Amid terracotta rooftops and strudel lives Austria's capital of design. Discover a welcoming world of unique and unusual things to do in Graz, Austria.
Unique and Unusual Things to do in Graz, Austria
Graz. It’s not the most inspiring of names, now is it? Short, squat, and sounding more than a little like the French word for fat, it lacks the flourish that sweeps Barcelona and Vienna into the linguistic catwalk of European city names.
But names can be deceiving.
For Austria's second largest city not only has plenty of unusual things to do, she also has some unbeatable awards to her name.
- UNESCO City of Design
- UNESCO World Heritage Centre
- Austria's Culinary City of Delights (check out where to eat in Graz.)
- Home of Arnie "the Terminator" Schwarzenegger
So with that to whet your appetite, let me show you more beautiful and unusual things to do in Graz.
Unique to Graz: The Classics
Ooh, there are so many interesting and unusual things to do in Graz, it's hard to know where to begin. Let's start with the classics, shall we? The unique, the most ostentatious, the most camera-worthy... Here goes.
The Floating Island - The Murinsel
Coiled within the swirling foam of an everyday Austrian river, you'll find the bug-blue glass of the Murinsel. Built as a temporary installation, locals fell in love with such passion that the authorities granted a stay of execution.
Now, you can walk from one side of the river to the next, pausing in the Murinsel. Not only does it look, let's face it, cool, from the riverbanks, it also hosts musicians and performing artists during the summer in the central glassy nub. Cool and no mistake.
The Kunsthaus or Friendly Alien
It's a delicious contradiction of the city that one of the most unusual things to do in Graz is also one of the classics. The Kunsthaus, or Art House, is exactly as it sounds: a museum for modern art. What sets it apart is the remarkable architecture that shimmies and swaggers into view from the road, the river and the viewing peak of the Schlossberg.
The Stairs of Reconciliation - The Twisting Double Helix
I certainly don't want to mislead you. Not everything exciting and unique about Graz is in the new. Tucked away in the stone of a public building lies the Doppelwendeltreppe, or double staircase. Commissioned by Emperor Maximilian, son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, this remarkable work twists and curves away and back, away and back in a work of mathematical genius. It dates back to 1494-1500 and is one of my favourite quiet and unique things to do in Graz.
UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN GRAZ: SEE THE CITY FROM ABOVE
The Schlossberg Tram Ride
Travel to the top of the city and the landmark Schlossberg area. Take in the clock tower, the cafes, and the Chinese pavilion or just relax and scenically admire the city spread out below.
Take A Tour Bus
Yes, you will feel like a tourist. But, bah, whatever. It's the most straightforward way to see the architectural sites spread across the city. Find details here.
Dine on a Rooftop Terrace
Dine or grab some Apfelstrudel in the cool rooftop restaurant of Kastner Oehler, a cream and gold shopping institution in Graz.
THE STRANGEST STAINED GLASS WINDOW IN THE WORLD
It was a church like any other. Well, already that’s not quite true. There are monastic churches, all barren and bare. Peruvian churches with links to Seville, all dripping with gold and ruby red blood. Masterpieces and hidden Welsh hermit houses.
But let’s for the sake of the story, stick with the basics of a church we’d know.
Quiet. Slightly cool. Altars, pews, the odd arch-angel. Still water in a silent font, stained windows in primary blues, reds and greens. And there, in the midst of it all, two faces came to focus, to shimmer into view.
That moustache. That flopping, loppy fringe.
There, indeed, as promised, in the crowd of the crucifixion, emerged the stained glass faces of one Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. What was going on?
Turns out this Graz stained glass window was commissioned during the 1950s as some kind of historical protest. And now it sits quietly, unnoticed by the masses during, well, the masses.
I left the glass behind and stepped back into the busy, summer street.
Hipster Cool Places in Graz
Feel all veggie, wholesome and homemade in this cute little offering with streetside white tables.
OK, since it opened its doors in 1569 it’s hard to claim it’s new on the scene. But it’s definitely worth popping in to taste the sugar-dusted history of the city.
Full of fresh fruit and veg plus some sneaky caffeine and sugar-laced cafes at the edge. Look out for the nearby building painted black with symbolic poppies – a tribute to those who died years ago during the black death.
Grand Cafe Kaiserfeld
A cosy, Viennese-style coffee house with Andy Warhol style portraits of local boy Arnie.
MARIAHILFERPLATZ: THE CREATIVE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Once a no-go area, this side of the river has transformed itself into a hub of hip creativity. Look out for coffee shops, charity design shops and plenty of outdoor spots for soaking up views of the Schlossberg. It's the perfect area for finding unique and unusual things to do in Graz.
Boutique Recycling Shop
Heidenspass Cool, creative design with a focus on recycling materials.
Healthy Eating Pay As You Weigh
Mangolds Bright, spacious vegetarian restaurant where you pay by weight for your food. Impossible to eat here and not leave feeling healthy and inspired.
Hipster Chic Hotel and Breakfast Spot
Hotel Wiesler & Its Cool Eatery Once an art deco landmark in the city, today the Hotel Wiesler has embraced shabby chic and hipster cool.
I’d highly recommend staying here but if that’s not an option, stop in for dinner or drinks at the Speisesaal. Look out for art deco clues from the past or visit the barber for the hipster present. Plus, it’s right next to the Kunsthaus with great views of the old city.
Disclosure. My trip to Graz was a part of the #roundtripAustria project involving five blogs covering various cities, regions and activities all over Austria as part of a Captivate project in partnership with the Austrian National Tourist Office. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like.