Graz, the capital of Styria and Austria’s second largest city, is strongly attached to its traditions but is not afraid to be daring. In its historic centre, baroque, renaissance and jugendstil buildings, medieval charm and contemporary avant-garde styles coexist harmoniously.
Crossed by the river Mur and rich in green parks, it is a city that offers many opportunities for pleasant walks, while the shops in the centre are perfect for an afternoon of shopping; Graz is also a university town with a lively nightlife.
In 2003, Graz was the first Austrian city to be declared the European Capital of Culture, an occasion for which the best international talents were commissioned to design two works that reshaped the city’s profile, projecting it into a future of art and sustainability: the futuristic Kunsthaus and the bizarre Murinsel.
Pride in the past and confidence in the future are the hallmarks of this city that deserves more attention from European tourists: make a note of it because it is the ideal destination for a weekend full of things to see and do.
A walk through the centre of Graz is like a journey back in time, past Baroque and Renaissance buildings, bold works of contemporary architecture, quaint medieval streets and Jugendstil palaces. Some must-see attractions are located just outside the centre and are easily accessible by public transport.
Built over a thousand years ago, the castle that gives the city of Graz its name could be described more as a guardian of the city surrounded by greenery than a hilltop fortress. Look up to the overgrown hill beside the old city centre and you will see the city’s landmark Uhrturm tower, bastion, viewing terrace and restaurant sprouting here and there among the trees.
After admiring it from below, climb to the top of the Schlossberg hill, an oasis of greenery and relaxation a stone’s throw from the city. The view of Graz from Schlossberg is unbeatable: keep your camera handy.
If you are out of breath, you can walk up a steep flight of steps to an altitude of 473 metres and then perhaps rest on a bench admiring the view; easier and quicker is to take thelift or the ultra-modern funicular railway, and no one forbids you to sit back and relax even if you have gone up by public transport!
Schlossberg in the history of Graz
The name of Graz derives from the Slavic word Gradec, meaning ‘small castle’, with which Schlossberg was once called.
The citizens of Graz are so fond of the Uhrturm tower that they paid Napoleon a large sum of money, 2987 guilders, to save it during the French invasion of 1809.
If Schlossberg is the romantic image of Graz’s past, Kunsthaus is the emblem of its modernity and propensity for the future.
Dubbed by the locals as ‘the friendly alien’, it is the result of an ambitious contemporary architecture project by London architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier that saw the construction of a museum with an eccentric shape, vaguely resembling an enormous sea slug, in the heart of the old town, next to historical buildings of a completely different style. This surprisingly successful peaceful coexistence is one of the factors that makes Graz unique.
The Kunshtaus is one of the most modern museum venues in Europe: it hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary art of the highest quality and organises workshops, meetings, debates and other events.
But its distinguishing feature is its roof, the ultra-modern BIX media façade, which with its 930 phosphorescent lights is used as a gigantic art installation in the heart of the city.
Another extraordinary work of contemporary architecture is theartificial island on the river Mur, designed by New York architect Vito Acconci .
It is an ultra-modern steel structure in the middle of the river, connected to the two banks by pedestrian walkways, which includes a cafeteria, an outdoor event space and a children’s play area.
This work has revitalised the river, now much less polluted than in the past, and its connection with the city. It was supposed to be a temporary structure, to be sold to another city after 2003, the year Graz was European Capital of Culture, but the citizens fell in love with it and now the Murinsel is another identity symbol of modern Graz.
It is worth stepping out of the centre of Graz for a moment to reach the castle of Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg, the most important castle in the Styrian region.
It is a sumptuous Baroque palace built on an earlier Gothic building and designed as an allegory of the cosmos to indulge the prince’s desire for peace and harmony: there are numerous references to astronomy and astrology in its elegant rooms. It is interesting to take part in the guided tour to understand the complex symbolism of the decorations and to learn about the curiosities and eccentricities of the prince.
Schloss Eggenberg today houses a museum with four collections: art from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, prehistory, Roman antiquities and coins.
Today’s seat of the regional government is the Burg, a 15th-century palace that mixes elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Biedermeier styles, but what makes it so special is the wonderful double-helix staircase.
Let yourself be captivated by this ingenious optical illusion: the famous staircase actually consists of two separate staircases that rejoin at each floor and then separate and rejoin again on the next floor.
It will not be difficult for you to spot the Palais Saurau, with its magnificent ornamental Baroque portal, but it is above all the figure of the Turkish soldier peeking out from under the roof of the palace that attracts the attention of passers-by.
It’s even easier to work out which of Graz’s many splendid palaces is the Gemaltes Haus (Painted House), a building with walls decorated with scenes from Greco-Roman mythology and a total of 220 square metres of frescoes! Try your hand at recognising the gods depicted on the walls of this wonderful building: can you see Zeus? Bacchus? Mercury? Minerva? And who else?
Don’t miss the carillon show at Glockenspielplatz: three times a day, the colourful figures of a young man and a maiden in traditional costume decorating the top of a stately home come alive in time to music.
It is an exciting and sweet experience that will transport you nostalgically back in time. And if you come to Graz in another season, come back to see it because the music is changed five times a year!
The Graz Cathedral may seem modest compared to other impressive European cathedrals, but it is still worth a visit or at least a look from the outside to admire the famous fresco Scourge of God, which illustrates the difficult living conditions in Graz at the end of the 15th century.
Not far from the cathedral but decidedly more sumptuous is the Mausoleum of Ferdinand II, a monument in Mannerist-Baroque style designed in the 17th century by the Italian architect Giovanni Pietro de Pomis, an artist at court.
The mausoleum holds the remains of the emperor, who died in 1637, but what sticks out in visitors’ memories is the red sarcophagus containing the remains of his mother Maria of Bavaria.
Armour and weapons from the Middle Ages onwards you may have already seen, but nothing compares to seeing 30,000 of them under one roof! This is the impressive number of armours and weapons preserved at the Graz Armoury Museum, the largest museum of its kind in the world.
Housed in a five-storey building, it displays gleaming swords, spears, firearms, shields, complete suits of armour and many other objects used for defence or attack.
The Armoury Museum, like Schloss Eggenberg and Kunsthaus, is also part of the Universalmuseum Joanneum, an institution founded by Archduke John in 1811 that today runs 17 museums of all kinds in Graz and the surrounding area.
These include the Museum of Natural History, the Neue Galerie Graz dedicated to contemporary art and the Folk Life Museum, which exhibits everyday objects from the pre-industrial period.
Modern design hotels and city-apartaments, elegant hotels in historic buildings, traditional guesthouses and B&Bs, international chain hotels, simple and inexpensive room rentals: Graz’s hotel offer is extremely varied and you will have no trouble finding a place to sleep that suits your needs.
Graz has an international airport but offers few direct flights to European airports. In fact, it is only well connected with the main German cities (Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart) and with Amsterdam. Alternatively, you can fly to Vienna and from there take a train or bus to Graz.
What's the weather at Graz? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Graz for the next few days.