Culture capital Graz

Think of Austria and Vienna or Salzburg probably spring to mind. Yet Graz is awash with history, culture and seriously quirky architecture...

Day 1: A floating island and fairytale train

Graz River

Morning: Over 1,000 years ago a fortress stood on a forested hill in Graz. Although the fortress is long gone, Schlossberg (Castle Hill), with its venerable 13th-century clock tower, is the city’s heart.

Whether you take the funicular or hoof it to the top, the reward is views which stretch all the way to the Slovenian Alps. Take a ride on the Fairytale Express, a narrow-gauge railway which chugs through the mountain’s caves and tunnels. The half-hour trip spirits you off to fairyland by way of the Enchanted Forest, Flower Meadow and Den of Thieves.

Afternoon: Visit the UNESCO-listed Old Town, with its well-preserved medieval and Renaissance-era buildings. The 15th century Graz Burg (castle), now home to the regional government, is famed for its free-standing double-spiral staircase. Known as the Staircase of Reconciliation, it is said to be a symbol of eternity.

Evening: To get from one side of Graz to the other, cross the river by means of the ‘floating island’ real name Murinsel. Shaped like an enormous upturned seashell, it links the city to the river banks. Murinsel was created as a temporary structure during the city’s role as Capital of Culture back in 2003, but locals liked it so much they decided to make it permanent. It is a fabulous place to relax, have a cocktail and bite to eat.

Day 2: Music, markets and a friendly alien

graz farmers
Graz market

Morning: Farmers Markets are often worth a gander and those in Graz won’t disappoint. After all, there are around 300 city farmers in Graz, by far the most of any urban area in Austria. For centuries, fruit and vegetables have been harvested here, schnapps distilled, wine pressed and Graz signature pumpkin seed oil milled. In and around town there are plenty of idyllic picnic spots to enjoy the delicacies bought for lunch.

Afternoon: Time to visit the Kunsthaus Graz, a contemporary art exhibition space dubbed ‘the friendly alien’ due to its unusual shape and hundreds of acrylic glass elements projecting from its surface. Pause for afternoon tea at one of the cafes on the Glockenspielplatz and make sure you’re there at 15.00 for the 24 Glockenspiel bells, where life-size wooden figures appear high up on the gables.

Evening: This city loves its music and there is something on offer to suit every taste. The Opera House offers a range of fabulous productions, not only opera but musical theatre and ballet too.
For something less highbrow, there are year-round live music programmes including concerts and jazz festivals at Café Parkhouse in the middle of the Old Town.
It’s the place to enjoy traditional Styrian cuisine too

Book it with… Thomas Cook

Thomas Cook offers a three-night room-only stay at the four-star Hotel Mercure Graz City including flights to/from London Stansted from £207pp. The hotel features a sauna and is centrally located near the old town.