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The Friday night atmosphere was alive with energy – not a hectic, big city brash buzz, more Mediterranean sun-soaked, with spritzer in hand. The terraces were brimming full of laughter and tinkling glasses, and it was only 4pm, as the live jazz street-band started to play.
I’d been in Graz less than 24 hours and was already planning a trip back.
An easy weekend trip from Vienna to Graz is the perfect short break to shake off the city stress, and reconnect with the finer things in life, at a slower pace.
I’ve somehow managed to live years in Vienna and consistently kept Graz out of sight and mind. With Stefan being from Tyrol, our bias for weekenders was always to the West, for family visits and weekends in the mountains.
The moment I stepped into Graz main square at the start of summer, I knew that was about to change.
I suspect that skipping Graz was a sly strategy on Stefan’s part.
With the lure of Graz being its foodie scene, UNESCO city of design status and über cool sustainable stores and living, he had to know I’d be clamouring to go back regularly.
In which case – nice try distracting me from it mister, but Graz is most definitely going onto our rotation of must visit cities!
Today I want to paint you guys the picture of why a visit to Graz needs to go on your must-do weekenders list.
The thing is – this is not a ‘big hitters’ kind of city. This is a city for the likes of you and me.
Travellers who want to savour their time, and enjoy the atmosphere of a destination. Vienna locals who want a taste of the famous Styrian food – Kurbiskernöl, farm-to-table produce, and hearty dumpling dishes.
If you are looking for the alternative Austrian destination – far removed from the tourist trail of Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna, then Graz is going to hit the sweet spot.
Graz gets under your skin – not as a brash big city screaming about its sights, but the cooler, indie spot for exploring on your own terms. As a slow travel advocate, I couldn’t think of a better destination to soak up a city in your own way.
Thanks to the Propel Graz bloggers event and Visit Graz tourism board, I was able to experience this for myself for a few short days, and have firmly decided to return as soon as possible to continue our explorations.
In the meantime, here’s why you should put Graz on the list for your next weekender.
Why visit Graz for a weekend?
It’s filled with quirky activities you least expect.
There are more quirky activities to discover in Graz than you would ever hear about from a guidebook.
Did you know they have the longest slide in Europe? Like an actual kids slide built into the interior of the hill that sits in the city centre. Its 140m long and absolutely bonkers, you slide down around the elevator shaft that’s built in for tourists to get to the top of the clock-tower hill.
Oh also in that hill? Tunnels where locals sheltered during attacks in WWII, art exhibition spaces carved into cave rock, and a a casual club where the students can party until dawn without bothering the city residents.
That’s all hidden in one hill! Imagine the cool spots they have hidden elsewhere in the city!
The city is a treasure trove of courtyards
This might be niche, to nerd out over multiple architectural styles and design elements in an historic city, but even if you’re not an architecture geek, you can’t help but notice the ‘feel’ of Graz.
The archways extend between picturesque alleyways, then open up into courtyards when you least expect it.
Wander down an alleyway covered in an arbour of soothing ivy leaves, only for it to open out to an Italian Renaissance style courtyard, with blooms draping lazily, fragrantly, from the balconies.
Turn down a street in the old town and follow the cobblestoned allee to find a quiet corner, where tiny independent stores will sell you handmade goods, hidden beneath an interconnected archway from centuries ago.
With hundreds of courtyards in the city, I’m sure there is hidden treasure in nearly every one. The only thing you need to do is seek it out…
They are so happy here!
You guys know I don’t really buy in to the whole ‘Viennese are grumpy’ cliche, but honestly, the locals in Graz are so, so happy. Like, visibly happier than people in Vienna.
Maybe it’s living beside the water, with the Mur river flowing through the heart of the city.
Maybe its being *that* bit closer to Italy and the Southern European style of living.
Or maybe, these local Graz-ians? Graz-ers? (Help me out in the comments folks!) just know how good they have it.
Living in a city that has the liveliness of a capital city, with the coziness and accessibility of a town.
Either way, everyone I came across, from waiters, to taxi drivers, to people sitting beside us in cafes and restaurants were so, so happy.
It could have been that we arrived right as summer weather descended upon town and people were enjoying the lighter feelings all around, but something tells me people here just vibrate at a higher level of happiness – the city was filled with it.
The food. My God, the Food.
It’s true what they say about Styria. They really do know how to make and serve excellent food down here.
I’d heard plenty of stories, prior to my visit, about the famous dishes of Styria, and that the serving sizes are twice that of Vienna.
It wasn’t until a delicately grilled organic chicken breast, on a bed of handrolled gnocchi knodls, in a light but rich gravy sauce landed in front of me that I knew what they meant.
Instead of cliche ‘super serving sizes’ Graz specialises in delicate, lighter but exquisitely well made meals, taking time and quality into account.
The food here is next level.
Styrians take care and pride in sourcing local ingredients, and serving them with traditional recipes and combinations.
The pumpkin seed oil drizzled on many dishes is the most famous example, but there are hundreds of variations of dishes, based on seasonal ingredients and generations of inspiration.
We barely scratched the surface of the foodie options in our short visit, but what we did try at Aiola restaurant and even at our hotel breakfast buffet was made with care and attention to delivering satisfaction in your dish.
Austrians never do things by halves, but in Styria, they take their food seriously, enjoy it wholeheartedly and will definitely question you if you don’t finish your meal!
You will unwind by osmosis
The pace of living is slowed down in Graz.
As a weekend getaway from Vienna, Graz is ideal to disconnect from work stress, all the shit you still need to clear up in your apartment and the low level hum of social media anxiety.
Because the city is so compact, and the ‘main sights’ are all within walking distance, you can relax knowing that you’re not going to ‘miss out’ on seeing anything during your visit.
FOMO disappears and you can simply be yourself here, slowing down to that Mediterranean inspired pace.
In fact, I’d say the point of visiting Graz is to take it easy.
So take your time over breakfast, with a coffee in hand, looking out over the Mur river.
Lean out of your hotel window, to peer down to the stone streets below, and watch the locals greet each other in the street, slowing to chat on their way to market.
Perch on a courtyard terrace overlooking the main square, to soak in the slower pace of life. For a minute, just close your eyes, as you sip on elderflower juice and let the warm glow of sunshine fall upon your upturned face.
Before you know it, you’ll be as relaxed as the locals.
You can bike yourself happy
Get yourself a bike and languidly cycle the city paths to get your bearings and explore the city limits.
Y’all know I love exploring on my bike back home in Vienna. To me there’s nothing better than discovering a new city by bike, to see things up close, but still have the independence to explore.
Graz is like a mini Amsterdam – without the crowds and hectic traffic – in that they cater extremely well to cyclists. With clearly marked paths and many locals choosing to bike over driving, cycling is safe and straightforward here.
If you’re really keen, they even have cycling paths throughout the whole region beyond Graz, so you can follow wine trails or bike beside the length of the Mur river for multi day trips. Definitely going on the list to try with Stefan!
In short, you can keep your eco-footprint small in visiting Graz, because you really don’t need a car to get around.
Walk the old town and city centre, bike between other sights and take the trams if you need to – the city centre tram is free to ride in old town!
The seriously cool Stores & Markets
You might have heard that Graz is a UNESCO city of Culture & Design. But if you’re like me, that title doesn’t really explain what you see or experience in the city.
The reality is – there are plenty of pockets where you can see the artistic flair of Graz’s students and rich design heritage.
There is the street art that pops out in unexpected places – adorning the walls beside cafes, lookout points and churches that have stood for time immemorial.
There’s the bright colour pops of the buildings, with gelato-candy-coloured pinks, blues and yellows to brighten every street.
There is the instantly recognisable ‘bubble’ museum of art & design, perched in the heart of the city. Proudly protruding into the skyline with the cheeky ‘nubbins’ pointing upward from the orb-like roof.
There are the multiple indie and design stores selling independent labelled clothes, art prints and unique souvenirs.
You know the kind of minimalist, creative shops that suck you in for ‘just a quick look’ and you end up buying 10 incredible things because they are all so different and unique? That’s what Graz has all throughout the Lend district.
If you’re looking to get your hands on some local produce to taste test, or take home, there are no less than TWELVE farmers markets in Graz.
Most of which are open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, meaning if you’re here for a long weekend or a mid-week break, you have an even chance of catching them.
It’s a world away from everyday
The best thing about a weekend in Graz? It’s easy.
It’s easy to fall in love with the place.
It’s easy to get there from Vienna and immediately relax into holiday mode.
It’s easy to get around, to find something that resonates with your holiday style, and simply enjoy it.
Some holidays really make you work for it, you need to research, and brace yourself for crowds and think about how to ‘maximise your time’ or ‘get your moneys worth’.
In visiting Graz for the weekend – the pressure is off.
The place has enough cultural events, interesting history, foodie hotspots and active things to do (hike the hill! Stand Up Paddle on the Mur river! Climb the adventure park!) that you don’t have to work hard to find what’s right for you.
That my friends, is my personal definition of ideal weekend getaway – where you turn up, and the city just lays it all out for you to enjoy.
Graz hits all the sweet spots for an idyllic weekend getaway from Vienna.
Have I convinced you yet? Let me know in the comments if you’d ever consider Graz for a Weekend Getaway from Vienna!
Coming up next is the complete guide of How to take a Weekend Getaway in Graz from Vienna, including my hotel recommendations, how to get there by train and bus annnnnd what are the important bits and pieces you need to make your life easier when you’re there.
Huge thanks to Propel Graz and Visit Graz for hosting during my short but sweet visit to the city. As always all opinions are my own – the gushing about how lovely it is is just my genuine experience!
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