The best Graz museums
A wonderful collection of museums in Graz give you an insight into the historical and modern cultures of the city – and you get great value with a museum pass!
Wandering through the streets, with their stunningly-detailed historic buildings, it can sometimes feel like Graz itself is one large open-air museum.
The centre of Austria’s second largest is a World Heritage Site because of the history contained in its buildings and because of how well they have been protected over the centuries.
I’ve written previously about some of the most striking examples of Graz’s architecture – the cathedral, the town hall, the Schlossberg, and the striking Eggenberg Palace.
If you would like more details, you read my tips for the best things to see in the Historic Centre of Graz.
Many of the buildings you see throughout the town are, from a heritage or a visitor’s perspective, just important these days because of their facades. On the main Herrengasse street, for instance, you’ll see the styled window frames, perhaps columns on either side of the doorway, inlaid statues, even towers or mural paintings on the walls on some.
But many of these buildings are now modern shops and, once you step over the threshold, you could be in any store in any city. What we are looking for is special and unique.
That’s why I think it’s worth visiting some of the Graz museums. Not only are they housed in some of the city’s most important museums, but the interiors have also been well preserved.
And the variety of the collections is fascinating, telling the story of the city and the region from thousands of years ago to the modern day.
It’s also quite easy to visit the museums of Graz because the most important ones come under an umbrella organisation called Universalmuseum Joanneum. It consists of 18 museums in the Styria region, with 11 of them in the city of Graz itself.
The great news for visitors is that if you’re interested in seeing the best museums in Graz, you can get a pass for the Universalmuseum Joanneum, which is excellent value.
The Joanneum 24-hour ticket costs just €13 for an adult (€5.50 for students) and the Joanneum 48-hour ticket is just €19 for an adult (€8 for students).
I would recommend buying it in advance here.
In a moment, I’ll do a breakdown of the costs of the Joanneum ticket to see how much you could save, but first, let’s have a look at the museums in Graz that are part of the Universalmuseum Joanneum.
You can see them on a map here:
Now let me tell you a bit more about each of the Graz museums.
I know I’ve been talking about history and heritage in the Graz museums, and we’ll get there in a second, but let’s first talk about the most iconic modern building in the city – the Kunsthaus Graz.
The city’s modern art gallery is a large bulbous green building right on the river, that perhaps looks like something that has grown from the ground – or been dropped from the sky. The shape and the colour is unique and it’s earned the nickname ‘The Friendly Alien’ from the locals.
This modern art museum plays host to temporary exhibitions that change during the year. The museum says its focus is on art that questions society and looks at the future of art in the 21st century.
I would definitely recommend visiting – just to see the architecture, if for nothing else. The way the exhibitions are laid out in the space is really interesting but there’s always something thought-provoking in the artworks as well.
One of my other favourite museums in Graz is the Styrian Armoury, which actually feels less like a museums and more like an enormous storeroom.
It is designed to feel like how an armoury would actually have been back in the day when it helped protect Graz. There are no museum signs to interrupt the atmosphere, so you can use an audioguide as you walk through.
The Styrian Armoury is said to be the world’s largest historical armoury, and has about 32,000 objects from the 15th to 18th centuries. It’s spread out over four levels, where you’ll see more than 4000 pistols and 4000 other guns, as well as swords, cannons, spears, and much more.
The museum is certainly a highlight of Graz and, because the armoury is housed in its original location, it’s a fascinating insight into the city’s history.
Neue Galerie Graz
Right in the city centre is the Neue Galerie Graz, a large exhibition space that has permanent and temporary exhibitions of artworks from the 19^th^ century until today.
It has international work on display, documenting important art movements like Realism and Jugendstil. But you’ll notice that there is a particular focus on regional forms of styles like classical Modernity, Viennese Actionism, and Conceptual Art.
There’s a lot to see across the 2000 square metres of the gallery and the temporary exhibitions are often particularly impressive. If you have spare time, I would recommend popping in – you’re bound to find something of interest.
Natural History Museum
Within in the same building complex as the Neue Galerie Graz, you’ll the city’s Natural History Museum in the Baroque Lesliehof (it’s accessed from the same underground entrance as the gallery).
The museum is put together well and it has a good collection of animals and exhibitions about the Earth. The exhibitions cover the history of the world from hundreds of millions of years ago until today. Of course, there is special attention to some of the environmental heritage of the Styrian region.
While it’s a good museum, it’s the kind of place that is designed mainly for school groups and local families. It’s probably not worth spending your limited time in Graz at the Natural History Museum unless you have a particular interest in the topic or young children who will enjoy the kid-friendly elements.
Centre of Science Activities
I’m also going to mention the Centre of Science Activities here, because it’s in the same complex as the Natural History Museum and Neue Galerie Graz.
However, this is very much a children’s museum that focuses on science and technology (although it very cleverly also ties that into historical and everyday life situations).
It’s very cool and modern (opening in 2019) and may be of interest to tourists with families. However, it’s not really specific to Graz, so you may want to focus on the museums with local content that you can only see here.
The History Museum has a focus on telling the story of Graz and the broader Styria region. To do this, the museum has four different areas that offer a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions.
The permanent exhibitions that have thousands of local items of interest on display are actually quite good. There’s a lot to see and you’ll be given information in English to help. If you’re looking for a bit more depth about the story of Graz, this is a good place to find it.
However, I think the temporary exhibitions may be a bit irrelevant for international tourists. They often focus on a very niche topic about the city or region, which may lack context for foreign visitors.
Folk Life Museum
While the History Museum looks at all aspects of Graz and covers some of the bigger picture topics, the Folk Life Museum narrows its focus to everyday life in Graz since about 1913.
It has exhibitions about what people’s homes would’ve looked like, the kind of jobs people did, the hobbies they would do in their spare time. It has a large collection of items that were actually used by residents.
Originally the focus of the museum was on pre-war Graz but the attention is shifting now to more modern interpretations of tradition, so it’s not just about history but about contemporary (or at least recent) life.
Although I like the idea of the museum, I would suggest that it’s not one of the priorities if you have limited time in Graz. There isn’t really enough interpretation for international visitors and I found only a few of the exhibitions relevant for average foreign tourists.
Slightly out of town, you’ll find the impressive Eggenberg Palace – one of the highlights of a visit to Graz. The palace was originally built in 1625 and is part of the World Heritage Site that includes the historic centre of Graz.
Most of what you’ll find here is from the 18th century Baroque version of the palace. You can visit the State Rooms and see them virtually unchanged since those days.
With furniture, tapestries and decorations still in place from that period, the 24 state rooms are one of the most important collections of heritage in Austria.
The highlight is the magnificent Planetary Room which has enormous and detailed paintings along the walls and the ceiling that merge astronomy with other symbology to represent the story of the Eggenberg dynasty.
A visit to Eggenberg Palace is not to be missed when you’re in Graz!
There are three other museums within the grounds of Eggenberg Palace and I’m just going to mention them quickly because, although they are significant, they are quite small.
The first is the Alte Galerie, which has an excellent collection of art from the Middle Ages – probably the most important in Austria. These include panel paintings, shrine altars, and stained glass. Most are from Styria or surrounding regions.
There are also works in the gallery from the Renaissance and Baroque period and, although the names of the artists may not be the most famous international ones, many were extremely influential in Central Europe.
The Archaeology Museum is in a relatively modern building and has about 1200 items on display.
There are impressive Roman artefacts and mosaic floors, a reminder that these lands were once part of the vast ancient empire. But the most significant items here are from the Hallstatt period.
And finally, there’s the Coin Cabinet, a museum where the name describes it quite accurately. The coin collection here was begun by Archduke Johann and now has more than 70,000 items.
Most of the coins, which are from Antiquity through to the Baroque period, are from Styria and greater Austria.
Buying the Joanneum Pass
So, as you can probably see from my descriptions of the museums, not all of them will be of interest to everyone. That’s probably not surprising and is, in some regards, a good thing – there should be a range covering different topics.
You might be wondering if it’s worth buying the Joanneum Pass if you don’t want to see all of the museums.
Well, the short answer is that if you only want to see one museum, it’s not worth buying the pass, but if you want to see several, it is. And I would recommend that any first-time visit to Graz see a few of the top ones.
Let’s have a look at the breakdown for how much you could save (and the museums I would recommend visiting).
If you only have a day, I would suggest visiting the Kunsthaus Graz, the Styrian Armoury, and Eggenberg Palace.
The individual entrance fees to those three museums would be €9.50 for the Kunsthaus Graz (€3.50 concession), €9.50 for the Styrian Armoury (€3.50 concession), and €15 for the State Rooms of Eggenberg Palace (€6 concession).
The Joanneum 24-hour ticket costs just €15 for an adult (€6 concession) so by getting the pass, you’ll be saving €19 for this one day of three museums!
(It’s worth noting that the maths is a little wonky because the Eggenberg Palace State Room ticket also includes access to all the Universalmuseum Joanneum museums for 24 hours, so it’s essentially the same thing.)
If you have a bit more time, I would suggest you also visit the other three museums at Eggenberg Palace (because you’re there anyway), the excellent Neue Galerie Graz, and pop into the History Museum to see the permanent exhibitions.
The individual entrance fees to those museums would be €9.50 for the Alte Galerie, Archaeology Museum and Coin Cabinet together (€3.50 concession), €9.50 for the Neue Galerie (€3.50 concession), and €9.50 for the History Museum (€3.50 concession).
The Joanneum 48-hour ticket costs just €21 for an adult (€9 concession) so by getting the pass, you’ll be saving a whopping €41.5 for these two days of museums!
(Again, buying the State Rooms ticket at Eggenberg Palace gives you access to the other museums anyway.)
There’s so much more to Graz than just the museums. There’s the fresh local food, the relaxed love of life, the gorgeous history, and the hip neighbourhoods.
But the museums are still well worth some of your time. The Universalmuseum Joanneum is considered the biggest of its kind in Central Europe, with about 4.9 million items in the collection.
Had you heard of it before? No? Well, it’s just another of the wonderful surprises you’ll find here, and another reason you’ll soon love Graz.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN GRAZ
I recommend staying in the historic centre of Graz – not just because you’ll experience the heritage, but because you’ll be in the thick of the action.
Clean, comfortable, and right next to the main train station, a&o Graz Hauptbahnhof is a great hostel option.
Although the rooms are small, Minihotel Graz is right in the centre of town and is great value.
Filled with art and an interesting design, Augarten Art Hotel offers very cool accommodation.
And for luxury, Schlossberghotel has an incredible blend of modern and historic in a building full of art.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Visit Graz but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.