Graz Panorama from Schlossberg Hill Grac

Graz – explore the charming Austrian town

Graz is the second-largest city in Austria.
Nestled at the foot of the Schlossberg Hill and along the Mur River,
this medieval town is the perfect place for a weekend getaway.

Graz Panorama

Graz panorama

 

How to get to Graz

Graz is located in southeastern Austria, and it is the capital of the Styria province.
Generally, it is easy to get to the city in a few ways: by plane, train, bus or car.
First, an international airport (GRZ) connects Graz with Vienna (150 km distance) and the main European cities.
Then, it is connected by train with the major Austrian cities. For example, a one-way ticket from Vienna to Graz could cost 10-40 EUR, depending on time and station, and the ride lasts around 3 hours. Check the schedule here.

Graz is connected by Flixbus and Eurobus bus lines to many Austrian cities, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. From Serbia, you can get to the city by car, bus, or a mix of buses and planes, depending on your location. Also, a few tourist agencies organize weekend tours from Belgrade to Graz and Maribor, a Slovenian city, 50 km away.
There is public transportation in the city which includes trams and buses.

 

A few words about Graz’s history

It is believed that the oldest settlement dates back to the Copper age.

The city’s name Graz comes from the Slavic word “gradec”, which means “small castle”. The first mention was in 1128, and the city became the centre of the centre of Steiermark (Styria) during the Middle Ages.
Graz was the residence of the Habsburgs family after 1379. Hungarians and Ottomans were attacking it during the 15th-16th centuries. Also, it was under the Napoleone rule. In 1809, the French blew up a fortification on the Schlossberg Hill. But the Clock Tower and the Bell Tower on the hill survived because the people of Graz paid a ransom to the French and saved them from destruction.

During the 19th century and owing to Archduke Johann, the city developed rapidly. The city was partly destroyed during the bombing in 1945, but the old city was saved.

 

Graz today

There are 17 districts in the city and about 303.000 people live in Graz today.
Interestingly, the University of Graz was founded in 1585. Today it is the second largest university city after Vienna with over 60,000 students and eight universities. Students have good conditions for studying for years.
In various periods, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, Nikola Tesla, and Ivo Andrić lived and worked there.

 

 

What to see in one day in Graz

Generally, one or two days are enough to see and visit the most important attractions, depending on your interests. So make a plan and enjoy this charming city. 

Schlossberg Hill, Bell Tower and Clock Tower

The landmark of the city is Schlossberg Hill, 473 metres high. This dolomite rock is the city’s highest natural point, and from there is a breathtaking 360° panoramic view.

Three ways to climb to the Schlossberg hill

First, you can go on foot by 260 steps from the side of the hill.

Graz Schlossberg Hill

Stairs to the top of Schlossberg Hill

 

The second way is by a glass elevator inside the tunnel of the hill, and within 30 seconds, you arrive at the top.
The ticket fee is 2.20 EUR for adults and 1.6 EUR for children, every day from 8
AM to 00.30 AM.

Graz Schlossberg Hill Tunnel

Schlossberg Hill Tunnel

 

And the third way is the Schlossberg Funicular Railway which has operated since 1894.
The ticket fee is 3 EUR for adults and 1.5 EUR for children. It runs regularly every 15 minutes, and from the 1st of April, opening hours are
Monday to Thursday and Sunday/public holiday: 9 AM to midnight, Friday and Saturday: 9 AM – 2 AM.

Inside the hill, a system of tunnels built during World War served as air raid shelters. Some of them are used even today. Also, the musical Elevate Festival was held there (this year was from 28th February to 3rd March).

So, when you climb the hill, first you will see the new Graz Museum Schlossberg which is open all year.

By the way, the first fortifications date back to the 10th century. In around 1125, the Romanesque castle was built there. Then, the Italian architects expanded it into a long Renaissance fortress in the mid-16th century. The Royal Habsburgs family lived in Schlossberg Castle.
Later, the French demolished the castle, but only one part of the walls can be seen today.

Graz Schlossberg Hill Bastion

Schlossberg Hill Bastion

 

From 1839, this area was transformed into a public park. Today it is a perfect place to enjoy walking, relaxing in cafes, restaurants and a fascinating view of the city.

 

The Bell Tower

As I have already mentioned, the Bell Tower and the Clock Tower survived the French occupation.

The Bell Tower is 34m high and it was built in 1588. The “Liesl”, the largest bell in Styria weighs 4,632 kg and it is situated inside the tower.

Graz Schlossberg Hill Bell Tower

Schlossberg Hill, Bell Tower

 

Beside the Bell Tower, up until 1810, there was a St Thomas chapel, probably built in the 11th century. Today we can see the chapel ruins.

Graz Schlossberg St Thomas Chapel

Remains of the Schlossberg St Thomas Chapel

 

The Clock Tower

Strolling around, we came to the Clock Tower (Uhrturm), one of the city’s landmarks. First, it was a defensive tower in the 13th century. A wooden gallery was added on the top in 1560. It was transformed into a clock tower in 1569 and used to watch for fires in the city.

Graz Schlossberg Bell Tower

Bell Tower

 

Three clocks were made in 1712, and they are still working. Actually, they have been driven electronically since the middle of the 20th century. Three corners of the tower are decorated with coats of arms, which once decorated the gates and walls of the Schlossberg fortress.

Graz Schlossberg Hill Clock Tower

Clock Tower

 

The Chinese pavilion

An old Romanesque-covered terrace was replaced with the Chinese Pavilion, built in 1890. From this place, there is a beautiful view of the city and the Mur River.

Graz Schlossberg Chinese Pavilion

Schlossberg Chinese Pavilion

 

Old Town, Herrengasse and landmark buildings

The Old Town of Graz (Aldstadt) was inscribed in the UNESCO Heritage Site in 1999. Later in 2010, the castle Schloss Eggenberg was added to the list.

Houses and buildings in Graz’s old town are a mix of Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque architecture. It is one of the best-preserved city centres of Central Europe, and everything is within walking distance, which is perfect for exploring the city.

The Maria Column at the Iron Gate is located at one end of Herrengasse Street, the main street in the city. Emperor Leopold erected the statue in 1670, symbolising gratitude for the city’s protection from plague and Turkish invasions. At the top of the column is a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Graz the Statue

The Maria Column at the Iron Gate

 

Even if Herrengrasse is closed to traffic, take care of trams and bikes.

Graz Herrengasse Main Street

Herrengasse, the main street in Graz

 

Also, this is the main shopping street with various fashion brands, cafes and shops.

Graz Herrengasse Building

One of the beautiful Graz building

 

This street will impress you with its amazing architecture. The facades are painted in various colours, and they look stunning.

Graz Herrengasse Main Street

Colourful buildings in Herrengasse, a pedestrian street

 

Some of the facades are decorated with statutes, such as Saint Florian, the saint patron of firefighters.

Graz Herrengasse Street St Florian

St Florian statue, Herrengasse Street

 

One of the most interesting buildings is the Herzoghof House, also known as the Painted House or Gemaltes Haus.

Graz Herzoghof House with Frescos

Herzoghof house

 

First, it was painted in 1600, and then, the painter Johann Mayer made amazing frescos in 1742. Actually, it is completely covered with frescos of Greek and Roman Gods, such as Bacchus, Vulcan, Apollo, Jupiter, Mars, Minerva, etc. It looks amazing, isn’t it 🙂

Graz Herzoghof painted House

Graz Herzoghof-Painted house

 

The Hauptplatz and The Rathaus

Strolling around Herrengasse Street, we came to the Hauptplatz, the main square of Graz.

The Rathaus – City Hall is located in the southern part of Hauptplatz. Today’s construction was finished in 1893, replacing the previous City Hall from 1550. The building looks marvellous, and it dominates the square.

Graz Rathaus Grac

Rathaus, City Hall of Graz

 

During the Middle Ages, the Hauptplatz was the centre of public life and trading during fairs and markets. Usually, wealthy traders lived in this area in beautiful houses with decorated facades along narrow cobblestone streets.

In the square, you can find an Adler Apotheke, the oldest farmacy in Graz and Austria.

Graz Adler Apotheque

Adler Apotheke and colourful houses

 

And at the corner of Hauptplatz Square and Sporgasse Street, you can see two fantastic Luegg houses. Actually, it is one house built in the 13th century, but it has two parts with various decorations. The amazing stucco façade in Baroq style and mouldings of leaves and flourishes were made later. Today, the Swarovski shop is housed inside.

Graz Center Swarowski Building

Swarowski Building

 

Besides its huge role in trading, Hauptplatz was a place for public tortures and executions until the late 18th century.
But today, it is a place for meetings, a starting point to explore the city and for taking a break for a snack or drink on foot. Food trucks serve traditional hot wurst with mustard, schnitzel, sandwiches, maroni, local beers, vegetable juices and food, and various drinks.

Also, the Christmas market and various events are held in front of the City Hall.

Graz the Hauptplatz

Colourful houses in the Hauptplatz

 

 The Archduke Johann fountain

At the centre of the Hauptplatz, there is the fountain dedicated to Archduke Johann (1782-1859), known as the “Styrian prince”.  He was born in Florence and belonged to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, By the way, he had a huge impact on innovations of industrialization, agricultural development, education, trade and culture in Graz and the region of Styria.

Graz the Archduke Johann Fountain Grac

Graz, The Archduke Johann fountain

 

There are four female figures which surround his statue. They symbolise four rivers: Mur, Drava, Enns and Sann, which flew through the region of Styria in her old borders.

Graz the Archduke Johann Fountain with 4 Female Statutes

The Archduke Johann fountain with 4 female statutes: Mur, Enns, Drau and Sann

 

The Graz Parish Church (Stadtpfarrkirche) 

This catholic church, known as the Church of the Holy Blood is also located in Herrengase Street. It was built in 1440, then it was given to the Dominican Order, and it became a parish church in 1585.

the Graz Parish Church

The Graz Parish Church

 

Something is interesting about this church. During the bombing in World War II, the Gothic stained glass windows were destroyed. So, the Salzburg artist Albert Bickle got the job of making new windows with a theme of the resurrection of Christ. But his work caused a big scandal. In one small part, he painted Hitler and Mussolini among the tormentors of Jesus. It was the artist’s revenge on the Nazis because they condemned him as a degenerate artist.

Inside the Graz Parish Church

Inside the Graz Parish Church

 

Landhaus

One of the most famous buildings of the Renaissance style is the Landhaus, It was constructed in a few stages, starting from the 16th century, in the place of older city houses. Landhaus was used by the local rulers as a governmental headquarters.

Courtyard of the Landhaus Graz

Arcades of the Landhaus

 

Styrian Armoury Museum – Landeszeughaus

Landhaus was connected with the Zeughaus – Arsenal built between 1642 and 1645. Today it is the Styrian Armoury Museum, the world’s largest historical collection of late medieval and Renaissance weaponry.

Graz

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There are more than 32,000 pieces of various armour, swords, sabres,  cannons, muskets, helmets, pistols, etc, located on the four floors.

The entrance fee is 12  EUR for adults, students 5.5 EUR; children and teenagers under 19 with free access.
Opening time:  01.04.-31.10.2024, Tuesday-Sunday 10 AM- 6 PM, in other mounts 10 AM – 3 PM.
Guided tours are also possible (3 EUR additional).

And the Graz Tourist Information Center is situated in this building.

Graz Armoury Museum

Entrance to the Armoury Museum

 

Cathedral (German: Dom)

The Cathedral in Graz is also known as St. Giles’ Cathedral because it is dedicated to Saint Giles.

The church was built in 1438-62 by Friederick III. It was a royal church in Gothic style, but later, the Jesuits refurbished it in Baroque style in the 17th and early 18th centuries. By the way, it is the bishops and main church of the Catholics in Styria since 1786.

Graz Cathedral

Graz Cathedral

 

Interior of the Cathedral is stunning.

Graz Cathedral

Inside the Graz Cathedral

 

Interior of the Graz Cathedral

Stunning interior of the Graz Cathedral

 

Once the facades were covered with paintings and frescoes, but today only one fresco has been preserved. It is called “Plagues of God”, painted by Thomas Villach in 1485. The citizens paid for this fresco as a plea to God, because it referees a horrible year of suffering of locusts, the Ottomans and the Black Death plague.

Today it is one of the most important frescoes in Styria, covered by glass to protect it from destruction. It is a little bit hard to take photos because of the reflection, but it looks marvellous.

Graz Landplagenbild

Landplagenbild – Plague image

 

Next to the Cathedral, there is a Mausoleum of Ferdinand II, located in a beautiful temple, built in the 17th century.
Emperor Ferdinand II and his wife were buried there. Unfortunately, it is temporarily closed for a visit.

Graz Mausoleum

Mausoleum of Ferdinand II

 

The Burg and Double Spiral Stairs 

Across the Cathedral, you will see the Burg Castle, the official headquarters of the regional government.

The landmark of the Burg is a double-spiral staircase built in 1499. Actually, two flights of staircases are running in opposite directions, then they join for some steps on each floor, and separate again, and join again. Staircases look fascinating, and it is believed that they represent an eternity symbol. Also, they are known as the “stairs of reconciliation”, meaning, if you go separate ways, you will reunite.

Graz Burg Double Stairs

Double spiral stairs

 

The Burg Castle was constructed starting in 1438 as the Residence Castle. Graz became the capital of Inner Austria in 1564, and the castle was refurbished and enlarged. Over the centuries, there have been various renovations. In the middle of the 18th century, under Maria Theresia’s reforms, the Graz Castle became the seat of the provincial administration.

Graz Burg

Graz Burg

New buildings called the New Castle were added between 1950-1952. Today, visitors can access only the courtyards and double spiral stairs, because there are several departments of the Styrian provincial government are situated in the castle.

 

Mur Island – Murinsel

By the way, Graz was the Cultural Capital of Europe  in 2003, and because of it, Mur Island and the Kunsthaus Museum were built.

The Island of Mur is an artificial island connected by bridges with both banks of the Mur River.

Graz Mur Island

Mur Island, the view of the Mur Island from Schlossberg Hill

 

In fact, it is a floating steel platform in the shell-shaped, consisting of a cafe, restaurant, playground for kids and an open theatre. Murinsel was supposed to be only part of the manifestation, but locals and visitors liked it so much. So, it stayed until today and become one of the must-see places in Graz.

Graz Murinsel

Murinsel

 

When you cross the Erich Edegger Steg Pedestrian & Bicycle bridge, you are stepping into the other part of the city. And first, you will see the Church of Our Lady of Succor (Mariahilferkirche), among the houses with red roofs.

Graz Church Mariahilferkirche

Graz Church Mariahilferkirche

 

Museums and Opera in Graz

There are 19 various museums in the city, check here for more details.
By the way, the museum dedicated to the famous actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is located in his former childhood house, in Thal, close to Graz. But the most famous are the Armoury Museum and Kunsthaus Museum. 

 

Kunsthaus Graz

Kunsthaus is a Museum of Contemporary Art specialising in contemporary art from the 1960s onwards.

It is housed in a futuristic blue building next to the river Mur which can be perfectly seen from Schlossberg Hill.

Graz Kunsthaus the View from the Schlossberg Hill

The view of Kunsthaus from the Schlossberg Hill

 

Because of its specific architecture designed by English architects Colin Fournier and Sir Peter Cook, the locals call it the “Friendly Alien” 🙂 The building is covered with 1,066 acrylic glass elements. Light signals or written messages are emitted From its “BIX façade” in the evening and night.
Inside the museum, there is a museum shop, the Kunsthaus administration, Camera Austria (an institution devoted to photography), a restaurant and a media lounge.

Graz Kunsthaus

Graz Kunsthaus, the Friendly Allien

 

Kunsthaus opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, and public holidays: 10 AM – 6 PM.
The entrance fee is 12 EUR for adults: for students 19-25 the fee is 5.5 EUR, and it is free access for children.

Opera

Opera (Opernhaus) is located in a beautiful building in Neo-Baroque style. It was opened in 1899, and at the beginning, it served as a municipal theatre and for concerts. This is the second-largest opera house in Austria.

Graz Opera

Graz Opera

 

Next to the Opera, there is a modern sculpture “Light Sword” made of steel and 54m high.
Originally it was made for the festival in 1992, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. So, the opera “Amerika” by Roman Haubenstock-Ramati was performed in the Opera house. The libretto based on a text by Franz Kafka inspired the Graz artist Hartmut Skerbisch to create this “Statue of Liberty” with a sword and globe.

Graz Statue Light Sword

Statue Light Sword

 

Where to stay in Graz

You can find various accommodations in Graz, from hostels and apartments to all categories of hotels. Choose one which is best for your interests as well as your budget.

Best hotels in Graz: Palais Hotel Erzherzog Johann, Grand Hôtel Wiesler Graz, Schlossberghotel – Das Kunsthotel, Aiola Living Graz, Hotel Das Weitzer, Parkhotel Graz, etc.

Graz Palais hotel Erzherzog Johann

Palais-Hotel Erzherzog Johann, in the centre of Graz

 

Where to eat in Graz

When I asked my friend Karl who lived in Graz, where to eat, he gave me a list with many restaurant names! Indeed, there are many places where you can take a break and enjoy coffee, desserts, local Styrian wine and dishes.       

So it is not surprising that Graz was the City of Culinary Delights in 2008. Some of the best restaurants are El Gaucho (Landhaus), Dreizehn by Gauster, Zur Goldenen Birn (Park Hotel), Peppino im Hofkeller, Der Steirer, etc.

But if you don’t have much time and your budget is limited, you can always find delicious sandwiches and pastries in bakeries. You can taste traditional sausages, Asian food or maroni on the Hautzpalst food trucks, as well.

By the way, the oldest bakery in town is Hofbäckerei Edegger-Tax Baker founded in 1569. This bakery still uses traditional baking techniques, making delicious Austrian bread, pastries, cakes, and the famous pumpkin seed and vanilla croissant.

I was impressed by what the wooden carved facade looks like in its original form from 1896. In 1883, they supplied pastries for the imperial court when Emperor Franz Joseph was in Graz. So the owner got the decree of title and the right of using the coat of arms of Austria-Hungary with a double-headed eagle. Today, this coat of arms can be seen on the oak portal which attracts the visitor’s attention.

Graz the Hofbäckerei Edegger tax Bakery

The Hofbäckerei Edegger-tax Bakery

 

Why Graz should be on your travel list

Well, the old town of Graz is worth visiting. The main square Hautzplast with stunning decorated houses, Schlossberg Hill, delicious food and wine, rich history, museums, a Christmas market and various events are perfect reasons to spend one or more days.

If you have enough time, you can visit more locations close to Graz, such as the Austrian Alps, Vienna, the Slovenian cities Maribor and Ljubljana, or a fairy-tale like Bled Lake.

 

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Natania
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