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.”
First time visitor to Graz, Austria
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.
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.
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.
If this is a romantic trip, I recommend the Clock Tower for kissing with a view. Then head over to Aiola Upstairs for cocktails.
Graz Museums in Austria
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”