When most people think of Austria, they often think of cities like Vienna and Salzburg, and often the country’s second-largest city, Graz, is forgotten. While I was working abroad in Vienna, I heard countless locals talk about Graz–they had family in Graz, grew up there or just loved visiting the charming city. After hearing so much about Graz, I decided that I needed to see what Styria’s regional capital was all about. So as soon as a free weekend came up, I packed a bag and headed for the train station. While on the train, which took about three hours from the Vienna city center to the Graz city center, I realized I hadn’t thought of booking a place to stay.
Fortunately, I never stress out about last-minute travel plans, since I know that I can always book a great hotel room on HotelTonight. I pulled up HotelTonight’s app and checked for last-minute hotels in Graz. Within a few minutes, I had a wonderful hotel room waiting for me in the heart of Graz’s Old Town, so I was all set and ready to see just why Austrians love Graz so much.
Without a doubt, the area you cannot miss during a trip to Graz is the Old Town. This historic city center is one of the best-preserved old towns in all of Europe, which is why it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town is filled with beautiful old architecture and significant buildings, such as the Town Hall and the Franciscan Church. As you stroll through Old Town, you will walk past impressive monuments and brightly colored buildings, and there’s no shortage of great restaurants, cafes and museums. Within minutes of walking through the Old Town, I had already fallen in love with the charm of Graz, and I was so glad that my hotel was located in the center of it all.
Smack dab in the center of Graz is a towering, tree-covered hill that is considered the city’s most recognizable landmark. This tall hill can be seen from most parts of the city, and it was once home to a massive fortress, whose roots trace back to the 10th century. While there is not much left of the fortification today, the hill is still a popular place for both tourists and locals to visit. Not only does the Schlossberg offer a great little hike (a funicular is also available to take people up the hill), but this lush hill is now home to various restaurants, entertainment venues and lookout points. I hiked up to the Schlossberg around lunchtime and enjoyed sweeping views of Graz and the green Austrian landscape surrounding the city.
The Municipal Park and Botanical Gardens, or the Stadtpark, is a lush, pretty open space in the center of the city. The park is popular among locals looking for a place to relax, share a picnic with friends or get in some exercise. I even wandered through the botanical garden greenhouses, which are separated into four main zones–the tropical garden, the temperate garden, the alpine garden and the Mediterranean garden. The Stadtpark is the perfect place to go if you need to take a bit of a break from wandering cobbled streets or hiking up hills, which is why it was the ideal spot for my leisurely afternoon walk.
That night, I headed to the Lend District, which locals had told me is one of the city’s best spots for nightlife. This creative district has an electric energy, and it’s full of cute boutiques, designer shops and bars. Located just west of the Old Town, Lend offers everything from pool halls to British pubs to funky dance clubs, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to get a feel for the local nightlife. I popped into a few bars, danced and mingled with some locals and enjoyed some delicious Austrian beer before heading back to my hotel.
I may not have had much time to see every nook and cranny of Graz, Austria, but I definitely got a good beat on the city in less than 48 hours. This lively city blends the old with the new in a creative fashion, and you can tell that the locals have a great love for the city’s history as well as great optimism for the city’s future. I wouldn’t have been able to explore Graz like I did without HotelTonight, which makes it so easy for travelers to take spur-of-the-moment trips. Since I’m based in Vienna for several more months, I know I’ll definitely use HotelTonight to plan other last-minute weekend getaways around Europe. And maybe I’ll even return to Graz for another quick trip so that I can explore more of this vibrant city.