25 Amazing Things To Do In Graz, Austria’s Second City

Austria

A comprehensive guide for the best things to do in Graz, Austria, with my recommendations on what to do and things to see in Austria’s second city.

Located in the southern Austrian region of Styria, Graz is one of the country’s hidden gems that is often overlooked in favour of places like Vienna and Salzburg.

But Graz is full of exciting things to do and discover. It is one of only two European cities to hold two UNESCO titles. The Old Town and Eggenberg Palace have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2011 Graz was also awarded UNESCO City of Design.

In addition, Graz is known as Austria’s Capital of Delight, thanks to its innovative approach to local cuisine that relies on locally grown ingredients, by the extensive network of farmers found within the city limits.

Whether you are a culture vulture, a fan of design, or a foodie, Graz has something for you. In fact, Graz has so much going on, that a weekend wouldn’t be enough to discover all the hidden and not so hidden gems it offers.

So my top tip would be to travel slowly and set aside a few more days to make the most of Austria’s second largest city. You won’t only get to enjoy Graz for longer, but it is a more rewarding way to discover a city with a strong sustainability focus.

But before I give you my top picks for the most amazing things to do in Graz, here is my recommendation on where to stay in Graz.

Amazing things to do in Graz

Town Hall (Rathaus) and the Main Square (Hauptplatz)

The Main Square (Hauptplatz) is the beating heart of the city, where locals and visitors gather and hang out, like they have done through the ages.

The architecture all around the square tells the story of a city that has evolved since the Middle Ages. One of the highlights of its architectural marvels is the 17th century Luegghaus, in the corner of Sporgasse. Its façade will have you mesmerised looking at the elaborate stucco.

In the centre of the square you can also find a statue dedicated to the “Styrian prince” Archduke Johann towering over the market stalls.

The market stalls sell all sorts of products, from hot dogs, to dairy products and pumpkin seed oil, a Styrian specialty. And it is here where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, Graz most famous export, favourite sausage stall is located too.

At one end of the square we find Graz Town Hall (Rathaus), a grand building in the classical style.

One curiosity about the Town Hall is that in order to build such a large building, they had to demolish a number of houses. However, two of the owners refused to move, and the Town Hall was built around two narrow houses which can now be found jammed into the building.

Kunsthaus Graz a.k.a. The Friendly Alien

The Kunsthaus Graz is probably my favourite building in Graz, both inside and out. Its organic shape makes it feel like it’s alive and it was named the ‘Friendly Alien’ by its creators, Colin Fournier and Sir Peter Cook.

It was built in 2003 to celebrate Graz as European City of Culture. Shaped like a giant misshapen balloon, it has a number of nozzle-like projections that point north, which allows it to make the most of natural light.

One of the nozzles has been nicknamed the ‘naughty nozzle’ because it points in a different direction. It points towards the Clock Tower on top of Schlossberg, acknowledging the past of the city.

The Kunsthaus Graz combines international contemporary art with regional and local themes and objectives. When I visited they had works by contemporary artists such as Robert Indiana, Julian Opie and Guerrilla Girls.

To entice people to visit its exhibits, the Friendly Alien emits a sound 10 minutes before every hour, giving it a life of its own.

To avoid spending time queueing up, I’d recommend buying a Skip-The-Line ticket to Kunsthaus Graz in advance. However, if you are planning to visit more galleries or museums in Graz, you can buy a 24h or 48h Joanneum Pass, which gives you access to 12 museums and exhibits throughout the city.

Fun fact: When this unusual building was proposed, there was a lot of opposition from the residents of Graz. However, locals have learnt to love it and it has become one of the most emblematic landmarks of the city, and one of the best things to do in Graz for visitors.

Schloss Eggenberg

Located on the edge of the city centre within a beautiful park, Schloss Eggenberg (or Eggenberg Palace) is one the most important Baroque buildings in Austria. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

Photo credit: UMJ / Jare

It was commissioned by Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg in the 17th century, who asked that it be built in a harmonious way.

The Palace was built around the Gregorian calendar, with 365 exterior windows, one for each day of the year. Of these, 52 are on the 24 rooms of the main floor representing the weeks of one year.

The Palace is now a museum and cultural centre, showcasing art and history exhibits and hosting concerts and other events.

It is only open between April and October, and the State Rooms can only be visited as part of a guided tour. The tour groups are small, so make sure you get there early.

You can buy a ticket once you get there, or you can buy a 24h or 48h Joanneum Pass in advance, which gives you access to 12 museums and exhibits throughout Graz.

Clock Tower on Schlossberg

The Clock Tower (Uhrturm) on top of Schlossberg is Graz’s most recognisable landmark. It was built in the Middle Ages, although its current shape dates back to the 16th century.

It was part of the medieval fortress that once occupied Schlossberg, and it was once used as a bell tower to alert the residents of Graz in case of a fire.

Today it has three bells. The fire bell, which hangs outside of the tower, the bell that strikes the hours, which is the oldest bell in Graz, and the bell that rang during executions and that was later used to remind revellers of curfews.

If you look at the clock on the Tower, you may be forgiven for thinking that it’s giving the wrong time. The clock hands have been reversed, with the hour hand being longer than the minute hand, causing much confusion among visitors.

It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top of Schlossberg, but it’s a very enjoyable walk to the top of the hill, where there is a public park. However, if you prefer an easier route, you can take the Schlossbergbahn (funicular) or the Schlossberg lift. Once you get to the top you’ll be able to enjoy one of the best views over the city.

Just grab a drink at the cafe at the top, and enjoy!

Get down on the Schlossberg slide

You can get down from Schlossberg by taking the Schlossbergbahn, the lift, or zig zagging down the stairs that were built during WWI.

But the most fun way to get down back into the city is by throwing yourself down the Schlossberg slide (Schlossbergrutsche).

It is the highest underground slide in the world, and second highest overall, at 64 metres high and 175 metres long. It takes about 40 seconds to get to the bottom and you can reach a speed of approximately 25-30 km/h.

It costs €6 and it’s so worth it. I screamed all the way down!

Double Spiral Staircase (Doppelwendeltreppe)

The Double Spiral Staircase (Doppelwendeltreppe), also known as the Stairs of Reconciliation, is an architectural marvel that must not be missed in Graz.

Located within the Burg (Castle), one of the city’s most important historic buildings and a public building today, this staircase was built in the 15th century on the order of Emperor Frederick III.

These mind-boggling stairs will have you wondering how they are even possible. The staircase consists of two opposing spiral stairs that split in opposite directions and rejoin several times as they spiral up to the top floor.

This could be the original medieval funhouse. Go all the way to the top and try to keep your sense of direction if you can!

Mur Island (Murinsel)

Mur Island (Murinsel) is actually not an island. It’s a floating structure that sits in the middle of the Mur River, in the heart of Graz. It was built as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2003, but it wasn’t originally intended for Graz.

It was originally designed by American artist Vito Acconci to be placed in the Hudson River in New York City, but the American metropolis rejected the idea and it ended up in Graz.

It was originally meant to be a temporary structure, but the residents loved it so much that they campaigned for it to stay permanently.

It represents the link between the city of Graz and the River Mur, and it’s a great place to enjoy a coffee or a cocktail. And you can also purchase local products by regional food producers.

At night Mur Island is illuminated in fantastic colours and worth a visit just to enjoy the lights.

Natural History Museum

If you are a fan of natural history, or even if you are travelling with kids, the Natural History Museum is a great place to spend a couple of hours.

Photo credit: UMJ / U. Stockinger

Located within the Joanneum Quarter, the museum houses fascinating exhibitions on botany, geology, palaeontology, mineralogy, and zoology, from all over the world.

It looks back across 400 million years of geological history in Styria, and on the extraordinary evolution of diverse creatures. There is also a focus on some of the environmental heritage of Styria.

You can buy a ticket once you get there, or, to make things easier and to save some money, you can buy a 24h or 48h Joanneum Pass in advance, which gives you access to 12 museums and exhibits throughout Graz.

Discover the neighbourhoods of Gries and Lend with a local

The best way to discover Gries and Lend, the lesser-known neighbourhoods of Graz, is by going on a guided tour with a local.

Ruth from Discover Graz is a very passionate local guide that showed me around these two, once to be avoided neighbourhoods. With tales of a lurid past, the stories of Gries and Lend come alive taking you through a journey to today’s trendiest districts in Graz.

This tour is truly off-the-beaten past and will show you some true hidden gems on where to eat, where to shop, and even where to join the locals for salsa dancing.

Graz Opera House (Oper Graz)

The Opera House in Graz is the second largest opera house in Austria. Built as the National Theatre (Schauspielhaus Graz) in 1899, this imposing neo-baroque building is a great place to attend breathtaking productions from musicals to ballet.

The Opera House has a Graz Miniature of the building right outside, designed for visually impaired people, but it gives you a good overview of the building and its scale.

Attend one of the performances during your visit to Graz to delight your senses and to enjoy the opulent interior of this magnificent building.

Neue Galerie Graz

The Neue Galerie Graz is one of the most important Austrian museums for modern and contemporary art.

Photo Credit: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner

Exhibits include art from the 19th century to the present, including works by Egon Schile and Maria Lassnig. There is also a museum called BRUSEUM dedicated to the multi-faceted Styrian artist Günter Brus.

The gallery is 2,000 square metres, with a pretty extensive collection, and it’s a must visit if you are a fan of modern and contemporary art.

You can buy a ticket once you get there, or you can buy a 24h or 48h Joanneum Pass in advance, which gives you access to 12 museums and exhibits throughout Graz.

Styrian Armoury (Landeszeughaus)

You might think that visiting an armoury is for those with a niche interest. But the Styrian Armoury (Landeszeughaus) is the world’s largest armoury with over 32,000 objects over four floors, and it’s sure to capture anyone’s imagination.

Photo credit: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner

The Styrian Armoury was built between 1642 and 1645 to store the large quantities of weapons and armours that Styria needed to defend itself from the constant conflict with the Ottoman empire and the rebels in Hungary.

Much like with the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England, you don’t have to have a particular interest in arms or weapons.

This museum is the most important historical weapon collection in the world, and both the special historical setting and the sheer number of items is guaranteed to take your breath away.

The Styrian Armoury is also part of Universalmuseum Joaneumm, so you can buy a ticket once you get there, or you can buy a 24h or 48h Joanneum Pass in advance, which gives you access to 12 museums and exhibits throughout Graz.

Graz Cathedral (Grazer Dom)

Graz Cathedral (Grazer Dom), also known as St Giles Cathedral, was built in the Gothic style by Emperor Frederick III in the 15th century. But it was renovated in the Baroque style we see today in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Photo credit: Graz Tourismus – Harry Schiffer

The exterior looks simple and sober, but if you look closer, you will find the ‘Gottesplagenbild’ (God’s plagues) fresco still in great condition. This fresco refers to a year of horrors Graz suffered in 1480.

Inside you will find both Gothic and Baroque styles harmoniously combined, with frescoes that date back to when it was first built.

Admission to Graz Cathedral is free.

Franciscan Church (Franziskanerkirche)

The Franciscan Church (Franziskanerkirche) is linked to the Franciscan Monastery next door, the oldest monastery in Graz.

Built in the 14th century, the church’s tall and narrow tower with its green dome can be seen from many spots in the city.

Inside, the stained glass windows bathe the interior in light, and it feels like a haven of peace if you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the shopping streets nearby.

Don’t miss visiting the Gothic cloisters, with its lovely and peaceful gardens inside. Admission is free, so there’s no excuse not to visit.

Glockenspiel

The Glockenspiel can be found in the square of the same name, Glockenspielplatz, in Graz’s Old Town.

Three times a day, the figurines of a young maiden and a young man dressed in traditional clothing come out of the gables, and dance to the sound of the 24 bells of the Glockenspiel.

If you don’t want to miss this little spectacle, be at the square for 11am, 3pm or 6pm. The melodies change with the seasons.

Farmers Markets

Despite Graz being Austria’s second largest city, the farming community is a very important part of the fabric of the city. There are around 350 farms within the city perimeter that produce a wide variety of high-quality produce which are sold in the local farmers markets.

Kaiser Josef Market (Kaiser-Josef-Markt) is the largest of the farmers markets in Graz, and is located in the square of the same name, Kaiser Josef Platz, behind the Opera House. It’s also the oldest farmers market, dating back to the 19th century.

Another farmers market worth visiting is Bauernmarkt Lendplatz, in the Lend district, on the opposite side of the river.

Both markets are open Monday to Saturday and are the perfect place to buy local products. Try the locally grown apples, grapes, freshly baked traditional bread, and sample the famous Styrian pumpkin seed oil.

There are a number of bars around the markets too, which are popular local hang outs in the summer. Great to meet local people!

Get lost in the courtyards of Graz

One of the top things to do in Graz is to get lost in the beautiful courtyards found in the Old Town. These courtyards are unique to Graz, so they are protected by UNESCO and part of the designated World Heritage Site.

The courtyards near Sackstrasse, Hauptplatz and Sporgasse are some of the prettiest. It’s a great way to discover the hidden gems of Graz. You might stumble into a secret wine bar or cafe from which you can enjoy a hidden side of the city.

Landhaus

The courtyard that stands out the most deserves its own entry on this list of recommendations for things to do in Graz, because it’s one not to be missed.

The Landhaus (Regional Parliament of Graz) has a stunning arcaded inner courtyard that will transport you to a fairy tale. It’s a true masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance and one of the best places to visit in Graz.

Don’t miss the door with a flame-breathing panther painted on it. It’s the panther that can be found on the historical coat of arms of both Graz and Styria.

Sample the delicious Styrian cuisine

Graz has a very rich culinary tradition, which has earned it the title of Culinary Capital of Delight. Surrounded by an abundant network of farmers, the Graz culinary scene has a strong farm-to-table approach, focusing on the use of locally sourced seasonal ingredients.

Some of the Styrian dishes that everyone should try when visiting Graz include Backhendl (Austrian fried chicken) and Käferbohnen Salat (a salad made with a type of bean grown in Styria). The best place to try these two dishes is Der Steirer.

Another local dish to try is Tafelspitz, boiled beef in broth, served with a mix of minced apples and horseradish. It was said to be Emperor Franz Joseph’s favourite dish.

Enjoy a Hugo with a view

One of the best views of the Clock Tower and Schlossberg, as well as the Old Town, is from the rooftop bar at Kastner & Öhler department store. It is located in the city center on Sackstrasse.

Head to the top floor, order a Hugo (a prosecco, elderflower, sparkling water and mint aperitif), sit back, and enjoy the best view of Graz!

Shop with a conscience in Lend

The district of Lend is a hub when it comes to social businesses. So why not enjoy a bit of shopping while you’re exploring Lend, and support the social causes that these businesses work towards?

A great example is the Offline Retail Project, which offers employment to people suffering from addiction.

Some of the products found in their shops are made in their workshops, alongside donated second hand items such as clothing, furniture, bags, and jewellery. Offline Retail Project can be found in Mariahilferstrasse 19.

Another great social enterprise is Tag.werk, a bag designer born in the Caritas Shelter over 20 years ago, and that has become a household name in Graz.

They design and create bags using recycled materials such as tarpaulin, awnings and old leather. Their values are not only environmental, but they have a community focus too. They employ young people who have difficulties accessing the job market.

So why not bag yourself a bag that has become iconic in Graz?

Tag.werk can be found in Marahilferestrasse 13, and you can also buy their products online here.

Try the famous open sandwich at Deli Frankowitsch

Deli Frankowitsch has been a Graz institution since 1932, and their open-faced sandwiches are famed throughout the city.

Locals pop in to the Deli for lunch or a quick snack that consists of a slice of bread with a seemingly infinite choice of toppings. Don’t miss the Gravlax or the pumpkin seed spread sandwiches!

Deli Frankowitsch is the perfect place for a taste of Graz life, and also to fill a hole.

Day trip to the Austrian Open Air Museum in Stübing

The Austrian Open Air Museum Stübing (Österreichisches Freilichtmuseum Stübing) was founded in 1962, and is the largest and only national open-air museum in Austria. It displays the historical architectural styles of the various regions of the country.

This quaint museum not only will it take you back in time and through the ages, but it’s also a journey through the different regions of Austria, and their different ways of life. There are over 100 buildings, with the oldest dating back to the 13th century.

What I loved about this museum is that it’s a very interactive experience where I was put to work sawing wood, and where I learned how linen is made, and how the tradition of basketry is being kept alive.

The museum closes its doors during winter, and it’s open for visitors between 31st March and 31st October.

The Austrian Open Air Museum Stübing is also part of Universalmuseum Joaneumm, so you can buy a ticket once you get there, or you can buy a 24h or 48h Joanneum Pass in advance, which gives you access to 12 museums and exhibits throughout Graz.

The museum is a 34 min bus ride from Graz Central Station (Graz Hauptbahnhof) on Route 130.

Use this travel planner for the latest information on public transport schedules.

Rein Abbey, the oldest Cistercian abbey in the world

Rein Abbey (Stift Rein) is a Cistercian Monastery founded in 1129, making it the oldest in the world. It’s located in the village of Rein, around 16 kms from Graz.

The Basilica has a magnificent Baroque façade built over a Romanesque façade.

It is one of the biggest and most beautiful churches in Styria. The elaborately decorated interior took my breath away, with the use of stucco lustro (plaster mixed with red wine to make it look like marble) and trompe l’oeil techniques.

Trompe l’oeil creates the optical illusion of a dome on a flat ceiling and it’s really effective at adding height to a room.

The Abbey was founded by Margrave Leopold, whose grave was only found in 2006, under a chapel in the grounds of the monastery. His skeleton is on display through a glass panel on the floor.

You can also visit the impressive Library, which holds manuscripts from the Middle Ages, a Biblia Sacra from the 16th century, and one of the oldest Luther Bibles that dates back to the end of the 16th century.

Rein Abbey can only be visited on a guided tour, which are usually in German. However, guides can answer your questions in English. Tours take place daily at 10.30am and 1.30pm.

To get to Rein Abbey by public transport, take bus number 110 from Graz Central Station (Graz Hauptbahnhof) towards Stift Rein, and get off at the last stop.

Use this travel planner for the latest information on public transport schedules.

Visit the Pilgrim’s Church of Maria Strassengel

The Pilgrim’s Church of Maria Strassengel (Wallfahrtskirche Maria Straßengel) is known as the “Styrian Steffl”, the little sister of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. And you can see the resemblance as soon as you arrive.

It is one of the most beautiful sacred buildings in Austria built in the high Gothic style.

You can visit it on a guided tour, where you can admire the naturally created ‘root cross’, a crucifix grown from the root of a tree that shows a natural image of Christ. You can also admire the colourful stained glass windows and the highest smokehouse in Styria.

If you are driving, you can combine a visit to Rein Abbey with a visit to the Pilgrim’s Church of Maria Strassengel, as it’s only a few minutes away.

However, if you are taking public transport you’ll have to travel back to Graz Shopping-Nord, take the 110 regional bus to Judendorf Am Kirchberg, and walk 20 minutes to the church. It sounds like a lot of effort but it’s worth seeing!

Use this travel planner for the latest information on public transport schedules.

Best places to eat in Graz

Der Steirer

Belgiergasse 1, 8020 Graz

Der Steirer is THE place to try traditional Styrian dishes such as Backhendl (Austrian fried chicken) and Käferbohnen Salat (a salad made with a type of bean grown in Styria).

It started off as a wine bar in 1910 and it evolved into today’s restaurant, still a family-run affair.

Hummel

Mariahilfer Straße 12, 8020 Graz

Perhaps my favourite culinary experience in Graz is the neverending mezze that I was served at Hummel when I visited.

Hummel serves Levantine cuisine that is all about sharing, with a sustainability and low waste focus. I love their ethos, but I loved their incredibly delicious food even more!

Stammtisch Am Paulustor

Paulustorgasse 8, 8010 Graz

Stammtisch Am Paulustor is a family owned and run restaurant with a menu that changes seasonally to reflect the freshest and most flavourful locally grown ingredients available.

I loved that their dishes are full of creativity and are mouthwateringly flavoursome. They serve exquisite local wines too.

Conclusion

These are my top recommendations for things to do in Graz. I really want to go back and explore more of the city and Styria. Perhaps I’ll time my next visit to coincide with the Christmas markets, as this would be the best time to enjoy Graz’s winter wonderland.

Source: https://broganabroad.com/