Planning a visit to the beautiful city of Graz? This city travel guide will show you the best things to do in Graz with recommendations on where to stay, what to eat and tips on how to have the best time in Austria’s second-largest city. Ready to check out what to do in Graz? Let’s go…
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The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Graz is the juxtaposition of old and new, traditional and modern, elegance and quirk.
Magnificent buildings with pastel coloured stucco facades and the cobbles of the historical old town contrast with edgy, futuristic design and modern architecture just steps away.
In 2003 Graz was named European Capital of Culture and in 2011 was awarded UNESCO City of Design status. The two awards complement both each other and the city of Graz perfectly. Graz old town is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site along with Eggenberg Palace.
Graz is a hip, happening, university town with a Mediterranean feel thanks to its location in the south of Austria. It’s the capital of Styria and has its own authentic vibe quite unlike any other Austrian city.
Graz is also Austria’s culinary capital and the perfect place for food lovers. You’ll discover a fabulous array of excellent food served up in cool restaurants, street stall and authentic eateries tucked away in quiet courtyards and lively squares.
Read more: A food lover’s guide to Graz, Austria
Where is Graz?
Graz is the capital of Styria (Steiermark) in the South East of Austria about 95 miles (155 km) to the south west of Austria’s capital, Vienna. It’s the second largest city in Austria but is often overlooked in favour of Vienna, Innsbruck and Saltzburg.
The best things to do in Graz, Austria
It’s Sunday morning in Graz and the city’s slowly waking. I head to the heart of Graz and the main square. The church bells peal as two monks cross the Hauptplatz. Their heavy brown robes swish around their ankles as they saunter but there’s no hurry. Graz is all about slow travel.
People don’t appear to rush in this laid back city. It’s my last day and I’m out early to savour the city as it wakes and revisit some of the best things to do in Graz. Later I’ll leave for Styria’s wine region and a taste of the south Styrian wine road.
Hang out in Hauptplatz – Graz Main Square
Hauptplatz is the main square of Graz and it’s one of the best places to start exploring because all the main attractions are within easy walking distance from this hub in the heart of the city.
The Historic Centre of Graz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Hauptplatz is home to some of the most impressive historical buildings and colourful stucco facades. A large fountain, monument to Archduke Johann, presides over the centre of the square.
I defy you to resist the tempting smell of hot wurscht wafting over from the nearby food stalls. The ones on Standl 5 dipped in mustard and horseradish are particularly good.
Markets and executions once took place in Hauptplatz but now it’s where the Graz Christmas markets, events and gatherings take place.
The impressive Rathaus (Graz Town Hall) flanks the south side of the square and the nearby Biedermeier houses are beautiful to look at.
Read more: Discovering the south Styrian wine road
Check out the Baroque Houses on Herrengasse
The colourful Baroque buildings across the square along Herrengasse will instantly draw the eye. At the corner of Sporgasse is a gorgeous Luegghaus now home to the Swarovski shop.
The eye-catching building with its elaborate stucco façade and mouldings was built in the 13th century. If you look closely you can make out faces in the patterns of leaves and flourishes.
Shop on Herrengasse
Herrengasse is an elegant pedestrian shopping street lined with ornate mansions and historic buildings. Rumbling green trams traverse the street and behind gateways ornate courtyards and small alleyways house coffee shops, bakeries and cafes.
Check out the Painted House
Wander in and out of ancient courtyards as you head further down Herrengasse. You’ll soon come to the Herzoghof building aka the Painted House. Baroque painter Johann Mayer added the frescos in 1742. An original form of street art perhaps?
Discover the courtyard at Grazer Landhaus
On the opposite side of the street check out the first Renaissance building in Graz. Step into the courtyard at Grazer Landhaus, the seat of the Styrian government.
Beautiful Italianate windows, open arched corridors and an impressive three storey arcade make this courtyard a must-see stop and one of the most beautiful buildings in Graz. Be sure to check out the historic fountain and faun statue which is next to the staircase.
Step through the arches where you’ll find the panther, the heraldic symbol of Styria painted on the old green wooden doors. There’s a small cafe there which serves good coffee.
Climb the Schlossberg
The energetic can climb the 260 steps which lead to the clock tower, enjoying the gardens en-route. It takes around 15-minutes, or more you make frequent photo stops of the stunning city views.
Local people use the steps to keep fit. One guy running up and down the steps tells me he does this ten times each morning to keep fit. Nothing amazing about that until he whispered that he’s 73. And he’s not even breathless.
Check out Uhrturm Clock Tower
The clock tower is the city’s emblem and one of the oldest buildings in Graz. It sits at the top of the Schlossberg, which locals call the mountain, looking down over the Old Town. It’s one of the top things to do in Graz and from there the views of the old town of Graz and city are spectacular.
The clock dates back to the sixteenth century and has a quirky feature. The hands are in reverse with the long hand pointing to the hour and the short hand to the minutes.
The clock started out with just a long hand to indicate the hours which could be seen from a distance. The minute hand was added later but had to be shorter to fit within the clock face.
There’s a public park around the clock tower with beautiful gardens. It’s is a lovely spot for a picnic or a walk with fabulous city views.
See the Bastion
Climb higher up Schlossberg along the western path to see the remains of the citadel. It’s from here that the city defended itself from from the Magyars and then the Ottoman Turks. The Bastion is a 16th and 17th-century building overlooking the city with a guardhouse that is home to a military museum.
It was the French that ultimately defeated Graz and Napoleon ordered the citadel to be destoyed but there are still some remains to be found.
They’re worth seeing and will give you an insight into the history of Graz.
If steps aren’t your thing take the elevator to the top. Explore the artsy tunnel inside the hill lined with neon installations. The Schlossberg lift costs €2,40 per person and is the easiest way of getting up the mountain. There’s also a funicular to take you up.
Schlossberg has seen recent history as well as old. The network of tunnels in the hill were used to shelter the residents of Graz during WWII. Nowadays they house a nightclub.
Slide back down to the old town
Getting back down Schlossberg hill is a whole lot easier. And quirkier. Just slide down the world’s tallest underground slide.
This crazy slide is 64m tall, 175m long and spirals down the elevator shaft back to the bottom of the hill in around 40 seconds going at speeds up to 30 km/h. The Slide Graz costs €6,00 plus €2,40 for the lift.
So, we’ve covered a bit of culture and we’ve discovered some Graz quirk, so I guess you’re wondering what the close encounter entails. It’s of the third kind. Say hello to the ‘friendly alien’.
Kunsthaus Graz – meet the friendly alien
A bulging blue bubble of a building sits by the Mur River in the trendy Gries and Lend districts of Graz. Looking like a grounded airship, the roof on this futuristic building has strange nozzles reaching out to the skies. In search of the mother ship or busy generating solar power perhaps? Graz and the surrounding area is big on sustainability.
Kunsthaus Graz is the city’s modern art museum, referred to by locals as the ‘Friendly Alien’, and built in 2003 to coincide with the city’s year as European City of Culture.
Temporary exhibitions take place on the first floor displaying comtemporary art that questions society and asks what art should be. The top floor has a viewing gallery which looks out over the city and on the ground floor is a shop selling a range of good books and design inspired gifts.
Kunsthaus Café, Graz also on the ground floor, serves up good, healthy food and cakes in a lively atmosphere.
To fully appreciate the design of Kunsthaus Graz head to the Clocktower on the hill for views of the glinting blue bubble emerging from the sharp angles of terracotta rooftops.
See Graz City Crown
A visit to St Gile’s Gothic cathedral and the area around it is the is one of the best things to do in Graz and it’s free. The area is known as Graz City Crown and includes the cathedral, the mausoleum, the old university and the castle.
Visit Graz Cathedral
St Giles cathedral (Grazer Dom) was erected in the 1400s by Emperor Frederick III during Graz’s time as an Imperial City. It was later renovated in the Baroque style in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
The understated exterior of the cathedral belies the ornate interior. It’s combination of Gothic architecture and Baroque furnishings with its high vaulted ceilings are spectacular. Add to that its collection of relics, high altar and paintings make it well worth visiting.
On the outside wall near to the mausolem is the ‘Gottesplagenbild’ or the ‘God plague picture’ . Dating from 1485 the Gothic fresco shows Graz visited by pestilence, the Turks, and a plague of locusts.
Stop at Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II
Kaiser Ferdinand II commissioned his tomb whilst living in Graz during his reign of Inner Austria. This beautiful building is next door to the cathedral and well worth a visit.
Climb the bell tower for views over the town and look down on the crypt through a grill in the floor. It’s not Ferdinand II lying in the striking red marble sarcophagus, his mother Maria of Bavaria got that honour, the Emperor rests behind a plain tablet on the wall.
Climb the double spiral staircase
Graz Burg near to the mausoleum is an old palace known for its stone double spiral staircase or Doppelwendeltreppe in German. I love saying that out loud!
Pass through the unassuming wooden door and ahead of you the stairs split and head off in opposite directions. They re-join as they spiral upwards. Completed in 1438 by order of Emperor Frecerick III it’s also known as the Staircase of Reconciliation because even if you go separate ways you’ll eventually reunite.
Located within the Burg (Castle), the staircase is one of the city’s most important historic buildings.
Take in the views at Kastner & Öhler
This pretty view is a must-see during your visit to the city and is a Graz hidden gem despite being in plain sight.
The location of this special place might surprise you. Head up to the rooftop restaurant at Kastner & Öhler department store and step out onto the viewing platform for some of the best views of the city.
Take in the terracotta rooftops, the beautiful architecture of the historical old town and Uhrturm clock tower sitting at the top of Schlossberg. Have a coffee while you’re there or stop for lunch.
The viewing platform is free to visit even if you’re not stopping to eat.
Pick up a pastry at Hofbäckerei Edegger-Tax
Pick up a pastry at Hofbäckerei Edegger-Tax, the oldest bakery in Graz. The bakery, which was founded in 1569, is probably just as well known for its striking façade as it is for its delicious breads and pastries. Grab a pumpkin seed and vanilla croissant before you leave.
Discover Murinsel – the Island in the Mur
During the day the glass of an artificial island glints in the sunshine linking the banks of the River Mur one side to the other. The steel and glass bridge is actually a floating island and another Graz design feature. Could it get any cooler? Well, yes actually – this is Graz after all.
At night the Mur Island shell shaped structure glows blue, pink and green, the coloured lights reflecting on the river. The café is a great place for coffee and cake or evening cocktails. The amphitheatre makes the perfect performance and event space.
See the dancers at Glockenspiel Platz
Stop for a coffee in one of the cafes in Glockenspiel Platz and keep an eye on the two small doors under the ornate clock. As the bells begin to ring in the iron roof turret, two wooden figures, a man and a woman, emerge dancing from the doors of the musical clock.
Dressed in Styrian national costume they dance in time to the carillon. When the bells stop the golden cockerel raises his wings in salute. It’s a charming way to while away a few minutes in the beautiful square. You can catch the pirouetting pair daily at 11:00, 15:00 and 18:00 hours.
Try local flavours at Kaiser Josef Market
This is the largest of 17 farmers’ markets in Graz and it’s worthing visiting for some local flavour. The market stalls offer fresh produce which is regional and seasonal from local farmers, small-holdings and producers. Cheeses, fruit, vegetables, meats and fresh flowers can be bought here.
It’s good place to stop for a coffee, fruit juice or snack in one of the small market cafes. If you like people watching this is the perfect place and Graz opera house stands as a beautiful backdrop to Kaiser-Josef-Platz.
Discover the Courtyards of Graz
Behind the gateways and alleyways of Graz’s Old Town you’ll find over 50 courtyards tucked out of sight. Many have arcades and arches, some are tiny, others are rather grand but they’re all part of Graz’s UNESCO World Heritage designation.
I’ve discovered quite a few during my visits to Graz, some are home to cute cafes and restaurants, others house small markets or are venues for events. Whatever their purpose these hidden courtyards in Graz are always a pleasure to discover.
See the Styrian Armoury
The Styrian Armoury was created between 1642-47 and contains an outstanding 32,000 pieces of armoury and weaponry from the 15th to the 18th century. It’s the largest historic armoury in the world and one of the most significant. The Styrian Armoury is housed in the Landeszeughaus and guided tours are recommended to make the most of your visit.
Schloss Eggenberg to give it its German name is a must-do on your visit to Graz. The Baroque palace is part of Graz’s UNESCO World Heritage site and she’s a beauty. Note that visits to the state rooms are by guided tour only.
I didn’t have time for the guided tour on my flying visit to the palace but it’s the first thing I’ll be doing when I go back to Graz. Check the palace website for tour times and dates.
I wandered the beautiful park surrounding the palace where peacocks roam and flowers bloom. I also peeked in at the courtyard which is gorgeous. The building dates from 1625 and parts of it are themed on measurements of time.
There are 365 rooms on each floor with 24 state rooms which are entered through 52 doors. 60 windows look out onto the universe inspired grounds. Four towers crown each corner of the palace. I can see why Eggenberg is held close to Austrian hearts.
Getting around Graz
The best way to get around Graz is on foot because everything is within easy walking distance. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes or trainers.
Public transport is good and the trams are an excellent option because Graz’s Old Town trams are free for journeys in the city center. Doesn’t get much better than that!
The Old Town Tram is free of charge, all day, seven days a week between Hauptplatz and Jakominiplatz plus an additional stop in each direction. For example to Schlossbergplatz or to Kunsthaus. It’s free for trams (and replacement buses) on lines 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 23.
Where to stay in Graz
I stayed at the utterly gorgeous Grand Hotel Wiesler. The hotel, in the Old Town, is within short walking distance of all the above Graz attractions and sits opposite the Franciscan Church with great views of the river Mur.
My room, which overlooked the river, was light and airy with unusual features like exposed plaster, a gorgeous glazed wash basin and glass-tiled shower. Little touches like a pot of sweets by the bed and delicious smelling toiletries added to the luxe.
A hotel breakfast is important to me and Wiesler got it spot on with a fabulous hot and cold buffet accompanied by excellent coffee. The décor in the Speisesaal restaurant is an Instagrammer’s heaven and doubles up as a bar in the evening with cool DJ sounds and a decent range of cocktails.
Bicycles can be hired from the hotel and there’s a sauna and small rooftop gym. Grand Hotel Wiesler is Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘s favourite hotel in the city and he always stays here when he visits Graz. If it’s good enough for Arnie…
Where to eat in Graz
Graz is the culinary capital of Austria so if you love good food then Graz’s food scene has it covered. From farmers markets to gourmet restaurants and everything in between you’ll find excellent, locally sourced food served with thoughtfulness and flair.
For traditional Austrian food then head for Glöcklbräu in Glockenspiel Platz. Here you’ll find authentic Austrian food like Backhendl which is breaded, deep-fried chicken, a popular Austrian dish since the eighteenth century. Käsespätzle was another favourite of mine – like mac ‘n cheese with crispy onion on top. Wash it down with refreshing Glöckl Bräu local beer or a glass of crisp white Austrian wine.
Aiola im Schloss – The Tavern
For something special visit Aiola im Schloss set in a beautiful location with fountains and gardens. The Tavern, a contemporary restaurant serves excellent regional specialities. The restaurant is about a ten minute drive outside of Graz. Its sister restaurant, Aiola Upstairs, sits at the top of the Schlossberg in Graz where you can eat with panoramic views over the city.
Kunsthaus Café is located in the ‘rumbling belly of the alien’ and serves up breakfast, brunch and burgers or coffee and cake to eat in or take away.
Day trips from Graz
Head just a few miles out of Graz and you’ll find more Austrian delights to explore. All the following are just a short car, tram or train journey away from the city centre and make for an excellent day trip.
The South Styrian Wine Road
Imagine a road winding through the beautiful South Styria landscape of green rolling hills and endless vineyards. That’s the South Styria Wine Road.
Just 45-minutes’ drive south of Graz, you can stop off at the wineries and sample some stunning Austrian wines and authentic local foods like Buschenschank, Backhendl and Styrian pumpkin seed oil.
The Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum in Thal
The childhood home of Arnold Schwarzenegger is now a museum dedicated to his life and it’s off the scale in terms of quirk and a must see for Arnie fans.
There’s a room dedicated to each of his careers; political, movie star, body builder and his time in the army. Some rooms remain as they were in his childhood.
Did I mention the giant-sized transformers in the garden…?
Lipizzaner Stud Farm, Piber
The Lipizzaner Stud Farm in Piber is a must visit if you’ve seen the horses perform at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Even if you haven’t it makes for a fascinating half day-trip from Graz. Now that I’ve visited the stud farm a Lipizzaner performance in Vienna is high on my wish list.
The tour is excellent and highly recommended. We visited the stables and got up close to some of the studs and saw the foals in with the mares.
I learned how the Lipizzaner almost became extinct, how the mares are chosen for breeding and how the foals are always born dark brown and change to white as they grow. However, this year a white foal was born which makes him very special little horse.
Set in beautiful countryside with a Baroque palace in the grounds there’s a museum, café and visitor centre with a shop. Piber is around an hour from Graz. For information on opening times, prices and how to get to Piber from Graz check the Lipizzaner Stud Farm website.
How to get to Graz
There are currently no direct flights to Graz from the UK but there are many connections from nearby airports close to Austria. The quickest connections are from Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Vienna, or Stuttgart with Austrian Airlines.
Lufthansa fly from Munich, KLM from Amsterdam or you can travel with Easyjet from Berlin. There are other routes being added all the time.
Another option would be to take a two-centre trip and spend time in Vienna and Graz and take the train or bus between the two. It’s less than a 2-hour journey.
Check my favourite flight site Skyscanner to see what would work for you.
Frequent trains and buses run from the airport to Graz. Click here for timetables. The train station in Graz is about half an hour’s walk from Hauptplatz or a short cab ride.
Flixbus is a cheap and easy way to travel from Vienna to Graz. Buses run every 2 hours.
Train travel is quicker with direct trains every hour from Vienna to Graz.
Read more about Austria
I was in Graz to attend the Propel Conference. Many thanks to Captivate Digital Media and Graz Tourism who provided all travel, accommodation and meals both in Graz and further afield in Styria. All views, opinions and newfound love of Backhendl are entirely my own and I retain full editorial rights to write whatever I choose.