The region of Styria, or Steiermark in German, is a very interesting tourist destination. Nicknamed the ‘green heart of Austria’, it is a predominantly mountainous region, but it is full of surprises: forests and gentle hills alternate in a unique combination of nature and modernity, as can be experienced first-hand when visiting Graz, the region’s capital and internationally important creative centre.
Styria’s mountains include the Dachstein, the highest in the region, which narrowly misses 3000 metres in altitude, stopping at 2995. There is also a magnificent glacier here, which can be reached by cable car, and explored from the inside by visiting the Ice Palace, a cave in which Styria has been reproduced in miniature.
But there is more to Styria than nature, and visitors will find art and culture at every turn. Starting with Admont Abbey, with the world’s largest monastic library, and continuing on to Mariazell Basilica, a well-known place of pilgrimage, and Stainz Castle, home to the Styrian hunting museum.
Finally, for lovers of the good life, there is everything and more in Styria, starting with the thermal baths, with no fewer than nine spa resorts, then on to the wine-growing area where the hills are reminiscent of Tuscan landscapes and the wines produced are of excellent quality. Finally, try Josef Zotter’s chocolates, which blend tradition and innovation and have quickly become a world-famous brand.
Styria is a region in the south-east of Austria, whose southern border is shared entirely with Slovenia. Interestingly, Slovenia also has a region called Styria, which is the southern extension of the Austrian region. Sometimes, Slovenian Styria is also called Lower Styria.
By contrast, Austrian Styria is informally divided into Upper Styria (Obersteiermark), which includes the northern and north-eastern part of the region, Western Styria (Weststeiermark), which includes the districts west of Graz, and Eastern Styria (Oststeiermark), which includes the districts east of Graz.
Styria’s other borders are all with other Austrian regions, in particular Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Salzburg, Burgenland and Carinthia. Styria comprises one statutory city, i.e. the capital Graz, one town (Leoben) and 12 districts.
When visiting Styria, one can come across many things to see. Here are the most important ones, so as not to miss a single one during a tour of the region.
Start your visit to Styria from its capital Graz. This charming city is the second largest in the country after Vienna, with a population of over 300,000 and a metropolitan area of over 600,000. Its historical centre, the Altstadt, is one of the best preserved in Central Europe, so much so thatUNESCO included it on its World Heritage list in 1999.
The historic centre of Graz retains most of its tourist attractions. The most important landmarks of the city are the town hall (Rathaus), the castle hill, which can be reached by funicular railway Schlossbergbahn, from where you can admire wonderful views of the city, and the clock tower (Uhrturm), the symbol of Graz.
But a series of modern buildings and constructions in the city are also worth a visit, starting with the Kunsthaus, the museum of contemporary art, to the Murinsel, a small artificial island built on the river Mur, connected to the mainland by two walkways on both sides.
In 2010, UNESCO extended Graz’s World Heritage recognition to Eggenberg Palace, located on the western outskirts of the city. It is a splendid Baroque palace, with a truly incredible surrounding garden and a truly remarkable set of architectural features.
The palace is named after one of Styria’s most powerful families, the Eggenberg family, and is surrounded by walls, with a huge west-facing portal. Inside, the palace alternates between opulent rooms and art collections, such as the period coin collection and the Alte Galerie, which displays portraits and sculptures from the Middle Ages to the end of the 19th century.
The Dachstein is the highest peak in Styria and is a must-see destination. It can be reached comfortably by cable car, although there is no shortage of high mountain trails to reach it on foot. Once at the top, in addition to contemplating the incredible panorama, there are a number of really interesting attractions.
Start with the suspension bridge, which is exciting to walk across, via the ‘stairway to nowhere’, with 14 steps with a transparent bottom where you feel as if you are flying. Take your time on the Dachstein Sky Walk viewing platform, from where you can admire all the surrounding mountains, and finally arrive at the Dachstein Glacier, where you can visit the Ice Palace, an underground cave where Styria has been carved into the ice.
The Bärenschützklamm is one of the longest gorges in Styria in Austria. It can be traversed via a 4.5-hour loop trail that crosses 164 wooden bridges and has as many as 2,500 steps. The Bärenschützklamm gorge has been declared a natural monument and can be visited during the summer.
Walking through the gorge over wooden bridges and steps, you can admire beautiful waterfalls and bizarre rock formations, as well as rare plants and animals. You then deviate over the Hochlantsch peak, where you can discover the Schüsserlbrunn wooden shrine, which can be reached via stairs. From the Hochlantsch, you then reach the Teichalm lake, where you can admire an extraordinarily gentle landscape, in stark contrast to the rugged environment of the Bärenschützklamm.
Last on the list, but certainly not the least important of things to see in Styria, is Riegersburg Castle. It is located in the east of the region, built on top of a volcanic rock to protect the area from invaders. You can reach it laboriously on foot, or comfortably using a modern glass elevator-funicular. Inside, you can admire the museum of the Leichtenstein family, who still own it today, and the curious Witches’ Museum, which showcases the persecution of women accused of witchcraft during the Middle Ages.
Known to be an impregnable fortress, so much so that for some it is “the strongest fortress in Christendom”, Riegersburg Castle is definitely one of the most interesting attractions in Styria. Visit it from afar so that you can photograph it in its entirety, sitting on the volcanic rock hill in all its splendour.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article