Swarovski is arguably Austria’s best-known export; the crystals that brought the company a worldwide success have been incorporated into a subterranean theme park with a difference in Wattens, a suburb of Innsbruck. It’s more modern art gallery than behind-the-scenes glimpse into the actual creation of Swarovski’s famous crystal animals and jewelry, with a series of 14 cavernous exhibition halls designed by an international band of contemporary artists, is loosely themed around crystal.
Entrance leads underground through the mouth of a giant monster with crystal eyes and the highlight is André Heller’s Crystal Dome, which sparkles with ever-changing light reflected from the stones, accompanied by moody music from Brian Eno. Other exhibits include the eerie Ice Passage, illuminated with millions of sparkles and with crystals crunching under foot by Olivier Irschitz, and Susanna Schmögner’s cute Crystal Theater, featuring sparkling zebras and gleaming red stiletto shoes.
Predictably, examples of Swarovski crystal can be bought in the store (it’s non-discounted) and the complex also offers art performances, a decent restaurant and a maze for kids to get lost in. A chamber-music festival takes place early every May.
The Kristallwelten shuttle service runs between Swarovski in Wattens and Innsbruck every two hours between 9am-3pm; stop off points are the main station, Museumstrasse, and Löwenhaus-ORF. Return tickets can be bought on the bus but are free to holders of the Innsbruck Card; this discounted pass allows free entry into most major Innsbruck museums. Otherwise Wattens is easily accessibly in 15 minutes by car on the Inntal freeway A12.
Crystal Worlds is open daily but closed for the first two weeks in November. There is an admission fee, with free entry for Innsbruck Card holders. Non-EU travelers can claim their tax back on purchases over €75 (USD$98).