Also known as the Museum District, Neubau is Vienna’s trendiest enclave, with offbeat boutiques, fantastic nightlife and easy access to the spectacular baroque complex of museums, art galleries and cafes. Neubau is remarkably relaxed — with barely a pair of skinny jeans in sight. The area sees a lot of tourist footfall, but still retains a residential air — it’s a great choice if you want to be near the sights, but need breathing space from the packed First District.
Best for excess: Sans Souci
Luxury is the name of the game at the new Sans Souci overlooking the MuseumsQuartier. The eponymous palace in Berlin is the inspiration — ornate gilt mirrors, marble floors, huge chandeliers — even in the 20-metre subterranean lap pool. The 63 rooms have muted, creamy palettes offset by giant, wall-sized mirrors (some hiding TVs) and original art pieces — mainly Lichtensteins and Picassos.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €233 (£191), room only. T: 00 43 1 522 2520. sanssouci-wien.com
Best for views: 25 Hours
Despite the circus theme, this is a seriously sophisticated design hotel. The 217 rooms have a feature wall of acrobats and lion tamers tempered by bleached wooden furniture, mid-century chairs and battered suitcases-cum-TV stands. Upgrading to a front-facing view of the Austrian Parliament is well worth it: the swish XL rooms come with balconies and open-air baths — and no clowns.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €90 (£74), room only. 25hours-hotels.com
We recommend: Altstadt
It’s a home, not a hotel, the friendly staff at Altstadt are at pains to tell you. They’re not far off the mark, either. The building was historically an apartment block, and though the hotel — owned by a former tenant — has swallowed most of the space, converting apartments as occupants move out, there are several families still sharing the building. You’ll find the 45 rooms hidden in the rabbit warren of corridors, accessed through former front doors that wrap around an imposing central staircase. Each is completely different in style and layout, though they all share the high ceilings, original parquet floors and typically Viennese double-layered windows, which keeps the rooms blissfully quiet and utterly private. Some are traditional with frosted glass panelling and antique furnishings; others team original fixtures with saucy modern art; and one wing, designed by Matteo Thun, sports naked figures on the bedroom ceiling, walls studded with Swarkovski crystals, and bathrooms in a glass box beside the bed.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €120 (£98), B&B. altstadt.at
The Innere Stadt
At the heart of Vienna — enclosed by the Ringstrasse and the other districts spiralling out around it — the Innere Stadt (First District) is where most of the city’s grandest sights are clustered. From the gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral to the Habsburg Empire’s palace complex, the Hofburg, and the Spanish Riding School, everything here is within easy walking distance — with plenty of coffee shops in between. This is the most touristy part of Vienna, and while that certainly has its drawbacks (slightly higher room rates, for starters), it’s probably the best bet for families and those who just don’t have a lot of time.
We recommend: The Guesthouse
Banish all thoughts of dowdy B&Bs, this guesthouse is the Old City’s spectacular new boutique hotel. Designed by Terence Conran, it splices classical style — timeless, clean-lined furniture; sleek, up-lit beds; and lush marble bathrooms — with anarchism in the form of rebellious-youth-inspired photos by Wolfgang Zac (the building was previously student housing). There’s a discreet emphasis on local heritage: the chairs and china are vintage Austrian reproductions, the bookends and pillow spray are made locally, and the trendy ground-floor brasserie is linked to the legendary Gragger bakery nearby. All the rooms are spacious, but upgrade to a Deluxe Opera, and you’ll get huge windows overlooking the Albertina, the Sacher and the Opera, as well as a window seat, cantilevered out over Albertinaplatz and padded with cushions. Enjoy the free drinks in the minibar, plus pastries from the downstairs bakery, and superb Jura coffee makers, which grind the hotel’s own roast to make every cup.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €170 (£140). theguesthouse.at
Best for tradition: Hotel Sacher
Dames don’t get grander than this. Synonymous with Vienna since 1873, the Sacher’s well-lit rooms were overhauled in 2011. Antique-style furniture and classic art are paired with opulent marble bathrooms, pillow menus and racy bath-to-bedroom windows. Chocolate-scented toiletries are as heavenly as they sound, and mini sacher tortes are gifted at check-in and -out.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €395 (£325), room only. sacher.com
Local hideaway: Hollmann Beletage
With 26 modern and minimalist rooms clustered round a central living area, Hollmann Beletage feels like an effortlessly stylish, yet friendly home. The highlight is the amazing breakfast — a full-on, six-course meal that’s regionally themed — and the free daily afternoon tea gets the thumbs up too.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €169 (£139), B&B. hollmann-beletage.at
South of the First District is the Fourth, Wieden, a local neighbourhood that happens to have plum visitor attractions in its midst. The Schloss Belvedere — a palace-turned-art gallery, and home to Klimt’s The Kiss, among others — takes up much of the district’s eastern border with its huge grounds. Meanwhile, to the north, bordering the Ringstrasse, lies the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s sprawling food market. In between are calm residential streets and quiet coffee houses — you’ll be glad if breakfast isn’t included in your room rate.
We recommend: Hotel Daniel
Perched right beside the Schloss Belvedere — west-facing rooms have great views of the castle and grounds — the Daniel is remarkably relaxed considering the exalted company it keeps. A glass-fronted, seven-storey tower block, all 116 rooms channel an industrial feel, with exposed concrete ceilings, visible pipework and dangling lamp cords above supremely comfortable beds. As the random boat dangling off the roof will warn you, it’s a little self-consciously kooky — think jolly signage, exhortations to ditch ties at the door, and a hipster shop on the ground floor. Yet the plush rooms (there’s a hammock in all but the smallest category) and vast windows more than make up for it — as attested by the plant-filled Bakery restaurant, which has an open-air section in summer. Guests may not be allowed on the roof, but they can enjoy a taste of it — there’s an ‘urban garden’ up there, producing apples, strawberries and organic honey for the restaurant and shop.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €95 (£78). hoteldaniel.com
Best for hipsters: Urbanauts
Part hotel, part apartment and part social experiment, Urbanauts took four near-but-not-neighbouring empty shops in Wieden’s quiet side streets, and transformed them into ultra-trendy ground-floor studio apartments. Each is named — and subtly themed — after the former occupant. These are hipster but very comfy.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €120 (£98), room only. urbanauts.at
Best for couples: Das Triest
It celebrates its 20th birthday next year, but Das Triest shows no sign of slowing down. Converted from stables on the old coaching route, there’s a nautical feel to the Terence Conran-designed rooms, with portholes, corridors and staircases recalling a grand old liner. With its courtyard and ‘secret’ garden on the first floor, it’s exceptionally quiet — just round the corner from the Naschmarkt.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €170 (£139). dastriest.at
The Ninth District is home to Vienna’s university — and its intellectual quarter, whose elegant residential streets were once trodden by the likes of Freud and Schubert. With the neo-gothic Votive Church towering over the Ringstrasse, and the Sigmund Freud Museum occupying his consulting rooms of 47 years, there’s plenty to see, and the independent shops and restaurants on Servitengasse mean there’s little need to venture into the Innere Stadt.
We recommend: Chez Cliché
Sophie and Romy aren’t real people; but you’ll be forgiven for thinking they are, once you’ve spent a night in one of their homes. Part of Chez Cliché — a group of themed apartments — these two Ninth District offerings sit one above the other in a grand 19th-century apartment complex just behind the Votive Church, near the Freud Museum. The apartments are meticulously curated around the ‘host’s’ passions — Sophie, for instance, is a nature lover, so her ground-floor apartment is filled with bird and plant motifs. Romy, meanwhile, is an antiques buff whose first-floor flat is full of ancient mirrors and walnut daybeds. The effect is of a home that feels lived in, rather than just another serviced apartment. The personal service is a bonus, too — the Chez Cliché team will meet you at the apartment, prepare an itinerary, and are at the other end of the phone if you need help or suggestions.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €145 (£119), room only. chez-cliche.at
Best for luxury: Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna
Though it opened for the 1873 World Exhibition, Palais Hansen never evolved into a hotel after the exhibition closed — until last year. Now meticulously restored, with original Corinthian columns in the lobby and a lavish, glass-topped central atrium, this five-star venue’s 152 sumptuous rooms are stuffed with all manner of mod cons.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €320 (£263), B&B. kempinski.com/vienna
Best for local sights: Harmonie Vienna
Let’s get one thing out of the way: this pretty, wisteria-clad Jugendstil building on a quiet residential street, in the trendy Serviten quarter of central Vienna, is a Best Western property. But you’d never know it from the carefully curated, boutique-standard rooms, the ballet themed artwork, or the eco creds (as well as employing general energy-saving measures, this is the only Viennese hotel with a certified organic breakfast buffet).
■ Rooms: Doubles from €118 (£97), B&B. harmonie-vienna.at
Published in the June 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)