Graz is Austria’s second city in terms of population, and you could certainly fill a couple of days exploring or just hanging out in the city centre. But its location just 2.5 hours from Vienna, and the fact that it’s a logical stopping point on your way from Vienna to Italy or Croatia, make Graz a great place to spend a couple of hours or half a day.
It’s easy to get to Graz from Vienna, as trains run every hour from Meidling station. If you catch the 9.02 or 10.02 train, you’ll arrive around midday (11.30 or 12.30), which leaves you plenty of time to see Graz before taking your onwards connection.
You’ll arrive in Graz Hauptbahnhof, which is located about 2km from the centre of town. Before you do anything else, visit the information centre inside the station and pick up a city map, and information brochures. The “Exploring the sights of Graz” pamphlet is particularly useful, as it contains details of three excellent walking tours which will take you to Graz’s best sights.
Since you’ve probably arrived with baggage, your next stop is the lower level of the station, where you’ll find luggage lockers. The smallest size, which is more than big enough for a large backpack (or two carry-on bags) costs €2; you’ll need coins. Make sure you’ve got everything you need with you when you lock the locker, because you can only open it again once.
Get into the city
Armed with your city map, leave the station, turn right onto Bahnhofgürtel, and take a left down Annenstraße. This street will take you into the centre of things: you’ll pass through the Sudtiroler Platz and will cross the River Mur immediately afterwards. From the bridge, continue straight and you’ll find yourself in the Hauptplatz (main square).
If you’re short on time, you can catch a tram from the station into the city. A €2 ticket is valid for an hour, or you can get a 24-hour ticket for €4.50. You can get your ticket from the red ticket machines in the main station, from a tobacconist shop, or on the tram itself.
Depending on what time you’ve arrived, you might be looking for lunch — here’s your chance to try some South Austrian fare. Many restaurants offer a Tagesmenu (daily menu) for €6-12 which includes a starter (usually soup or salad) and a main course. If you’re on a serious budget, visit a supermarket to buy sandwich fillings or fill up on a €2.50 kebab.
There are many worthwhile things to see within walking distance of the main square. The Hauptplatz itself is home to the Rathaus (town hall) and a statue of Archduke Johann, and many of the buildings surrounding the square are impressively decorated. If you turn right from the Hauptplatz along Herrengasse, you’ll see the fantastic “Painted House”, which features scenes from Greco-Roman mythology, and which was painted in 1742. All along this street are archways which lead to fantastic inner courtyards — choose a few at random and check them out. Don’t miss the Landhaus Courtyard, which is conveniently located next to the Tourist Information office.
Off the main street and into the warren of pedestrianised ways, you’ll find old churches, a palace, a double spiral staircase dating from 1499, and the cathedral. If you’re in town at the right time, you can hear the glockenspiel play and see the figures dance at 11am, 3pm, and 6pm — the clock is located in imaginatively named Glockenspielplatz.
If you’re feeling energetic, climb the Schlossberg, the mountain that overlooks the city. The small fort that used to stand here gave the city its name — “Graz” means “little castle”. The little castle at the top of the hill now is a cute clock tower, the city’s symbol. Of course, it would be a lot easier to get to the top by the funicular railway that ascends at an incline of 61 degrees. To get to the lower station from the Hauptplatz, just walk along Sackstraße until you reach Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Kai.
At the top of the Schlossberg you’ll find a bell tower, an outdoor theatre, a variety of bastions, and of course the clock tower.
Back down in the city, you might be starting to run out of time, so head back towards the main station. Make sure to cross the river at the Murinsel, an artificial island in the form of a huge glass shell, which is connected to both banks of the river by footbridges. If you’re feeling a bit tired, stop in the cafe here for a rest and a coffee.
Turn left after crossing the river and you’ll see the Kunsthaus, built in 2003 (like the Murinsel) when Gras was European Capital of Culture. This enormous blue structure is nicknamed “the friendly alien” and provides a fantastic contrast with the otherwise quite traditional architecture of Graz.
Now it’s certainly time to leave, so hop on a tram or retrace your steps to the Hauptbahnhof, where you can stock up on snacks for your onward journey at the supermarket conveniently located inside. And don’t forget to pick up your bags at the lockers before you go!