Exploring Austria’s Second City – A Culinary Escape to Graz
These days, many people are obsessed with building country counts and ticking off those capital cities and major attractions. Now, while there’s nothing bad in that (I myself have been overly excited to see those big sights), I think it’s really important to venture that little bit further and explore more than just the main hub.
Fitting into that mould is Graz, Austria’s second city. Not half as well known as capital Vienna, you’ll find this historic city in the country’s mountainous Styrian region. Known for its wine, castles and food, Graz is the region’s capital and perfectly blends Renaissance and Baroque architeture with more modern creations like the Kunsthaus and Murinsel.
An incredibly relaxed city and very walkable, I recently spent a weekend in Graz, tasting the variety of rich flavours and fresh produce prominent in this region. Named Europe’s culinary capital in 2008, the city has been celebrating 10 years of culinary creations.
One of the things I noticed was that there was so much variety in what to do. Whether you’re a budding artist searching for inspiration or a lover of history like myself, there’s plenty to see. And wonderfully, when you’ve finished all of your exploring (or indeed, are just taking a momentary break), the food scene in Graz is pretty spectacular.
The city’s main square, the Hauptplatz, is the general meeting point in the city. With streets leading to each part of the centre, it’s a lovely spot to sit down and relax.
During one of my nights in the city, I found myself drawn to the square in search of a frankfurter. All the locals were sitting around eating and chatting and the atmosphere was just infectious.
Trying to bridge the language barrier with my limited German, I managed to make small talk and complete my order – win win!
The Schlossberg area of Graz was undoubtedly my favourite. Walking around the hilly landscape, there was a beautiful view around every corner.
The Schlossberg is also home to the city’s famous clock tower. With three bells and incomparable views, it’s not hard to see why the tower is the undisputed landmark of the historic city.
Sitting among the flowers, this is the ultimate spot to forget about time and just watch the city come alive below you. Getting to the Schlossberg, you can take a lift from the city’s lower regions. Or, if you’re feeling up for it, climb 250 steps to reach the peak.
After all the walking in the heat, I enjoyed my favourite meal in Graz at Aiola Upstaris, which you’ll find below.
While waiting for the 6pm bell to toll, I stumbled upon some outdoor theatre. A crowd of locals and tourists were happily spending their afternoon being enriched by the vast cultural talent of the city.
Though I couldn’t understand a word, there was a great atmosphere and the theatre lover in me couldn’t help but smile. Eventually, I tore myself away and took up position in front of the Glockenspiel.
As soon as the wooden characters appeared to the chimes, I was reminded of the bell tower in Prague. This particular show doesn’t happen every hour, so best to check ahead to ensure you get to experience it.
Definitely worth a visit, the Double Staircase is located less than five minutes from the cathedral and mausoleum.
The romantic in me loved the idea that even if you go your separate ways around the two spiral staircases, you’ll reunite again at the top.
Located just 20 minutes from Graz’s historic city centre, Schloss Eggenberg is well worth a visit. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a wonderful place to spend a few hours.
I can never resist the allure of UNESCO sites and walking around the castle and gardens was just so peaceful. I did find myself seeking out shade though as it was about 30 degrees, but it was a fantastic place to see.
Dinner my first night in Graz was a real treat. Sitting under the shade of the historic armoury, I delved into the region’s culinary treats.
Dining at Landhauskeller, which is popular with locals, it was a beautiful evening to sit outside. Here, I got my first taste of the region’s famed pumpkin seed oil.
I went for a regional starter in the form of a lamb’s lettuce and potato salad with bacon and boiled egg. It was really good and a great introduction to local Austrian food.
Hungrier than I had originally thought I was, I chose the restaurant’s classic dish of prime boiled beef with roasted potatoes, chives sauce and apple-horseradish.
My dining companion opted for a slightly lighter main, choosing the sea bream with thyme-potato risotto, chard and salsa verde. We both devoured our mains to the point that we simply had no room for dessert.
Visiting the local market on Saturday morning, I was surrounded by all the locals stocking up for the week with an abundance of fresh produce from the region.
Though I couldn’t carry much and wasn’t planning to do any cooking while in Graz, I couldn’t resist picking up some raspberries for the road.
As day drinking by the market is quite a common way to relax in Graz, I sat at a little café/bar with a glass of Prosecco, indulging in raspberry after raspberry. It was the perfect way to kick off my Saturday.
Chocolate lovers will adore this historic little shop. The renowned chocolatier is located on a quiet street in the heart of the old city. With everything from chocolate bars to bites of deliciousness, I made sure to try the pumpkin seed chocolate bar.
The pumpkin theme is prevelent everywhere in Graz and while it was a little bit strange to the taste, I was definitely a fan of the pumpkin seed chocolate. Realistically though, there’s very little chocolate I won’t devour.
If you’re after incredible panoramic views and picture perfect dishes that taste as wonderful as they look, then a visit to Aiola Upstairs should definitely be on your list for Graz.
After exploring the Schlossberg area of Graz, including the city’s famous clock tower, we grabbed a seat in the restaurant’s outdoor terrace and sipped a glass of sparkling rosé – absolute perfection.
Kicking off lunch with a refreshing chanterelle salad with sheep cheese and raspberries, this was one starter I would have happily increased to a main course portion. It was beautiful.
My main went down a treat and I was wholly satisfied with my filet of char with eggplant, cream cheese and tomato salsa. As a dessert lover however, the chocolate dream dessert was really something special.
Three different chocolate flavours and some chocolate sauce infused within the brownie was stunning, though probably not the wisest choice in the heat.
On the hunt for an icy treat while walking the streets of Graz, I came upon Eis Greissler, which was located down one of the side streets off the Hauptplatz.
Opting for something refreshing and fruity, I chose the mango ice cream and it was probably the best €1.60 I ever spent. Happy out, I perched myself on a bench in a shaded little park square and read my book as buskers sang around me.
This local haunt was recommended to me by my guide and it was definitely a perfect little spot for a mid-afternoon snack.
There’s so many different open sandwiches to choose from at Delikatessen Frankowitsch and many locals were just chatting and munching away with a little glass of beer. The Austrians definitely know how to live.
Brunch is a blissful way to spend any morning, especially when the option to sit outside in the sun presents itself. Sunday brunch at Café Promenade was a real treat.
Kicking off our breakfast with some refreshing smoothies, I indulged in a red beet, pineapple and raspberry smoothie, while my guest went for the carrot, mango and ginger smoothie.
Moving to food and, as I can never resist anything cheese-related, I of course had to order the scrambled eggs with fried ham and Austrian old-cheese, which was probably the most indulgent breakfast I’ve had in a long time.
My dining companion went for the lighter option of smoked salmon with toast and creamy horse-radish. Something I noticed with the coffee in Austria was that the cups often had little quotes hidden on the saucers, with the Sunday morning quote translating as “The Dark Side is Beautiful” – I can definitely get on board with that.
As we dined on our delicious feast of vibrant dishes, I felt completely relaxed and at ease. I just love eating outside, especially when the weather is pleasant enough to do so. This was the end of July so it was just beautiful.
Ducks Coffee Shop
Whether the name speaks out to you or deters you, Ducks Coffee Shop is well worth a visit. I had heard about this little gem from my scouring of the internet before I arrived.
Kooky and fun, the decor was just fabulous and they make a great cup of coffee too. Wondering why anyone would want to sit in a café and indulge in a hot cup of coffee in 30 degree heat? Never underestimate the allure of air conditioning.
Always on the hunt for the perfect café, Il Café was a lovely little find. I had originally passed it on my first day in Graz, but didn’t pop in until the eleventh hour.
With two hours to kill before heading out to the airport, I grabbed a croissant and flat white and propped myself up on the cushioned chairs.
With bookish quotes and a bright, airy space filled with a mix of hushed chatter, hands typing on laptops and fellow readers, this was a suitably relaxing end to my time in the city.
During my time in Graz, I stayed at Hotel Wiesler, which boasts a modern and minimalist design.
Pulling out my inner hipster, the hotel’s design would definitely appeal to a younger clientele. There’s also a little barber shop in the hotel – madness.
Proving just how walkable the city is, the hotel is located just two minutes from the nearest tram station and five minutes from the historic centre.
My favourite part of the room was the sink. Don’t laugh, but this Mexican style sink was so colourful and spacious that I made a mental note to add it to my future home plan.
There are currently no direct flights between Dublin and Graz. One option is to fly to Vienna and transfer to Graz via public transport. I opted for a connecting flight as it was more convenient and I’m not the biggest fan of long bus journeys!
Flying with Lufthansa, my outward flight connected through Munich before arriving in Graz and my return flight connected through Frankfurt airport on the way to Dublin.
For more information about Graz, visit www.graztourismus.at.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.