If youâ€™ve never heard of the city of Graz, Austria before, it is because Graz truly is one of Europeâ€™s last hidden gems.
Situated in the south-east of Austria, Graz offers the perfect escape for those longing to escape overwhelming tourist crowds and fast travel.
Here are some tips on how to spend an enjoyable and sustainable weekend in Graz:
Friday: First Impressions
After arriving at your hotel (for example the newly refurbished Grand Hotel Wiesler), you can use the last hours of the day to gather some first impressions of the city. Head over to the Graz Tourist office, located in the city center, to pick up your town map as well as some useful insider tips. While youâ€™re there, you can also consider investing in BACKUP, a reusable coffee cup, perfect for a guilt-free sip of espresso on the go. You can either keep it as a functional souvenir of your time in Graz, or return the cup to any of the 60+ participating cafes in the city.
Once you are equipped, it is time to get a real feel for the city. And what better way to do so than by getting a birdâ€™s eye view? Once the home to an impressive castle, Schlossberg has been the heart of the city for hundreds of years. Although the castle fell during the Napoleonic wars, the people of Graz never lost their love for this lush green oasis with a view.
There are several ways of getting to the top and each offers a unique experience in their own way. You can either take the ever-popular Schlossberg steps from the base of the mountain at Schlossbergplatz, or, if youâ€™re tired, opt for the funicular or the lift instead. And who wouldnâ€™t want to take an elevator through the middle of a mountain?
At the top, you can take a stroll along the cobble-stoned paths, seek out hidden corners, and, of course, marvel at the impressive clock tower. And if you feel that you are losing track of time, it may be because you are losing yourself in the beauty of the place, but if you take a closer look, perhaps itâ€™s just because the hands on the clock tower are actually reversed.
End your day with a stunning view of the red rooftops of the city with a glass of crisp south-Styrian wine at the sky bar of the Schlossberg restaurant or Aiola Upstairs.
PS: If youâ€™re up for a kick of adrenaline, take the Schlossberg slide on your way down!
Saturday: Hip, Green, And Trendy
One of the best things to do in Graz during the warmer months is to enjoy its ample green spaces and explore some of the cityâ€™s most trendy neighborhoods, Lend and Gries.
Start your day early and head to one of the numerous farmersâ€™ markets in the city. Here, you can shop for fresh regional and seasonal produce while supporting the local economy where it matters most. On average, the fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, and other products are produced within just 20km of the city. The markets are very popular among the locals, so do be sure to come early or everything will be sold out!
One of the best farmerâ€™s markets in Graz is located on Lendplatz. While youâ€™re here, you can also sit down at one of the many hip cafes in the area and enjoy a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Lenz im Lend is the perfect address for coffee during your market visit.
Tip: If you ever get thirsty along your way, keep an eye open for places with a â€˜Refill Austriaâ€™ sticker on the door. Here, you can fill up your water bottle with tap water for free and avoid buying plastic bottles along the way.
Continuing on your adventure in Lend, you will come across a number of smaller, boutique-style shops in the area. The Lend district is known for its quirky art scene. Graz is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and was named the first City of Design in Austria. As a result, numerous design shops have settled here throughout the last years. Two of the best known are Offline and Tag.Werk.Â
Offline primarily employs individuals struggling with addiction. The goal of the project is to offer entry-level employment to ease the return of addicts or former addicts into the labor market. In the shop, you can find second-hand clothing, as well as various up-cycled items ranging from accessories to furniture.
Tag.Werk offers employment to underprivileged youth. In the shop, you can primarily find bags and backpacks made from up-cycled materials which makes each piece unique.
Returning to the city center, you will come across several quirky structures, such as the Murinsel (island in the Mur) and Kunsthaus (modern art museum). Both were conceptualized in 2003, when Graz was the European Capital of Culture. They offer a stark contrast to the traditional architecture found within the old town of Graz and dazzle the eye with pops of color, especially during the night.
Kunsthaus, also dubbed the â€˜Friendly alienâ€™ due to its biomorphic blue shape, is home to ever-changing exhibitions dedicated to modern art, starting from 1960. The exhibitions offer a good mix of Austrian and foreign artists and are sure to leave you inspired after your visit. The museum is also home to one of the best design shops in the city and well worth popping in your head for. If youâ€™re in dire need of a break, the Kunsthauscafe is one of the most popular and trendy cafes in Graz.
Continuing on on the banks of the river Mur, quite literally the pulsing artery of the city, you leave the funky yet glitzy Lend district and enter into Gries. Once known only for its red-light district, Gries has developed significantly over the last couple of decades. It still retains much of its grungy edges yet introduces a much-needed breath of multicultural flair into the city.Â
Today, Gries is home to a multitude of Asian, Middle-Eastern, and African shops as well as cafes and restaurants. Before World War II it was also home to a large proportion of the Jewish community in Graz. At the location of a previous synagogue which was destroyed during the November pogroms in 1938, you now find a modern structure with a glass dome in its place.
Keep your eyes open for street art as you make your way south. Several intriguing pieces are hidden in the small paths and alleyways in the area!
From the synagogue, cross onto the other side of the Mur river. Here, you will find the newly reopened Augarten, one of the cityâ€™s most important green spaces. It offers a welcome reprieve from the heat during the hot summer months. The river brings a cool breeze and the trees offer plenty of shade. Benches and lounge chairs invite you to stay and have a picnic with friends.Â
On the edge of the park, you can also find a little cafe, PaulschlÃ¶ssl. It is one of several so-called ReUse cafes in Graz. The cafe offers employment to those disadvantaged in the labor market, be it due to age, health, or a lack of qualifications. The goods are sourced seasonally and regionally and most of the interior is made up of up-cycled materials.
End your day by enjoying some typically Styrian cuisine. The best address for classic yet elevated dishes is Der Steirer. Found at the location of a former wine bar run by Hans Weitzer, this restaurant embodies the Austrian concept of â€œGemÃ¼tlichkeitâ€, or coziness. True to its heritage, the restaurant offers a nearly endless supply of wine along with a delicious selection of Austrian dishes. You can either taste yourself through the menu with their Styrian tapas, or keep it simple by ordering a traditional Styrian Backhendl (fried chicken). No matter which way you decide, youâ€™ll be sure to finish your day on a high note.
Sunday: Historic Old Town
Sunday is the perfect day to explore the cityâ€™s historic old town as well as some of its excellent museums. While youâ€™re here, be sure to make use of the free tram connection between Jakominiplatz and SÃ¼dtirolerplatz or Jakominiplatz and Schlossbergplatz.
Stroll through the historic old town
Grazâ€™s biggest draw is obviously its gorgeous and well-preserved medieval center, one of the best-preserved medieval centers in Europe. As you take a stroll through Grazâ€™s UNESCO-protected center, you will encounter an array of elegant palaces and townhouses which bear proof to the cityâ€™s Baroque heyday.
Start your tour at the cityâ€™s main square, Hauptplatz, and take a moment to marvel at the impressive city hall. Then, make your way uphill through Sporgasse and let the cobblestones take you to some of the cityâ€™s most imposing squares, Karmeliterplatz and Freiheitsplatz.
Pass the Graz castle and get dizzy on its double spiral staircase, get dazzled by the elaborate tomb of Emperor Ferdinand II. Take a short breather in the castle park (Burggarten) or the cityâ€™s main park (Stadtpark) below. Donâ€™t miss the beautiful opera house as well as the cityâ€™s own version of the Statue of Liberty on your way back. Head down Grazâ€™s premier shopping street, Herrengasse, and enjoy the intricate facades. It is also the location of one of the cityâ€™s most memorable buildings, the painted house.
Enjoy Mediterranean flair
On the way, you will pass the Landhaushof, one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture in Graz. The whole of the inner city has an Italian Renaissance overlay to it, lending Graz a very Mediterranean feel, unlike any other Austrian city.
Once you return to Hauptplatz, navigate through some of the narrow alleyways on its western edge to reach the Franziskanerviertel. Have a seat at one of the many street-side cafes and enjoy a glass of Aperol Spritz for a feel of Italy in Austria.
A visit to the Styrian Armory
When spending a weekend in Graz, a visit to the Styrian Armory is a must. With more than 30,000 items on display, the Styrian Armory is the largest preserved arsenal in the world. Built as a stock of arms to be handed to the local population in the event of a Turkish attack, the rich collection includes suits of armor, helmets, breastplates, swords, firearms, and cannons.Â
Besides the Styrian Armory, there are a number of other museums in Graz that are well-worth visiting. Some of these are Graz Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the New Gallery.
Hearty Austrian dinner
To round off your visit to Graz, head to Glockenspielplatz for your dinner. At 6 oâ€™clock PM you will find two figurines dancing up in the gable of one of the buildings. Clothed in traditional costumes, they sway to three different tunes played by 24 bells.
In the same building as the Glockenspiel, you will find GlÃ¶cklbrÃ¤u, one of the most popular restaurants among locals and visitors alike. Finish your weekend in Graz with a hearty portion of SpÃ¤tzle or a traditional serving of Schnitzel, washed down with a tall glass of beer.