Graz, the capital of Styria and the second-largest city in Austria, lies in a somewhat remote corner of the country and is often overlooked by tourists. Graz is easily reached from Vienna or Salzburg and provides the urban highlight of an itinerary through southeastern Austria. Its Old Town quarter is remarkably well preserved, with narrow pedestrian lanes connecting several prime attractions and some outstanding examples of Baroque architecture, a palace, and the remnants of an ancient fortress atop a midtown hill. Graz is also a lively cultural city of gardens and parks. It was once a favourite retirement centre for civil servants.
The name Graz derives from the Slavic Gradec, meaning a small castle. There was probably a fortress atop the Schlossberg hill as early as the 9th Century. This strategic spot guarded the southern end of the narrow Mur Valley, an essential approach to Vienna, from invasion by the Turks.
Streetcars and buses are an excellent way of travelling within the city. All streetcar routes converge at Jakominiplatz near the south end of the Old Town. Nearly all tourist attractions in Graz are conveniently located in the compact Old Town quarter, which can easily be explored on foot in just over an hour. Make sure to start at the Hauptplatz – main square and visit the Erzherzog Johann Brunnen, Schlossberg, Luegg House, and the late 19th Century Rathaus – city hall.
A short stroll down the narrow Franziskanergasse brings you to the Franziskanerkirche, a church which has a 14th Century choir, a 16th Century nave, and a 17th Century tower. The tiny streets retain much of their medieval atmosphere and are well worth exploring.