For travelers looking for a relaxing alternative to Vienna, Salzburg or Innsbruck, consider a trip to Graz, the second largest city in Austria. Off the beaten path, not only is Graz less crowded, but it also has an outstanding culinary scene and lots of cultural attractions. Blending old and new architectural styles, the City of Graz is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2003 Graz was named the European Capital of Culture and in 2011 the UNESCO City of Design. Here you can find innovative modern architecture and a medieval old town with baroque churches and hidden Italian Renaissance courtyards.
I recently visited Graz for the first time while attending the Propel Conference, a conference for travel bloggers. Although Austria wasn’t initially on my radar, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to visit Graz and Styria’s countryside.
Overall I found Graz approachable, walkable (the city center is compact) and laid back. There are lots of green spaces and if you’re on a budget, there are plenty of free things to do in Graz.
What to Do in Graz
Stairs of Reconciliation
One of the unique things you’ll find in Graz is the 15th-century double spiral staircase inside the Burg. Here two spiral staircases merge on each floor, part ways and merge again. Can you say optical illusion!
Walk up Schlossberg
With good reason, Schlossberg or “Castle Hill” is one of the most popular attractions in Graz. Once a castle, this public park offers expansive views of Graz’s historic old town and the surrounding area.
There are several ways to get to the top of the hill. You can either walk up 260 steps (free), take the tram or elevator for a fee. If you dare, you can also take a gigantic slide back down. As the world’s tallest indoor slide, it takes approximately 40 seconds to get down.
If you decide to walk up, know that there are multiple paths that you can take. Turn right for the shorter, more scenic route with lots of steps or turn left to hike up the steep paved road.
During my trip I had the chance to take both routes and each offers a different perspective of the city. Along the way, sit on one of the benches and enjoy the view. Marvel at the 16th-century Bell Tower, the Chinese Pavilion and the iconic medieval Clock Tower which still works but is hard to read because the hour hand is bigger than the minute hand. You can also grab a drink or something to eat at the cafe and restaurant, and there’s even an outdoor theatre.
Helpful Tip: To avoid the crowds I recommend visiting early in the morning. When I started my climb during my morning run, there was no one around which meant that I had the gardens to myself. Locals love to train on these steps and I can see why. It’s a rigorous workout.
Other parks to visit in Graz include Stadtpark and Augarten.
Read More: Free Things to Do in Rome
Inside Schlossberg don’t miss Kriegssteig a tunnel which connects the historic old town with the Clock Tower. This tunnel has 260 steps and was built during WWI. In WWII it sheltered 40,000 people during the bombings. Every year there’s a foot race up the stairway and so far the best time to the top is 1 minute and 46 seconds.
If you’re into modern architecture, I highly recommend visiting Murinsel. Murinsel is an artificial floating steel “island boat” that sits in the middle of the Mur River.
Murinsel conveniently connects both sides of the city with two footbridges so stop by and have a look around. There’s a casual cafe-bar inside and an amphitheater for performances. Since it acts as a bridge that connects the two sides of the city, you’ll see lots of people passing through here.
Lastly, visit the Murinsel at night to see the blue lights!
Mariahilfkirche is a 16th-century Baroque Catholic Church with two towers. Although I didn’t get a chance to go inside, don’t miss the spacious inner courtyard on the side of the church. There’s also a colorful mural in the courtyard which I highly recommend checking out.
Although I didn’t see a ton of street art in Graz, the ones I did spot were definitely noteworthy. While walking around, keep an eye out for interesting art pieces like this one.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to do in Graz. I hope you enjoyed these highlights!
In the comments below let me know what you’re most looking forward to doing in Graz.
Other Practical Information for Visiting Graz
- Population: Graz has more than 300,000 inhabitants including 62,000 students from four universities.
- Language: German
- Currency: Euro
- Credit cards aren’t widely accepted so bring cash with you.
- Visit the tourist information center at Herrengasse 16.
- Ride the tram for free for a couple of stops in the central area between Jakominiplatz and Hauptplatz. Look for the Altstadtbim sticker which indicates which stops are free.
- Austrians drive on right side of the road similar to the U.S. and Canada. Driving stick shift is common.
- Graz is a bike-friendly city.
What an honor to attend the inaugural Propel Conference in Graz, Austria! I learned so much and I’m excited to continuously improve my blog and podcast. By the way, here’s the Mayor of Graz, Siegfried Nagl, taking a selfie with us!
Danielle is a travel finance strategist, writer, speaker and podcaster. She paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27 and has traveled to 26 countries. She refuses to let her financial responsibilities hold her back from living life on her own terms.