How often do you drop into a city on a short break, then three days later find that you’re flying home feeling as though you’ve only had a snapshot of life there? We have definitely done this over the years, and though returning to a place offers a chance to explore more, we also see the benefits of longer stays to take in more of the culture and atmosphere. So with more time on our hands, we set out to explore the best, and some of the more sustainable, things to do in Graz, Austria.
Sustainable, because we are also looking for ways to connect more with our destination when we travel, so that our visit contributes to the local community. Tourism bringing benefit to local people is very much at the heart of sustainable travel in the 2020s (long gone is the purely “green travel” thinking of days gone by). Longer stays and slower travel is a part of this. So instead of a three or four-day visit why not stay seven days and explore your destination more deeply? As well as being better for the environment – longer stay holidays in a year mean a reduction in mass transit like flights, and fewer flights reduces carbon emissions – a key indicator in climate change. But it also allows for a greater appreciation and understanding of the culture, heritage, history, and of people in the place you’re visiting and their way of life.
That was the approach we took to our stay in Austria’s second city. We wanted a deeper dive into Graz.
Having been there before, we thought we knew this cultured city quite well; and in terms of the best known attractions in Graz, we did.
Graz’s charming old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with its Armoury Museum, historic Landhaus, the mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II and so much more amongst its gothic architecture. Not forgetting, sitting high above the city and dominating the skyline is the towering Schlossberg Clock Tower – a worthy symbol of the city.
However, we were delighted to discover a whole new complexity to the city on our latest visit. On the other side of the waterway that runs through Graz, the River Mur, sits the Lend district, and we started our exploration of Graz there. Lend was once a racy no go red light district of poor repute, but today you are transported to the trendy, hipster side of this UNESCO City of Design, where a sense of community runs like a thread through the ethos of many businesses there.
Sustainable things to do in Graz
Take a look at our video of all the things we loved about our longer stay in Graz.
Explore the Lend district
The Lend district offers a fascinating alternative to the rest of Graz. It is the place to go for trendy art and to some extent, a more forward-thinking take on society as a whole. Its cool bars, restaurants, and shops have a focus on sustainability and ensuring the local community benefits from each enterprise.
The Friendly Alien
Though a bold statement, it would be no lie to say that Lend was revitalised by an alien invasion. The Friendly Alien, or the Kunsthaus, to give it its proper name is Graz’s Museum of Modern Art, which houses international and more local exhibitions and displays over two floors. It was its construction on the south bank of the River Mur that kicked started the regeneration of the Lend district, bringing the cool kids to produce inspired projects to its streets.
The museum is an almost surreal shape that stands in stark contrast to the traditional Austrian architecture that surrounds it. And it is all the more enthralling because it is so different. Its unusual design makes a bold and proud statement that the future has arrived.
It’s always worth calling into the Kunsthaus to see its ever-changing array of touring exhibitions. There is also a café which you can visit whether or not you go to the museum itself.
Lendkai 1, 8020, Graz
Tel: +43 316 80179200
Tuesday – Sunday & public holidays: 10am – 6pm
School pupils, apprentices and students (19-26-years-old): €4.00
Children and teenagers under the age of 19: free
Shopping with a conscience in Graz
Young people are driving the change in the Lend district and setting the course for the future and from what I saw they are doing an exemplary job, the whole district has a positively vibrant feel and is an area where gentrification is being well handled.
There are numerous examples of such successes in the area but I’ll focus on just a few. Tag Werk is more than just a shop selling bags, clothes, and accessories – it helps local disadvantaged young people aged 15-25-year-old by helping them find a way into the world of work. With a shop downstairs and a workshop upstairs where the young people design and make the products it is bringing real change to their lives while providing shoppers with cool buys, on the Lend’s main pedestrianised street.
Since its inception in 1999, Tag Werk has grown into an established independent brand selling products made from recycled materials, so not only benefiting society, but its products are also sustainable.
We visited Tag Werk and saw for ourselves the grand work they are doing and the people they are helping. This was a real local initiative whose purpose is to help local people, and in turn, this strengthens the community cohesion beyond. It was rewarding to discover that over its 23-year history Tag Werk has become part and parcel of the Graz landscape, and it was gratifying to gain a deeper understanding of this lovely city.
Mariahilferstrasse 13, 8020 Graz
Bo Suppe opens the window on lunch
Another fascinating small business is Bo Suppe. Here, Arnd Hoffmann, otherwise known as Bo, sells very tasty lunchtime food dishes from his shop window on a narrow side street.
Intriguingly customers stand on the pavement and place their orders through the open window – similar to hole-in-the-wall cafés common in other parts of the world, Bo cooks the meals fresh from products that are in season and sourced locally to reduce the carbon footprint of production.
The soups can either be eaten there at a little table in an adjoining courtyard, or Bo pours them into glass containers for people to take-away. Then they are brought back for washing and reused, making it all very sustainable.
Bo Suppe just had to be our choice for lunch, we could not let this unique opportunity be lost, so we placed our orders and Sarah had a bolognese – a perfect choice for the person that doesn’t love soup as it was a thicker blend with plenty of meat and a side of macaroni – and I had a pea, mint, and lemon soup which was deliciously fresh and a great choice for summer.
Josefigasse 11, Graz, Austria, 8020
Tel: +43 681 20752344
Offline Retail Project offers up a force for good
We also went to see the Offline Retail Project, what an eye opener that was. Set in a cute little store this project offers work for local people who have struggled with addiction.
It is funded by donations of unwanted materials such as clothing, bedding, curtains, jewellery, furniture and bags. These are then restored and sold to raise funds that are plowed back into the business.
Their motto: ‘upcycling at its finest’ is truly lived up to as they take discarded or unwanted everyday items and turn them into something new and valuable, such as sustainable pieces of vintage and unique accessories, clothing, furniture and so much more.
Beautiful pieces of work crafted in the Offline Retail workshops by the creative talents of formerly vulnerable and troubled people are then sold in-store. You can even take a favourite piece of clothing or furniture to them to have it restored
Mariahilferstrasse 19, A- 8020 Graz
Tel: +43 676 88015 446
Mon-Fri: 10am-1pm, 2pm-6pm
Pane feeds the city
Another novel idea to help local people in Graz is at the little shop of Pane in Mariahilferstrasse. Graz’s chic Martin Auer bakeries supplies its day-old bread and other baked goods to Pane, for sale at half price, dramatically reducing waste from their stories around the city. Then profits from the shop, go to local business, so you can save money and help others. It’s one of the most simple, sustainable and charitable things to do in Graz. And really is like having your cake and eating it!
Get the measure of Das Gramm
Back on the other side of the River Mur is the Das Gramm store. Das Gramm describes itself as the first packaging-free grocery store in Graz that sells regionally produced natural ingredients, from flour, to seeds, nuts to pulses. Here we were able to buy as much of their products as we wanted in large or small quantities, rather than pre-determined sizes which can so often lead to waste.
Murinsel – an island, a bridge and an architectural must see
Bridging trendy Lend with Graz’s historic quarter is the very unusual-looking Murinsel (German for Mur Island). It was built in 2003 to commemorate the city being the European Capital of Culture, and with a café and amphitheater is a great performance venue on a floating platform. Constructed of glass and steel, this iconic landmark is connected to either bank of the river by two steel walkways. When the Murinsel is lit up at night its neon lighting is a sight to behold.
As bridges go the Murinsel is more than just a means to cross the river, it’s a landmark, it’s an experience and it is most importantly a statement of intent from a city that cherishes its past but most definitely has an eye on the future.
Where to eat sustainably in Graz
Not only is Austrian food of great quality and often delivered with innovative and creative dishes, but with Graz being Austria’s Culinary Capital, you can bet that food is big here and we have a post listing many of the great places to eat in Graz. That being said, it would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of new places we found on this trip, restaurants that care deeply about where their food is sourced from, and about what and how we eat.
On our first night, we went to Gerüchteküche, which transformed its menu during the pandemic and now serves solely vegetarian food. We were fortunate enough to meet the owner Michael Wankerl and spoke to him about his creative cooking and how that blends well with wider sustainability goals.
He told us his work is inspired by nature and his signature dishes all come from trial and error, so if something doesn’t work he puts it aside and starts again. That may well be the reason that there are no set menus at the restaurant, but a fresh one is developed each day by Michael’s creative mind.
True to his reputation, he delivered a fabulous six-course menu that lived up to its promises. Our starter consisted of carrot with fermented koji, seaweed caviar and beetroot, and was delicately fashioned into a layered dish so tasty, and the carrots so meaty in texture that you could have been fooled into thinking it was a meat dish.
But this is no plant-based meat fakery, and nor does Gerüchteküche’s food aim to cheat the tastebuds into thinking meat is on the menu. It’s just excellent vegetarian food that will have everyone – even dedicated carnivores, like Sarah (who couldn’t get enough of the starter) – coming back for more.
The second course consisted of an egg poached at precisely 60 degrees for one and half hours. That’s the difference between perfectionists and the rest of us; I could not imagine spending 90 minutes poaching an egg, no matter how delicious it may be. But it was accompanied by asparagus and asparagus ash and did not disappoint.
Next came a chicory and kimchi dish with plenty of spice to it, followed by one of cabbage, fennel, rhubarb, and pak choi. At first glance, it was a frightfully unusual combination, but in Michael’s expert hands it transformed into a very memorable and tasty one.
When the main course of celery in two-year-old salt and pom-pom mushrooms in a celery sauce arrived, I was mostly focused on finishing the meal by now as I was full up, but didn’t want to refuse Michael’s carefully crafted cuisine.
We ended with a dessert of strawberries and rhubarb ice cream. I have to say even the non-vegetarians amongst us praised the meal and vowed to return. If you find yourself looking for a sustainably-focused Graz restaurant Gerüchteküche would be a great choice.
Gartengasse 28, 8010 Graz
Tel: +43 (664) 88318444
Monday to Friday from 11:30 am-11:30 pm
Closed Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays
Beyond the city – things to do in the region of Graz
The beauty of staying longer in a city means that it gives you longer to explore and go further afield. Heard about a little church with plenty of history on the outskirts of the city? Take your time and you can build it into your itinerary. And that is just what we did during our time in Graz – we headed out into its regions, specifically in and around the area of Piber, out to the west of the city, where we made some fascinating finds.
Gallop from Graz to discover its link to Vienna’s Spanish Riding School
For many years I have admired the beauty and grace of the world-famous Lipizzaner horses of Vienna’s Spanish Horse Riding School. The spectacular show that they perform, and the skill and finesse of both riders and particularly the horses, have long fascinated me.
So it was with eager excitement that I took a gallop from Graz – well, a 45-minute drive – to the village of Piber to visit the Lipizzan Stud Farm, which has been the home of Lipizzaner horses since 1920. It is here that the horses of the Spanish Riding School are reared.
Set amid a rolling landscape, the stud farm is an oasis of calm and regenerative, peaceful beauty. Lipizzaner horses are the oldest purebred horses in Europe and their ancestry can be traced right back to 1580.
During a guided tour I found out they have approximately 250 horses there and that the training starts when the Lipizzaner horses are three to five years old. Only 10% of foals will actually make the grade to be considered for the riding school in Vienna.
The farm also has a museum so you fully immerse yourself in its long and eventful history. And it is also possible to take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage from the farm into the glorious surrounding countryside. We did and it was a fun and relaxing way to take in the full majestic beauty of this area.
Fun fact: Lipizzaner horses are born black, brown, or grey, and their coats change colour slowly every time they moult. Somewhere between seven and ten-years-old they finally display their famous white coat. However, the Spanish Riding School always has at least one brown Lipizzaner in their stables as they are thought to bring good luck.
The Lipizzan Stud Farm:
Lipizzanergestüt Piber GöR, Piber 1, 8580 Köflach
Tel: 0043 3144 3323
To help us understand the local community better and gather another insight into the real lives of everyday Austrians we drove deeper into the fertile Styrian countryside.
The next stop was Hofmolkerei Tax dairy farm, where the owner Rupert Tax, who has been producing cheese and yogurt here for 25 years, greeted us. The farm setting was idyllic, in a remote location with lush rolling hills dotted with his sheep, peacefully munching their way across the landscape.
Rupert guided us around his small farm and explained the processes for producing his dairy products before we settled inside for a delectable cheese and Styrian wine tasting session. During this, we enjoyed a smorgasbord of the farm’s products including feta, Auegger, West Steier, Camembert, Tilsiter and Stubalp all matched with appropriate wines.
If you want to visit and try this for yourself the details are below.
Fun fact: According to tests conducted in Switzerland, the cheese-making process is helped by playing the music of Mozart, but never Beethoven.
Piberegg 3, 8580 Köflach, Austria
Tel: +43 664 524 48 74
Immerse yourself in the unique architecture of Hundertwasser
If you think most churches are fairly traditional, maybe even staid in their architecture, be prepared to be challenged in the nearby Styrian town of Bärnbach. The very remarkable St Barbara Church is a visual feast.
Originally built in 1948, St Barbara Church was transformed into a work of art after a facelift by renowned Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 1987. He not only redesigned the exterior but part of the interior and the grounds surrounding it too.
Interestingly, Hundertwasser design for this Catholic Church also included twelve gates to highlight all the other major religions of the world.
Fun facts: St Barbara is the patron saint of coal miners, and Bärnbach sits amid a former mining town. Friedensreich Hundertwasser also designed the Rogner Bad Blumau hotel and spa – about 60 kilometres east of Graz, which is well worth a few days’ stay to not only enjoy the beautiful grounds boasting acres of gardens but indoor/outdoor thermal pools too.
Follow the bees
Our journey through Styria’s lush countryside led us to another great local community passion project. In Ligist just 14 kilometres, south of the church, we came to the family home of part-time beekeepers Siegmund and Gisela Rosenzopf, where they keep their 144 beehives.
They were great hosts and gave us an insightful tour of their hives and honey production. I was fascinated to learn that each beehive holds 60,000 bees during the summer months, so they had a staggering 8.5 million bees in just one small holding, and we are all learning how important bees are to our future environment.
Solidifying the local nature of the business, they cooperate with a nearby vineyard to also produce a honey wine. Siegmund and Gisela invited us to sample their homemade honey with a lovely tasting session of the forest, chestnut, and floral honey they produce, while they gave us a revealing talk about how to spot a Queen bee and so much more.
The Rosenzopf beehives:
8563 Ligist, Steinberg 282
Tel: +43 3143 4230
Dine like a local at a Graz buschenschank
Last stop on our day out from the city of Graz, was at a buschenschank (or wine tavern) – a favourite in every wine region of Austria – Kremser-Greitbauer for a tour of the winery and vineyards and of course for a Schilcher wine tasting followed by a hearty meal.
If you are unfamiliar with a buschenschank, it is a uniquely Austrian affair, but one that is not to be missed – it is a very local experience.
Also called a Heurigen, it is a wine tavern found on a vineyard that only sells its own wine and cold dishes made with produce from its own land. You can’t get much more local and sustainable than that. It gets its name from the bound bundle of twigs, known as a buschenschank, hanging over doors, and if they are in place the buschenschank is open for business.
As part of our tour around the region of Graz, we called into Kremser-Greitbauer, where besides wonderful local foods and delicious wines we also enjoyed the most fabulous views as we watched the sunset over the verdant countryside of western Styria. It was one of those blissful ends to a perfect day – travelling deeper into Graz, exploring beyond the hustle and bustle of the city, and immersing ourselves in Austrian culture.
Dietenberg 94, 8563 Ligist
Tel: +43 3143 2805
Friday to Tuesday: 2pm-10pm (between March 4 to July 3, 2022 and July 29 to October 30, 2022)
Wednesday and Thursday: closed
An historic hotel stay in Graz
There are many quality hotels in Graz, on this occasion, we stayed at the lovely Hotel Gollner.
Easily accessible in the heart of the city this four-star Graz hotel is well served with ample local transport connections on trams and buses, which makes it very convenient for getting around.
We stayed in a large, modern and very comfortable room – one of 61 in the hotel – with soundproofed windows, Wi-Fi, flatscreen TV, a room safe, and air-conditioning. The hotel also serves an array of breakfast food options in a decorative and atmospheric room with the choice to dine outside if you wish. There are two terraces, one a rose garden, where guests can relax and enjoy an evening drink in convivial surroundings.
Like many Austrian hotels the Gollner is family-owned, and currently three generations of the family work here. This offers a lovely aspect to the stay as it ensures continuity and a more personal service as the owners are wholly invested in it and deliver a customer-focused culture. Again the local community benefits as any non-family members of staff are usually people they know personally and have been employees over many years.
The Gollner owners have a noteworthy history in Graz going back centuries – the family were former butchers in the city for many years. The hotel has been in the family for over 60 years and it even has a small museum charting this history and that of Graz, plus an art gallery.
Tel: +43 316 82 25 21 0
Download our map of Graz attractions for your longer stay
Click the Graz map below to explore our Google Map of our recommendations when visiting Austria’s second city – you can also download it to your phone for offline access.