One of the most appealing reasons to explore Europe is the close proximity of countries to each other, allowing nomads the opportunity to see more in any given trip. Of course when you have so much beautiful landscape to see, deep historical roots to learn about and delectable cuisine to sample, it’s tough to experience everything in such a short time.
We developed a pretty optimistic route to take in three countries in one day, hence the title of this post – from Zurich to Innsbruck (and everything in between!). I hope this post gives you a little insight into what can be accomplished if you plan your itinerary effectively.
While exploring Europe using the awesome Eurail experience (I will continue to reiterate our opinion that there is NO better way to travel around Europe than by using the awesome rail infrastructure that is in place), our base was in the heart of Switzerland for several days.
Based out of Zurich, we were able to plan several day trips which allowed us to explore the Swiss Alps along with everything else this beautiful country has to offer. But we wanted more, hence the reason we planned our audacious day trip from Zurich to Innsbruck!
The Route – Visiting 3 Countries in One Day
Three countries in one day – just another typical day in the world of A Brit and A Southerner. We were staying at the Hilton Zurich Airport hotel so at 6AM we scrambled out of bed and hopped on the first available shuttle to the airport before boarding the train to the Hauptbahnhof in the heart of Zurich.
Arriving back at the hotel at 11PM, we certainly maximized our 17 hour day but what about everything in between? Let’s take a look at the route we took.
Essentially we spent time in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria though the majority of our time was spent in the latter.
Switzerland to Liechtenstein
Regardless of where you are staying in Switzerland, if you decide to take a trip to the small municipality of Liechtenstein, the route is pretty simple. Unless you are driving, the likelihood is that you will take the train to Sargans station before boarding the local ‘green’ Liechtenstein bus that will take you into the capital, Vaduz.
We boarded the train at Zurich HB around 7:15AM and arrived at Sargans a little over a hour later. Given that we were traveling on a holiday, the ‘green bus’ schedule was hourly so we had to hang around the station for a short while before heading to Vaduz.
You can read all about our experience exploring Vaduz, but by 10:45AM we were heading on our way to Austria.
Liechtenstein to Austria
After experiencing everything that Vaduz and Liechtenstein has to offer, you can either hop on the green bus and head back to Sargans or alternatively take the opposite route to Feldkirch, Austria. This was the direction we headed because we had made the decision to take the train from Feldkirch to Innsbruck to catch a glimpse of what Austria had to offer.
We had enough time to sit down and enjoy a coffee and pastry, though with a little more time I would have liked to get out of the station and explore the quaint town of Feldkirch. Our train arrived and we embarked on the journey that was just over 2 hours. Although we were both excited about Innsbruck, what we weren’t expecting was how breathtaking the journey was across the Austrian Alps!
Earlier that week we had explored the Golden Pass across the Swiss Alps, so we were literally spoiled for choice after seeing what both Austria and Switzerland had to offer in terms of natural beauty.
We arrived in Innsbruck shortly after 2:00PM and knew that we only had a couple of hours of both daylight and places being open, so we wanted to make the most of it.
Our plan was to spend about 3 or 4 hours wandering around Innsbruck before catching an early evening train back to Zurich. The station is again in a great location geographically in relation to the heart of what Innsbruck has to offer. We didn’t have time to experience the incredibly modern Hungerburg Funicular, which I have heard is a pretty cool experience taking you deep into the mountains to experience the awesome Alps skiing resorts.
But we did have time to explore downtown Innsbruck and learn a little more about what the capital of Austria’s western state of Tyrol had to offer. Just like any other mid-size town across Europe, Innsbruck is a very walkable place at any time of the year.
The first thing we noticed even on a pretty frigid day, was the amount of people out and about either shopping or exploring Innsbruck’s impressive landmarks.
In the heart of downtown Innsbruck is the towering Triumphal Arch or ‘Triumphpforte’ as it is referred to locally. Dating back to its construction in 1765, this grand design was initially built to commemorate the marriage of the Duke of Tuscany and Princess Maria Ludovica from Spain.
Empress Maria Theresia of Austria was the force behind developing the Arch, and if you look closely at the top, you will notice a picture of the Empress overlooking the city of Innsbruck.
These types of arches are common across Europe, whether it’s the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or perhaps one of the many arches in London. Innsbruck’s version is equally as impressive and given that this was one of the first landmarks we saw, it was a definite welcoming ‘gateway’ to inspire us to explore further.
Maria Theresien Strasse
Much of Innsbruck’s activity takes place just a short walk from the Triumphal Arch along Maria Theresien Strasse. This is the main street that houses many leading brands from around the world along with some local establishments and of course dining options that I am sure will satisfy your tastebuds.
The atmosphere along the ‘Hauptstrasse’ is a perfect welcoming to Innsbruck and several times I felt myself just standing in the middle of the street admiring the fine architectural design of the buildings lining this street.
As the Maria Theresien Strasse connects with Herzog-Friedrich Strasse, the towering sight of the Goldenes Dachl construction is waiting for visitors walking the full length of this street.
This weird and quirky designed building is probably the city’s most famous landmark, primarily because it dates back to the year 1500 and is an iconic structure throughout Austria. The fire-gilded copper tiles provide ornate details of this fine architectural design.
Did you know that Innsbruck is also famous for a hotel where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart stayed in the 18th Century? The Weisses Kreuz is still standing today along Herzog-Friedrich Strasse and you can learn all about Mozart’s short tenure at this residence.
In my opinion, the highlight of Maria Theresien Strasse is a myriad of side streets that tempt you away from the mainstream stores and lead you to tempting local bakeries and other delectable shops.
A trip to Innsbruck wouldn’t feel right without sampling the delicious Sachertorte, but with so many other pastries and cakes to choose from, it’s an incredibly difficult decision knowing what to choose!
Innsbruck to Zurich
I don’t think either of us was ready to leave Innsbruck but by the time we returned to the station we were ready to grab something to eat before boarding the train back to Zurich.
Our Eurail pass also allowed exclusive access to the VIP lounge at the Zurich station which gave us free wi-fi along with a comfortable setting.
An evening train journey of around 3 1/2 hours saw us pass through the Alps and back into Switzerland before arriving at Zurich Hauptbahnhof a little after 10:00PM.
An amazing 17 hour journey that I would highly recommend to anyone staying in Switzerland or neighboring countries. Three countries in a day may not seem a lot, especially when you read stories like Gunnar Garfors visiting 19 countries in a day, but this was definitely a worthwhile excursion. Liechtenstein may be the sixth smallest country in the world, but Vaduz is certainly a capital city worth exploring with a quaint feel about it.
The journey across the Austrian Alps is on it’s own worth the effort, because the views are simply breathtaking. Imagine those postcards with the snow capped mountains…that’s exactly what it looks like as you pass through the Alps on the train!
Innsbruck was our final destination before heading back to Zurich, but I am glad we were able to spend a full afternoon here experiencing all of the history and culture that makes Austria such a popular destination for visitors.
Do you have any ambitious ‘day trip’ stories to share with us? We are always looking for new ideas for future trips so please share away!