The ‘alien’ and the armoury

Rudolf Abraham travels to Graz, Austria’s second-largest city and a UNESCO City of Design – one of only a handful in Europe.

Schlossbergplatz with Palais Attems ( left) , the Merciful Church of the Annunciation (center) and the Trinity Church (center right) the old town

Paid partnership with Austrian National Tourist Office

The ‘alien’ and the armoury

Rudolf Abraham travels to Graz, Austria’s second-largest city and a UNESCO City of Design – one of only a handful in Europe.

 All images © Graz Tourism, Frankowitsch, Frida und Fred Kindermuseum Hannes-Loske
The ‘alien’ and the armours: to listen along to this story on Graz, or to pause the playback, click the play button:

On the banks of the Mur, Graz is an easygoing university city with stacks of creative flair. It looks west to the Alps, north to imperial Vienna and south to the Adriatic – yet remains very much its own. 

Fittingly enough, my first port of call is the most iconic building in Graz and the focal point of the UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Kunsthaus.

One of the country’s top venues for contemporary art, with a rolling schedule of exhibitions by local as well as international names, it’s a genuinely stunning piece of architecture, and more than enough reason in itself to visit Graz.

Amorphous in form and clad in blue glass, it looks something like a gigantic amoeba, contrasting outrageously with the buildings surrounding it, and is well deserving of its nickname ‘the Friendly Alien’.

Designed by British architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, the Kunsthaus opened its doors in 2003 and was a flagship project of the city’s year as European Capital of Culture. 

The next stop on my walking tour – the city is eminently walkable – is Schlossberg, the green hill rising above the old city centre on the opposite bank of the Mur.

No, it doesn’t have a castle – it did once upon a time, but Napoleon had it demolished following the Treaty of Schönbrunn (the castle’s defences were so effective that it was never actually taken, as most Grazers will be pleased to tell you). 

Following the steep steps from Schlossbergplatz, I arrive at the 16th century Clock Tower – saved from being destroyed along with the castle by locals, who paid a large sum of money not to have it knocked down.

There are several things to see up here on the Schlossberg, but the main reason I’m here is the view – which as expected, is amazing. I stop at a terrace with a garden (originally a bastion) which provides the perfect viewpoint, with the city spread out below, and the blue form of the Kunsthaus gleaming mischievously in the late afternoon sun.  

Steps, a funicular, and an elevator are there to take you up to the Schlossberg, as well as a series of tunnels leading up from the old town – created during WW2 to provide shelter for the population during bombing raids.

And if none of the aforementioned routes fit your mood on the way back down, you have a further option – the slide. Not to do things by half measures, it’s the highest indoor slide in the world, with a total drop of 64m, including a relentless corkscrew near the top. 

I next pop into the Styrian Armoury, or Landeszeughaus. Housed in the original 17th century arms depot for this frontier region, this is the largest historical armoury in the world, with around 32,000 objects – from swords and sabres to shields and armour. And firearms – lots of firearms, some of them elaborately decorated and inlaid with cattle bone. 

Together the objects in the Styrian Armoury cover a period from the 15th to the 18th century, and the various rooms – atmospheric and stacked with pointy weapons – still feel like an armoury, just one that’s been impeccably polished and cleaned.

Next door, I gawp at the beautiful Italianate arcaded courtyard at the Landhaus, a 16th century Renaissance palace and home of Styria’s regional parliament.

Wandering around the city’s old historic core, I make my way to the Glockenspiel. Time it right and arrive at the time it chimes (currently 11am, 3pm and 6pm) and you’ll see painted wooden figures come out for a little dance high above the busy tables on the small square below. It’s a jaunty stop before the more sombre mausoleum of Ferdinand II.

I then cross the road to the Burg with its beautiful (and rather rare) Gothic double spiral staircase. The Graz Museum, with its permanent exhibition 1900 Years in the City, is the best place to learn more about the city and its multifaceted history.

The following morning, I wander along Mariahilfer Strasse to Lendplatz, one of the city’s 14 farmers’ markets, while the afternoon finds me over to the other side of town trying Brötchen (open sandwiches) at Café Frankowitsch, and in the evening I eat at one of the city’s excellent vegetarian restaurants.

There’s an exquisite selection of Sauvignon blanc and Gelber Muskateller wines, produced by family-run vineyards on the steep, green hills around the area.

These vineyards make a great day trip: rent a bike to cycle the South Styrian Wine Road and reward yourself with a visit to a thermal spa. Even if you stay in Graz, be sure to visit a Buschenschank – a tavern, where you typically eat a platter of local cheeses and cold cuts. 

Welcome to the Styrian capital – a city which has it all yet still feels like one of the most authentic places in Austria.

Need to know

Getting there

With an average direct flying time of only 2 hours from most major UK gateways, flights to Austria are the quickest option.

Best time to go

The best months for good weather in Graz are May to September. Fortunately this is when most of the festivals are on, too.

Where to stay

Graz is home to global hotel brands, boutique B&Bs and spacious rentals, all offering typical Styrian hospitality. Go to graztourismus.at for details.

Must-pack item

Comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking around galleries, going on tours, standing up at music gigs and walking up mountains.

How to do it

Save money with a Graz card: enjoy free travel on public transport and free visits to many museums and attractions.

Anything else

For wine-lovers, check out the South Styrian Wine Road, which connects charming little towns and villages, well-maintained vineyards, vibrant forests and flowery meadows

More information

This article was brought to you in partnership with Austrian National Tourist Office.

Go to austria.info for more details, suggested itineraries and booking.


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