, with two phases, which were again interrupted by the Seven Years’ War. 

The first phase of the renovation involved adding new offices in the south wing, creating a central staircase, standardizing the floor levels and room heights, and removing narrow stairs and unnecessary walls to create comfortable rooms with uniform flooring and evenly-spaced windows. 

When 1765 came, Empress Maria Theresa chose Innsbruck as the location for the wedding of her son and future emperor, Leopold II, and Maria Luisa of Spain. 

In preparation for the wedding, residential rooms were made ready for the couple in the newly renovated office wing. Additional rooms were prepared for the royal family in the southern rooms, as well as the east and north wings, which were known as the Imperial Apartments.

However, during the wedding celebrations, Francis I died suddenly after returning from the theater. This event made the Hofburg more significant to Maria Theresa, and she decided to use it as a memorial and representative building to honor her husband.

As per the empress’s instructions, the anteroom where Francis died was converted into the Hofburg Chapel in 1766.

More changes happened in Hofburg Palace. The east wing of the Hofburg building was redesigned to make way for the Noblewomen’s Collegiate Foundation, with new ceilings installed. 

A year after, Maria Theresa improved the design and appearance of the main façade on Rennweg with the help of her court architect Nikolaus Pacassi. She also asked Franz Anton Maulbertsch, a master of Austrian Rococo, to execute the Giants’ Hall ceiling fresco

These extended renovation projects under Maria Theresa resulted in the Hofburg building that we see today.

In the nineteenth century, the Hofburg underwent additional changes to reflect the Rococo style.

The last major reorganization of the imperial apartments took place in 1858, following the model of Schönbrunn Palace, and the residential area was designed in the Rococo style by Vienna court sculptor Auguste La Vigne.

Location

Specifically, you can find Hofburg along Rennweg. This expansive street lies in front of the palace’s eastern wing, offering panoramic views of its facade. If you’re at the Golden Roof, make your way to Hofgasse on your right. A short stroll brings you to Rennweg, where the palace entrance awaits. Notably, the Congress Innsbruck Funicular Station is also situated on Rennweg.

Expectations

Once you’re on Rennweg, you’re now poised to discover the Hofburg. However, before anything… much like the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, photography inside the Hofburg is not allowed, which I find a bit disappointing. Therefore, I can’t share pictures of its magnificent interior. Nonetheless, I can detail the palace’s most notable features.

Overall, exploring Hofburg offers a glimpse into the lives of the various sovereigns who resided in the palace, from Duke Leopold IV to Maximilian I, and, of course, the ever-famous Empress Maria Theresa. Like other palaces, beautiful architectural features and mesmerizing artworks await you inside. However, unlike other palaces, Hofburg Innsbruck was not the residence of the emperor or empress for an extended period.

Without the heads of the empire continuously upkeeping and improving the palace, Hofburg remained somewhat like a normal palace – beautiful, but not picture-perfect. Therefore, you might want to manage your expectations before entering.

Nevertheless, Hofburg’s history spans seven centuries, which makes it architecturally interesting. Different styles, such as Italian, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo, are visible. The highlight of a visit is the Giant Hall, which is the most captivating, thanks to the giant frescoes and chandeliers.

Good to know: There are locals who are willing to share everything that’s interesting about their city, including Hofburg. You can ask them to guide you throughout the city for an insightful visit. Don’t forget to ask for insider tips and information about current events for a unique experience!

What’s Inside?

After exploring Hofburg, I believe that the overall experience can be divided into two parts: the Modern Exhibition of Maximilian I and the Stately Palace Museum from the time of Maria Theresa.

The modern exhibition of Maximilian I offers a comprehensive exploration of the life and legacy of Emperor Maximilian I, allowing you to discover the many facets of his personality and the ways in which he sparked a new age. Wandering through the exhibits, you’ll find digital reproductions and 3D illustrations on display. One of the highlights of the exhibits is the digitization of Maximilian I’s famous cenotaph, which allows you to experience this historical masterpiece in a truly unique way. 

Through the use of digital visualization and animation, you’ll also learn more about the architectural history of the Imperial Palace Innsbruck, gaining a deeper appreciation for the beauty and significance of this stunning structure. But it’s not just the digital aspects of the exhibits that are impressive. You’ll also have the chance to see first-class exhibits and artifacts from more than 25 lenders from all over the world. This gives you a rare and invaluable opportunity to see historical artifacts and treasures that might otherwise be inaccessible.

As you explore the exhibits, you’ll come to understand the many ways in which Emperor Maximilian I influenced and shaped history

Aside from the exhibits, Hofburg also has more than 20 rooms and areas to explore (palace museum). But among them, the Guard Hall, Giant’s Hall, Council Chamber, Court Chapel, and Anteroom are the best parts you will also like. Then, among these highlights, it’s the Hofburg Chapel that has the most historical significance. The Giant’s Hall, on the other hand, is the most visually stunning

The Hofburg Chapel has the most historical significance because it was constructed in the very room where Emperor Francis I died. (The emperor passed away suddenly after returning from the theater on 18 August 1765, during the wedding celebrations of Leopold II and Maria Luisa of Spain.) Following the death of her husband, the chapel became an especially meaningful place for Empress Maria Theresa to remember and honor him. She ordered the room to be transformed into a chapel, complete with stunning Rococo embellishments in white and gold.

Today, visitors can admire the exquisite details and imagine the empress’s devotion to her beloved spouse. When you arrive in the chapel, let your eyes wander.  One thing you’re sure to notice is the altar, which is truly an impressive sight to behold. It features a larger-than-life sculpture group depicting the Blessed Virgin holding the lifeless body of Jesus in her arms, flanked by two mourning female figures.

I was struck by the intricate details of these female sculptures, and I think you will be too! Here’s a fun fact for history buffs: if you examine the altar niche, you’ll notice a cartouche with a crowning scroll featuring the initials “M.T.” These letters stand for none other than Maria Theresa herself! It’s just one more fascinating detail to discover in the chapel.

Aside from the altar, the chapel also contains an organ with six registers built by Matthias Maracher from Zell am Ziller in 1857. There are also two matching paintings along the window wall, painted by Johann Georg Dominikus Grasmair in 1732 and 1733, depicting The Visitation and Young Mary in the Temple. Also, notice the wood painting Jesus Embracing the Cross — it dates back to the late sixteenth century

If you’re exploring the palace in a counter-clockwise direction, you’ll come across the Giant’s Hall after passing through three rooms from the chapel. This magnificent space is the largest and most stunning area of Hofburg. The Giant’s Hall is so enormous that it can accommodate over 170 guests during an imperial banquet. Its vast size is just one of the many reasons visitors were undoubtedly wowed during the time of the empress. With its magnificent frescoes, sparkling chandeliers, and exquisite Rococo embellishments, the hall is truly a sight to behold.

Today, the Giant’s Hall has stunning frescoes featuring the children and grandchildren of Emperor Theresa. But, before, it was originally decorated with Hercules frescoes hence its name.

Tip: To avoid straining your neck while admiring the breathtaking frescoes on the ceiling, be sure to take a peek at the strategically placed mirrors in the center of the hall. They provide a perfect view of the ceiling artwork without any discomfort!

Of course, there are many more rooms to explore in Hofburg, and I recommend checking out the palace’s official website for a comprehensive discussion. You can find the link in the resources section of this post. If you prefer to discover the details and history of the palace’s different rooms in person, you can skip the website. The palace museum also offers an audio guide, which allows you to explore the palace at your own pace.

Overall, I think it’s nice to visit Hofburg. But it still has room for improvement. Check them out below.

  • Limited furnishings: You may find that the palace lacks furniture, which can make it difficult to imagine what it was like during its heyday.
  • No photography: Visitors are not allowed to take photos, even without flash, which can be disappointing for those who want to document their visit.
  • Language barriers: Some exhibitions may only be presented in German, which could be a challenge for non-German-speaking visitors.
  • Lack of variety: Some visitors may find that the palace exhibits a lot of paintings of royals, which can become repetitive and uninteresting.

Visiting Information

Hofburg Innsbruck offers visitors the chance to explore the rich history and culture of Innsbruck through two types of tickets: the Imperial Apartments and Maximilian 1.

The last time I checked Hofburg’s official website, the Imperial Apartments ticket costs around 10 Euros. Alternatively, visitors can purchase a combo ticket for both attractions at around 15 Euros (with a reduced rate of €10 for those who qualify). Children and teens under the age of 19 can enter for free, while the Imperial Palace is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm (with the last entrance at 4:30 pm).

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 Hofburg), 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.

Don’t forget to check Hofburg’s official website for news, announcements, and specific dates when the palace has special opening hours/closed days.

Resources

Here’s where I got the information and facts about the Imperial Palace in Innsbruck:

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. 

Hey, I sense you’re planning to visit Innsbruck soon. If you’ll be looking for a place to stay, I recommend my partner’s hotel search and booking platform. It’s the one I always use, and I think you’ll find its amazing hotel deals and perks handy. This link, however, is an affiliate link. It means that I may earn a commission when you book through it. But don’t worry, there’s no additional cost to you. Consider that small earning as your donation to WanderInEurope, so I may continue writing helpful posts like this. Thank you for your support!

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See? Innsbruck is more than just an outdoor attraction! As you may already know by now, this city has a very fascinating history. It gets even more interesting when you discover the love story that built Schloss Ambras or the dramatic scene captured in the Tirol Panorama Museum. Here are my one-day and two-day guides to Innsbruck, in case you need some advice on how to spend time in this beautiful alpine city.

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