In some ways, Graz's Altstadt seems older than Salzburg. By the time of the Baroque heyday - 17th and 18th centuries - Graz had lost its importance, while an ascendant Salzburg was recast by (among others) architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, coincidentally a Graz native. And so the buildings of a "neglected" Graz remained untouched by Baroque remodelers.
But the city is more than a monument to the past. Thanks to a large university population, and a number of local businesses that have achieved enough global success to support a lively arts and cultural scene, the Styrian capital feels young, progressive, and eager to embrace the future. After dusk, this side of its character can be seen as the winding streets of the Altstadt fill with the young and the affluent, enjoying an evening out.
When visiting Graz, I simply wander: first, up to the Schlossberg's clock tower and then along the streets of the old town, stopping off to renew acquaintance with a few of the city's quirkier sights:
- The 15th-century double spiral stairway in the Burg. This tightly-spiraled stairway with its twin axis are all that remain of the imperial residence of the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich III. It is entered via a small door off the prosaic entrance driveway of the provincial government buildings. The door is never locked even in the wee hours so you can climb these historic steps whenever you like.
- The courtyard of the Landhaus. Actually there is nothing quirky about the courtyard: it is an attractive 16th-century Renaissance structure ringed by a three-story arcade and a number of other striking architectural details that will have you feeling you're in Italy.
- The façade of the Hofbäckerei. The former Imperial Bakery has such a stunningly ornate 19th-century wooden façade that I guarantee you will want to have your picture taken in front of it. By the way: if an intrepid visitor were to feel around near the doorway, she or he would find two hidden compartments.
- The 1950s stained glass window with Hitler and Stalin in the Stadtpfarrkirche zum Heiligen Blut. The left triptych behind the alter depicts the humiliation of Christ. Look very closely in the panel that is third from the left and fourth from the bottom to see Hitler and Stalin looking on from a balcony.