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The Best of Graz, Austria’s Second City


Posted on October 17th, by Peter Parkorr in Austria, Roaming Resources. 23 comments

In early August this year, I visited the Austrian city of Graz for the first time. I was there to check out the performance festival La Strada for the MustLoveFestivals project.

Graz is Austria’s second city, but like me before I went, you may have absolutely no impression of it. In fact, I’d barely heard of it. I’ve been to Vienna three times on my travels, and despite being unimpressed with the capital at first (too many shops…), it is one of my very favourite cities of Europe. I’ve also pedaled along the Danube cycle way right across the north of Austria, from Passau to Bratislava (Slovakia), and skied in St. Johann in Tirol.

So why had I never heard of Graz…

Is there nothing in Graz to shout about? Does it lack any defining characteristics? No. That’s not it – this city has so much going for it, and it’s a very happening place right now.

First Impressions

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Graz, a city that reminded me of many other great cities.

Straight away Graz reminded me of Tallinn, with long curving streets of tall buildings. Then, with dainty squares and pastel coloured buildings, it reminded me of Ljubljana. The modern structures and public art along the river put me in mind of Bilbao. And the alternative culture of the AnnenViertel took me back to the Republic of Uzupic, in Vilnius. There were hints of Hamburg too, with street art and urban regeneration, and Graz’s cleanliness and order also felt quite like Helsinki, especially viewed from above.

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The flags of La Strada flying proudly all over the city

I was in Graz for just 4 days, with much of my time spent at La Strada, but I managed to see plenty of the city, on foot and by bike.

Here are my favourite things about Graz, and things I’d go back for more of.

Food and drink

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You know the hotel restaurant is cool when it’s setup for a party, just in case…

Graz is a city full of options when it comes to food and drink. I had delicious Italian food at Macello, loved the fresh fruit and veg markets, was spoilt for choice at the Spiesesaal (above) and had a really good kebab at a Turkish place recommended on a community-sourced map in the AnnenViertel. But that was just the tip of the iceberg, from places near my hotel. There were great looking cafes and restaurants all over town that I was itching to try given more time.

Hard not to love any town that has a city-beach bar!

Hard not to love any town that has a city-beach bar!

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Everything Graz does is colourful, even herbs

Art and design

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A traditional building neighbours ‘The UFO’

With poetry on the pavement that made me smile, a building dubbed ‘The UFO’ (among other things), my awesome bicycle-themed hotel, an award-winning historic shopping centre, street art dotted about the city, and many Italian renaissance buildings, Graz is well-stocked for whatever kind of design you are into.

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Great bit of gritty street art off a sidestreet of Lendplatz

Alternative cultures

Nestled in and around Lendplatz, aka the AnnenViertel, a cluster of alternative ideas and businesses are thriving in Graz. Grimy hipster coffee shops mix with trendy hairdressers and even trendier people. The city has things going on like ‘Graz Wachst vorstadt garten‘ (Growing Graz suburban gardens) where fruit, veg and herbs are grown for the use of anyone who needs them, and the river Mur is an infamous river-surfing spot, thanks to an entry in the Stormrider Guides.

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Salons and barber shops of Graz had the most extravagant decor from what I saw!
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Tomatoes for anyone to use, growing in a suburban garden

Co-working spaces

An even more niche part of the alternative culture, Lendplatz has a string of small co-working spaces, including the very chic Managerie. I chatted to the owner, Maria, the first to start-up a co-working space in the area, and learnt more about the communities that live in AnnenViertel.

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Maria, founder of Managerie co-working

Social initiatives

The theme of regeneration and social responsibility continues in Graz with several businesses that serve the community. A bakery that stocks yesterday’s fresh bread for half price sits near a shop only selling products by local designers, and the creative tag.werk provides daily employment for those who need it, cash in hand, no questions asked.

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Looking thru pics from my trip to Graz for #mustlovefestivals. Such a cool city! Loads of design going on here, including this place called tag.werk – which translates to ‘day work’. This social initiative allows any young person to turn up and work for a day, anonymously, in return for payment. Then the items they produce are sold in the shop! Not only does it give them a safe way to earn cash with no strings, they learn a few skills too.

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Most of tag.werk’s stock are bicycle courier-style bags and backpacks, designed and handmade by the ‘day workers’

Pane - 'your second chance for yesterday's bread'

Pane – ‘your second chance for yesterday’s bread’

La Strada

I’ve written about it in more detail, but I can’t tell you enough how much I loved this festival! From comedic shows inspired by Salvador Dali and hearing from Graz locals during WWI, to the most *brilliant* musical-acrobatic collage I’ve ever seen, this was my favourite festival of the summer.

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A cheeky snap from inside ‘Klaxon’, my favourite show from La Strada in Graz. #mustlovefestivals

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Where the magic of ‘Klaxon’ by Compagnie Akoreacro happened

So there you have it. There is a lot going on in Graz, and I loved discovering this city. The kind of place I’d consider moving to for a while, and prices are very similar to my current hometown of Manchester.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Peter

I visited Graz and La Strada festival as part of the MustLoveFestivals project, to uncover cool festivals and places that aren’t as well known. This trip was sponsored and made possible by VisitAustria and La Strada, and Expedia.co.uk. Sponsored doesn’t mean biased though! I always give an honest account and write what I want. Read more in my No Bias guarantee, and see my other MustLoveFestivals posts too.