Bigger than Salzburg and more modern in many ways, Graz is a really lovely city worth exploring. It is Austria’s second largest city with a population of just over 300,000. I had not really heard about it until I read the 36 Hours in Graz featured in the New York Times. So here I am! It was heavily bombed during WWII so there are not as many historic buildings as Salzburg. Graz is also an easy walking city. So just walk, pop into a café for coffee or into one of its beautiful churches with wonderful altars. It received the UNESCO City of Design designation in 2009.
It is also a university town with several in the city or just outside. This also adds to the young vibe.
Highlights of my visit include:
Kunsthaus Graz: This is the contemporary art museum located at Landkai 1 on the left side of the river. This unique building, opened in 2003, was designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier and is worth visiting just to see the interior. They feature temporary exhibitions. I enjoyed an excellent photography exhibit. Though the exterior is outstanding during the day, try to see it at night as well with it lights!
Museum im Palais/Palace Museum: In addition to some of the treasures displayed from Graz and the Styria region, I recommend going just to see the baroque state rooms of the palace with its beautiful hall of mirrors and gold and white painted ceilings with gorgeous chandeliers. I also enjoyed a history exhibition on Graz and World War 1.
Joanneumsviertel/Joanneum Quarter: With its contemporary entrance below ground, make sure to visit one of the two museums, the Neue Galerie Graz, the Modern Art Museum, or the Naturkundermuseum, the National History Museum. I chose the Modern Art Museum and enjoyed their contemporary collection as well as a special exhibition from the Biedermeier period including a colorful work by Egon Sciel. They also have a collection of early works from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Further afield is the Schloss Eggenberg, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can visit the baroque interior or see art masterpieces from Durer to Bruegel and Rembrandt. I was not able to fit it in, but hope you can on your visit.
Schlossberg: Make sure to visit this fortification above the city. You can visit it by elevator, funicular railway or by foot. I went up for dinner and took the elevator. You can visit the bell tower from 1588, the stage where today you attend concerts or operas, the stable and cannon bastion, Turkish well and clock tower. Make sure to see the famous painted house in the Old Town at Herrengasse #7.
Beautiful churches: I thought the churches in Graz were very beautiful. I suggest visiting Mariahilferplatz and see the Mariahilferkirche from the beginning of the 17th century. Franziskanerkirche with its famous clocktower is a major Graz landmark. It was founded in 1239 as a monastery. You can still visit the cloisters. I also enjoyed visiting the Cathedral built between 1438 and 1464. Its stone work and carvings are exceptional.
Near the Cathedral is the Glockenspiel. Though I missed it, at 11 am, 3 pm and 6 pm, two windows open and a pair of carven wooden figures in traditional costumes, dance to the sound of the Glockenspiel. Glockenspiel Square.
Just north of Mariahilferplatz is Lenplatz. Here during the day, there is a farmers market, plus there are many small outdoor cafes surrounding the square. There is also a farmers market near the Opera House, the Kaiser-Josef-Markt, from Monday to Saturday.
Murinsel: Built in the cultural capital year of 2003, this is an usual structure that sits in the middle of the Mur river that was designed by New York artist Vito Acconci. It looks like a floating shell that is linked to the banks on either side by footbridges. It is used as a café and restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating. I would definitely make a point to see it. The views of it at night are really incredible.