Graz is Austria’s second largest city and a pretty modest one at that, offering its visitors a plethora of eye-catching views. Named as the European Capital of Culture in 2003 and the City of Design in 2009, Graz is one of the best-preserved historical cities in Europe. At its heart one can find the medieval old town’s main square and streets whose architectural character blends into the Baroque and Renaissance architectural styles. This is beautifully complemented by the more avant garde-esque architecture.
An extensive public transport system of buses, trains and the tram makes it easy for one to navigate when in the city. Some other sights not part of the list are the Styrian Armory, the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II, Gosting Castle Ruins (if you’re up for a trek) or the botanical gardens at Graz.
What follows is a list that includes 15 places in Graz that should be on the must-visit inventory of every architect.
1. Kunsthaus Graz
This is a building that reflects the turn of an era: analogue and digital, visionary and down-to-earth. Designed by Ar. Peter Cook and Ar. Colin Fournier, The blue shimmering bubble of the Kunsthaus rises above the glassy ground floor. Originally intended to inhabit a large cavity within the hill of Schlossberg, the structure proclaims artistic singularity offering different spatial and sensorial experiences to those who walk in. Not to miss is the all-glass viewing platform at the end of the tour that offers an unforgettable view of Graz.
Murinsel or The Island of Mur is a floating structure of steel and glass designed by artist Vito Acconci as part of the celebrations naming Graz the European Capital of Culture 2003. This nautical-shaped landmark attempts to overcome the cultural separation marked by the Mur river and offers sights to the old city while existing as the city’s creative hotspot
Schlossberg hill is the site of a fortress on a hill located centrally in the city, offering extensive views of the city. The remains of the castle were turned into a public park in 1839. The park contains the Uhrturm (the clocktower), the Glockenturm, a cistern (the Türkenbrunnen) and two bastions from the old castle. The Uhrturm is a recognisable icon for the city, and is unusual in that the clock’s hands have opposite roles to the common notion, with the larger one marking hours while the smaller is for minutes. The Glockenturm contains Liesl, the heaviest bell in Graz.
4. The Slide and Lift at Schlossberg
In 2000 a vertical elevator shaft, seven metres in diameter and 77 metres tall was driven through the rock from the level of the city to the base of the Uhrturm. The Schlossbergplatz or elevator hoists two passenger cabins of 15 people up to the Schlossberg. Its glass cabins offer an appealingly weird, illuminated view of the hill’s interior. You can also slide down the fill in the largest underground slide in the world.
5. Ragnitzstrasse 36 Apartment Bloc
Designed by LOVE architects, the project is a simple and efficiently designed block of 15 small units. The white zigzag facade on one side is complemented by the expanding metal pergola-like facade on the opposite side. The façade appears closed and volumetric, creating dramatically varying perspectives to the passer-by.
6. Berg and Double Platz staircase
Centuries of reconstruction in the official headquarters of the government has yielded interesting elements from different architectural eras. One such example is the double spiral staircase that almost seems like an illusion. This “staircase of reconciliation” consists of two opposing spiral stairs, which merge briefly on each floor, part and then rejoin.
7. Chapel of Rest
The chapel of rest by Hofrichter-Ritter Architects is essentially two overlapping curved walls of reinforced concrete that encase this funeral chapel. An important site in terms of the urban design of the city, the site consequently, has regained its significance as a public space and park.
8. Opera House and Lichtschwert
Built in neo-Baroque style, the Opera House Graz is the second largest opera house in Austria. A bomb explosion in the Second World War resulted in the demolition of the original portico and a simplification of the façade. The luxuriant interiors with partly gilded stucco and the baroque-manner ceiling paintings, however, have remained intact. In contrast to this is the unusual Light Sword, a stark example of modernist fusion style in the city.
9. Mariatrost Basilica
The twin-towered pilgrimage church stands proudly on a hill with more than 200 steps leading up to the shrine of the Virgin Mary. A curved Baroque façade, beautiful frescos, an impressive pulpit and two huge towers flanked by the wings of a monastery await you at the Mariatrost Basilica.
10. Eggenberg Palace
Schloss Eggenberg is a piece of exquisite baroque architecture designed and built in the 17th century, although some portions of the palace date back to the late Middle Ages. This historic site boasts of impressive grounds, magnificently designed staterooms and a wealth of history to uncover.
11. Alstadt von Graz
The old town of Graz awaits you with alleyways that take you down the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque eras, quiet corners and dreamy courtyards. The historic city center is the reflection of centuries-long combination of artistic and architectural movements that originated in German and Mediterranean regions.
12. Herz Jesu Kirche cathedral
The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the largest in the city and was conceived and executed in the 1880s. The brick church is built in the neo-Gothic style and has a large, high nave and under-church. Of special note are the stained glass windows, which are among the few extant examples of the style.
13. Hauptplatz and Town Hall
The Hauptplatz or main Square is characterised by the architecture of the staggered row of houses in the west of Hauptplatz, interrupted by narrow alleys, reminiscent of the Middle Ages. The original town hall structure was also incidentally a prison. Replaced by a newer classical style building in the 19th-20th century, wide empty area in front of the town hall offers room for various events, promoting public life in the square.
Built during the 1500s, this is one of Graz’s only renaissance structures. Designed and built by numerous architects, the house contains swooping, ornate arches and a three-storey arcade courtyard.
15. The Streets
Amidst the hustle-bustle, the streets of Graz offer many reasons to pause and enjoy the architecture around. With its frescos covering more than 220m², and multiple layers of figures depicted since 1600, the façade of the Herzoghof building (aka painted house or Gemaltes Haus) is unique. Some other intriguing architecture can be witnessed in the facades of cafes and bakeries, such as the city’s oldest – Hofbäckerei Edegger-Tax.