Adventure awaits you in Austria. As the seasons in Tirol change, so too does the landscape; transforming the region from a winter wonderland into a summer playground. Think majestic mountains and craggy ravines, emerald pastures strewn with wildflowers, playful brooks rushing through verdant woodland, and crystal-clear lakes just waiting to be leapt into. Winding pathways meander throughout, helping those who wish to wander; in fact, there's 24,000km worth of marked hiking trails and 6,000km of mountain bike tracks to find and countless outdoor activities to try. Charming alpine villages with friendly locals, hearty dishes served in cosy mountains huts, and lively summer festivals all add to the appeal after an action-packed day of exploration.
But with so much to explore, where to start? Over the next few pages, you'll discover exactly what each different area of Tirol has to offer and why your next summer adventure to the heart of the Alps will have you coming back for more...
Innsbruck: The perfect mix of city & countryside
As the capital of Tirol, Innsbruck offers the best of both worlds; delivering urban flair with countryside idyll. It's easy to pair the energy of the city with the rural calm to be found in any of the 40 towns and villages dotted throughout the region. Some can be found in Inn Valley, others are perched high on the mountain plateaus, but all offer an abundance of activities and alpine adventures.
Take the time to explore Innsbruck and you'll quickly uncover its imperial heritage as you walk in the footsteps of the Habsburgs at the Imperial Palace or admire the Golden Roof in its medieval old town. The city has many museums too, along with a varied restaurant scene, colourful shops to explore and a packed summer schedule of events, from concerts to live theatre. But, even when you stay in Innsbruck's bustling city centre, the cable car station here can take you to the calm of the mountains in just 25 minutes.
The city is nestled up against the Nordkette mountain range and the top of Innsbruck is located at 2,300m at Hafelekar peak. The Nordkette cable car ride up this behemoth traverses over forests, jagged rocks and the River Inn and, once you emerge from the blanket of clouds, you can then enjoy what's been playfully dubbed 'the highest city stroll in the Alps' for its ease of access.
The Nordkette is also the gateway to Karwendel; a nature reserve boasting 727 sq km of untamed countryside. It's the ideal hiking spot, especially for those seeking multi-day hikes as the mountain huts here offer overnight accommodation, in addition to a good place to enjoy a bite to eat. As you explore, be sure to keep a watchful eye out for the alpine ibex that roam in the wilds and on the ridges here too.
Mountain bikes are allowed on any of the toll roads in the Karwendel with 14 bike trails available, but if you're in the mood for some thrilling downhill runs, you'll want to check out Innsbruck's Bike Park in Muttereralm. Here you can find trails tailored to different levels of ability ('The Wild One' lives up to its fast-paced namesake!) on for something more sedate why not try some of the routes in the wider region, such as the 'Cycle and savour route in the Inn Valley' that runs alongside the River Inn and gives riders the chance to stop at 25 different places of gastronomic interest. There's no limit to the diverse variety of experiences Innsbruck can provide.
Kitzbuhel: The hiker's paradise
Imagine meandering through fragrant forests, strolling in lush meadows or trekking along panoramic alpine pathways. The paths that cross verdant Kitzbuhel in Tirol and the surrounding holiday villages of Reith, Aurach and Jochberg can offer all this, as you climb to the region's highest summits.
Hahnenkamn is perhaps the most famous of these, complete with adventures accessible to all levels of fitness. For 860m of adrenaline try the 'Streif Live' hike. As well as the chance to stare into the abyss from the steepest sections of the course, the path also features four infotainment LCD panels that offer a glimpse into one of the most dangerous downhill runs in the world. The hike ends with the ski heroes immortalised at Legends Park.
The Kitzbuheler Horn can be reached with a ride on the Hornbahn cable car which climbs 2,000m. Upon arrival, continue o foot to the top to find the 360-degree viewing tower and then, as you wander down the mountain, prepare to find yourself adrift in a sea of colourful mountain flora at the Alpine Flower Garden.
5km south of Kitzbuhel is the village of Aurach, which can be found at the foot of the gentle Kitzbuhel Sudberge range. Thanks to its timber houses, lovingly tended gardens and lofty church steeple, the village is a popular subject for painters and photographers alike. It's a charming gateway to enjoy summer hikes from.
All this exercise in the mountain air is bound to have you feeling peckish so a pit stop at a mountain hut (dotted along many hiking paths) will have you tucking into some hearty fare.
There are plenty of gourmet restaurants to be found too, especially in the busy hub of Kitzbuhel, which boasts a rich history and a town centre that's more than 750 years old. Here you'll find traditional arts and crafts alongside shopping for international luxury brands, and accommodation that ranges from five-star hotels to family-run guesthouses. The people of Kitzbuhel also have strong ties to their hometown, which is why it regularly plays host to cultural festivals. KITZ Summer Nights (June-August) sees pop-up concerts in its streets and evening cinema screenings also see the Film Festival Kitzbuhel (August) take place - an opportunity to share i the work of some diverse and fledging cinematic talent before you put those captivating mountains into the frame.
St. Anton Am Arlberg: Feel the benefit of the mountains
A host of energising experiences await in St. Anton am Arlberg. This cosy villages in Austrian Tirol has only 2,500 residents, so you can expect true Tirolean hospitality as you spend your summer in the mountains and find more than 300km of footpaths.
With so many different routes to try, walkers may often find themselves drinking in those alpine landscapes in tranquil solitude; an opportunity to breathe deep and experience true calm. In fact, exercise in the fresh air at moderate altitudes has been found to boost health and physical well-being, adding to the many reasons to get out there. Already marked signposting system offers detailed information about each path's destination, route, distance, time and difficulty, but you can also go with an authorised mountain guide for information on natural spectacles, sites of interest, local flora and tips for more technically challenging trekking routes.
For those who like exploring on two wheels, there are several sports shops that can help with e-bike rentals or if you time your visit for the E-Bike Fest (June 19-21) you can test the latest models in and around the Tirolean village, and head out into the mountains on small-group guided tours.
In July, fitness fans can take on the challenge of the Arlberger Wadlbeisser, a 13.5km obstacle course; or in September, visitors can admire the Alpine Cattle Drive and Country Festival, which sees cows decorated in wild flowers and herded back into the valley to symbolise a trouble-free summer on mountain pastures. Speaking of trouble-free, September also sees the annual Mountain Yoga Festival, a great opportunity for enthusiasts to learn new techniques from yoga experts and to centre the mind in a natural alpine setting.
Getting to St. Anton am Arlberg is stress-free too Railjet trains, the Venice-Simplon Orient-Express and other direct services stop at the train station, located a stone's throw from the village centre. If flying, the nearest airport is Innsbruck and, once you arrive, the St. Anton Summer Card is a great way to make the most of your time. Available between June - September, the card is offered free of charge from your first night and offers a variety of perks to help you better explore the region and enjoy a feel-good holiday.
Alpbachtal: Village charm & gorge-ous views
Between the Kitzbuhel Alps and the Rofan Range lies picturesque Alpbachtal, a region of Tirol with quaint villages hidden among its rolling hills and piercing peaks.
Alpbach is a prime example. Not only is it the largest village in Alpbachtal Valley but it has also been officially recognised as 'the most beautiful in Austria' and this is in no small part thanks to its traditional timber houses and the pretty flower boxes that adorn them. Hikes and bike trails around this tranquil village will often lead to hidden gems. The easy-going 'Alpbach Nature and Heritage Trail' traipses past historical sights and down the Muhlbach Path of Contemplation - a route that encourages you to pause and reflect by each one of its natural sculptures - or you can look to scale to the top of the Wiedersbergerhorn, accessible via the Wiedersbergerhornbahn found just outside the village.
Next to the River Inn sits the historic town of Rattensberg. With just 400 inhabitants, it's Austria's smallest but famous throughout the valley thanks to its medieval centre and artisanal glass craft. Must-visit sites of interest include the Augustinian Museum, which houses more than nine centuries of Tirolean art, and the Glass Factory Kisslinger to see the glass blowers at work.
If castles charm you, then keep heading west from Brixlegg, to get to the fairytale like Matzen Castle. From here are several paths that lead up to Reith im Alpbachtal, an attractive village with herb gardens and a lake at its centre, from which you can take the Reitherkogelbahn to ramble on Reithher Kogel, complete with impressive vistas over the Ziller and Inn valleys.
To cool down from the heat of the summer day, head north from the banks of the Inn to the municipality of Kramsach. There are four lakes popular with swimmers to find here this area is also renowned for the Tirol Farmstead Museum, which offers a fascinating insight into a past way of life.
Be sure to traverse the Tiefenbach Gorge trail (found between Kramsach and Brandenberg) to hear the rush of the Brandenberger Ache Rivers' torrents or take to the pathways of Kaiser Gorge, once said to be a favourite of Emperor Franz Josef and his beloved wife Sisi, centuries ago. You'd be hard-pressed not be charmed by this region too.
Wildschonau: Take a walk on the wild side
With a name that literally means wild and beautiful, the high valley of Wildschonau makes for a fitting location to enjoy a relaxing walking holiday in the heart of Austrian Tirol. Strung along this high valley in the Kitzbuhel Alps are four villages - Niederau, Oberau, Auffach and Thierbach - with 260 working farms dotted throughout and a host of themed trails to enjoy.
More than 300km of well-tended walking paths cross an area that, rather than steep and craggy, encompass far gentler, grass-covered slopes with walks through forests, meadows and ravines. Easy walks are found mostly in the valley, with village circuits or those that traipse into Kundl Gorge. Intermediate routes go to the alms and higher pastures above 1,500m and advanced hikes climb on to the higher peaks found above 2,000m, where the Grosser Beil mountain can also be found.
Connecting the Wildschonau valley with the village of Kundl Gorge. Not only is it considered to be one of the most beautiful in Austria, but it can only be accessed in the warmer months (between 20 May - 14 September). Embark on the 3.5km Gorge Walk and you'll have 200m cliffs towering high above you with the rush of white-water river pounding below. This majesty of nature will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression, so much so that perhaps you'll believe the local legends that it was split by a dragon many years ago?
There are plenty of themed trails to try too. The Healing Herbs Trail was established just last year and can be found on the Auenweg Path from Niederau. Information boards bring the local flora's characteristics and healing properties to the fore, and if this route leaves you pining for more, pay a visit to the Herb Garden at Salcherhof Farm, above the village of Auffach. Wildschonau also has seven 'Walking for Enjoyment' routes, each with a culinary theme and giving prominence to Tirolean specialities, made with local ingredients fresh from farms.
Hospitality and tradition play a big part in local life here and in the summer, the cable cars, farming museum, guided walks and more are all free with the Wildschonau Card. It all feed into the friendly atmosphere of the valley, which soon have you cheerily saying Grias-di (Good day) with the locals.
Tiroler Zugspitz Arena: Admire Austria from a different perspective
The views in Tiroler Zugspitz Arena are not to be missed. Located on the border of Austria and Germany, this area of Tirol encompasses seven villages - Ehrwald, Lermoos, Biberwier, Berwang, Bichlbach, Heiterwang am See and Namlos - with the majestic Zugspitze mountain, towering above. Summer brings with the chance to explore this region by hike or by bike, but there are also many other ways to nab some inspiring views.
Standing at 2,962m high, the Zugspitze is impressive, but more so from the top where, on a clear day, you can see the mountains of four countries. Even better, its viewing platform can easily be reached in just ten minutes thanks to the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn cable car. While here, check out the Fascination Zugspitze' museum that tells the history of the mountain and its cableways and if you time your summer trip right, you can enjoy special events from sunrise ascents or Zugspitze Octoberfest, dubbed 'the highest in the world.'
Fancy a different angle of the mountain? Try the Almkopfbahn cable car from Bichlbach. As you climb up 1,600m, not only will you be treated to views of Zugspitze and lake Heiterwanger See, but you can do so with a gondola breakfast, complete with table setting, regional delicacies and a glass of prosecco. Once you arrive at the top, there are hikes to enjoy as well as mountain scooters available for hire and be sure to stop by the mountain hut Heiterwanger Hochalm, renowned for its schnapps.
The Tiroler Zugspitze Arena offers some great lakeside vistas too. Seebensee is arguably one of the finest thanks to its brilliant turquoise colour can be reached on a variety of trails from Ehrwald or Biberwier. Or, there's the Drachensee (the 'Dragon Lake') the highest in the region at 1,910m, which can be found just a little further above. Keep on climbing to find the Coburger Hutte for great views and even better food.
If you want to get onto the water, go to the lake Heiterwanger See and Plansee where you can try stand-up paddle boarding from the SUP station, next to the hotel Fischer am See, with the option of sunset tours and night time excursions beneath star-filled skies.
No matter how you explore the Tiroler Zugspitze Arena, great views come guaranteed.
St. Johann in Tirol: Peaks, labyrinths, moors & more
St. Johann in Tirol is situated next to Kitzbuhel, making it a great spot from which to tread the 200km of hiking trails to be found between Kitzbuheler Horn and the Wilder Kaiser.
There are neutral spectacles such as the Grießbach Gorge in Erpfendorf to find and areas of naturral conservation and beauty, to wander in, all equating to an active and relaxing break.
With its far-reaching views across the Kitzbuheler Alpen, a ride on the Harschbichlbahn Cable car up the Kitzbuhel Horn is an experience in itself. This is also a convenient way to enjoy the multitude of activities and routes to be found on the mountain, with two stopping points: the mid-way station at Koasaburg; and the top station at Harschbichl.
From Harschbichl, the 6km Horn Panorama Circuit is a popular choice that climbs up to the summit with paths crossing alpine pastures and narrow ridges, and plenty of viewing points along the way.
Meanwhile, the single-track Harschbichl Trail from Koasaburg will be of special interest for mountain bikers. Winding down from the mid-way station to the valley floor, expect to fly through forest thickets and emerald fields, over bridges and, on the final stretch, see the Wilder Kaiser Mountains and the Leukental Valley set before you.
Kletterwald Hornpark is a tree top adventure park that can also be found by the cable car's middle station, with climbing courses and zip lines to brave, and for an alternative return journey to the valley, why not try a thrilling three-wheeled descent on a mountain cart?
If you're searching for some unique hiking opportunities, then St. Johann in Tirol won't disappoint. An easy walk to the Eifersbacher Waterfall in Winkl-Schattseite is perfect to escape the summer heat, with paths that pass under shady forests and the cool spray of spring water to enjoy. Then there are the forest trails of Teufelsgasse near Gasteig guaranteed to set adventures' passions alight with thin labyrinthic passages carved straight into the rock. Moreover, don't miss the moors on the south-eastern side of the Kaiser mountains, there are two loop trails that peacefully meander through these natural gems of the Wilder Kaiser, with information panels to find about the unique flora and fauna. What 'moor' could you ask for?
Zillertal: Get back to nature
The Zillertal Valley may begin gently sloping from the small town if Strass to Mayrhofen, but keep climbing south, higher through the narrow Zemmtal and on to the Hintertux glacier, and you'll quickly learn why this region is considered to be the cradle of alpine mountaineering; with plenty of outdoor adventures to be enjoyed in unspoiled nature.
Zillertal Alps Nature Park takes the headline in this respect. Extending from the mountaineering village of Ginzling up to its highest peak of Hochfeiler (at 3,509m), and range in altitude levels makes it perfect for hiking and rock climbing. In the park, plunging ravines have given shape to five tributary valleys, locally known as Grunde, with the summits of the Zillertal Alps' main ridge looming above.
Together with other reserves in Tirol it forms one of the largest associations of nature reserves in the Alps and has extraordinarily high levels of biodiversity. So, it's worth trekking with one of the park's experienced guided to find the many animals and species of plants that call this park home. A special summer programme of these hikes take place between May and October, and with 30 diverse themes there's bound to be a trek that can pique your interest: from herbal trails to wildlife walks to even heading out with accomplished Austrian mountaineer, Peter Habeler, to the summit of the Ahomspitz mountain.
The Hintertux Glacier makes for an interesting spot. Not only is this somewhere where you can ski year-round, but there are plenty of other activities too, such as guided glacier tours, a Spannagel Caves expedition, or scaling the Olperer Mountain that towers over the pistes (daredevil climbers have the option of abseiling back down).
If long distance hikes are more your pace, then Zillertal has many multi-stage and challenging ascents to try. 'Around the Reichenspitz' is one that's best attempted from mid-June to early September as a multi-day, four-stage hike with lakes, cosy huts, and rugged terrain stretching before you.
With Zillertal so large, e-bikes can help you get to those remote summits and huts that might otherwise be out of reach and with most of the region's hotels family-owned you can expect service with a personal touch. All that's left is for you to get out there, explore and enjoy.