Graz is as renowned for its beautifully preserved Old Town as it is for its rich choice of cultural diversions and buzzing nightlife. This makes it a hotbed of tourist attractions and pulls in the majority of visitors to Styria. That being said, the area surrounding Graz has even more to offer in the way of unimaginably pristine nature, charming towns, historic castles, magnificent abbeys, scenic wine roads, thermal spas and more. Here’s our lowdown on the best day trips from Graz.
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12 Best Day Trips from Graz
Some of our favorite day trips from Graz can be done easily with the aid of the efficient Austrian public transportation system. If you are planning on doing several (or even just one) during your stay in Graz, we recommend that you book your accommodation close to Graz Central Station. Hotel Daniel is an excellent mid-range hotel just outside the station.
However, due to the remote location of some of these places, they are better reached with the aid of a car. Public transport will still get you there but might take double or triple the time. For detailed transport connections, we suggest you check the Austrian journey planner website or download their app. In a nutshell, these are our 12 favorite day trips from Graz:
- Austrian Open-Air Museum
- Admont Abbey
- Piber Stud Farm
- Styrian Wine Roads
- Church of St. Barbara
- Lurgrotte Caves
- Riegersburg Castle
- Vorau Abbey
- Zotter Chocolate Factory
- Seckau Abbey
1. Austrian Open-Air Museum
One of the most popular day trips from Graz, the Austrian Open-Air Museum (Österreichische Freilichtmuseum) is an open-air museum situated in the small town of Stübing only 15 km north of Graz. Opened in 1962, the museum contains about 100 different buildings representing the various architectural styles and materials used throughout Austria over the last six centuries. This museum of vernacular architecture is one of the very best museums of its ilk in Europe.
The museum presents an excellent overview of the country’s rural heritage and features manor houses, thatched-roofed farmhouses, alpine houses, barns, granaries, and mills. The exhibits reveal startling regional differences in architecture, furnishings, original tools, workrooms, and document the everyday life of the houses’ former inhabitants.
The houses have been reconstructed on over 66 hectares of land surrounded by natural forests and gardens accompanied by livestock, giving the museum a more authentic feel. It is a perfect place for kids to roam for the day but equally interesting for adults.
It’s also nice that traditional crafts such as bread-making, lace-making, spinning, and weaving are demonstrated by volunteers over the weekends, weather permitting. I would also strongly recommend investing in the English-language guidebook sold at the entrance which will aid you through your visit.
The Austrian Open-Air Museum is open daily from 09:00-17:00 (April-October). The entrance costs 13 EUR.
If you’re spending considerable time in Styria and plan on visiting several attractions, it might be a good idea for you to purchase the “Steiermark Card”. This all access card accords you free admission/discounts to over 150 of Styria’s most prominent attractions. The Steiermark Card is valid from April-October and is an unbelievable bargain costing only 80 EUR.
2. Admont Abbey
Of all the beautiful abbeys in Styria, Admont Abbey (Stift Admont) is certainly the most rewarding one. It is located in the bucolic town of Admont which is surrounded by lush pasturelands and wooded hills.
Founded in the 11th century, Admont Abbey has gone through numerous reincarnations over the centuries. Remodeled in the Baroque style in the 17th century, it was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1865, and today you’re greeted by a rather austere-looking Neo-Gothic reconstruction. Fortunately, the lavish library was largely unscathed by the conflagration, and it’s this that most visitors come to see.
Built in 1773, the library is said to hold the world’s largest monastic library with 160,000 volumes. The library’s stupendous Rococo interior and ceiling frescoes show vast allegorical scenes. It’s impossible not to be mesmerized by the sequence of heavenly skyscapes filled with pinkish clouds, show figures representing the arts, the natural sciences, and theology.
Look out for the busts of famous intellectuals that hover above the ornate library shelves, ranging from Socrates to Dürer. Display cases along the hall’s 72 meters contain some of the library’s most prized possessions, including some exquisite medieval manuscripts.
Although the library is undoubtedly the highlight, the entrance ticket also accords access to parts of the abbey’s extensive and impressive art and natural history collections. The ecclesiastical artifacts are particularly impressive and include relics from the 14th century onwards. There are also some spectacular non-religious artifacts as well, most notably two globes belonging to Mercator.
The complex also includes a rather mediocre contemporary art collection. Skip this and focus on the natural history collection. The highlight here is the taxidermy collection, with rows upon rows of stuffed glassy-eyed mammals and beautifully preserved birds. There are also several rooms devoted to flying insects, butterflies, wax fruit and reptiles.
The entrance to Admont Abbey and the museums costs 11.50 EUR. You can check the opening hours here.
3. Piber Stud Farm
The most well-known stud farm in Austria, the Piber Stud Farm (Bundesgestüt Piber) lies about 24 kilometers west of Graz in the small town of Piber. Lipizzaner horses are bred and trained here and when their early training is complete, the horses raised on this farm are sent to the famous Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) in Vienna.
Originally the stud farm was based in the small town of Lipica in Slovenia. After Slovenia was annexed after WWI the farm was shifted to a former castle in Piber. The location couldn’t be any more perfect as it is surrounded by verdant meadows and rolling green hills.
The Lipizzaner horses are a complex mixture of six different breeds. Although the horses are renowned for their pure white coats, they are born almost black, gradually becoming lighter between the ages of four and ten. The horses are renowned for their elegance, nobility, brilliance, balanced agility, and good character. Of the 40 to 50 foals born at the stud farm each year, only four to six from the herd are selected for training at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
After viewing a video providing a brief introduction to the history of the farm and the stud, you can linger in the stables, and observe the majestic horses grazing on the pastures above the village. You don’t have to be a hippophile to enjoy your visit here but horse lovers will definitely get their money’s worth.
The Piber Stud Farm is open throughout the year. In summer, you have the option of exploring it yourself using the free multilingual audio guide while in winter you can only visit the farm as part of a guided tour. You can find more information about opening times and prices here.
4. Stryian Wine Roads
I love traveling to Southern Styria. The landscape is extremely scenic and much of the terrain is dominated by vineyards, with vines planted on steep, south-facing slopes. The Styrian Wine roads (Steirische Weinstrassen) are a series of idyllic serpentine roads linking together the main vine-growing villages of the region. Exceedingly romantic, the stunningly beautiful landscape alone is a good enough reason to go there, even if you aren’t a wine connoisseur. It has rightly been bestowed the moniker “Styrian Tuscany”.
Some of our favorite wine roads in Southern Styria are the Schilcherstrasse, which runs from Stainz southwards to Deutschlandsberg and onto Eibiswald close to the Slovene border; the Sausaler Weinstrasse, which spans across a small cluster of hilltop villages in the Sausal Gebirge to the west of Leibnitz; the Klöcher Weinstrasse, which starts from Bad Radkersburg and heads north towards Fehring; and finally the Südsteirische Weinstrasse, which begins in Ehrenhausen and zigzags its way west along the Austrian–Slovene border.
You’ll pass a number of attractions along the way. One of them is the village of Kitzeck which happens to boast the highest vineyards in Europe, growing on steep slopes, at an altitude of 564 meters. A ubiquitous sight along the Styrian wine roads is the Klapotetz (a high pole with vanes fluttering in the wind). This device serves as a scarecrow guarding the vineyards against birds.
One of the best things to see when taking a drive through the wine roads is the highly photogenic heart-shaped road. This picturesque strip is on a road named Špičnik and can be found just across the border in Slovenia. The best views of the heart-shaped road can be obtained from a restaurant called Turistična kmetija Dreisiebner. You can either dine at the restaurant or pay a fee of 2 EUR to access the viewing terrace which accords this postcard-perfect view. It’s truly a photographer’s delight and the ideal spot for a romantic selfie!
Although a few red wines are produced here, this is overwhelmingly white wine territory. South Styria produces some top-notch white wines which can be counted as among the best in the world. Some of the best-known varieties are the Welschriesling, Traminer, Gewürztraminer, and Schilcher.
You can sample some of these varieties in one of the numerous wine taverns (Buschenschank) along the way. These small family-run joints serve only cold dishes and homemade pastries along with appetizing local wines. The most popular Buschenschank dish is the “Brettljause”. It consists of tasty cold cuts (roast pork, ham, dry sausage, bacon, smoked sausage) and spreads (liver sausage, gram fat, frying fat, pumpkin seed spread) accompanied by horseradish and black bread served on a wooden board. Visiting these wine taverns is one of the most cherished Austrian traditions. Even though I’m not a wine connoisseur like Jacky, I really love the relaxed atmosphere of these wine taverns.
The Styrian Wine Roads are best visited in autumn (end of September until mid-October) when new wine is offered for tasting alongside the sweet young wine known as “Sturm”, which is basically semi-fermented freshly pressed grape juice. Wine festivals take place in Leutschach on the last weekend of September and in Gamlitz on the first weekend of October.
5. Church of St. Barbara
The Church of St. Barbara (Hundertwasserkirche), located in the small town of Bärnbach, is one of the true architectural wonders of Austria. Even though this church was erected in 1948 during the postwar period, it underwent a complete makeover in 1987 under the reigns of maverick architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. His work was characterized by asymmetry, undulating swirls, and labyrinthine spirals and his organic, vivid style.
Several of Hundertwasser’s playful, decorative trademarks are very visible, most notably the use of multicolored ceramic surfaces to jazz up the facade. Some people think that the church’s design is bizarre but we absolutely loved it. The exterior’s mystical imagery, glistening copper dome, and red-tiled roof covered in green circles are absolutely mesmerizing.
Also watch out for the twelve gates in the small park surrounding the church, each representing one of the world’s major religions. There are some quirky ones like the Urtor (“Ur-gate”), adorned with three round stones, inspired by the spiritual beliefs of prehistoric man, and an undecorated gate which stands for the faithless.
The interior of the church is surprisingly subdued in comparison. There are still a couple of things to look out for though, like the spiral stained-glass window which is a snail-shell swirl of color to the left as you enter. The larger-than-life altar cross bears a Baroque figure of Christ which is surrounded by a halo with 21 rays. Also interesting the glass altar, a gargantuan fish tank filled with twelve different layers of soil (taken from the Vatican and Bethlehem among other places) to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel.
The Church of St. Barbara is open from dawn-dusk. The entrance is free although you can leave a voluntary donation.
6. Lurgrotte Caves
The spectacular Lurgrotte Caves make for one of the most fascinating day trips from Graz. The caves are the largest stalactite cave in Austria and have rightly been hailed a natural wonder. Calcium mineral deposition over millions of years has yielded enchanting icy wonders along an underground stream.
This intriguing underground cave is known for its abundance of superb stalactites and stalagmites, giant rock domes, and subterranean gorges that have been entertaining visitors for over a century. The cave’s size, shape, naturally-arched roof, and smart LED lights combine with the waves to create eerie sounds that enhance its cathedral-like atmosphere. There seems to be some sort of functioning ecosystem in the cave as we saw a couple of bats during our visit.
The Lurgrotte Caves can either be visited only on a guided tour from Semriach or Peggau. The ones in Peggau are easier to access with public transport. Lurgrotte Semriach is a little hidden in a forest and can only really be reached by car.
The guided tour lasts approximately an hour. Unfortunately, it is only offered in German but you can get a leaflet with a good description of the route in English. Guided tours of Lurgrotte Semriarch are offered daily at 11:00, 14:00, 15:30 (15.04.-31.10) and at 14:00 on Saturday and 11:00 on Sunday (01.11.-14.04). Guided tours of Lurgrotte Peggau take place every hour on the hour from 10:00-15:00 (15.04.-31.10) and only by appointment in the winter (01.11.-14.04). The guided tour costs 8 EUR.
The cave temperature is a cool 8-10°C and it is quite damp inside so a light sweater or jacket and comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
The cute little town of Mariazell in Northern Styria would still be a worthy place to visit even without the religious associations that have made it into the most important pilgrimage place in Austria. Perched on a hillside and encircled by pine-covered mountains, Mariazell embodies the image of an archetypal alpine village. Naturally, it offers opportunities for hiking and winter sports.
Obviously, the main reason Mariazell ropes in scores of visitors every year is the Mariazell Basilica (Basilika von Mariazell), which looms large above everything else in Mariazell from its lofty position at the top of the town’s main square. The earliest records of the church date from 1243, but it is believed to have been established in 1157. Architecturally, it sports a single Gothic spire between Baroque domes that were added later.
The interior of the church has Gothic ribbing and features some exemplary Baroque stucco work. It is full of tombs and relics, including the macabre remains of 3rd-century saints Paulilus and Modestus on either side of the nave. The lavish high altar is absolutely resplendent and features a serpent crawling across a silver-plated globe, overlooked by a cherub-encircled Crucifixion.
The chief object of veneration by pilgrims to Mariazell is a 12th-century Romanesque statue of the Virgin and Child. The statue itself is ensconced within the sumptuous Chapel of Mercy (Gnadenkapelle). Various miracles have been attributed to the statue that has turned Mariazell into the main pilgrimage center for the Roman Catholic population in this region of Europe. The Virgin herself is presented as a doll-like figure dressed in swirling silver skirts.
The church’s treasury is home to a trove of houses a treasure trove of ecclesiastical silverware and liturgical vessels, including a wooden statuette of the Madonna and Child.
The Mariazell Basilica is open daily from 07:00-20:00. The entrance is free. It gets exceptionally crowded on the weekends throughout the summer, with special ceremonies taking place on August 15 (Assumption) and September 8 (Birth of the Virgin). The treasury is open Tue-Sat from 10:00-15:00 and Sun from 11:00-15:00 (May-October). The cost of admission to the treasury is 4 EUR.
One other reason why Mariazell is famous is that it’s one of the main centers of gingerbread production in Austria. You can gorge on a variety of delectable gingerbread confections all over town. Arguably the most famous gingerbread manufacturer in Mariazell is Pirker Lebkuchen. You can visit the bakery to try some freshly-prepared, hand-made delicacies and to buy gingerbread souvenirs. In addition, you can even take a tour of their factory to find out all about the company’s history and see for yourself up close exactly how gingerbread is made.
8. Riegersburg Castle
One of the most popular day trips from Graz, the Riegersburg Castle (Schloss Riegersburg), arguably the best castle in Styria. The castle is truly a breathtaking sight, dominating a landscape of rolling cornfields and pasturelands from a steep crag of volcanic basalt some 200 meters above the valley Grazbach stream.
The original medieval fortress was built in 1122 to keep the Hungarians at bay. Its current appearance, including over 3 kilometers of walls with eleven bastions, seven gates, and two moats, dates from the 17th century when the Turks were a major threat. In 1822 the castle came under the possession of the Liechtenstein family, who still use parts of the castle as a residence.
The castle is home to a small collection of arms and war machines used to defend the fortress during a siege. The castle is also home to the Witches’ Museum whose 12 rooms contain an extensive section on witchcraft explaining the background to the witch-hunting hysteria which seized many men and women leading them to be tortured, burned at the stake and otherwise persecuted.
Also worth seeing are the castle’s state rooms. Watch out for the 15th-century Knights Hall, whose ceiling and portals showcase amazingly detailed wood paneling. We also loved the 17th-century White Dining Room whose curly wedding-cake-like stucco work and ceiling paintings make it an absolute delight to photograph.
The Riegersburg Castle is open daily from 09:00-18:00 (May-September) and 10:00-18:00 (April and October). The entrance to the castle, museums and the lift costs 19 EUR.
9. Vorau Abbey
The Vorau Abbey (Stift Vorau) is yet another one in Styria’s cavalcade of magnificent abbeys. Situated on a small hillock in the small town of Vorau, the Vorau Abbey began life as an Augustinian abbey in the mid-12th century. Having undergone a transformation into a fortress in the 15th century, the abbey’s present form is the result of alterations made throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
The main attraction at Vorau Abbey is, of course, its stupendous fresco- and stucco-adorned library. Dating back to 1731, this library is bursting with history and holds more than 17,000 books, the oldest of which is over 800 years old. Some 415 valuable manuscripts can also be found here, including the oldest annals of poetry in the German language – the Vorauer Handschrift and the Kaiserchronik (a poetic history of the Roman and German emperors).
The ceiling frescoes in the library represent the Gods, philosophy, and jurisprudence. There are also two attractive globes from the late 17th century. One shows the earth in the 17th century while the other one shows heaven and well-known star constellations. I rate the library right up there with Admont’s as the most attractive one in Styria.
You should also take a quick peek into the marvelously decorated abbey church. This wonderfully ornate church features a dizzying array of frescoes extolling the savior Christ. I was really taken by the beauty of the lavish high altar which shows the passage of the Virgin Mary into heaven. Don’t miss to see the sacristy whose walls are adorned with scenes from Christ’s struggles, including a painting of the Last Judgement.
The library and the sacristy of Vorau Abbey can only be seen on a guided tour while the church is open to all. The guided tour costs 8 EUR. You can find more information about opening hours and tour times here.
10. Zotter Chocolate Factory
If you have a sweet tooth, a visit to the Zotter Chocolate Factory (Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur) in the village of Bergl is an absolute must. Zotter is one of the finest small-scale producers of chocolate and goodies in the country. What makes Zotter unique is that they make everything in-house, from the first step to the last, and are one of the very few bean-to-bar producers in Europe.
A visit to the Zotter Chocolate Factory is the closest thing to visiting Willy Wonka (without the Oompa Loompas of course). Tours commence with a short film about cocoa harvesting followed by the chocolate production process.
You then make your way to the installed elevated walkways to view every stage of the chocolate-making process: the roasting and crushing of the beans into nibs; the milling of the nibs into raw liquid cocoa mass; the conching (mixing and agitating the chocolate to distribute evenly the cocoa butter and refine the texture and flavor); and the molding of the bars. This was quite fascinating because being a chocolate lover, I had never seen this in person. If you’re lucky, you can even get to see Mr. Willy Wonka (aka Mr. Zotter) himself.
Along the way, you can indulge yourself at the numerous interactive tasting stations along the way (pull a lever and a spoonful of liquid chocolate is dispensed). You can also create their own individual chocolates from various ingredients, shapes, and fillings by picking your favorite flavors. The chocolates are gobsmackingly delicious and are sure to leave you bleary-eyed and sugar-clogged.
The tour ends with one last choco-parade where every conceivable type of Zotter chocolate rolls past on a conveyor belt. If you are patient and wait around long enough, you can even try some of their eccentric concoctions. Some of these are sesame nougat with lamb cracklins, hemp bonbon, bacon bits, Moroccan pink pepper berries, Earl Grey tea, and chili bird’s eye. You can also check out the gift shop where you can buy some of your favorites for friends and family (or yourself). There are over 400 different varieties to choose from!
After the tour, you can survey the organic farm where you’ll come across many animals (goats, cocks, cows, rabbits, fallow deer, ponies, sheep). The farm is home to a restaurant, playground, and even a chocolate graveyard. Any failed flavors of Zotter are laid to rest in this “Cemetery of Ideas” complete with headstones.
The Zotter Chocolate Factory is open from 09:00-20:00 (May-September) and 09:00-19:00 (April-October). It is closed on Sundays and most public holidays. The entrance costs 17.90 EUR. Part Willy Wonka and part educational experience, a visit here comes highly recommended. Jacky and I have visited the factory thrice and can’t wait to go again.
11. Seckau Abbey
The Benedictine Seckau Abbey (Stift Seckau) is one of the best abbeys to see in Styria. Set in the small town of Seckau in Western Styria, the abbey is in a mountainous region divided by jagged ranges and alpine streams. Originally Augustinian, the abbey served as the ecclesiastical capital of Styria and the seat of its bishops until 1782, when the episcopal seat was shifted to Graz. It was refounded by the Benedictines in 1883.
Once you enter the abbey gates, you are welcomed by an attractive arcaded Renaissance courtyard watched over by a fine twin-towered Romanesque Basilica. The interior of the abbey’s Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary has retained its original late-Gothic character. It is minimally decorated and the nave is lined with fat, bulging pillars. We were mesmerized by the wooden Crucifixion, made around 1140, which hangs above the main altar. The slender, graceful form of Jesus exudes a sense of spiritual calm.
The Mausoleum of Karl II lies to the left of the high altar. A relief of the emperor, clad in full armor, adorns the lid of the marble sarcophagus, surrounded by cherubs holding up heraldic symbols of the imperial house.
The basilica is home to several attractive chapels, out of which the Bishop’s Chapel and the Sacrament Chapel are the ones to look out for. The Bishop’s Chapel is decorated with portraits of Styria’s bishops from the earliest times and features a 15th-century altarpiece depicting the Coronation of the Virgin.
You can visit Seckau Abbey on a guided tour from Thursday-Sunday at 11:00 and 14:00 (May-June & September-October). In July and August, guided tours are offered daily at 11:00, 14:00 and 15:30. A guided tour costs 8 EUR. The entrance to the basilica is free. The basilica is open daily from 09:00-12:30; 13:30-17:00.
I have a soft spot for Frohnleiten, in large part due to my mother-in-law being based there. This pretty town is located along one of the more picturesque bends of the Mur River valley between the high mountains of the Gleinalpe. As a result of this, Frohnleiten is surrounded by a network of marked hiking trails and cycling paths making it a popular spot for adventure enthusiasts.
Founded in the late 13th century as a fortified town, Frohnleiten was once an important transshipment port on the Mur River. You can still see some parts of the fortification walls and a gate. The town’s spacious square is surrounded by a lovely architectural jumble of old buildings and townhouses. One of the sights worth seeing in Frohnleiten is the city-parish church, located at the far end of the square. The interior of the church is worth seeing for its ceiling frescoes and Rococo figures in the altarpiece.
The other reason that has brought Frohnleiten prominence is its exquisite flower displays that can be seen throughout the town. One of the best places to see these flowers is at the lovely Volkshauspark just beside the riverbank. Popular among the locals as a place for a stroll or chitchat, you can seek out exotic species from around the world here.
Now, what do you think? What are your favorite day trips from Graz? Any place we missed on this list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!