Graz, Austria’s second city, in the south
east of the country, has the distinction of being the only city in the world
with two UNESCO titles: ‘World Heritage Site’ for its architecture and
mountain-ringed position on the River Mur, and ‘City of Design’ reflecting
its cultural life. Graz was European Capital of Culture in 2003 and City of
Culinary delights in 2008.
Starting life as a Roman frontier fort, this spa town became the home of the
ruling Habsburgs. The remains of their fortress, Schlossberg Castle (open
daily 24 hours, free admission) are set in a landscaped public park on top
of the berg. Visitors wanting a great view of the Italian Renaissance style roofs and
alleyways of the old town from the clock tower high above have three
choices: walk up the winding steps of the Schlossberg, take the glass
elevator, or ride the traditional funicular (there is a charge for the
Graz has so many museums that there is something for everyone. An interest
in history is catered for at the Garisonmuseum (open May to October except
Mondays), with its huge collection of uniforms and weapons; or if you
prefer, try the Toy Museum for toys throughout the ages (open all year
except Sundays). Other museums cover Natural History, Archaeology, Hunting,
Agriculture, Coins, Folk Life and Media.
Graz’s gothic Cathedral (Domkirche), one of Austria’s finest buildings, is a
great favourite with the many visitors to the city. The other chief
architectural sights are the Opera House, the Town Hall and the Landhaus, a
former administrative building. All these date from the 16th or 17th
centuries, but there are powerful modern buildings too: don’t miss the
amazing Kunsthaus Graz, known as ‘the Friendly Alien’ and designed by Peter
Cook and Colin Fournier. It opened in 2003 as an exhibition centre for
contemporary art from the 1960s to the present day (open Tuesday to Sunday
10.00 – 17.00).
If sculpture is your thing, the Austrian Sculpture Park four miles out of
the city exhibits around sixty works by Austrian sculptors in seven hectares
of gardens (open April to October except Saturdays, 10.00 to 20.00).
Graz is a cultured city where you should never be bored, and its resident
population of around 250,000 is supplemented by 50,000 students at its six
universities, giving it a youthful and lively atmosphere. With its perfect
mix of old and new, Graz could be the ideal place for a long weekend.