If you’re asked to think of places in Austria for a holiday or city break, chances are (like me) you’ll think of Vienna, Salzburg or the Tirolean Alps. Well, please allow me to introduce you to GRAZ! Located in south Austria (map) near the border with Slovenia, Graz is Austria’s second-largest city, and until recently, completely off my radar as a tourist destination. As I did my pre-trip research, I was surprised to discover that this university city is actually the unique holder of two distinct titles: a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as a UNESCO City of Design. After spending several days there, I was convinced: Graz is a fabulous city break destination which should be on every traveller’s radar! Here are ten things to do in Graz, Austria (I’ve also included a list of my favourite restaurants in Graz):
Things to do in Graz, Austria
1. Stroll around and soak up the cool vibes
The best thing to do in Graz is to simply stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. Wandering around, I became increasingly conscious of a unique vibe in the city; as I observed the people, I couldn’t help but notice a certain ‘joie de vivre’, something I found very appealing. I sensed it everywhere: from the alfresco cafés, bustling markets and hip coffee shops to local designer stores and deli’s. Wherever I looked, I found people enjoying fabulous food and wines at outdoor terraces. Add to that, gorgeous 16th century Italian Renaissance architecture and I really felt like I was in the Mediterranean! Read more about architecture in Graz.
Start your stroll at the Hauptplatz and explore the streets, alleys and courtyards around Herrengasse and Schmiedgasse. From the Hauptplatz, stroll along the Sporgasse and the Hofgasse streets towards the Dom (Cathedral), Burgring and the Stadtpark (City Park). Then slowly make your way down to the Oper (Opera House) and further to the Joanneumsviertel (a square surrounded by the Art and Natural History museums and the Styrian Library).
Just off the Hauptplatz, in the Sackstrasse, you’ll notice the Kastner & Ölner department store. It’s a great place to shop but head up to the sixth floor to the Freiblick rooftop café. You can stop here for lunch or drinks with a beautiful view of Graz.
From here, cross the Mur River to explore the hipster neighbourhoods such as the Annen Quarter and the Mariahilferstrasse. Drop by at the lively Farmers Market at Lendplatz (in the mornings from Monday to Saturday) and have a coffee/drink/snack at one of the cool cafés such as Die Süsse Luise. Another farmers market which is worth a visit is at Kaiser Josef Platz, behind the Opera House.
You can also opt to go on a cool 2.5 hour Polaroid photo walking tour of Graz.
2. Head to the Schlossberg for panoramic views
The Schlossberg (Castle Hill) towers above the cityscape and is home to Graz’s famous icon, the Uhrturm or Clock Tower. You can take an elevator or the stairs from Schlossbergplatz, or the funicular railway. Once you’re up there, you’ll have a stunning panoramic view of the city, and you can also visit the castle.
Here’s a challenge for you: look at the Clock Tower and try to figure out the time! Hehe! While you’re here, drop by at Schlossberg Biergarten (Beer Garden) or Aiola Upstairs café/restaurant for a drink/meal and fabulous views.
3. Indulge in the food scene
Graz is blessed with a hinterland that is marked by small-scale agriculture that delivers top-notch produce. The fifteen Styrian culinary regions supply Graz with meat, fish, fruit and vegetables; it’s no wonder that Graz is recognised as the Culinary Capital of Austria! For such a small city, the culinary scene sure is vibrant and varied, from centuries-old deli’s to street stalls, wine bars, cosy traditional restaurants and their contemporary cousins. Whatever you choose, you’ll be treated to terrific local food and wines! Here are some of my recommended restaurants, eateries and wine bars in Graz:
Speisesaal (located in Hotel Wiesler, this gorgeous restaurant serves contemporary cuisine with a Middle Eastern touch).
Der Steirer (this popular deli/restaurant serves typical Styrian fare tapas-style! Don’t miss the bäckhendl or fried chicken!).
Visit the Landhauskeller (Schmiedgasse 9 in the city centre) for fabulous cocktails and superb local cuisine in a contemporary yet cozy ambiance. There’s a casual bar in the beautiful courtyard and an excellent bar/restaurant indoors for cocktails and food. I recommend making a reservation as this is a popular place. If you love salads, order the Mixed Salad – the freshness of the leaves and the changing flavours and textures as you dig deeper into the bowl are fantastic!
And during the asparagus season, you definitely have to order the asparagus and salmon! And the schnitzel is terrific too!
PARKS Art (A cool organic vegan café/restaurant situated directly behind Hotel Wiesler).
Guttmann (stall no. 3 at Hauptplatz. An excellent place to try a variety of sausages).
Frankowitsch (a popular café/restaurant that serves terrific Austrian-style pintxos/tapas).
Eis-Greissler (this cute ice-cream shop in the Sporgasse serves arguably the best ice-cream in Graz!).
Hofbäckerei Edegger-Tax (this bakery in the Hofgasse can trace its history back to 1569 and was the official baker of the House of the Habsburgs. Behind its exquisite façade is a mouthwatering collection of breads, cookies and cakes).
Gasthaus Stainzerbauer (the oldest restaurant in Graz serves gorgeous local specialties in cosy surroundings. Ask if you can visit the wine cellar!).
Aiola Upstairs (located atop Schlossberg, this restaurant with an outdoor terrace boasts beautiful views of Graz and a varied contemporary menu).
Sterz im Mohrenwirt (located in the Mariahilferstrasse, this traditional restaurant serves terrific Austrian food and wines).
s’Auenbrugger (this lovely wine bar across the street from the Kunsthaus has a fabulous collection of local wines).
You can also take a taxi to Schloss Sankt Veit or St. Veit Castle just outside the city centre. Located atop a little hill, this 19th century castle is a popular wedding venue but many people come here to have a few drinks at its alfresco bar or a meal in its restaurant, Aiola im Schloss.
4. Look for local products and designs
Graz is a dream for shoppers who love vintage and designer goods. The main shopping areas can be found in the city centre around Hauptplatz and Herrengasse. If you’re interested in local products (from liquors to jams) or an authentic souvenir, visit ‘s Fachl, located in an alley off Herrengasse. In this shop, local producers hire a box to showcase their products!
Graz is also famous for its design shops which sell a big variety of fashion accessories, clothing, bags, shoes, interior decoration and furniture. Check out Tag.werk and Kwirl in the Mariahilferstrasse, and Heidenspass in the Griessgasse. Look out for the ‘heart-on-a-hand’ sign which signify a Charity Design Shop. These shops sell upcycled bags, recycled fashion and home decorations from youth employment projects.
5. Visit the ‘Friendly Alien’
Locals call it the ‘friendly alien’. I’m not sure what to call it. Haha! In any case, a visit to the quirky Kunsthaus Graz (Art House), with its funky exhibitions, is a must. When you’re done, head to the laid-back Kunsthaus Café for a drink and a bite. The Kunsthaus, with its characteristic blue skin, is also a treat to see at night when it dazzles passers-by with a light show.
6. Climb the double-spiral staircase
I’m a big fan of spiral staircases, and taking photos of them. The 15th century double-spiral staircase (located inside the Burg, the offices of the regional government) is one of the most unique specimens I’ve ever seen! Locals call it the ‘stairs of reconciliation’ because if you choose to go in opposite directions, you’ll meet each other again on the next level. This staircase was definitely one of my highlights in Graz!
7. Chill in the Stadtpark or at the River Mur
After all that exploring, take a break in the leafy Stadtpark (and look out for Hansi, the city’s famous squirrels) or go for a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Mur River, a very relaxing thing to do in Graz.
In the spring/summer months, both places are full of locals out for a jog or a walk, or sipping on a cold beer/cocktail. If you choose a stroll along the river, visit the Murinsel, a futuristic building built on an island in the river. This building houses a café and art exhibitions.
8. Get your caffeine fix
The coffee scene in Graz is another element which makes this city so cool! Some of the coffee shops I visited include Tribeka (next to Hotel Wiesler), Grand Café Kaiserfeld (with a special corner dedicated to the city’s most famous citizen: Arnold Schwarzenegger!) and the Ducks Coffee Shop (yes, with a vivid duck theme)!
9. Visit the Eggenberg Palace
Located a 15-minute tram ride away from the city centre (take line 1 from Hauptplatz), Schloss Eggenberg (or Eggenberg Palace) is one of Austria’s historic gems and the most important baroque palace in Styria. In 2010, Schloss Eggenberg was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.
The most intriguing aspect about this palace is the role of astronomy in its design. The Planetary Room is the palace’s grandest whilst Japanese visitors will be fascinated by the ancient scenes of Osaka in one of the smaller rooms (apparently the only visual representation of Osaka before the great siege that destroyed the old city in 1615. While you’re there, stroll around the resplendent palace gardens and look for the peacocks! Read about my visit to Schloss Eggenberg.
10. Drive the South Styrian Wine Road
The countryside around Graz is home to one of the leading wine-producing areas in the country. Less than an hour’s drive outside Graz, you’ll find the South Styrian Wine Road, a touristic wine route that curls its way around the gorgeous hilly winelands. Expect green rolling hills, mile after mile of vineyards, picturesque villages, wine taverns and lovely, family-owned hotels and inns. This wine route makes for a great day-trip from Graz or you can even stay a few days longer to explore the region.
There it is… my recommended things to do in Graz! This list is by no means exhaustive and you’ll soon discover many more delights in this cool city. Check out my suggested two-day Graz itinerary, that’s perfect for a weekend visit.
Where to stay in Graz
I stayed at the Hotel Wiesler, situated alongside the Mur River, and just steps away from the Kunsthaus and several minutes from Hauptplatz. The lobby features an intriguing art piece hanging from the ceiling and the Speisesaal restaurant next door (where breakfast is served) is absolutely gorgeous!
My room looked fairly spartan when I entered but I quickly noticed the various handy amenities, including a pair of binoculars to enjoy the view. It certainly was spacious, had a very comfortable bed and offered a beautiful view of the river and the historic centre of Graz.
Another hotel I stayed at is Aiola Living in the heart of the city. This boutique hotel offers luxurious rooms in renovated historic buildings in the city centre.
For more information on what to do in Graz, visit the website of Graz Tourism. Should you choose to visit Graz (and I recommend you do), drop by the Graz Tourism office in Herrengasse 16 and pick up your free copy of arguably one of the coolest city maps I’ve ever seen! Or download it here.
Check out my itinerary for a short stay in Graz.
Note: my trip to Graz was part of the #EuroCityTrip campaign organised by iambassador with Graz Tourism. As always, all views mentioned above are mine, and mine only.