The second largest city in Austria after Vienna, Graz is an ideal blend of old and new. It is found in southeastern Austria, and is the capital of the Austrian state, Styria. Graz travel is ideal for a number of reasons, and the city really makes for an excellent travel base in the region. When you're not exploring Old Town Graz, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, trips to the outlying countryside are a great way to spend some of your Graz travel time. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in the nearby village of Thal, which will pique the interest of some tourists. If you're lucky during your Graz Austria visit, you'll get a chance to enjoy a Graz festival, which will only add some extra flavor to your trip. Graz is definitely worth a visit when in Austria, and the fact that it is well linked to other Austrian cities by rail makes it an even more attractive stop on your Austria itinerary.
Graz has come quite a long way since first being officially settled in the Middle Ages, and its rich mix of architectural styles surely gives testament to its comprehensive history. During the rule of the Roman Empire, Graz was the site of a small fort, which graced the Schlossberg Graz hill in the middle of the city. When Slavic peoples moved into Graz later on, they erected a larger fortress on the same hill. This castle would eventually be the influence for the city's name. Gradec in Slovene means castle, and the same word translated to German is Graz. The name Graz was first applied by the German Babenberg Dynasty in the year 1128. The Babenbergs ruled Austria between 976 and 1248, eventually ceding power to the Habsburg Dynasty. The Habsburgs would erect their own, larger castle on the hill, though only part of it remains to this day. The Schlossberg Graz castle was ordered to be destroyed in 1809 by Napoleon after he defeated Austria in the Battle of Wagram. All that survived was the Uhrturm (Clock Tower) and the bell tower. The surviving Clock Tower is today the symbol of Graz. It was saved by the city's citizens, who paid a hefty sum to France to spare their beloved symbol.
In 2003, Graz Austria was designated by the European Union as The European Capital of Culture. This gave Graz the chance to really show of its attractions. Among the main Graz attractions that visitors won't want to miss is the Schlossberg Graz hill, which is quite akin to Lykavittos Hill in Athens, Greece. There is a cable car (funicular) that takes visitors to the top of the hill, and if you're up for it, you can climb the winding stairs instead. A lovely park with southern plants was established here in the late 1800s, and there is also a restaurant at the top of the hill where you can enjoy a meal and some great views of the surrounding city. Between the months of May and October, guided tours of the hill are offered, and in the summer months, the hill is the site for a bunch of concerts. As for the southern plants found on the hill, Graz Austria enjoys a relatively Mediterranean climate due to its location in a "bowl" south of the Austrian Alps. There are plants all over the city and outlying region that are typically found south of Austria, which is a neat point of curiosity.
Graz's Old Town is a definite must-visit when enjoying Graz travel, and thankfully, much of it was spared during the WWII Allied bombing campaigns. It's a great idea to take tours of Graz's Old Town whether it is guided or not. You can start in the main square (Hauptplatz), which is surrounded by old houses, the most notable of which is the seventeenth century House of Luegg. While exploring Old Town Graz, it's worth it to head over to Herrengasse Street, where the Landhaus is found. The Landhaus is an ornate Renaissance palace that once served as the seat of the regional government. It was designed by the Italian architect, Domenico dell'Allio, who began work on the gem in 1557. A stunning arcaded courtyard awaits visitors at the Landhaus, and the building overall is just something to behold whether you tour it or just gawk at it from the other side of the street.
Though it's not open to visitors, as it serves as the provincial government seat for Styria, the Burg is a notable structure that you will hardly miss when visiting Graz Austria. Originally a castle that dates back to 1499, it was built for Maximilian I, who was then Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, the Burg is home to government offices, and though it's not open to visitors to fully explore, the concierge often allows visitors in to admire the medieval winding staircase, which is truly impressive. Not all of the Graz attractions are historical ones, however, and attractions in general don't get much more modern than the Kunsthaus, which is the most recognizable Graz museum. Set on the banks of the River Mur, this blue blob of a structure is home to a great collection of modern art. Whether or not you appreciate the innovative design of the Kunsthaus is something else.
As a side note, you'll want to pick up a brochure of Graz attractions once you arrive in town. You can pick these brochures up at the main train station or at any number of Graz hotels.