12 Reasons to visit Graz, Austria
On a fleeting visit in late 2015, Graz made a big impression, with its cultural highlights, medieval history, incredible food, historic courtyards and delightful hotels winning me over. Austria’s second largest city, and the capital of Styria, Graz was designated as a UNESCO City of Design – one of only 11 cities in the world to have that honour. There are many architectural highlights, including the Kunsthaus, MUMUTH, MP09 and the Murinsel, but you can see this forward thinking ethos everywhere you go. There are countless reasons to visit Graz – here are 12.
1. The Styrian Armoury
This incredible building houses the world’s largest collection of medieval armour and arms. With 32,000 pieces dating from the 1400s to the early 1800s over four floors, it will take a while but it is well worth a few hours of your time. How men, or horses for that matter, ever managed to go anywhere wearing this heavy, cumbersome armour is beyond me – let alone fought in it!
2. The Old Town
Wander down the cobblestoned in the Old Town and time will fly. Stroll down Sporgasse and shop at Giox, Swarovski, Schediwy, Opio or one of the many fashion boutiques. Wander down the picturesque Herrengasse, with beautiful buildings and a tempting array of everything from jewellery to designer labels. You can’t miss Hauptplatz, with its pretty facades and busy cafes ensuring a lively atmosphere.
3. The Schlossberg
While you can walk up the 260 steps to this imprenetrable fortress – even Napoleon couldn’t breach it – we chose to take the glass lift from inside the tunnel – built as air-raid shelters. Up the top the views over the city are spectacular and have a look at the 16th century belltower – it is visible from just about everywhere in town. If you have kids, they will love the Fairytale train that runs in the tunnels underneath, and the beautiful park on the top – perfect for a picnic, an icecream or just to run around and blow off steam.
4. Dine at the Aiolo Restaurant
Located at the Schlossberg, this restaurant offers great dining on the terrace or inside, but no matter where you sit the cuisine is divine.
5. The Island
This incredible piece of architecture is, in fact a vessel – held by an anchor and stabilized by the two footbridges connecting it to the river banks. It even has navigation lights. In the warmer months it would be a great place to have a drink, a coffee or watch some of the live music that takes place there.
6. Visit the Kunsthaus Graz
This unusual looking building – even its designers referred to it as the “friendly alien” – revitalised the part of the city on the other side of the Mur from the Old Town. They took the tired Eisernes Haus (Iron House) and gave it a thorough high-tech makeover complete with glowing blue roof. The Kunsthaus can even send light signals or written messages from its façade to the other side of the river. Inside, it houses international contemporary art that constantly changes but always entertains.
7. Have lunch at the Steirer
“Who eats his chicken alone, also must saddle his horse alone” – that French proverb is on the front of the menu and sets the tone for this fabulous restaurant, at the Weitzer Hotel. While I could have had the crispiest Backhendl – fried chicken in Graz, according to the menu, I had the Styrian turkey strips accompanied by a lovely local Pongratz sauvignon blanc – delightful. The Steirer Wine Shop is excellent – that fun vibe continues into the shop which sells local wines, vegetables, plants, gardening tools, schnapps, pumpkin seed oil, wellingtons and more.
8. The Double Spiral Staircase
Worth a look, this Gothic ‘staircase of reconciliation’ was built in 1499 – two flights of stairs, going in opposite directions and joining on each floor. It is quite beautiful.
9. Go to a market
There are 800 farmers around Graz, and they come into town to sell their flowers, fruit and vegetables themselves. There are more market days here than anywhere else in Europe and it is all so fresh. We picked up some fruit for our travels and then grabbed a coffee at one of the cafes nearby. Another popular market is the market at Kaiser-Josef-Platz Square. It is on every day except Sunday with Saturday the busiest.
10. Stay at the Hotel Wiesler
This property is uber cool – good value, fun, luxurious and very well located . The restaurant on site – the Speisesal – is excellent, there is a bike shop in the foyer which also hires out bikes, and they even have quirky postcards that they will send home for you – along with a polaroid photo of you. Just a little thing – but a lovely touch. The rooms are really lovely – mine had a great view over the Mur River – one day I watched a guy wake surfing while tied to the bridge. The river is very fast flowing and he did manage some decent, long rides before his arms gave out and he and his board washed down the river. I went to watch him for a while, standing on the bridge, which has thousands of locks on it – the locks stand for love.
We went by rail to Graz – a very easy, very enjoyable way to get around Austria. The new rail station leaves from the airport and whisks you around in style. It was three hours from Vienna to Graz and three hours 44 minutes approximately from Graz to Salzburg. I highly recommend the rail system.