Graz – City of design
Only two and a half hours drive, about 190 km from Zagreb, is a city that is often and unreasonably classified mainly in the category of a shopping mecca. It is the capital of the Styria province, and under its auspices gathers about 250,000 inhabitants, of which about 5,000 are Croats. In terms of size, among Austrian cities, it is located just behind Vienna, and it got the name after the Slavic word Gradec, which means a small castle.
Are you wondering what Graz has to offer besides shopping? A lot, because it is a city that is rich in history, but at the same time, it keeps pace with modernity. You will need at least 3 to 4 days for a complete city experience. If you have not already had the opportunity to visit this city, as a first destination, we would suggest the tourist information office (Graz Tourismus Information), located in the city center in the street Herrengasse. There you can equip yourself with a respectable amount of various catalogs on numerous world languages.
Herrengasse is mainly a pedestrian zone by which operate only trams and borders the old town. The street is plenty of bars and patisseries, which is why every shop window attracts your attention.
In addition to offering the city’s attractions, they also provide you with an insight into the surrounding areas. Near the tourist office is the entrance to the courtyard of the Provincial Parliament building. If you peek into this attractive courtyard filled with arcades, which is considered a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, you will not regret it. Herrengasse is mainly a pedestrian zone by which operate only trams and borders the old town. The street is plenty of bars and patisseries, which is why every shop window attracts your attention. If you find yourself in Graz during the summer, treat your taste buds to a scoop of delicious ice cream. It is a bit more expensive, but the scoops are still quite large, and one will be enough. If you are not a fan of ice cream, then you will surely be delighted to taste one of the traditional Austrian desserts. If you head north, you will reach the main square – Hauptplatz.
The Rathaus Town Hall rises on it, and near it is a fountain dedicated to the Styrian prince Archduke Johann. Four women surround him representing the rivers Mur, Danube, Enns, and Sann. If you have so far successfully resisted the many typical dishes and desserts on display, right now, you could fall for the smell of sausages that spreads through the square and stuns you. There are numerous stalls in the square, and most of them offer fast food. The square is the intersection of Herrengasse, Sporgasse, Schmiedgasse, Murgasse, and Sackstrasse and is an excellent starting point for exploring the old historic center of Graz. What you may have noticed by then are the buildings of different artistic styles and from different historical periods. Despite so much diversity, everything fits well. Thanks to that, in 1999, the historical core was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
If you turn right from the square, you will reach small streets with various restaurants, bars, and branded boutiques. This part of the neighborhood, around Mehlplatz and Färberplatz squares, is popularly called the Bermuda Triangle because, especially in the evening, a large number of the population is here “lost” for hours.
If you turn right from the square, you will reach small streets with various restaurants, bars, and branded boutiques. This part of the neighborhood, around Mehlplatz and Färberplatz squares, is popularly called the Bermuda Triangle because, especially in the evening, a large number of the population is here “lost” for hours. To the right of Mehlplatz is Glockenspielplatz, a small square that is especially interesting at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. when two window wings open on the bell tower, from which a couple in folk costumes made of wood emerge and then start dancing to the sounds of bells. It is a unique attraction that not only attracts tourists, but also the locals stop and enjoy the scene.
After exploring the historical center, go back to the square and head north along Sackstrasse, otherwise known for its art and antique shops, also called the artistic mile. Here, you will also find the department store Kastner & Öhler. Although you may not have planned to go shopping still takes some time to explore its interior, which hides the glitter and glow. Once you enter the department store, you will hear the sounds of the piano, and not from the loudspeaker. If you look around, you will notice a gentleman in a suit sitting at the piano, and his virtuosity creates a pleasant atmosphere for customers.
The range of assortment is big, but still leaves the impression that it is mostly for those with a slightly deeper pocket. The ground floor of the department store is for a bit younger population, so the interior design is adapted to them. Wood and metal predominate here, and customers are animated by a DJ. The department store is stretching on several floors. The central part is dominated by open space so you can follow the events on all levels. At the top of the department store is a restaurant with a magnificent view of the city, especially the many red roofs of the city center.
In the central part of the river, you can find an artificial shell-shaped island called Murinsel. The island is floating and is connected to the shores by two bridges. It was created at the time of the proclamation of Graz as the capital of European culture in 2003 and designed by the New York artist Vito Acconci.
In the continuation of Sackstrasse, you will come across an intersection where both the left and the right side offer different attractions. The Mura River flows on the left, and here, in the central part of the river, you can find an artificial shell-shaped island called Murinsel. The island is floating and is connected to the shores by two bridges. It was created at the time of the proclamation of Graz as the capital of European culture in 2003 and designed by the New York artist Vito Acconci. The island is a real family gathering place. It contains an amphitheater, a café, and a children’s playground. And then you begin to discover that Graz emits not only history but also modernity.
On the opposite side of the coast, you will notice the Kunsthaus, the art-house of Graz, also created in 2003. Due to its unusual exterior shape, the luminous facade of acrylic glass and roof tentacles, that defy the surrounding baroque environment and red roofs, affectionately is known – the Friendly Alien. The facade at the rear is integrated next to the 1847 house, which makes it more fascinating.
If you go over the Mura, in the previously mentioned junction, you will head in the direction of the hill towards Schlossberg. You can choose several ways to climb to the top. From Schlossbergplatz, you can climb the stone steps, and if you are not in good shape, you can choose a glass elevator located in the heart of the hill, which is a kind of attraction, because while climbing you are integrally surrounded by a rock. There is another option, which is an old funicular that has been overcoming steep slopes for more than 100 years. The lower station of the funicular is about 200 meters away from Schlossbergplatz. If none of the offered options suits you, you can climb to the top by road, but on the other side of the hill, with access through Sporgasse via Karmeliterplatz.
At the top is the Uhrturm clock tower, a famous symbol of the city, specific because the small hand shows minutes, and the big one shows hours, so without knowing this fact, you might think that the clock is not working accurately. Below it is a garden that will delight you even more if you visit it in the season when nature flourishes and flowers bloom. Apart from tourists, the hill is visited by many citizens because it is a small oasis of peace located in the city center and is easily accessible. It is perfect for excursions, enjoying romantic parks, restaurant terraces, or simply meditating on a bench by the trail. The hill offers a view of the entire city and even the surrounding hills. A perfect experience is the view of the town at night, bathed in light. During summer, you can find concert performances on the stage housed in a building that once served as a warehouse but also as dormitories for prisoners. There is also another hall under the hill, which can be reached by a system of underground corridors. We conclude that the Austrians know how to use every space to their advantage.
One of the most valuable monuments of Austrian cultural heritage is the Eggenberg castle (Schloss Eggenberg), located at the very end of the western part of the city in the Eggenberg district, in the middle of a beautiful green space.
On the other side of the hill, towards the east, is a large green area. There is a connected city park and burg garden. By the way, Graz is rich in parks that residents like to visit. People there spend their free time in various sports activities. You will notice a lot of bike paths in the city center. Be careful not to walk on them for your safety, as cyclists can be quite fast, so your invasion could make them angry. In the southern part of the park is located the Opera house, which in terms of size is just behind the one in Vienna. You can also reach it through Herrengasse heading south, and at the end of the street, turn left into Opernring. It is interesting that in front of such a historical and traditional building rise a very modern steel sculpture called the Sword of the light, which is very well visible from Schlossberg. Just behind the Opera House, on the Kaiser-Josef-Platz, is the largest market in Graz. We have to admit that the markets are a unique experience for us because they reflect the gastronomic culture of each city. And when it comes to Graz, it is indeed unique, which was confirmed in 2008, when he took the title – City of culinary delights.
Graz is loyal to local products, so at the market, you will meet farmers from the area who sell their local products. We do not know why, but after visiting the market, we felt a sudden emptiness in our stomachs, which we were not aware of before. Restaurant prices are, we would say, quite common in our European Union region. For the usual meat meal with a side dish, it is necessary to set aside around 11-12 euros, and specialties cost from 18 to more euros. But you can also find cheaper restaurants such as the restaurant chain Zu Den 3 Goldenen Kugeln, where you can get two burgers for lunch with a side dish and dessert for only 5.30 euros. The menu is rich, the portions too, and the prices affordable for everyone’s pocket. Of course, we can’t talk about some specialties here, but it can still satisfy the hunger caused by a full-day tour of the city.
When we already mention food, it is necessary to say something about the most popular liquid in Austria. In the Puntigam district, the southern part of the city is a brewery with a very long tradition, dating back to 1478. There is a production of the Puntigamer beer, which holds one of the leading positions on the Austrian beer scene. If you have always wanted to visit a brewery, you can do so here. Prior notice is necessary for sightseeing, and the ticket price for adults is 4 euros, while for pupils and students 2 euros. The factory is not difficult to find since the complex is quite large, and when you are close enough, you will feel the smell of the hops in the air.
The one aspect that will delight some tourists, primarily men, is that in Graz is a decent selection of erotic clubs (more precisely, brothels) that are open from 0 to 24 hours. They are in visible places, even in the city center. For those who are looking for this type of entertainment, we must say that the prices seem very affordable, especially looking at the exposed and reviewed price list with photos and a description of services. According to the price lists, in these clubs, you can watch an erotic movie or an erotic dance of girls for only a few euros. Some girls are also available for real action, for which it is necessary to set aside about 50 euros. Since clubs are legal, and girls undergo regular medical checkups, you do not need to fear infectious and other diseases.
But, let’s get back to a usual city tour. One of the most valuable monuments of Austrian cultural heritage is the Eggenberg castle (Schloss Eggenberg), located at the very end of the western part of the city in the Eggenberg district, in the middle of a beautiful green space. Due to its importance, the castle has been added to the UNESCO list of protected cultural heritage sites in 2010. Inside the castle are an Old Gallery and a numismatic cabinet. The ticket price for adults is 8 euros, and for children under six, it is free. The castle was built entirely in logical-mathematical harmony with the Universe. It has four towers that symbolize the seasons, twelve doors that symbolize the months, and 365 windows that symbolize the days.
Near the castle is the planet park, for the visit of which it is necessary to set aside 2 euros. If you use public transport, you can reach the castle from the center (from the main square) by tram number 1. For easy navigation by public transport, it is best to find information on the website www.holding-graz.at. There you will find detailed information on all bus and tram lines, and at the same time you can find out ticket prices and the possibilities of buying cheaper transport packages.
If you come to Graz on your own transport, then you will surely be interested in where to park, especially in the city center. Parking is charged every day of the week except Sunday. In the center, there is a blue zone that has a restriction, and it is possible to stay in the parking lot for a maximum of 3 hours, and in some zones such as parking at the main station Europaplatz, only 1 hour. What they also have is the possibility of free parking or stopping for a maximum of 10 minutes. The price of parking in an open parking lot for half an hour is 60 cents, while parking garages are more expensive, so in some, you will need to pay up to 4 euros for 1 hour. The most affordable is the garage under the museum of the Kunsthaus-Friendly Alien, where an hour is 1.80 euros.
When you get tired of exploring, you can use some of your time to relax, and the Bad Eggenberg center is ideal for that. It is a large complex that consists of a spa wellness center on two floors, swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), a center for physical therapy, and a spa garden of 1,000 m2. With massages, beauty treatments, or just swimming, relaxation is guaranteed.
Nicely rested, you are ready for shopping. The best choice of branded clothing in the city center is in Stempfergasse, which can be reached from Herrengasse. Apart from the shops, it is also known for the fact that Johannes Kepler (German astronomer and physicist) once lived there, and you will find the inevitable Frankowitsch patisserie with irresistible delicacies. There are also some shops on Herrengasse in the direction of Jakominiplatz. There is the only Zara in town on Am Eisernen Tor. There are several big shopping malls in and around Graz, where you could get lost for hours. To the north of the city, at its exit, is the Shopping Nord. In the central part of the city, in the district of Gries, is a Citypark with over 100 shops. In the south-eastern part in the region of Libenau is Murpark, and in the south-west in the district of Strassgang is the Center West and Ikea, and very close to another famous furniture store, Kika.
Center West has a poor selection of stores than other centers, but it is still visited due to the proximity of the beforementioned Ikea. The largest of all is Seiersberg, in the southwestern part of the city and right next to the motorway. The shopping center has more than 200 shops and 27 cafes and restaurants. It is also considered the best shopping center in southern Austria. When you enter it, you will feel as if you are in some separate city. Plenty of shops, a great offer and no matter how much you walk, the shopping center has no end in sight.
If you reach Seiersberg, it would be a shame not to proceed to Lake Schwarzlsee, which stretches parallel to Graz Airport. Here you will be able to enjoy a walk along the lake or lounge on the surrounding lawns, and we recommend that you visit the nearby and unusual park of sculptures, artists from different parts of the world. You will see a balloon that inflates and empties with a sound background, a figure of aircraft parts, a concrete ship, and many other amazing and unusual designs. The younger ones, as well as those who are a bit older, can try their hand at driving on a covered karting track near the park.
As far as hotel accommodation is concerned, the more or less common rule applies, that in the city center, usually are better and more expensive hotels. Those located along the Mura River are particularly expensive. Cheaper accommodation is in a hotel next to the train station. The most affordable ones are located further from the city center, especially on its extreme borders.
Graz is a city that will continuously surprise you because it offers so much diversity in such a small space. There is no need to go in search of culture, delicacies, or entertainment because they will find you at almost every step. After all that we have seen, all we can do is agree with the note we read in an informative catalog: A short flirtation with Graz can easily turn into a long-term relationship.
TEXT: Vesna Dzuverovich PHOTO: Robert Blaskovich