Things to Do in Graz
Notable for its blob-like architecture, the Kunsthaus Graz Art Museum (or just Kunsthaus Graz) was built as part of the city’s 2003 celebrations as the European Capital of Culture. The museum was constructed as part of the 19th century Iron House building, one of the first cast iron buildings in Europe. The famous exterior is comprised of nearly 1300 iridescent blue acrylic panels with almost a thousand 40-watt lightbulbs, creating a massive screen in the middle of the city. Known to some locals as the Friendly Alien, the museum covers 27,000 square feet and specializes in contemporary art, design, new media, film and photography. It regularly hosts events and exhibitions that highlight worldwide trends in art.
The Styrian Armory in Graz is the world’s largest historic army, holding 32,000 pieces of weaponry, tools and suits of armor. Built between 1642 and 1645, the armory stood on the front lines for Austria’s battles with the Ottoman Empire and Hungarian rebels for the next few centuries. One of the most visited of the dozen museums that comprise the Universalmuseum Joanneum, the Armory features exhibitions on four floors, arranged in a way reminiscent of a 17th century arsenal. On the first floor, visitors will find cannons, mortars and muskets from the 16th to 18th centuries, while the second floor focuses on helmets, suits of armor and pistols. The third floor shows off more armor, including German-made armor and equestrian armor for nobles. Finally, the fourth floor is home to staff weapons such as morning stars, halberds and pikes used by foot soldiers, as well as swords and sabres once used by horsemen.
The Graz Schlossberg is a public park on a hill in the center of the city of Graz that has been home to fortifications as far back as the 10th century. A fortress stood on the hill from the middle of the 16th century to the 19th century, with only the clock tower and bell tower spared by an invading Napoleon. The remains of the castle became a public park in 1839 including the two towers, a cistern and a couple bastions from the destroyed castle.
A great walking tour of the Schlossberg starts at the bottom of the hill at Schlossbergplatz, from where visitors can take the 19th century Schlossbergbahn funicular or the newer Schlossberg lift to reach the top of the hill. Once at the top, check out the bell tower, climb to the top of the clock tower for scenic views of the Old Town and relax at one of the several cafes. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to catch a concert in what was once the cellar of one of the old bastions. Head back down to the Schlossbergplatz via one of several footpaths or staircases and then check out the extensive system of tunnels underneath the Schlossberg that was created during World War II.
Back in the Middle Ages, the city of Graz was a center of commerce and trade in Central Europe and its main square – the Hauptplaz – was home to dozens of traders, hosting weekly markets. The size of the trapezoidal shaped square was cut in half by the addition of the town hall in the 16th century. Today, the town hall dominates the southern part of the square while other notable buildings include the 17th century Luegg House with an impressive stucco façade, the five-story White House with a sandstone relief of the Virgin Mary, the 16th century Eagle Pharmacy and the 14th century Palais Sturgkh. A fountain and statue of Archduke Johann was added in 1878 and today the stalls surrounding the fountain are a throwback to the square’s medieval origins. In 2002, the square was redesigned to add a large open area in front of the town hall that is used for events throughout the year.
Eggenberg Palace (Schloss Eggenberg) is one of the most important Baroque palaces in Austria and a must-see for visitors to Graz. Once home to the most powerful dynasty in the Austrian state of Styria, the palace dates back to at least the 15th century. Renovations in the 18th century added Rococo style ornamentation, as well as three East Asian cabinets, while the 19th century saw the formal Baroque garden transformed into a romantic English style garden. The palace features 365 exterior windows, representing the number of days in a year, with 24 windows on the second floor, representing the number of hours in a day. Inside, more than 600 paintings in the state rooms depict the history of the world with scenes from Roman and Greek mythology, the Old Testament and various European legends. Paintings in the Planetary Room depict the elements, planets and signs of the zodiac.
In addition to the state rooms, visitors can explore the Alte Galerie, a collection of European art from the medieval to early modern periods, the Coin Cabinet and the Archaeology Museum.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999, the Graz Old Town (Grazer Altstadt) is one of the best preserved districts in all of central Europe. In the heart of Graz, the Old Town features a mix of old and new, ranging from the medieval building facades surrounding the Hauptplaz (Main Square) to the modern architecture of the Kunsthaus Graz, which reflects the Old Town in its unique façade. The area includes more than a thousand buildings featuring a variety of architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance and Medieval. Visitors will enjoy getting lost among the narrow alleys and cobblestone streets lined with restaurants, cafes and one of a kind boutiques. Any tour of the Old Town is sure to include highlights such as the Hauptplaz and Kunsthaus, as well as the Rathaus (Town Hall), the Landhaus and the hill overlooking the town known as the Schlossberg. The latter is the site of the ruined Dom, a Gothic cathedral that is home to the oldest painting of the city.
One of the most notable landmarks in Graz and a must for any visitor, the Graz Clock Tower (Grazer Uhrturm) may be best known for its confusing clock faces, featuring long hands for the hours and short hands for the minutes. Dating back to medieval times, the tower stands 28 meters high and has a clock face on each side, each about five meters in diameter. The 18th century clockworks still operate, but are now electronic. In addition to the famous clock, the tower is also home to three bells, the oldest of which dates back to 1385 and still rings on the hour. Another bell from around 1450 was used during executions and later to remind people of the city curfew.
Once used to watch for fires in the surrounding area, the tower today offers visitors 360 degree views of Graz and its environs. Visitors should also look for the three painted coats of arms on the walls of the tower and the walled-in stone armchairs that were added in the 16th century.
The Graz City Hall (Grazer Rathaus) was completed at the end of the 19th century, replacing two earlier town halls that stood in the same spot on Graz’s Main Square as early as 1550. The new hall stands four stories tall with an Old German style façade once highlighted by a series of statues that depict prominent Austrians and the four allegories, art, science, industry and commerce. The statues were removed in the early 20th century and later replaced with copies. In the inner courtyard, two houses extend into the design of the building; the owners famously refused to move when the new hall was built.
Inside, highlights for visitors include a painting depicting the city hall over time, a brass Styrian panther, a large mural of Graz in 1635, portraits of past Graz mayors, coffered ceilings and a tiled stove on the second floor and the chandelier, 19th century clock and intricately-designed ceilings in the elegant assembly hall.
The Universalmuseum Joanneum in Graz is a multidisciplinary museum that boasts 4.5 million items in its collection. The largest museum of its kind in Europe, it was also Austria’s first public museum, founded in 1811 by Archduke Johann of Austria, the brother of Emperor Franz I. The museum includes 12 different locations in Graz, each of which focuses on either art, culture or the natural sciences.
For modern and contemporary art, visitors should head to the Kunsthaus Graz, the Neue Galerie Graz or Art in Public Space. For a look into the Middle Ages and Baroque art, visit the Schloss Eggenberg and the Alte Galerie. Focusing in prehistory and antiquity are the Archaeology Museum adjacent to the Schloss Eggenberg and the Coin Cabinet inside the Schloss. The Styrian Armory, Folk Life Museum, Museum in Palais and the Multimedial Collections provide a look into cultural history of the area and the Natural History Museum and Centre of Natural History showcase the region’s natural history. An additional seven locations can be found elsewhere in Austria outside of Graz.
Built in the early 16th century, the Landhaushof was the first Renaissance building in Graz and remains one of the most notable Renaissance buildings in central Europe. The massive structure today takes up an entire city block, but the original building containing a law firm and a chapel was much smaller. The building, which was home to the Styrian Diet, was soon enlarged by expanding into nearby buildings. Due to the expansion over the years, the Landhaushof features several different architectural styles, although great care was taken to blend the varied styles together.
The building today features a main façade with elegant round-arched windows, airy porticoes and a three-story arcaded Italianate courtyard. The Landhaushof has three courtyards altogether, each hosting musical concerts and theater performances during the summer months.
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