Located in the South-Eastern part of Austria, in a region called Styria, close to the Slovenian border, Graz is, despite its less than 300 thousands inhabitants, the second biggest city in Austria. It is a modern and vibrant city, with a stunning UNESCO-World-Heritage centre and an amazing cultural scene, so much so that it earned the title of Cultural Capital of Europe in 2003.
When I lived in Vienna, I took the opportunity to visit some cities in Austria, like the charming Linz or the postcard-worthy Hallstatt, but also to go to other neighbouring European capitals like Prague, Bratislava or Budapest. I didn’t expect much of Graz, which is probably why I was so amazed by this city as it felt like a young, lively and buzzing centre with an incredible cultural scene!
So, I took the train from Vienna and gave myself the time of a weekend to explore this small yet surprisingly rich city, and here’s my little recap of things to see and do while in Graz!
Explore the streets of the city centre
The city centre of Graz reminded me a lot of Linz, with its colourful buildings and intricate façades, some small-ish churches scattered here and there, a main commercial street lined with shops that leads you to the Hauptplatz (the main square) and lots of small winding streets. To reach the centre on my first morning, I walked along Herrengasse and admired the buildings, including the stunning Painted House, with frescos from the 17th century on its walls. In the narrow streets, you’ll find so many cute and beautiful shops, many of them selling natural and organic cosmetics and products!
Admire the Landhaus courtyard
The Styrian parliament stands just by Herrengasse and it is a stunning building by itself, though what really sets it apart is his Renaissance courtyard. With its many arches and intricate details, it was built by an Italian architect in the 16th century, which is why it does seem like a building you would see in Italy, but still without seeming out-of-place in Austria.
Check out the Hauptplatz
The Hauptplatz is the main central square of Graz and it feels like everything is happening all at once there: from food trucks that sell all kinds of food to local farmers markets and musicians, it all creates a lively and bubbly atmosphere, complemented by the beautiful buildings all around and, of course, the Rathaus (town hall). From here, you can easily reach every attraction and landmark in Graz.
Climb up the Schlossberg hill and check out its Bell Tower
The Schlossberg hill overlooks the centre of Graz and is the perfect place to get amazing viewpoints over the city and surrounding nature. You can climb a steep set of stairs or take the funicular and, upon arriving, you can admire the beautiful Bell Tower, which is what remains of a castle that Napoleon destroyed. Walking around the hill and its gardens is also a beautiful way to spend a few hours in Graz!
Stop by the Cathedral
The cathedral of Graz seems quite small from the outside, but it is truly impressive once you get in. It was built in the 15th century and looks quite plain today, but it was covered with frescos back then. Only one survived today, called “the God’s Plagues”, which refers to the different plagues the city suffered at the end of that century. When you step in, you’ll be amazed by the gothic and baroque architecture and details.
Visit the Styrian Armoury
Due to its strategic position in Austria, Graz was extremely important for the defence of the country against attacks from neighbouring countries. To store all of the defence equipment, an armoury was built in the 17th century, and it has been preserved to this day. The Zeughaus in Graz is the only original historic armoury and the biggest historical weapon collection in the world with its 32 000 arms and military equipment showcased in a 5-story building, so it is worth a visit, even if you are not too interested in these things in general!
Visit the Kunsthaus Graz
Called “the friendly alien” by the locals, the Kunsthaus Graz is an exhibition centre that was also built as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations in what is now an artsy and up-and-coming area. This weird-looking museum, almost resembling a blob-like creature with nozzles on its back, seems like it is floating around the city and definitely contrasts with the nearby historic buildings, not only for its blue-greyish colour against the red tiles of the roofs, but also for its peculiar shape. Can you spot it in the top picture of this post?
Watch the Glockenspiel show
If you walk around the city centre, you might stumble upon the Glockenspiel square that, three times a day, offers visitors a beautiful carillon show, showcasing a couple in traditional Styrian costumes that dances to the sound of 24 bells playing three different melodies. I went there at 11am and was pleasantly surprised by this cute little show that didn’t last very long. There are also a lot of cafés and restaurants nearby if you’d want to take a break from all the walking!
Pass by the Murinsel
The Mur is the river than runs through Graz, serving as a link between the historic centre and the rest of the city. If you walk along it, you will stumble upon its island, the Murinsel. Built on the occasion of Graz’s nomination as the European Capital of Culture in 2003, this steel construction resembles a shell floating on the water. It has a sort of small amphitheatre for musical events or performances and a really nice café/bar where you can grab a drink, listening to the sound of the gushing water. In the evening, it also lights up in a variety of different colours, creating a surreal and modern experience for those walking past it!
Climb the stairs of reconciliation
While the Burg, the headquarters of the regional government, is closed to visitors, you should not miss its double spiral staircase, also called Doppelwendeltreppe or “staircase of reconciliation”. It is impossible to take a decent picture of it, but basically it is made of two flights of spiral stairs running in opposing directions that merge on each floor, separating again then rejoining to the next. It is unlike anything I had seen before so I’d say it is really worth a visit as well!
With a rich cultural scene and modern constructions, along with beautiful historical landmarks, Graz is a lively city that has kept its traditional atmosphere but without losing touch with modern times. It is definitely perfect for a weekend trip!
Have you ever been to Graz?
Other posts about Austria:8 Things to do in Linz, Austria
– The Ars Electronica Festival in Linz
– Christmas markets in Vienna
– Going to a ball in Vienna