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Hip and Happening Graz
Graz, the second city in Austria, is completely different than I expected. Or to be completely honest, I actually didn’t expect anything, because I had never heard of it before an invitation to visit appeared in my inbox.
But when I started contemplating a visit, I assumed I would see Mädel in traditional costume, green meadows, Lederhosen, eat Apfelstrudel and Schnitzel. And in truth I did, but I also found a place where traditions and the 21st century go hand in hand. Graz is a university town, which has both ancient and modern architecture, innovative gastronomy, convivial terraces, blood-curdling attractions, delicious locally produced wine and a generous dose of Gemütlichkeit.
Furthermore, Graz has the largest medieval centre in Central Europe, a prominent place on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, in 2003 Graz was the Cultural Capital of Europe and in 2008 a City of Culinary Delights.. This makes it a perfect destination for a city trip as visitors can fill their days simply by strolling through the medieval streets, sipping drinks on top of the Schlossberg or if they wish, discover the city and its surroundings by visiting a long list of places of interest. Graz will have something to their liking for sure, be it as a romantic getaway, as a group of friends or as a family.
Places of interest Graz and Styria region
Graz, the regional capital of the Styria region, has an impressive number of museums, sights and restaurants for a relatively small city, with only 290,000 inhabitants. The most important sites are listed below:
The most prominent attraction in Graz is undoubtedly the Schlossberg, if only because it is impossible to miss. The 475 m high mountain in the city centre towers above everything else. On top you have a 360º view of the city, there are several restaurants, cozy terraces, a bell tower and the remains of a fort. Inside the mountain is a tunnel network that was carved out during the Second World War as shelters.
The mountain top can be reached via steep spiral staircases, a cable car, a lift or via a hiking trail. Going down is a lot easier and faster. Especially if you go racing down on the highest indoor slide in the world (a whopping 175 m) with a speed of 25 to 30 kilometres per hour. During the descent the slider makes quite a few turns, ‘flies’ through the dark and probably ends slightly nauseous. But that is just all part of the fun…. Fortunately, there is a method for controlling the speed to some extent for those who want to boast that they have gone down the slide but are not exactly made out of daredevil material. The trick is to press as hard as possible with your body on the mat on which to slide down. This will significantly reduce your speed.
Forty seconds of entertainment will set you back six euros and ten cents.
Gothic spiral staircase
Another special attraction, neat and petite, is a double spiral staircase in a castle that was built between 1438 and 1453 by Emperor Frederick III. This Gothic artwork almost looks like an optical illusion. The “stair of reconciliation” consists of two opposite spiral staircases, which briefly flow together on each floor and then separate again.
Nowadays the building is the seat of the government of the Styria region. Entrance to the staircase is free of charge.
Address: Hofgasse 15 8010 Graz.
The iconic contemporary art museum, on the banks of the River Mur, was designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier. The building is also popularly referred to as the ‘friendly alien’ .
Address: Lendkai 1, 8020 Graz.
Styria museums and places of interest
The Graz art museum is part of the Joanneum Universal Museum. This is a collaboration between 18 historical, cultural, art and architectural museums in and around Graz. The Joanneum Universal Museum is considered the largest of its kind in Central Europe, with around 4.9 million objects. With a combination ticket one can visit the various museums within 24 or 48 hours.
Cistercian Rein Monastery
The Cistercian Rein monastery, worldwide the oldest of its kind, is my favourite in this list of attractions. The monastery was founded in the year 1129. If you have to choose one thing to see, go for the monastery library, with 100,000 books, is an attraction in itself. The collection contains 300 medieval manuscripts, largely produced in the scriptorium of the monastery. In addition to the religious scriptures and songbooks the exhibition has also early prints of Shakespeare.
The heavily decorated abbey church is one of the largest and most beautiful churches in Styria.
The monastery is located 15 km north of Graz on a side branch of the River Mur near Gratwein.
Address: Rein 1, 8103 Gratwein-Straßengel.
In a secluded river valley, between the steamy slopes of the nearby mountains is the Stübing open-air museum. Around a hundred historic buildings (from the year 1452) make up the heritage collection. A small school, a shop, the church and the homes vividly tell a story of a time when electricity and running water were unheard of. Between the ancient wooden buildings one really gets a sense of how difficult life must have been in this bygone era.
Address: Enzenbach 32, 8114 Stübing
The sculpture garden in Graz has been named by The Guardian as one of the best sculpture parks in Europe. Although I do not share their enthusiasm I can see that it is a pleasant space to have a picnic or just to enjoy the greenery. And if you happen to be a Beatle fan or a hater you can indulge in a real ‘Yoko Ono’, as one of the artworks in the park is made by her.
Address: Thalerhofstraße 85, 8141 Premstätten.
Lurgrotte, the largest dripstone cave in Austria
The Lurgrotte is the largest dripstone cave in Austria. Although the caves were only ‘discovered’ in 1894 by the Italian cave scientist Max Brunello, they have been inhabited for much longer. Inhabitants till this day are bats. Cave bears lived there 50,000 years ago. Remains of Neaderthalers have also been found.
Brunello discovered the ‘great dome’, a huge hall with an area of 120 m by 80 m and a height of 40 m. This is one of the largest of its kind in Central Europe. Visitors follow a circular route of approximately two kilometres. A tour through these caves is not without risk. The water level in the cave can rise rapidly during heavy showers, thus running the risk of getting stuck. However, as visitors can only enter the cave under supervision, it is probably safe to assume that the tour leader checks the weather forecast in advance.
Fun fact: the caves are private property.
Address: Lurgrottenstrasse 1, 8102 Semriach.
Fort Rabenstein is another typical example where history and modern times go hand in hand. To enter the castle take a glass elevator. The cabin rotates 180° whilst in movement, the height difference from top to bottom is 52 m.
Within the fort are several halls that can be rented for events, a bar and a museum, the Japaneum. As the name suggests, it is an exhibition of Japanese art.
The most spectacular part of the fort is a structure made of glass and steel. In this room visitors have a spectacular view out over the surrounding valley.
Address: Adriach 41, 8130 Frohnleiten.
This traditional forge is something for lovers of old crafts. In the heyday of the forge, 60,000 scythes were produced and exported around the world.
The factory was and still is powered by six giant water wheels. The building is now a museum.
Address: Rudolf-Klug-Gasse 2, 8121 Deutschfeistritz.
Transport: if you want to see the surroundings of Graz, own transport is handy. You can reach Graz in three hours by train or Flixbus from Vienna. The city has its own airport. KLM, Easyjet, Vueling, Lufthansa, Eurowings and Austrian airlines fly directly to Graz.