The castle mountain made of dolomite rock rises high above the old town of Graz. The wooded mountain is rugged yet inviting at all times of the year, whether the trees provide shade and cooling in summer or you want to escape the grey city for a few hours in winter. The mountain is a recreation area and vantage point in one.
First some history
123 metres up to the plateau on the top of the mountain, which according to legend was created by the devil himself. This is where the castle once stood, to which the mountain and the city of Graz owe their names. For Graz is derived from the Slovenian word “Gradic”, which means “small castle”. For over 1,000 years the castle stood here, which was later converted into a palace, and it could never be taken, which even earned it a place in the Guinnes Book of Records. But in the year 1809, after the victory of the French over the Habsburgs, Napoleon forced the people of Graz to tear down their fortress and so it was almost completely destroyed. However, the inhabitants of the city made sure that the clock tower and the bell tower of the castle were spared by paying a tidy sum of money, and so these two buildings still stand on the hill today. Thirty years after the demolition of the castle, the transformation of the Schoßberg into its present form with its parks and partly exotic plants began.
How does it go up?
If you want to enjoy the view and the sights of Graz, you have to make a decision, because there are several ways to get up the mountain. First of all, there is the Schloßbergbahn, which since 1894 has overcome the 60 percent incline to the summit in only about four minutes. The view from the cable car is spectacular. The bottom station of the cable car can be reached by tram lines 4 and 5 (stop Schloßbergbahn), alternatively visitors can also travel by car. A parking fee is charged. The cable car runs up to the summit every 15 minutes, the last ride is at midnight (Fridays and Saturdays at 2 am).
Another possibility to reach the summit is the Schloßberglift. It goes even faster, in only a minute and a half, up the mountain, IM mountain. More precisely, in a shaft that is part of a tunnel system that was built in the mountain during World War II to protect the people of Graz from air raids. The lift was put into operation in 2000, and it is designed for disabled people. Parents with prams are also more likely to use the lift than the railway. The bottom station of the lift can also be reached with lines 4 and 5 of the Graz tram (stop Schloßbergplatz). The lift runs daily until 00:30 am.
Finally, the third option is the somewhat arduous walk, which rewards the exertion with an impressive view of Graz and the surrounding area. 260 steps, built during the First World War – that’s why the stairs are called “Kriegssteig” – lead from Schloßbergplatz, Karmeliterplatz or Wickenburggasse up to the plateau. The ascent usually takes about a quarter of an hour. However, the stairs are closed during the winter months. By the way, a motion to rename the Kriegssteig as “Friedenssteig” did not find a majority in 2008.
It is not possible to drive on the Schloßberg by car.
What’s to see upstairs?
Having reached the plateau of the Schlossberg, there is a lot to explore. First of all, there is the clock tower and the bell tower of the former castle, the only buildings that survived the grinding undamaged and which visually dominate the mountain.
The 28-metre high clock tower with its dials measuring over five metres in diameter is today the symbol of the city of Graz. It was mentioned for the first time as part of the fortifications in 1265. The tower also served as a watchtower for the city’s fire station. The oldest bell in Graz rings every full hour.
However, the largest bell in the city – and the third largest in all of Styria – does not hang here, but “next door”, in the 34-metre-high bell tower dating from 1588. The bell, affectionately called “Liesl”, has a diameter of almost two metres and weighs a remarkable four and a half tonnes. It is rung several times a day, always exactly with 101 beats. This is a reminder that the bell was allegedly cast from 101 Turkish cannonballs. But this is only a legend, the bell is, as usual, not made of iron but of bronze. Under the bell tower there is a dungeon called “Bass Fiddle”.
In the remains, the so-called Stallbastei is preserved, a building which, as the name suggests, used to house stables. The six-metre thick and 20-metre high walls of the bastion still give an idea of the former strength of the old fortress. However, the cannons are not part of the original armament of the castle, but were later acquired in France. The originals were brought to France – after the fortress was demolished.
In the partially exposed cellars, the so-called casemates, of the old castle, the Schloßbergbühne was built. The stage is the most popular open-air venue in the city of Graz. Since the thirties, music and theatre performances of all kinds have taken place here, if necessary also under cover. Before Christmas, visitors also find one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in the city here.
The part of the castle hill with the most flowers, the so-called Bürgerbastei, is located below the clock tower. This bastion can be reached from the tower or from the war path.
The Starcke-Haus is a former residential house, which was built on the ruins of the powder tower of the old castle complex. It takes its name from its former inhabitant, the German court actor Gustav Starcke.
Where can one strengthen oneself?
If you feel hungry after exploring the Schloßberg and its sights, or if you just want to enjoy a cool beer or a good wine, you can stay at the Starcke House, because it houses the restaurant of the same name, one of three on the Schloßberg. The “Starcke-Haus” offers international and typical Austrian specialities, combined with a fantastic view of Graz and as far as the south of Styria. As the opening hours of the restaurant are variable, it is best to find out in advance who is planning a visit.
Another restaurant on the castle hill is the “Aiola Upstairs“, which also offers international and national cuisine and a top view of the city every day until midnight. It is mostly handicapped accessible, guide dogs are also very welcome.
Finally, the restaurant “Schloßberg” should be mentioned, which – like the other two restaurants – also serves international dishes and Austrian-Styrian specialities. From the restaurant as well as from the beer garden the guest has a wonderful view of the roofs of Graz and the wider surroundings. The restaurant “Schloßberg” is also largely handicapped accessible. It is open from Monday to Saturday until midnight, but on Sundays only until 6 pm.
If you end the evening in one of the restaurants with good food, cultivated drinks, romantic atmosphere and impressive view, please do not forget the last departure times of the train or the lift, otherwise you will only have the way down the Kriegssteig into the city. But maybe a little digestive walk is just the right end of the evening…