If you are looking into traveling around Europe, a small country right in the center may have grabbed your attention – Austria, where the hills are alive with the sound of music. Or not. Or maybe in Salzburg. But Austria is truly so much more than just that. If you are thinking of visiting Salzburg, Innsbruck or (most probably) Vienna, Graz should not slip under your radar.
Just for the record, you have been warned: I might be slightly biased, seeing that Graz is my home town, but truly Graz is the best, most beautiful and most underrated city in Austria. On second thought, maybe I’m a little more than “slightly” biased but as they say home is where the heart is. Whether you are moving here for studies or work, or whether you are coming to visit Graz for a single day, bookmark our local’s guide to help you explore!
Why to visit Graz
Graz is Austria’s second largest city with about 310.000 inhabitants and about 600.000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area respectively. I know, if you are coming from India, China, or most other places in the world, this may strike you as just one step above a village, but considering Austria’s overall size, that’s pretty big. So why does it stay below most people’s radars? Well, firstly no Mozart was born here and secondly no century-old, grand empire was governed from here.
Really, not an awful lot of world-changing things have happened here. And this is exactly why Graz is so special: with significantly fewer tourists to cater to, Graz has maintained its true Austrian character and will give you a real taste of what remains of this before mentioned grand empire (I believe Austrians are engineered with a genetic minority complex to make us whine about the loss of the monarchy even a hundred years later.)
When to visit Graz
My personal favourite time to hang out in the city is autumn, or “fall” for the Americans among you 😉 I mean really Graz is beautiful during any time of the year, but autumn is simply the best. Winters are mostly wet and unpleasant while summers can be overbearing at times with temperatures soaring to +35 C or more on a couple of days. Even on the slightly cooler days, there is simply no breeze to take your mind off the heat. After all the city is almost completely surrounded by mountains.
So if you avoid summer and winter, that leaves spring and autumn. I love the spring, because the city seems to awaken with new life. Flowers and trees start to bloom relatively early and the rain finally eases up a bit. The reason I adore autumn, though, is a combination of colorful foliage and the wide array of festivals which take place during that time.
What to See in Graz
Graz is a relatively compact city, but there is still quite a bit to see. Most of the main sights are located within the Old Town and most easily explored by foot. Still, I encourage you to leave the city center and explore some of the outer districts and even the suburbs!
The Old Town
Points of interest: Herrengasse, Hauptplatz, Rathaus, Glockenspiel, Burg
The historic Old Town of Graz with its red roof tops is certainly the main attraction of the city and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site deservedly. Narrow alleys and well preserved facades tell the story of the city dating back more than 900 years. Begin your tour with a walk down the Herrengasse, the main shopping street. People-watching is a favorite past-time of those sitting in roadside cafes, so make sure to join in and simply enjoy the atmosphere. Stop over at the Landhaus courtyard, a pristine preserved example of Renaissance architecture. Pay a visit to the Hauptplatz, the city’s main square and marvel at the sight of the city hall.
Venture into the rear alleys and make sure to arrive at the Glockenspielplatz at either 11.00, 15.00 or 18.00 when up in the gable of one of the old houses a mechanism comes to life putting on a sweet little show for those who come to be enchanted. Get your head turned by the double staircase in the Burg, an optical illusion known to the people of Graz as the “stairs of reconciliation”, as whenever you part, you will always be reunited again.
Points of interest: Uhrturm
If you are brave you will climb the city’s most prominent landmark on foot, after all it only takes 260 to complete the ascent. Or, if you will, you can take the elevator which takes you up through the mountain. Yes, through the mountain. Your third alternative and my personal favorite is to take the funicular. Once you have reached the top, you are free to explore some of the sights or simply take in the breathtaking view over the rooftops. Maybe get yourself a bottle of good Austrian wine and a chunk of cheese and have a picnic. You will enjoy yourself so much, you won’t even want to know how much time has passed.
If you still want to know and look for the closest clock nearby, your heart may skip a beat at the sight of it. Not because it’s so extraordinarily beautiful, but because the minute hand and the hour hand are in fact switched. Interestingly, the clock tower is one of the last two standing pieces of a significantly larger fortress, the demolition of which was ordered by Napoleon in 1809 after his army had defeated the Habsburgs. Only a large ransom could save the clock tower and its counterpart, the bell tower.
The District of Mariatrost
Points of interest: Hilmteich, Basilika Mariatrost
Hop onto tram number 1 and leave the city center for more quiet harbors. Only a short ride away lays the lake Hilmteich where city people come to relax after a long day. Take out a boat in summer or get active on your ice skates in winter. Or simply take a deep breath of fresh air. Continue on to the Basilika Mariatrost, an imposing religious structure and popular pilgrimage site dating back to the 18th century.
Take tram number 1 back to the other end of the city, the district of Eggenberg. You will be rewarded with the sight of the Eggenberg Palace dating back to the 17th century and built in the Gothic and Baroque style. If you want you can take a tour through the vast palace with its 365 windows, 31 rooms on each floor, 24 state rooms with 52 doors, and 4 corner towers. Or you can just relax in the serene gardens and watch the majestic peacocks. A truly royal experience!
The University District
Points of interest: University grounds, Botanical Garden
Graz is a vibrant student city and this is, naturally, most evident in the grounds and streets surrounding the main university, the Karl-Franzens-Universität, founded in 1585. The main building itself is of architectural interest, but if you really want to know what this city is all about, grab a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants close by, with most of them found in the Zinzendorfgasse. If you want to go all out, come back in the night and party your butt off in any of the many night clubs and bars in the so-called “Uni-Viertel” (“university quarter”). A rainy day or simply a good-old hangover may make you want to take it easy. Explore the Botanical Gardens or the small Criminology museum (if your stomach can take it).
Points of interest: Zeughaus, Stadtmuseum, Universalmuseum, …
If you are a museum enthusiast, Graz will put a spell on you. Naturally you may want to see the Folk museum, the city museum, the archeology museum, oh well, all the museums. But especially (and even if you are not much into museums), you may want to see the Zeughaus, the Armory. In former times the armory was well stocked in order to supply the province’s men with all necessary tools to fend off invaders. Today it serves as a museum, displaying 32,000 tools and weapons, some as old as 500 years.
What to Do in Graz
Below find our recommendations on what to do once you are done sightseeing. Graz is so quintessentially Austrian, there’s always something to do 🙂
Visit the farmers’ markets and try some local specialties
Points of interest: Kaiser-Josef-Platz, Lendplatz
Nothing beats a fresh piece of fruit, sausage, or cheese. And nothing beats locally and organically grown food that also supports local farmers instead of big industry. Come to the Kaiser-Josef-Platz in the morning and enjoy a quick chat with one of the merchants while you buy your breakfast. This is also one of the best spots to purchase “Styrian Gold” – Pumpkin Seed Oil.
Take a hike up to one of the mountains surrounding the city
Points of interest: Ruine Gösting, Plabutscher Schlösserl
If you still have energy left, I know you will totally be up for a hike. And if you don’t, you should do it anyway. Take a hike up one of the mountains surrounding the city, such as the Plabutsch or the Göstlinger Ruinenberg, and you will be treated with a magnificent view over the city as well as a rush of adrenaline when you reach the top. In addition you can marvel at the Burgruine Gösting, a castle dating back to the 11th century, or the Plabutscher Schlösserl, a tiny castle over a hundred years old.
Events to Mark in Your Calendar
Every season Graz comes to life with a wide array of events and festivals organized all over town. The biggest of them all is the Aufsteirern Festival, which takes place on a weekend in September. If you are beginning to think the Oktoberfest in Munich has somehow lost its charm, you will certainly enjoy this as it is still a folklore festival in its truer form. During that period there’s a buzz around town and every inhabitant (at least it feels that way) puts on their Dirndls or Lederhosen and tries to meander through the masses of people to meet up with friends. Enjoy some of the performances, grab a bite to eat or have a nice drink of Sturm. If you can make it to Graz in September, be sure not to miss it!
Other events you might enjoy
- Lendwirbel (May): A sociocultural festival with the intent to open the public space to all inhabitant of the city. With many performances and exhibitions.
- LaStrada (Early August): An international street and figure theatre festival stretching over 9 days.
- Graz Autumn Fair (Late September): Trade fair and Styria’s largest amusement park.
- Long Night of the Museums (Early October): An evening when museums stay open until late in the night, with special programs and reduced admittance prices.
- Christmas Market (All through December): A low-key but incredibly charming Christmas market on the main square.
- Perchtenlauf (Early December): An old folk custom, still observed today. Scary perchten roam the main street in a manner of procession.
Our picks for Graz
I spent the majority of my life in Graz and have probably been to more establishments than I can count. For your convenience I have tried to include a variety of places and different price ranges. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have!
Schlossberg Restaurant: One of the priciest restaurants in town, but the food is delicious and the view fantastic!
Gasthaus Lend-Platzl: Traditional Austrian dishes for a reasonable price.
Freigeist: A relatively new establishment with scrumptious burgers and decadent milk shakes.
Gelateria Italiana by Luis: Real Italian ice cream. And a great selection at that!
Tribeka: A small chain with several outlets throughout town.
Cafe Harrach: A vintage style student cafe with lots of charm.
Cafe Schwalbennest: Very conveniently located in the city centre, a typical Austrian cafe with a cute little terrace.
Best Bars & Pubs
The Office Pub: An English pub which gets incredibly crowded during Tuesdays (quiz night) and Wednesdays (Erasmus night)
Coco Cocktail Bar: Very extensive cocktail menu at very reasonable prices.
Murstuberl zum Stamperl: An old Austrian pub. Order a schnapps!
ppc: Often hosts 80s and 90s parties.
“Univiertel”: A neighborhood not far from the university with several clubs and bars. Check out Kottulinsky or Three Monkeys.
Practical tips for visiting Graz
Below find assorted practical tips to help you with the planning of your trip to Graz. If you need any help, don’t hesitate to drop us your questions below!
How to Get to Graz
Getting to Graz is relatively easy. Most likely you’ll be coming from Vienna, but you could also fly directly to Graz Airport (regularly served by Lufthansa, Swiss, Turkish Airlines, KLM, Austrian). You may also consider accessing Graz through Slovenia (Maribor).
If you are coming to Graz from Vienna you can consider the following options. The journey will take you around 2.5 hours:
- By train (Several trains per day depart from Vienna airport directly to Graz). Take a seat on the right side (in travel direction) for a beautiful panorama of the Austrian alps!
- By bus (Flixbus offers several connections from Vienna to Graz daily)
- By car (Via A2)
How to Get around Graz
If you’re only planning on seeing the Old Town, you may as well just walk as everything is easily accessible. However, if you want to venture out, you should probably make use of public transport. A single ticket costs 2.3€ and is valid for one hour. Car rentals are available at the airport and the train station. Taxis start at 3.9€ and each kilometer runs you at around 1.3 to 1.5 €.
Where to Stay in Graz
Many of the city’s hotels are located in the city centre, but they are a little pricey. We recently stayed at a Best Western just outside the city centre. The Best Western Plus Amedia Graz offers comfortable rooms at a reasonable price and the breakfast buffet is absolutely fantastic!
Shopping in Graz
You don’t have to go very far if you want to do a little bit of shopping, as the city centre is brimming with shops and boutiques. If you need a larger selection of international brands, you can consider one of the city’s many shopping centers.
- City Park (Take buses 31, 32, 33, 35, or 39).
- Murpark (Take buses 64, 64E, 72, 74, 75, or N4).
- Center West (Take tram line 5 until Puntigam, then change for bus 65 in direction Wetzelsdorf).
- Shopping Nord (Take bus 52 from the main train station).
- Shopping City Seiersberg (Take bus 32. This is by far the biggest shopping center in the region with more than 200 shops.).
Which Souvenirs to Bring from Graz
Graz is the capital of Styria. Styria is primarily known for wine, apples, and pumpkins. But if there is one thing that defines our region, it’s pumpkin seed oil. In fact, we consider it black gold and it runs through the veins of every self -respecting Styrian. Generally we eat it with salad, but it can also be incorporated in scrambled eggs or even cakes! You can buy small bottles in any supermarket or even better quality oil from the farmers market. Don’t miss it!
Exploring beyond Graz
If you still haven’t had enough, you should spend some time on exploring the surroundings of the city. Whether you want to enjoy a great glass of wine with a view over the wine hills on the South-Styrian wine road, or whether you want to relax at a thermal spa, or take exciting hikes, or explore some more castles and eat a great piece of chocolate at the same time, or whether you want to learn more about the local fauna & flora… Styria really has everything to offer.
If you want to go a little further, why not plan a day trip to Slovenia? Maribor, in particular is very easily accessed from Graz. Read here how to plan a day trip from Graz to Slovenia.
Now, what do you think? Have you been to Graz before or is it on your bucket list? How does it compare to the rest of Austria? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!