Graz, Austria is a charming, relaxed, and surprisingly cool city. Not only is it a UNESCO City of Design, but it was also declared the European Capital of Culture in 2003 and a City of Culinary Delights in 2008. Its well-preserved old town is one of the best in Central Europe, consisting of over 1,000 Gothic and contemporary buildings. With six universities, there’s also a young population to ensure the city remains hip and interesting.
Although Graz is the second-largest city in Austria, it is still overlooked by travellers. However, as you’re about to learn, this definitely isn’t for a lack of attractions and things to see.
Wondering why you should visit this part of the world over other nearby cities? Here are 17 things to do in Graz, Austria.
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Wander the Altstadt
The entire city centre of Graz is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its stunning historical architecture. The best way to introduce yourself to the city is to walk around the streets of the Old Town (Altstadt) and scour the beautiful landmarks. Firstly, there’s the Rathaus, aka the Graz Town Hall, a magnificent Renaissance building from the 19th century.
Next, see the high-vaulted ceilings of the Gothic Franciscan Church, the Virgin Mary sculpture at the Chapel of Saint Anthony, and the extravagant stucco-decorations at the Haus am Luegg. Continue your stroll down Herrengasse to see the Painted House and other stunning mansions.
Be sure to stop and people watch in the main square, the Hauptplatz. Considered the heart of Graz, the square is surrounded by medieval buildings and features a fountain with a bronzed statue of Archduke Johann in the centre. If you happen to be in Graz during December, this is where the magical Christmas markets are held. On an average day, however, there are many small kiosks and food trucks to stop at for a quick bite to eat.
Discover the treasures of Eggenberg Palace
Schloss Eggenberg, aka the Eggenberg Palace, is an important Baroque structure located on the outskirts of Graz. Built in 1635, the building is three storeys high and features four large towers. It was designed to reflect Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg’s interest in astronomy and astrology. While the architecture not only incorporates astronomical symbols, each of the castle’s four sides represents the four seasons. There are also 365 windows in total for each day of the year and 24 state rooms to represent the hours in a day.
Of the palace’s many rooms, the Planetary Room and the Gallery Room are two of the most memorable, as is the lavish Piano Noble or Bel Étage. The decor remains mostly unaltered since the 18th century, with grandiose furniture, tapestries and decorations. Don’t forget to look up at the 500 or so incredibly detailed stucco ceiling paintings. Guided tours are also available from Tuesday to Sunday every hour between 10 and four o’clock.
Surrounding the palace is an expansive, scenic garden. You can wander freely and peacefully through the landscaped parks, from the Master’s Garden to the Planetary Garden.
Admire the architecture at Kunsthaus Graz
The Kunsthaus Graz is an extraordinary art museum opposite the Mur River. Affectionately known to residents as the Friendly Alien, the bizarre blue building is an example of provocative blob architecture. The modern museum embraces and houses all artforms created since in the 1960s, from architecture and design to new media, film and photography.
Another unique aspect is that there are no permanent exhibitions whatsoever. The museum’s purpose is to showcase contemporary works and productions, so there is always something new and intriguing going on here. If you want to find out tour times or get a sense of what’ll be happening while you’re in Graz, the Kunsthaus website has an English version with a detailed calendar of events. Better yet, you can stop by without expectations and be surprised!
Climb the spiral staircase at the Castle of Graz
A superb attraction you wouldn’t expect is the Double Spiral Staircase inside the former Castle of Graz. This late Gothic, stone masonry masterpiece was built around the early 1500s. The architect of this rare double spiral staircase is unknown, only adding to the intrigue. The stairs meet on each floor, creating a functional optical illusion.
Visit Graz Cathedral
Graz Cathedral, also known as Saint Giles’ Cathedral, is a charming Gothic jewel of the Old Town. It was built in the mid-1400s by Frederick III, though it has since undergone numerous changes and renovations. Don’t be fooled by the modest facade, as the interiors will amaze you. The lavish Baroque setting is complemented by medieval frescoes, an ornate high altar, and a 5,345-piece cathedral organ.
Joined to the cathedral is the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II. If you have the time to look around, the Tomb Chapel features some stunning sculptures and works of art.
Buy some produce at the market
The best and largest farmer’s market in Graz is the Kaiser Josef Markt. This lively outdoor space is open every day from six in the morning until around midday, though Saturday is always the busiest day. Stop by and purchase some delicious fresh fruits, homemade farmer’s bread, or even a small pot of sauerkraut. If your accommodation has a kitchen, this is also the best place to get the ingredients you’ll need to cook for yourself. A trip to this market in Innere Stadt is one of the best ways to feel like a local in Graz.
See historic weaponry
A fascinating place to visit in Graz is the Styrian Armoury in Innere Stadt. As the largest historic armoury in the world, there are over 32,000 items, including tools, suits of armour, and various weaponry.
Styria, the state in which Graz is located, continuously defended itself against the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 18th centuries. The equipment used by troops from this era is now stored and displayed here across five storeys. The armoury is open every day except Monday, though if you’re here during winter, it can only be visited as part of a guided tour.
Cross the Mur River
Graz is separated in two by the River Mur. To celebrate the city being named the European Capital of Culture in 2003, an artificial floating island called Murinsel was constructed. Murinsel can be accessed from both sides of the river via footbridges. Designed by artist Vito Acconci, the structure has been described as “a bowl that morphs into a dome that morphs into a bowl”. Essentially, there is nothing else like it! At night, it gives off a vibrant blue glow.
On the island is an amphitheatre and a cafe, which is aptly named Island in the Mur Cafe. If you’re simply passing across the river from one side to the other, consider popping in to look around and enjoy a cup of coffee. There are also some delicious options for lunch and dinner if you’re hungry.
Stay at Hotel Zum Dom
One of the top-rated boutique hotels in Graz is Hotel Zum Dom, formerly known as Palais Inzaghi. Located in the winding alleyways of the Old Town, many of the city’s top sights are just a stone’s throw away.
There are 29 different rooms and suites, all with their own unique style and personality. Whether you want a simple single room, a spacious double, or even a luxurious penthouse with a rooftop terrace, all of these options and more are available to you. If you’re travelling with your partner, take advantage of the romantic weekend-for-two package.
Admire the Landhaus Courtyard
One of the city’s top architectural gems is the Landhaus, built in 1527. This intricate palace is a Renaissance masterpiece with its three storeys of arched windows and stunning loggia. By far the best reason to visit is for the Landhaus Courtyard, which is still used today for concerts, festivals, film screenings, and a nativity scene during Christmas.
Develop your photography skills
Take a unique two-and-a-half-hour walking tour of Graz with a local photographer as your guide. Learn tips about vintage photography and snap some one-of-a-kind images to cherish forever. This tour includes rental of a vintage Polaroid camera and a full pack of instant film. Anyone with an artistic eye, or those wishing to evolve one, will definitely enjoy this experience in Graz.
Watch the sunset from the Mariatrost Basilica
One of the best-known pilgrimage sites in Austria is the Mariatrost Basilica. This Baroque church is found at the top of the 469-metre-high Purberg Hill. Despite its location in the northeastern suburbs of Graz, you can easily catch the tram to Mariatrost.
The yellow-and-white facade features two twin towers and a dark black dome. The basilica looms over you as walk the 200-or-so steps up the hill. While the Madonna statue on the main altar is Gothic, the majority of the interiors are embellished in Baroque style. Due to its elevation, it’s a stunning place to watch the sun go down, so plan your visit accordingly!
Take a tour of Schlossberg
The best views across Graz are from the tree-lined Schlossberg Hill. A ride on the glass-encased funicular will take you to the top of the summit in only a minute and a half as you look over the terracotta red roofs of the city. A short one-and-a-half hour tour will introduce you to the main attractions atop the hill, from the Gothic Gate, the Bell Tower and the Clock Tower.
You guide will tell you all about the medieval fortifications that were once built on the hill and how the majority were unfortunately destroyed in the early 1800s by Napoleon. One structure that has remained is the Clock Tower, one of the most notable landmarks in Graz. This medieval tower is 28 metres tall and has stood above the town since 1561.
Slide down the mountain
As of early 2019, Graz is home to the world’s tallest indoor slide. The Schlossbergrutsche was built into Schlossberg Mountain and is a fun alternative to catching the funicular or walking back down. Race down the 175-metre-long winding slide at a speed of 30 kilometres per hour, which lasts about 40 seconds. If you are claustrophobic or afraid of the dark, you may need to give yourself a little pep talk beforehand.
Eat an authentic Austrian meal
Undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Graz at night is to go out for dinner at one of the city’s many great restaurants. One of the best spots by far is Der Steirer, known for its warm interiors and fresh ingredients. Since the restaurant is so popular, reservations are required. However, it’s open until midnight, so finding a table shouldn’t be hard if you’re not picky about the hour.
Here you can enjoy Austrian favourites like tafelspitz (boiled beef with minced apples and horseradish) and beef goulash with polenta. Some Styrian classics on the menu include steirerpfandl (turkey filet strips in a creamy sauce) and minced meat fritters with mashed potatoes. If you’re vegetarian, try the asparagus risotto or griessnockerl dumplings.
Learn about the history of Graz
The second-largest museum in Austria is Universalmuseum Joanneum, a multidisciplinary institution with 18 different branches. The History Museum on Sackstrasse, Museum für Geschichte, often has some interesting rotating exhibitions. The entertaining 100 x Styria exhibit utilises QR codes which you can scan to learn more about specific pieces you may be curious about. Until January 2020, you can also learn about pop music in Styria during the 20th century.
Next door is GrazMuseum, another great place to learn about the city’s past. Follow the growth and development of Graz through the well-curated chronological exhibits. Although the museum is small, there are many detailed displays to gain an in-depth understanding of the city’s history. Open Wednesday to Monday from 10 until five, entrance to the museum costs only five euros.
Relax at the park
Feeling tired from all the sightseeing and seeking a relaxing afternoon in nature? Visit Stadtpark in the middle of the city for a peaceful retreat. The well-maintained park is filled with shady chestnut trees and vibrant flowers, and there’s a beautiful moat with ducks. If you bring a picnic lunch to enjoy while you’re there, be on the lookout for squirrels running around!
Recommended tours in Graz
- Landeszeughaus Styrian Armoury Entrance Ticket in Graz
- Universalmuseum Joanneum Pass in Graz
- Guided tours in Graz in Austria, Bratislava in Slovakia
- Learning the basics of jewelry with a master
- Joanneum Quarter Museum 48h Pass with Lunch
- Schloss Eggenberg Entrance Ticket and Guided Tour
- One-Way Day Trip to Cesky Krumlov from Graz to Prague
- Graz Vintage Photo Tour With a Polaroid Camera