Be it in the historic city center or in one of the surrounding districts, Graz is full of architectural delights. The city’s eclectic architecture is a magical fusion of periods and styles, with opulent historic buildings that evoke the grandeur and glory of Austria’s Imperial past standing alongside Modernist masterpieces. Grand buildings and avant-garde structures blend together to create a spectacular, inimitable cityscape. So, if you are an architecture aficionado, read on to discover the most eye-catching buildings and architectural highlights of Graz.
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Historic Architecture in Graz
With one of the best-preserved medieval centers in all of Europe, Graz is one of the best places to observe historic architecture. Much of Graz’s historic architecture can be found in the city’s picturesque Old Town (Altstadt). Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list since 1999, Graz’s Old Town features a spate of architectural gems from different epochs and in different architectural styles, primarily Baroque and Renaissance.
1. Main Square
Graz’s main square (Hauptplatz), which lies in the heart of the city is undeniably one of its must-see attractions. The trapezoidal market square is surrounded by a flurry of 17th-century town houses, often with stucco decorations. Look out for the White House (Weißsche Haus) at number 3, the Eagle Pharmacy (Adler Pharmacy) at number 4, and the Bürgerhaus Zum großen Christoph at number 6.
Most impressive of all is the Luegg House (Haus am Luegg) at number 11 which stands out with its round arch arcades and striking façade, with Renaissance frescoes and early Baroque stucco work. The fountain of Archduke Johann, who was pivotal to Graz’s development, dominates the center of the main square. The statue of the Archduke is accompanied by four female nymphs which are allegorical representations of Styria’s four main rivers: the Mur, the Enns, the Drau, and the Sann.
2. Graz City Hall
The splendid Graz City Hall (Grazer Rathaus) is situated on the southern end of the main square and is truly a sight to behold. The history of the building reflects how Graz has prospered over the centuries. This stunning Late Historicist-Old German-style edifice was completed in 1893, on the same location where two earlier city halls stood.
Designed by Viennese architects Wielemans and Reuter, the construction of Graz City Hall was financed with funds acquired through a wine tax. Look out for the various interesting statues on the building’s façade which represent notable Austrian figures and the Habsburg emperors. There are also four sculptures dedicated to art, science, commerce, and industry.
You can enter the City Hall to get a glimpse of the sumptuous interiors including stunning coffered ceilings, portraits of past Graz mayors, a painting depicting the city hall over time, and even a brass Styrian panther.
3. The Clock Tower
The distinctive 28-meter Clock Tower (Uhrturm) on top of Schlossberg hill is Graz’s most iconic monument. The tower acquired its present appearance in the mid-16th century when the original Gothic tower was redone in a more contemporary Renaissance style with three coats of arms adorning the walls and its steep overhanging roof figures prominently in the city’s tourist literature.
The structure is extraordinarily photogenic and at first, will leave you confused and wonder whether the clock is on the fritz. Unusually, the clock’s big hand is the hour hand. This quirky anomaly is due to the fact that the minute hand was added quite a time after the hour hand of the clock.
Interestingly, the clock tower is one of the last two standing pieces of the original Schlossberg fortress, the demolition of which was ordered by Napoleon in 1809 after his army had defeated the Habsburgs.
The Landhaus is undoubtedly the most beautiful Renaissance building in Graz. It was built in the 1550s to house the Styrian Diet which under Habsburg rule also encompassed parts of present-day Slovenia and Italy. These days, it is home to the provincial parliament.
The Landhaus seems like an unassuming building from the outside, with its loggia and vast arched windows, that have been done in the Venetian style. But step into its arcaded inner courtyard and you will be treated to one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture in Austria. Be bowled over by the swooping, ornate arches and the three floors of balustraded galleries that are linked by a raised walkway.
You can also take a tour of the interior of the Landhaus to see the Baroque assembly hall, which has beautifully carved doors crowned by allegorical scenes, and ceiling stucco work, depicting scenes from Styrian history. Also worth seeing is the Knight’s Hall, with its stucco ceiling featuring zodiac signs and the four elements.
5. Double Spiral Staircase at Graz Castle
Home to the seat of the Styrian provincial government, the Graz Castle (Grazer Burg) is the location of one of my favorite architectural spots in Graz. The famous double spiral staircase (Doppelwendeltreppe) consists of two staircases that merge at each floor, separate, and then rejoin again giving the sensation of a real-life optical illusion. This optical illusion is regarded as a symbol of eternity and known to the people of Graz as the “stairs of reconciliation”, as whenever you part, you will always be reunited again.
The dizzying helix shape is a marvel of medieval stonework and the 15-century Gothic staircase can be found in the archway at the end of the first courtyard.
6. Eggenberg Palace
Not as well-known as some of Vienna’s majestic palaces, the historic 17th-century Eggenberg Palace (Schloss Eggenberg) is not only one of the most impressive Baroque structures in Graz but the whole of Austria. It was built for one of the region’s most important families, the Eggenbergs, who became leading financiers in Graz before using their wealth to fund military careers.
The building sits in a large park, which itself is a popular attraction. The arcaded courtyard is gorgeous, similar to the one of the Landhaus. The palace features an intriguing astronomical design and over 500 ceiling paintings. You can take a guided tour of the 24 staterooms (Prunkräume) that are filled with immaculately preserved 17th and 18th-century furnishings, tapestries, and adornments.
Two of the highlights are the East Asian rooms that are decorated with East Asian handicrafts, Chinese porcelain, silk paintings, and the Planetary Hall (Planetensaal), a sumptuous hall featuring gorgeous stuccowork and Baroque paintings that combine astrological symbolism and Eggenberg family mythology into a complex allegory.
7. Graz Opera House
Graz’s Neo-Baroque Opera House (Opernhaus Graz) is one of the marquee architectural landmarks in the city. It is the second-largest opera house in Austria and is especially worth seeing for its strikingly beautiful Baroque interior, arguably the best in the country.
The interior of the Opera House is positively breathtaking and is a study in opulence and grandeur Particularly impressive is the opera house’s monumental grand staircase, with white marble, gold ornaments, and sculptural bronze candelabras on the balustrades.
The white, gold, and velvet red horseshoe-shaped auditorium is absolutely gorgeous and the Baroque and Rococo decorations continue here. Marvel at the gold-plated stucco embellishments on the walls and ceilings and the three-part ceiling painting which features scenes from Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, and Goethe’s Faust.
8. The Painted House
The stunning Painted House (Herzogshof) is one of the most fascinating examples of architecture in Graz due to its vividly painted façade. Although the house has been in existence since the mid-14th century, having been used as a ducal house, the famous frescoes only date to the mid-18th century. It has now become one of the most popular Instagram-worthy spots in Graz.
The colorful frescoes depict the hierarchy of Greco-Roman gods. Among the Gods depicted are Bacchus, the god of wine; Apollo, the god of healing, medicine and archery, and of music and poetry; Jupiter, king of the gods and of the sky and thunder; Mercury, the god of merchants and travelers; Mars, the god of war; and Minerva, goddess of war and the Arts.
9. The Mausoleum of Ferdinand II
One of the most remarkable buildings and must-see sights in Graz, the Mausoleum of Ferdinand II is an exquisite example of Mannerist-Baroque architecture. This dome-encrusted structure was completed in 1638 as a tomb for Emperor Ferdinand II and his family.
The mausoleum’s architecture blends a variety of styles, coming over as a cross between Classical temple and Baroque church. The exuberant cream-colored front façade is lavishly decorated with sculptures. The interior of the mausoleum is just as impressive as its exterior and features fine stucco work and swirling frescoes on the ceiling. The mausoleum’s crypt contains the remains of Emperor Ferdinand II, his wife, and son.
10. Mariatrost Basilica
Arguably the most beautiful church in Graz, the Mariatrost Basilica is one of the city’s most recognizable structures. Located in the district of Mariatrost along the periphery of the city, the church sits on top of Purberg Hill. Its elegant Baroque façade is enhanced by the delectable yellow-and-cream twin towers and the large dome in the middle.
The church’s magnificent interior is dominated by sumptuous ceiling frescoes and altars. The vaults and the inside of the dome are decorated with trompe l’oeil frescoes depicting the life of the Virgin Mary and the four occidental Church Fathers. Worth noting is the gilded high altar and a late Gothic wooden statue of the Virgin Mary to which many miracles have been attributed as far back as the 17th century.
11. Gösting Castle
The Gösting Castle (Burg Gösting) dates back to the medieval days when the hills around Graz were fortified with watchtowers and castles for defensive purposes. Built in the 11th century, the castle was gradually expanded and updated for several centuries, serving as an outpost to defend against marauding Turks and Hungarians.
In 1723 however, the castle incurred a stroke of misfortune in the form of a lightning bolt igniting a gunpowder magazine, blowing the roof and several walls leaving only some charred remains. Parts of the walls are still standing, along with the chapel.
12. Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Herz-Jesu Kirche) is one of the most noticeable landmarks in Graz’s cityscape. At 109.6 meters, the south-west tower of the church is the third-highest church tower in Austria, after the towers of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Linz.
The red-brick church is famous for its red-brick Neo-Gothic exterior as well as its column-free interior and piers integrated into the high nave walls. The austere appearance of the cavernous interior is softened by colored windows and wall frescoes.
13. Graz Courtyards
Throughout the Old Town of Graz, you’ll find many portals that lead into hidden courtyards. These courtyards are vestiges of medieval town planning and were the living quarters of tradesmen and artisans. From the outside, they do not look impressive. But many of them reveal themselves as small idyllic pearls that offer visitors a glimpse into a veritable fairytale world in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city.
I highly recommend checking out some. Some of the most picturesque courtyards can be found at Herrengasse 13, Griesgasse 24, Sporgasse 22, Sackstraße 16, and Sackstraße 17.
14. Brutalist Architecture
Although one can barely describe these buildings as “historic”, Graz also has two prominent examples of Brutalist architecture. The most significant is found in the district of St. Peter, the so-called Terrassenhaussiedlung. Completed in 1975, it consists of over 500 housing units and houses a very close-knit community.
The other example can be found in Eggenberg in the shape of the Graz International Bilingual School. Designed by architects Günther Domenig und Eilfried Huth, the project won the Österreichischer Bauherrenpreis by the Central Association of Architects in Austria in 1967.
In addition to the ones I’ve listed in this article, there is a plethora of stunning historical architecture to be uncovered in Graz, chiefly in the Old Town, along streets like Herrengasse, Hofgasse, Sporgasse, and Sackstraße, and also the various narrow alleys.
Modern Architecture in Graz
Scattered across the city, there’s no shortage of beautiful and intriguing contemporary architecture in Graz. A flurry of thought-provoking buildings is slowly reshaping its skyline and identity, giving design buffs even more reasons to visit. In addition, they affirm Graz’s credibility as a UNESCO City of Design and as a hotbed of cutting-edge design and architecture.
1. Modern Art Museum
The voluptuous and curvy Modern Art Museum (Kunsthaus Graz) opened in 2003 to mark Graz’s stint as the European Capital of Culture and immediately gained a reputation as the city’s most infamous and peculiar structure. The ultramodern blob-like structure sort of resembles a giant android or an oversized bodily organ floating like a giant balloon. Many visitors are taken aback when they catch their first glimpse of the massive, blue, shimmering object which contrasts sharply with the red terracotta-tiled roofs and Baroque architecture around it.
The building’s glistening dark blue acrylic panels are fitted with almost a thousand lights, which can be programmed to display text and simple pictures as well as illuminate the building at night. This has led to the Modern Art Museum being affectionately called the “Friendly Alien” and “Spacelab.”
2. Island in the Mur
The Island in the Mur (Murinsel), floating on the River Mur, is one of the most fascinating examples of modern architecture in Graz. This island-cum-bridge, tethered by two footbridges, is a glass and steel creation that resembles a giant seashell. The result is a wonderfully fluid structure, with the main portion of the structure swerving and curving around the inner rim, giving rise to paths and tunnels.
Designed by the legendary Zaha Hadid and completed in 2018, the Argos apartment building has won many plaudits since its inauguration. The modernist masterpiece is divided into a two-storey base zone, a structural glazing façade, and a perforated façade above it. The building is known for its asymmetrically arranged, outwardly curved windows, that sort of resemble giant eyes.
The building’s name derives from the myth of the primordial Greek giant Argos with its hundred eyes – through which the tenants and guests of the apartment complex enjoy a unique view of Graz’s cityscape.
4. Ragnitzstraße Apartment Complex
One of my favorite examples of contemporary architecture in Graz is the noteworthy apartment complex found at Ragnitzstraße 36. While the building’s relatively unassuming north face features a pergola opening encased in expanded metal, the south side is flanked by zigzag-shaped, spacious balconies.
The wood balcony railings are placed in a fan-like pattern along the zigzagging rhythm of the cantilever slab creating a strikingly attractive atmosphere. The appearance of the building varies considerably depending on the viewer’s perspective.
5. Light Sword Sculpture
Standing in the courtyard of the Opera House is the intriguing Light Sword Sculpture (Lichtschwert). The work of local artist Hartmut Skerbisch, it was erected in 1992 for the occasion of the Steirischer Herbst festival. That year, Graz was looking for a way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s expedition to America. So it was decided to produce the opera “Amerika” which is based on Franz Kafka’s Dickensian tale of an immigrant thrust into the jaws of the Big Apple.
Skerbisch based his work on the Statue of Liberty in New York. The modern steel sculpture intended as a symbol of openness and tolerance and acts as a perfect foil to the Neo-Baroque façade of the Opera House.
6. University of Graz Main Library
Function aside, the newly renovated main library of the University of Graz (Universitätsbibliothek Graz) is a marvel to look at. The spectacular new design features a massive cantilevered steel and glass volume perched whimsically over the roof of the original building of the library, with the original façade from 1895 exposed.
7. Science Tower
Part of the Smart City project, the ambitious Science Tower is a bold edifice that has in recent years become an urban landmark of Graz. The 60-meter tall tower has a double-shell façade, which is thrown around the basic shape of a truncated cone standing on its tip as a mantle on the outside.
True to the city’s commitment to green technology, the structure combines intelligent building technologies and modern environmental engineering and part of the building’s façade consists of transparent energy glasses that convert light into electrical energy. There’s even an urban garden on the upper levels!
8. MP09 Commercial & Office Building
Located directly on the Liebenau ring-road, the provocatively conspicuous MP09 Commercial & Office Building has been enriching the architectural landscape of the southern fringes of Graz since its inception in 2010.
Designed by Austrian firm GS Architects, the eye-catching building is clad in black tiles and juts out over its concrete base, housing an open-air terrace at the end of the cantilever. Behind the elegant shell of black tiles, you can find cavernous foyers, terraces, and interior courtyards. Not to be missed!
9. Glasshouses in the Botanical Garden
Not only are the Graz Botanical Garden greenhouses known for their world-class flora collection, but they have also been equally lauded for their innovative architecture. Completed in 1995, these greenhouses have slightly curved, double-walled acrylic glass elements framed by aluminum so as to allow ideal light incidence.
The layout of the interior is such that it offers visitors different viewpoints, thus creating a harmonious walk for enjoying the exotic natural and artificial forms. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the glasshouses have featured prominently in reputed architectural magazines over the globe.
10. Graz Main Train Station
Ever since its refurbishment in the early 2000s, the Graz Main Train Station (Graz Hauptbahnhof) has generally come to be accepted by denizens of the city. The most spectacular feature is the main hall whose walls are lined with a striking design with geometric figures by artist Peter Kogler. The installation, which was only supposed to be temporary, proved so popular that it was allowed to remain
In 2015, a large roof in the form of a wave spanning three platforms with a double-arch construction was added to provide a much-needed spacious atmosphere. The image of a wave symbolizes movement and emphasizes the dynamics of the means of rail services.
That same year a new pedestrian tunnel was built in the northern section of the platforms. The 150 meters tunnel is fitted with large-scale glass cladding lined with a dazzling display that depicts the sequel to the installation inside the main hall of the station.
11. Joanneum Quarter
In 2011, the Joanneum, Austria’s oldest museum celebrated its bicentennial by not only restructuring its rich collection but also by launching a project to successfully integrate three of its historic buildings from different eras into one functioning entity. This led to the creation of a new entrance connecting all the departments and a chic visitor center under the museum courtyard flooded with light via glazed, conical walls.
12. A1 Telekom Building
The 18-storey A1 Telekom Building casts a large shadow in the Graz district of Gries. The modern glass and steel edifice is structurally linear but stands out due to the visible black wave-like patterns on its façade giving it a frolicsome appearance.
13. MUMUTH – House of Music & Musical Theater
The much-awaited new theater for rehearsals and performances for the University of Music and Performing Arts didn’t disappoint when it opened in 2008. While the building’s exterior is composed of monochrome metal mesh, its interior is absolutely amazing.
The main foyer in front of the large theater on the upper level is dominated by a massive twisting staircase that connects the entrance to the auditorium and the music rooms above.
14. Prisma Engineering Company Building
No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you! The Prisma Engineering building is one of the most unique landmarks of the local architectural scene with its extraordinary facade and cubic form. Definitely not one for the claustrophobics, the building’s minimalist exteriors showcase what can be achieved with a compact framework. It is undoubtedly one of my favorite architectural structures in Graz.
The building doesn’t seem so large when observed from a distance but its cubic proportions become apparent as you approach it. Each side of the building has a length of 18 meters resulting in a floor space area of about 1200 m² spread over four and a half floors.
The building’s façade is ingeniously decorated with an abstract grid of panels made of powder-coated aluminum. They come in varying tones and as a whole could be interpreted as flowers or pictorial figures. The panels also do a great job of masking the building’s windows that are distributed irregularly over the façade.
In addition to the ones I’ve listed in this article, there is a spate of cutting-edge contemporary architecture to be uncovered in Graz. Some other examples of modern architecture in Graz are the Helmut-List Hall, Shopping Nord shopping mall, Schlossberg Restaurant, the FRida & freD children’s museum, and some other university and residential buildings.
Now, what do you think? How does the architecture in Graz compare to the rest of Europe? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!