Graz was founded at the spot where the river Mur (see also
The city's past and present development was significantly influenced by the area's existing geological and geographical features. The River Mur, which flows from north to south cuts the city in half, and hilly regions flank the north, east and west of the city. The Schlossberg mountain in the city centre is only a short distance away from the river.
The streets that surround the city centre stretch out in all directions and are connected by small alleys, between which buildings fill up the web-like structure. Seventeen districts surround the city in a circular form. Their contemporary social fabric reflects not only when they were built, but also the circumstances of their growth, as well as their economic importance.
The architecture of the 'Altstadt', or Old Town, consists largely of huge rows of houses, many of which date back to medieval times. Many of them are grouped around several smaller squares and alleys (
Apart from its historical and cultural significance, Old Town is also where many of the town's social life is played out. There are numerous restaurants such as the
On the north, east and south ends of the city centre, you will find the St. Leonhard, Jakomini, and Geidorf districts, which changed from being suburban to upper-middle class residential areas in the 19th century. With a plethora of cafes and the
The eastern part of Geidorf is also home to some impressive turn-of-the-century villas. Despite its potential to have a purely residential feel, the areas atmosphere (just like that of St. Leonhard and Jakomini) is dominated by the university. Nearly 40.000 students and numerous staff breathe education into the atmosphere. The western bank of the River Mur, which is opposite the Old Town, is divided between the Gries and Lend districts, the latter of which is known for its (Farmer's Market). They complete the inner ring of districts that surround the Old Town and architecturally speaking, this part of Graz is full of baroque buildings, such as the
In the 19th century, Gries and Lend were centres of trade and much of the traffic that passed through the city stopped here. Today, they are known for their multicultural population: many different nationalities have found a home here, there are lots of different shops and nightlife at venues such as the
An additional eleven districts surround the neighborhoods that have built up around the Old Town. Most of them were once small villages, which were incorporated into Graz in 1938. Although areas such as St. Peter or Gösting (
Graz's outer districts, which have lots of forests and meadows, have a slightly rural feel. The locals tend to take advantage of the fact that you can get to places such as the 'Buschenschank' in a relatively short time, either by bicycle or by public transport. In addition, hilly areas such as Rosenhain,
Photo: Graz Tourismus, Hans Wiesenhofer
Graz's overall appearance as a city offers numerous ways to discover its history, which has included times of splendor and expansion as well as times of difficulty and stagnation.
One of the main features in the development of the city is its geographical location. It sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains, with the river Mur flowing through its centre. The middle of the city's central basin is only a few metres from the river, and nestled in by steep slopes.
Graz, which is the centre of the Steiermark region, is also Austria's second largest city. Realistically, it is composed of a number of smaller villages, which were once independent. Until they began to intertwine with one another in the 19th and 20th centuries, their only common feature was that they all developed around the Schloßberg.
Archaeologists have found artifacts from the early Stone Age to the Roman era, but the the earliest advanced settlement here is traced back to the Slaws in 800 AD. The name means "Little Castle" and comes from the Slavonic word Gradec. Unfortunately, however, there have only been a few archaeological finds from this epoch.
The Late Middle Ages were decisive periods in the city''s historical coming of age. Under the Stirian Nobles, Graz became an important centre of commerce and trade and the Ruine Gösting is a symbol of the city's status. The city centre then, as now, was composed of the area around the Sackstraße, the Murgasse, the Sporgasse and the Hauptplatz, with the nice old town of the Kälbernes Quarter. There was also a Jewish Ghetto in the south of the city, but in the 15th century, violent pogroms forced Jews to go elsewhere.
Despite the city's high medieval standing, the buildings constructed during the time that the Habsburg dynasty resided in Graz are the ones that continue to dominate the inner city's landscape. From 1379-1493, the Cathedral and much of the Castle were built, and the conflict over land in the 16th century left other architectural reminders. The city's landed nobility, many of whom were Protestant, made their presence felt by erecting buildings such as the Landhaus and numerous city palaces, the facades of which were given baroque features as time went on.
In reaction to this construction programme, Catholic land owners brought Jesuits into the city. From 1564-1619, Catholics sponsored masterpieces such as the Old University (today a seminary), the Mausoleum, the Minoritenkirche and the Church of St. Ändra.
The most important piece of baroque architecture in the city is without doubt Eggenberg Castle, but the city's landscape also changed when forts were built around the Schlossberg and the City Park. Only a few remains, such as the Paulustor, the Burgtor and the Kasematten (Kasematten-Schlossbergbühne) can be seen today, for they were pulled down in the 19th century. The grounds that were subsequently empty were used to extend the Stadtpark in 1869 and to build new residential areas; because of this, the inner city and surrounding areas were brought closer together.
In the 19th century, Graz became had a big enough population to call itself a city and its most influential citizens, many of whom favoured unification with Germany, built impressive buildings such as the Karl-Franzens-Universität, the Opernhaus, the Town Hall and the Herz Jesu Church. On one hand, these were to illustrate the Graz's right to call itself a city and on the other, they were to show people that Graz was an "example of German Culture".
As the 19th century progressed, the divide between the city's left and right, which was heavily represented in the working-class districts of Gries and Lend, became ever more apparent. At the same time, Graz was also described as a "Pensionopolis" because many retired imperial civil servants and artists, like Johann Nestroy, moved to the city.
During the Third Reich there was again a favorable union with Germany, and when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, euphoria filled the nation. The city was even given the "honorary title" of "Stadt der Volkerhebung" ("City of the Peoples' Uprising").
At the beginning of the 21st century, Graz is a city that is aware of its geographic proximity and historical relationship to the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Unlike the past, there is a more open, less hostile atmosphere towards this reality and it is noticeable not only in city life as a whole, but also in the city's three open universities.
Photo: Graz Tourismus, Hans Wiesenhofer
Graz's inner city is an ever present architectural reminder of the past- and the status of World Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO stands as a testimony for that. Be it for the landmark Schlossberg with the famous Uhrturm on it, or for the picturesque city centre or be it for a business trip - Graz offers plenty of opportunities for accommodation. From five stars to youth hostels, the hospitality you will encounter is genuine.
Those that are used to the finer things in life will enjoy the luxurious Grand Hotel Wiesler, which is directly in the city centre. It offers all the facilities and features you would expect from a five star hotel and you can even have a champagne breakfast brought to your bed.
The Erzherzog Johann-Hotel in the Sackstraße is, however, the most exquisite accommodation in the whole of Graz. It has a rich tradition and the lodgings, which are furnished with antiques and a baroque conservatory, are exquisite to say the least. The rolls served for breakfast are all made in the in-house bakery.
Another top of the range hotel is the Schlossberghotel, located on the foot of Schlossberg. Also worth mentioning is the elegant Hotel Weitzer.
For those who are looking for a relaxed and cozy little hotel in midst of the city's green outskirts the Häuserl im Wald (little house in the wood) is perfect. Its name conjures up images of the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel. What is truly magical here are the culinary delights available, and many people from Graz have held private functions in this hotel. The rooms are comfortable and tastefully decorated and you will be sure to sleep tight. The hotel has three stars and if you have had a hectic day in the city you can end the day listening to the crickets outside or a nice walk in the fresh air.
The Pension Rückert, which is easily accessible from the tram station, is family-run. Its small number of rooms give it a cosy and intimate feel and its location in the middle of a district full of villas adds to its charm. The fact that it is close to the Karl-Franzens-University also means that you can have an interesting night out within walking distance. Its proximity also allows you to reach the city centre quickly and the prices are very affordable.
If you are traveling on a shoestring budget, the main youth hostel Jugend- und Familiengästehaus in Idlhofgasse is definitely an option, as it has recently been redecorated and now has very modern facilities. There is even a computer with an Internet connection so you can check your emails.
If you are traveling in a group, or by coach, you will find the WIFI-Gästehaus very convenient. It is very welcoming and there is a direct connection to the city centre thanks to the number 31 bus, which runs until just before midnight. The Hotel Daniel, the Hotel Ibis and the Hotel Mercure, all of which are directly at the Central Station, are particularly suited to those travelling by train. They all offer good value for money. Hotel Mercure is also a good place for business travelers to stay as it is well-known for its modern conference facilities.
If you need further information, you can always contact the Graz Tourist Office. The staff are extremely friendly and they will help you find accommodation quickly.
"Where should I go to eat, what food will I like and what do the locals prefer?" All to often, tourist's questions are left unanswered and as a result, they end up in a tourist trap! Here is a short overview of what Graz can offer the taste buds!
Starting off at the Färberplatz and the adjacent Mehlplatz, both of which are in the heart of the Old Town, visitors can find a number of places to eat and drink, all of which will reflect the city's culinary diversity.
If you want to sample the Steiermark region's local cuisine, then you would be well advised to go to the or the Gambrinuskeller or the Gamlitzer Weinstube. You could also try the well-known Gasthaus zur Goldenen Pastete. If you find yourself in the city centre but still want to enjoy a bit of scenery, the Klöcherperle is a good choice.
If you cross the Mur and go to the Lend district, you will also find a number of excellent restaurants, such as the Altseirischen Schmankerlstube, which is en route, or the cosy Mohrenwirt, situated beneath the Mariahilf Church.
As everyone knows, it's not only good food, but also atmosphere and surroundings that make a restaurant special. With this in mind, the Kehlberghof, which has 14 Gault Milau points and is situated at the edge of Graz, has to be mentioned. It's a truly original restaurant. The Casino-Restaurant is also renowned for its fine cuisine and the Laufke is perfect for candlelight dinners in a wooden-paneled room.
Lovers of Italian food will enjoy the Amalfi and the city's hip and trendy young (and young at heart) frequent the Ristorante Galliano, which also serves Mediterranean cuisine.
Graz is also home to a number of splendid Spanish and Latin American restaurants such as the Malaga and the Brot und Spiele in the Mariahilfstraße 17. The latter restaurant's special attraction is the exhibit of what is rumoured to be one of Che Guevara's socks (with holes!)! The Rincon-Andino in the Eggenberg district and the La Puerta in the pedestrian shopping zone are also worth a visit – both are known for their South American grilled foods!
If you like steak, or Texan, Argentinian or Brazilian foods then the Steak House Biergwölb zum Pfiff (Tel +43 316 82 34 02; Mo-Fr: 11:00-24:00; Sa: 18:00-24:00; Schönaugasse 3; 8010 Graz) is very good and it also serves regional meat dishes. Persian specialties can be sampled at the Shiraz in the Schönaugasse 41 (Tel: +43 316 82 05 05 / +43 676 790 00 03) – visit and you'll soon discover that one thousand and one culinary desires can be fulfilled!
Since opening a year ago, the Kornati seafood restaurant has proved a welcome addition to the city's restaurant scene. It serves mouthwatering dalmatian fish dishes. Don't despair if you are vegetarian, the staff at the Mangold are on hand to take your order.
Trendy Bars and Pubs
Its location in the southern Alpine region has caused Graz to acquire some Mediterranean characteristics, both climatically and atmospherically. Coupled with the fact that it is a university city, the city has a certain joie de vivre and openness to it, and its nightlife scene is sure to reflect this.
You can find places to sit and have a chat or have a snack throughout the day and into the early hours. The Wartburg is a local favorite, as are the Poco Loco (be warned, the cocktails are addictive), the Posaune and the Bierbaron.
St. Leonard locals visit the Girardikeller. If you want to mingle with the in-crowd, then you will have to find your way to the Schillerhof.
The Kommod has reached near-legendary status since opening and the nearby Triangel and Stockwerk also get crowded, this not least being due to the tasteful music they play. If you like pub culture then Graz has something just for you. As their names suggest, Flann O‘ Brien, and Molly Mallone have a celtic touch serving up Irish beers and whiskeys.
In fact, their seems to be no end to the number of English/Irish pubs that are opening in Graz, with Kavannagh's being the most recent addition. Along with the re-opened Stern, this inner city district has been given a breath of fresh air.
Cafes and Bars
Coffee house culture has been a central feature of Austrian life since the Turkish Wars and you can find wonderful cafes throughout Austria. Visit any one of them and discover why this part of Europe is famous for opening its living room to the public.
There are three coffee houses in Graz which are especially noteworthy: the Strehly, the café in the Hotel Herzog and the Opera Cafe (Opernring 22).
Another jewel in the crown is the Fotter. In the summer you can easily pass an hour or two over a coffee in its magical gardens.
Those with a sweet tooth will no doubt find a special place in their hearts for the Philip and the Café Preinsack. Every day, the in-house bakers make lots of delicious cakes, gateaux and chocolates. The Segafredo or the Don Camillo in the picturesque Franciscan Square are perfect for a Macchiato to go.
Fast Food the Austrian way
Eating on the go is not a problem in Austria – you will find countless sausage stands (Würstelstand) on every corner, which also sell excellent barbecued foods. Here are some tips on what you could order if you come across the following: do try the "Kotelett-Semmel" (Cutlet Roll) at the Würstelstand am Jakominiplatz, which is virtually a meal in itself, along with the Krainer with horseradish and mustard. If you're at the Hauptplatz, you'll find various vendors selling delicious doener kebabs and mozzarella sticks as well as regionally produced roasted sausages. The Würstelstand Gutmann is also very good.
Photo: Graz Tourismus, Hans Wiesenhofer