Hauptplatz historical town square surrounded by medieval buildings, foundtain and shops

While Graz is the second largest city in Austria, it is sometimes overlooked. Graz is the capital of Styria, yet it has been referred to as “Vienna’s little sister.” Not only is Graz a UNESCO World Heritage city, it is a double winner, also holding the title of UNESCO City of Design. Are you visiting Graz for the first time? Below I’ll share my insider tips on how to do Graz like a local.

How to do Graz like a local

Whether this is your first time here or you’ve visited before, your trip to Graz can be as adventurous or laid back as you like. No matter your choice, pack comfortable shoes and stretchy pants because Graz is a walkable city with plenty of sites to see, things to do and places to eat. The cobblestone streets will lead you down hidden alleys or follow your nose, as it will surely take you to a wurstelstand (sausage stand) where you will rub elbows with the locals.

“We are open-minded. We are a creative city,” said Graz Mayor Siegfried Nagl. “We have a good quality of life. We know how to live.”

Uhturm or clock tower on Castle Hill is the landmark of Graz, Austria

Visit Schlossberg with the Uhrturm on Castle Hill. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

First time visitor

When I have a visitor from out of town, the first place they want to see is Schlossberg, but I also take them to Kunsthaus Art Museum. The Schlossberg (Castle Hill) is the number one Graz landmark with the Uhturn (Clock Tower) it’s like an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top.

Schlossberg holds much significance to the citizens of Graz. During World War II, Castle Hill served as an air raid shelter. In 2000, 55 years later, it was opened again as “Mountain of Memories” where the people of Graz were welcomed back to share their memories of what they took with them into the mountain.

this tunnel in Schlossberg served as an air raid shelter in World War II, now a walking tunnel through mountain

Schlossberg served as an air raid shelter in World War II. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Now Schlossberg, with its many underground tunnels, is home to a tram that whisks visitors up to the top of the mountain. It also houses a dance club and the Schlossberg Slide; 600 meters and 30-40 seconds of pure adrenaline rush for all ages. You may reserve your slide tickets online.

the slidie graz is the tallest underground slide in the world

The Slide Graz is the tallest underground slide in the world. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Active Graz

If you are wondering how to do Graz like a local from a fitness perspective, you’ll see plenty of locals riding bikes along River Mur, as the bicycle paths are relatively flat. For more of a cardio workout, visitors may walk or jog up the 260 steps to the top of Castle Hill. Between 1914 and 1918, during World War I, Austrian pioneers and Russian prisoners built the steps, which is why they were named Russian steps. Insider Tip: I recommend taking the tram up and walking the stairs on the way down.

260 steps from Schlossberg Plaza to the Clock Tower in Graz Austria

Get your steps in, 260 steps, from Schlossberg Plaza to the Clock Tower. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

 

If this is a romantic trip, I recommend the Clock Tower for kissing with a view. Then head over to Aiola Upstairs for cocktails.

Kunsthaus Graz or Graz Art Museum is a popular landmark in Graz Austria and is referred to as the friendly alien for its unique shape

Kunsthaus Graz, aka the friendly alien, is easy to spot from Schlossberg. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Museums

If you have at least 24 hours to spend in Graz, purchase the museum ticket. It gives you 24 hour admission to all 17 museums, including the Landeszeughaus Armory, Kunsthaus Graz and Museum of Folklore. Kunsthaus Graz, or Graz Art Museum was built in 2003 as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. At first, many of the residents disapproved of Kunsthaus Graz due to its unique shape. Eventually it was referred to as ‘the friendly alien’ and is now considered an architectural landmark and home to contemporary art exhibitions. It’s also a good place to meet for coffee in the stylish cafe.

While I loved the Landeszeughaus Armory Museum, I would only recommend a visit to the Folk Museum if you read German.

If you are traveling with kids, you’ll want to visit Frida & Fred, the Kid’s Museum. Another fun place for both kids and adults to visit is Mur Island. According to Dieter Hardt Stremayr, Director of Graz Tourism, “the island is like a ship; it rises with the river and connects the old and new parts of the city.”

mur island floating art connecting old and new graz austria

Mur Island is like a floating ship connecting the old town with the new in Graz, Austria. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

By the way, if you want to escape the crowds and tourists, my favorite place to visit is the inner courtyard of the Franciscan monastery. I visited Graz in late May and it was not crowded at all.

 

travel bloggers Penelope Bielckus, Patrick Muntzinger and Christina Guan, dress in traditional costume and drink Austrian beer

Penelope Bielckus, Patrick Muntzinger and Christina Guan enjoy beer in Graz. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Graz Where to Eat

There is a lot of great food, wine and beer in Graz; from Styrian cuisine to Zotter chocolate, apple strudel, pumpkin seed oil from the Graz Farmers Market and beer from Glockl Brau. You will not go hungry in Graz!

If you are looking for typical Austrian cuisine, I recommend Styrian Backhendl (fried chicken, but totally different from what you know… 😊)

Most of the cafes in Graz offer breakfast until the afternoon. In the city Tribeka is nice (hip/urban) or Operncafe (more traditional) or aiola upstairs (trendy with a view up on Schlossberg)

If you are looking for cheap food in Graz go to Kunsthaus Café or Park’s Coffeeshop.

stand 12 server cuts up sausage for a customer in old town Graz

A Würstelstand (sausage stand) is the spot for late night dining. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

 

For an expensive, yet quality meal, go to Caylend or Stainzerbauer restaurant by Graz Cathedral. The 500 year old restaurant was a former horse stable.

travel blogger Nancy D. Brown gets her picture taken at Freiblick Cafe, how to do Graz like a local.

When you come to Graz, get your picture taken at Freiblick Cafe.

Photo ops in Graz

When you come to Graz, get your picture taken from the Schlossberg or the rooftop terrace of the department store Kastner & Öhler. Insider tip: Freiblick Cafe on the top floor of Kastner & Öhler department store is a great place for lunch or apple strudel and a strong cup of Austrian coffee if you want to do Graz like a local.

apple strudel at Freiblick Cafe is an Austrian specialty

Apple strudel at Freiblick Cafe. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

 

By now you should know that Graz is known for being a food-lovers paradise. Plan a visit to Aufsteirern in the fall. For a totally unique experience, The Long Table of Graz is a dining event for 700 people in front of City Hall.

Looking for exciting night life? Go dancing at Thalia or Café Stockwerk for live music.

Where to stay in Graz

The four star Grand Hotel Wiesler has an ideal location next to River Mur and is where Arnold Schwarzenegger stays when he’s in town. If you are looking for a hip hotel, I enjoyed my stay at Lend Hotel in the Lendplatz area. The urban hotel is like staying in a modern art gallery.

jesus on cross in the inner courtyard of the Franciscan Monastery

For quiet reflection, visit the inner courtyard of the Franciscan Monastery. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Happening in Graz

If you are like me and enjoy reading a local newspaper, The Kleine Zeitung will keep you posted on what’s happening in Graz.

In the spring you should attend Lendwirbel and Design Monat. In the summer you should check out the Styriarte Music Festival.

If you love Austria Christmas Markets, come to Graz in the winter.

More Insider Tips: Check out the often over-looked St. Andräkirche (church) in Graz. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Graz?

Just outside of Graz you can visit the Cisterican Monastery of Rein and have lunch at Bäckerseppl.

If You Go

For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter or Instagram @Nancydbrown For additional information on Graz click here. How to Do Graz Like a Local, YouTube video and all photography by San Francisco Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown. A huge thank you to Propel Graz and Graz Tourism for introducing me to the second largest city in Austria. As Arnold Schwarzenegger says, “I’ll be back!”