Explore Graz, Austria’s second biggest city and the capital of the province of Styria
If someone asks you to name Austria’s three largest cities, Graz may not make the list.
Which is a shame because it’s the country’s second biggest, as well as being the capital of the province of Styria and birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It offers so much: a youthful feel thanks to four universities, plus palaces, festivals and delicious food.
Where to stay
This small hotel recently opened and is well located to reach Graz’s main sites and restaurants at the base of the hill below the city’s 16th-century fortress.
Graz offers so much – a youthful feel thanks to four universities, plus palaces, festivals and delicious food
There’s a real design focus here and even standard rooms have some lovely pieces of artwork. On the ground floor, there’s a smart cafe that’s popular with locals. Room-only doubles from £90 (kai36.at).
A traditional, cosy hotel which has been around since 1663. It has 45 rooms, is just across the street from the futuristic, British-designed contemporary art museum and only a short stroll from the farmer’s market on Lendplatz. Room-only doubles from £74 (booking.com).
Enjoy the top-floor sauna and the extensive breakfast buffet at the Hotel Weitzer, set on the banks of the River Mur. Above is the view of the river from nearby Augarten park
The imposing Weitzer is on the banks of the River Mur. There are seven different room types, but even the lead-in Economy doesn’t feel frugal. There’s a glass-walled sauna on the top floor to warm up in on chilly days, and downstairs is a large restaurant where there’s an extensive buffet at breakfast. Room-only doubles from £71 (hotelweitzer.com).
The trendy Daniel is right by the main station. And it’s easy to spot with its front-room balconies painted in pastel colours. There are 108 rooms, including one loft-cube suite which is situated in glorious isolation on the roof — if it hasn’t been booked, the hotel has a daily lottery to upgrade one set of guests to enjoy it. Room-only doubles from £48 (hoteldaniel.com).
What to see and do
Get acquainted with Graz’s historic centre, pictured above, on a guided walking tour – tickets can be booked in advance through the city’s tourist office
Graz Castle’s free-standing double spiral staircase (pictured), which is still functional after more than 500 years, is both ingenious and beautiful
Get your bearings by going on one of a variety of guided walking tours which can be booked in advance or through the tourist office near the main square.
A one-and-a-half-hour stroll to the Schlossberg fortress, including ascent by funicular to its clock tower, costs £14.50. Or for £17, spend two hours wandering round the hip Lend neighbourhood with its shops, cafes, markets, and kunsthaus (art museum) — the friendly alien (graztourismus.at).
Graz Castle, or Burg, now houses government offices, but it dates back to the 15th century.
Even if architecture is not your thing, you’ll agree that its free-standing double spiral staircase, which is still functional after more than 500 years, is both ingenious and beautiful.
Eggenberg Palace (pictured), the city’s grandest and most elegant palace, dates back to 1625
Above is a peek inside Eggenberg Palace, where 24 state rooms have been designed around themes of astronomy and mythology
The city’s grandest and most elegant palace dates back to 1625. On a guided tour in English you can discover its 24 state rooms, which have been designed around themes of astronomy and mythology.
There are extensive grounds too, and separate museums and galleries with paintings from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period. Tickets from £13.50 (museum-joanneum.at).
Explore farmers’ markets
The market at Kaiser Josef Square, pictured, is particularly buzzy on Saturdays and has numerous bars and cafes. Pop by and stock up on locally manufactured pumpkin seed oil
The area around Graz grows an abundance of products, many of which are on sale in the city’s bustling farmers’ markets.
Pop in and put together an impromptu picnic of hams, sausages, cheese and bread.
The region is known for its white wines and also pumpkin seed oil, which makes its way into many local recipes.
The large markets at Kaiser Josef Square and Lend Square are open daily except Sunday, but are particularly buzzy on Saturdays and have numerous bars and cafes, too.
Where to eat
This shop-restaurant buzzes with locals at night so book in advance. Start with Styrian tapas such as beetroot carpaccio with horseradish dumplings (£2.50) before moving on to heartier mains, for example, turkey fillet in a cream sauce with bacon and mushrooms for £14 (der-steirer.at).
After dining at Aiola at the top of Schlossberg Hill, check out the clock tower (pictured) nearby – it’s the symbol of the city
Austrian delights: Traditional veal schnitzel (file photo)
If you climb the 1,532 ft to the top of Schlossberg Hill, which dominates Graz, you deserve a good spot for lunch, and Aiola delivers, especially if you bag an outside table on a warm afternoon. Once you’ve got your breath back, tuck into panna cotta with local mountain cheese (£9) or risotto with apple, leek and parmesan for £15 then check out the clock tower that is the symbol of the city (upstairs.aiola.at).
In the centre of town, dating back to the early 1930s, should be on your list for lunch. It’s famous for its array of snack-size open sandwiches priced from £1 to £2.80 each. Enjoy with a Pfiff, an almost toy-sized shot of beer that will set you back £1.30 (frankowitsch.at).
If you have a stereotype of an Austrian inn — wood panelling, jolly waiters, trouser-busting plates of meat — then this 400-year-old hostelry should be your first port of call. But alongside the traditional, there’s the modern too, so you can choose a martini instead of beer or grilled monkfish rather than veal schnitzel. Mains average £22 (landhaus-keller.at).
How to get there
London Gatwick to Vienna Schwechat Airport from £15 returns (wizzair.com). Direct trains run from Vienna Schwechat Airport to Graz from £18 one way (oebb.at). Visit graztourismus.at.