Hear the words “budget travel” and you might think grotty hostels, cramped overnight bus travel, and kebab for dinner for the fourth night in a row. But think again! In Tirol there are plenty of restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions where you can get your mountain fix without breaking the bank.
Here are our top tips for visiting Tirol on a budget.
How to get here
The easiest option is to fly. Innsbruck’s compact airport is served by low-cost carriers such as easyJet, and there are regular flights to hubs like London and Berlin. What’s more, you can be off the plane, through security, and collecting your bags in half the time you’d expect at most airports.
Alternatively, choose the more environmentally-friendly train option. With big cities like Munich, Vienna, Zurich and Venice less than 5 hours away, Innsbruck is the ideal stop-off on a European rail adventure. Look out for cheaper “Sparschiene” advance tickets on the website of the Austrian Railways.
Where to sleep
If you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful, look no further than a local “pension”. These traditional guesthouses offer a comfy bed, mountain views and a hearty Tirolean breakfast for an attractive price. Don’t expect room service. Do expect a warm welcome and some insider tips from your friendly hosts. Check out the Tirol website to see what’s on offer.
And of course, like most places, Tirol has plenty of budget apartments and Air BnBs, plus many Couchsurfing hosts, so you can find something that suits your group and your wallet.
What to eat
Dining out in the evening can be pricey, so do it at lunchtime instead! Even the fanciest-looking restaurants often have good-value lunch menus, where you can get a main plus starter or dessert for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the evening.
If you’ve got a big appetite, you can’t go wrong with an all-you-can-eat BBQ. Both the popular Arzler Alm and the Patscherkofel mountain host regular BBQs throughout the summer, with amazing Alpine views guaranteed.
And those drinking fountains you see everywhere? That’s fresh drinking water straight from the mountains. It’s delicious and you won’t pay a penny for it.
What to do… wherever you are
The very first thing you should do is get your hands on is a guest card. Guest cards give you free or discounted entry to lots of attractions, such as cable cars, spas and pools, museums and local sights, plus discounts at shops and restaurants. They also often allow you to use the local transport for free. Each region has its own guest card, so it’s best to check the website for that region to see what’s available.
What to do… in the city
The easiest free activity in any of Tirol’s cities is to simply walk through them. Kufstein, Hall, Schwaz and the Tirolean capital Innsbruck all have amazing old towns with stunning architecture, not to mention cute pavement cafes serving Viennese cakes and Italian coffee.
Markets are another great budget activity, and they don’t only happen at Christmas! Most towns have farmer’s markets once a week, where you can get fresh Tirolean produce at good prices. Innsbruck is also home to a unique evening farmer’s market: Das Dorf der Alpen.
Tirol’s smallest town, Rattenberg, is known for one thing: glass blowing. Many glass blowing workshops offer free demonstrations, and it’s also a great place to get not-so-pricey souvenirs for people back at home.
Fancy yourself as a bit of a creative? The Taxis Palais in Innsbruck is at the forefront of Tirol’s art scene, and it offers free entry on Sundays.
Or if you want to embrace your inner nerd, visit the Brenner Basis Tunnel. This giant 55km rail tunnel is currently being built under the mountains of Tirol, and there is a free museum in Steinach explaining how the whole process works.
Tirol has a strong musical tradition, and that means lots of free concerts to enjoy. In summer, many towns and villages have outdoor concerts, and Innsbruck’s New Orleans Jazz Festival is a particular highlight.
You’ll be pleased to hear that going out in Tirol is not too expensive—local beer is pretty cheap and nightclubs don’t generally charge entrance fees. Student parties, like Sonnendeck, are free and a fun way to meet people from all over the world.
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What to do… on the mountain
Tirol is one endless adventure playground, and the best thing is that the mountains are free for everyone to enjoy! Simply put on your hiking boots, grab a map, and enjoy the thousands of marked trails across the region.
If hiking’s not your thing, you can also enjoy the scenery by tram! The Stubaital Tram (also called STB tram) runs from the centre of Innsbruck up into the mountains of the Stubai Tirol Region, giving you some spectacular panoramic views along the way.
You can easily plan a trip to a stunning waterfall, like the Stuibenfall Waterfall in the Ötztal Valley, which is spectacular in spring when the snow is melting.
Or look down on the water from above at the Leutasch Ghost Gorge, which is free to visit. Follow the crystal-clear waters through the gorge and over the border into Germany.
If you want to see the mountains from a new perspective, check out one of Tirol’s many suspension bridges. They’re free to visit, and can usually be incorporated into a nearby hike. Particularly fabulous are the bridges in Holzgau and the Benni-Raich-Suspension Bridge in Arzl in Pitztal Valley.
Downhill skiing is great but it’s not exactly the cheapest sport. Ever tried cross-country skiing? It’s easy to learn, the skis are cheaper to hire, and the trails are (mostly) free to use. Best of all, you can escape the ski resort crowds and enjoy the calm stillness of the Alpine winter.
Alternatively, tobogganing is a budget-friendly and adrenaline-filled winter sport. Hike uphill for an hour or two, have a hearty dinner (or schnapps) at the top, and then race back down to the bottom. Bring your helmet, it’s more dangerous than you might think.
For budget mountain sports in the summer, try via ferrata. These fixed rope courses don’t require any climbing experience, although a good head for heights is recommended! Climbing harnesses can be rented cheaply in most towns.
And of course, with so many lakes on offer, a day relaxing by the water is a must! Although some lakes charge an entry fee, there are plenty where you can simply rock up to and find a nice spot. Try Lake Möserer See near Seefeld, Lake Achensee (Tirol’s largest lake), or Innsbruck’s own Baggersee, which is free after 6pm.
Photo Credits: Tirol Werbung