Graz derives its name from the times when Slovenians built a small castle in the area, referred to in their language as gradec. The germanised version of it was first used in 1128. Soon after, Graz found itself under Habsburg rule, and became a significant commercial center and prominent royal residence. The appearance of the city was transformed in the 16th Century by Domenico dell'Allio in the Renaissance style, the Landhaus being a prominent example of this period in architecture.
The spirit of bygone times is still alive in Graz's Old Town, which was classified as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1999. Graz was also awarded the title of Cultural Capital of Europe in 2003. The city, especially its historical center, has earned its fame because of the seamless synthesis of architectural styles that have succeeded one another through time. Legend has it that the devil himself created Schlossberg, the hill situated in the very heart of contemporary Graz. It was on this hill that the first settlement of the area began, and also where the very first castle was erected.
Many centuries later, the original castle, by then converted into a powerful fortress, was destroyed by Napoleon’s army. However, two of city’s best known landmarks, the Clock Tower and the Bell Tower, survived thanks to the efforts of Graz’s citizens. Today, the clock on the Clock Tower ticks just as it always has for the past three centuries. The Bell Tower continues to proudly display the largest and heaviest bell in the area, known as the Liesl. Once you scale the 260-step staircase leading to the top of Schlossber Hill, you’ll be able to take in the unique, truly breathtaking panorama of the city.
Those interested in exploring the past of the region will certainly want to take a tour of Graz’s architectonic highlights: the Town Hall, Landhaus, Glockenspielplatz, Sackstrasse, Herrengasse with its famous Painted House, and many other noteworthy sights. Nor should they miss the futuristic architecture of Graz. Mur Island, an artificial shell-shaped island on the Mur River, was designed by Vito Acconci for the celebrations of the year 2003, during which the city was the Cultural Capital of Europe. The people of Graz loved it, and now the spectacular structure holds an amphitheatre and a modern, fashionable café. Another ultra-modern building that catches the eye is the Kunsthaus, whose futuristic design earned it the nickname of Spacelab.
At the end of a day packed with exciting experiences, what you’ll need most will certainly be a nice meal in a relaxing atmosphere. Graz is the perfect place for relaxed afternoons, as it offers a wide variety of cafés, restaurants and Buschenschaenken, the traditional wine taverns. For fans of trendy cafés, the Buddha Bar or the Mur Island Café are more than recommended. The Operncafé and Café Sacher Graz will cater to more conservative tastes. In order to feel like a real Grazer, visit the Goldene Pastete Restaurant, where you’ll savour local specialties and wine in a rustic and lush atmosphere. The stylish Restaurant Johan offers a postmodern reworking of a Medieval tavern. Your day in the cultural heart of Styria is best concluded in Graz's Botanical Garden, where, amidst plants from four climate zones, you can enjoy relaxing music and a cup of coffee.