After giving you guys a sneak peak into Graz not long ago, I knew I needed to share more about this interesting student town in the southern part of Austria.
I heard about Graz (just to set the record straight, it’s pronounced “Grah-tz“) through a mate in Australia whoâ€™d studied there. When I saw a cheap flight come up soon after arriving in London, I jumped on the opportunity to check out a less visited part of Europe.
Graz is a historical and cultural melting pot. Itâ€™s the second largest city in Austria and is the capital of the Austrian canton of Styria. Along with being a big student hub, with six universities and over 40,000 students, itâ€™s also an impressive centre of artistic and musical expression.
A final interesting fact before we move onto the meat of the post, the Californian Governor and epic action star Arnold Schwarzenegger was born nearby in Thal. Get to the chop-paaar!
Things to See and Do
Graz has no shortage of impressive historical sights, interesting cultural hangouts and cool bars and cafes. With an extensive main shopping strip and the castle mountain that dominates the city skyline, youâ€™ll be well setup for two fulfilling days.
SchloÃŸberg and the Clock Tower
Without a doubt the most dominating feature of the city, the Schlossberg towers of the old town and harbours the history of hundreds of years of conflict and empire rule. It was such a stronghold in its heyday that it was the only place in the region that never fell to the Ottoman Turks.
The Clock Tower (Uhrturm) is the last remaining structure of the castle that once stood on the hill and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The Schlossberg boasts no less than four ways of ascending to the top to enjoy the view. You can take the stairs, built by former Turkish slaves and cut into the cliff face, the funicular railway or the elevator, dead set in the core of the mountain.
The view of Graz from the Schlossberg
The mountain is also dotted with the remains of former buildings that adorned the top over the centuries, and features a large open air auditorium where concerts are held. Another unique event space is hidden *inside* the mountain itself (near the elevator) and is host to rave parties, concerts and gala dinners.
Preserved since 1551, the Landeszeughaus houses the complete collection of arms of Styria and displays over 30,000 items.
Itâ€™s the largest existing original armoury in the world and attracts visitors from all over. It holds weaponry, tools, suits of armour (for battle and for parades) going back hundreds of years. The guided tours are excellent value – the guides know tonnes about the pieces, what time period they are from, what they were used for, even which particular workshop made them.
One of the more quirkier landmarks in Graz, the Murinsel is an artificial island in the middle of the river Mur.
After trapsing down the gangway into the main superstructure, youâ€™ll find a cafÃ©, an open-air theatre and a playground.
Rathaus (City Hall) and Old Town
As the striking centrepiece of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town, the Rathaus stands imposing over the central square.
This palace in Lombardic style in the centre of the Old Town houses the federal state parliament of Styria. Itâ€™s one of the most incredible examples of Renaissance architecture in Austria and was built by the Italian architect Domenico dell’Allio between 1557 and 1565.
The Landhaus is one of those quiet, unique places to just wander around for a bit, admiring the architecture and the detail in the archways.
The local drop youâ€™ll find around most of the bars is Puntigamer. Itâ€™s a decent beer that can easily become your beer of choice for the weekend. Alternatives youâ€™ll find are Erdinger and Schneider Weisse.
Stern is a cool little bar packed with character located on Sporgasse â€“ the road on the east side of the Schlossberg. It features arched ceilings and has a real cosy vibe, perfect for a few beers (with the complimentary nuts) or a cocktail or two.
Sporting cheap pizza and beer, SÃ¤gewerk is on SchlÃ¶gelgasse, just off Jakominiplatz about 50 meters up the road. They make fantastic pizzas based the topping you choose by ticking the boxes on a menu handed out as you sit down. The menu is in German, so get one of the waitresses to explain the toppings to you. You can score a beer and a pizza for â‚¬10 and enjoy a real local, student hang out.
Located right near the Glockenspiel, this great traditional pub serves up tasty schnitzels and beer brewed onsite. It fans out into lots of small rooms and enclaves, with great views of the square below.
How to get there
Graz is serviced by the ubiquitous low cost carrier Ryanair, and they fly direct from London-Stansted only. Snap yourself up a cheap fare a month or so ahead of time to get the dates you want.
From Airport to City
A coach (note, not a low-floor type public transport, a big one with plush seats) runs direct from outside the terminal building to the two public transport hubs of Jakominiplatz and then onto Hauptbahnhof. Fares cost â‚¬1,70 each way and can be bought from the driver. Note, the coach departs from the same place in both locations (Jakominiplatz and Hauptbahnhof) regardless of direction.
A bit of orientation
This map will give you a birds-eye view of everything I cover in the post, giving you some perspective into the lay of the land.
View 48 hours in Graz in a larger map
Get around in Graz
Graz is easily traversable on foot, as the old town is all tightly packed together. It can get a bit strenuous around the Schlossberg (the main hill that overlooks the town) but most of it is fairly flat.
You can get a local bus or tram to and from the hostel if you donâ€™t feel like the walk.
Where to stay
JUFA (Junge Urlaubsidee FÃ¼r Alle) run over 40 hostels throughout Austria and Germany, and their hostel in Graz is an awesome place to hang your hat for a few nights. Itâ€™s located close to the Hauptbahnhof and is a 10-15 minute walk from the Old Town and everything youâ€™ll want to see in Graz.
The staff are really friendly, all speak English and thereâ€™s a bar in the foyer. Most dorms are fitted out with single beds only (although some on the upper levels have bunks) and each bed has a locker. Theyâ€™ve also got an indoor rock climbing setup out the back and they put on an AMAZING spread for breakfast of lots of types of breads, eggs, meats, cheeses, cereals and fruit juices which is included in the price.
A lot of families do stay here, but I ran into a Croatian hockey team having a party in their rooms on the top floors while I stayed here, and we ended up staying up till 2am drinking beer theyâ€™d bought up in the tour bus. Awesome.
A night in the JUFA Hostel will set you back just under â‚¬20 and a beer and a schnitzel about the same. The cheap Ryanair flight is where youâ€™ll save the most on this trip, but the cheap pizza at Sagewerk and student prices make Graz a fairly cheap destination.
The eclectic mix of university influence, strong cultural development and intense history make Graz a real â€œoff the beaten trackâ€ destination. You wonâ€™t see tour groups or endless strips of souvenir shops here. Youâ€™ll find an authentic Austrian city loaded with personality, amazing architecture and beautiful gardens that so many European travellers will never discover.