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Sleep: Vienna

For a right royal experience, a stay in Vienna is hard to beat. Yet amid the regal villas, palaces, opulent art galleries and traditional coffee houses, there are many surprisingly affordable places to bed down.

Published 19 May 2017, 09:00 BST, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 15:07 BST


Photograph by Getty

If you plan on visiting Vienna, you're in luck. Not just because of the wealth of impressive sights: the imperial palaces, the art, the landmark coffee houses, where tradition dictates you may while away hours with a single drink… When it comes to hotels, Vienna is highly affordable, and even the budget hotels have style. The first district, or Innere Stadt, is the obvious place to stay — most of the best sights for first-timers are in this largely pedestrianised zone, encircled by the Ringstrasse, with St Stephen's Cathedral and its ornate tiled roof as the focal point. Many of the grand, neo-baroque buildings here have been converted into luxury hotels. Second-timers might like to stay in a district beyond the Ringstrasse. Not only is it cheaper, it can give a completely different take on the city. And don't let the names fool you; the 'outer' districts, for example, encompass the Innere Stadt, and in the seventh district, you're often closer to the grand cathedral than in the second. Neubau is the hipster hub, Wieden's residential streets unfurl onto the Belvedere Palace, and Leopoldstadt has the Prater park with its iconic 19th-century Ferris wheel. From each, it's a short metro or pretty tram-ride back to the Ring.

For history: HOTEL SACHER
The Sacher has come a long way since it was a mere delicatessen — thanks largely to its status as the birthplace of the Sachertorte. It was here in 1832 that Edouard Sacher created the famous chocolate cake that was to bear his name. On the back of that, he opened what's still Vienna's only family-run five-star hotel — today boasting 149 rooms spread across six buildings. The decor straddles the divide between traditional and modern, with mirrored walls and sleek furniture mixed with gilt-framed oil paintings and flock wallpaper. And they don't half work the cake connection, with Sachertorte featuring at the breakfast buffet and as a turndown gift. Guests can also expect chocolate-scented in-room toiletries and chocolate-based treatments at the spa.
Rooms: From €450 (£389), B&B.

Worthy needn't mean dull. That's the message at this family-run hotel, split between a Victorian building and a new-build 'passive' (carbon neutral) wing. Energy comes from rooftop solar panels; heat from a ground water heat pump; honey from bees on the lavender-planted roof; and every breakfast item is organic. There are no minibars (saving 21 tonnes of CO2 a year), organic toiletries come in refillable bottles, and the headboards are made from recycled textiles. The older building is pretty green, too, with nightstands made from recycled newspapers, tables from old books and wardrobes from broom handles.
Rooms: From €108 (£93), B&B.

The Magdas hit the news when it opened two years ago, for being staffed mainly by refugees and asylum seekers. Run by international Catholic charity Caritas, it's a decent budget option in a pretty location overlooking the Prater. Rooms are basic (no TV) but nicely done, with upcycled furniture and locally-made organic toiletries — it's worth upgrading to one with a balcony when the weather's nice. Breakfast is a brilliant, cosmopolitan buffet, but save room for a mezze lunch, made by a Syrian chef who previously worked at a top restaurant in Damascus.
Rooms: From €67 (£58), B&B.

The Grand Ferdinand is a little different to the other grande dames of the Ringstrasse. Yes, it's palatial but unlike its 19th-century neighbours, this eight-storey postwar building was, until recently, crawling with spies, as the home of Austria's domestic intelligence agency. The seventh-floor suites are something to behold — there's nothing undercover about luxury here — but there are also a pair of dormitories, with mahogany bunk beds, bookable on Airbnb. This is hipster-luxe: Freudian couches but no wardrobes, rainforest showers right next to the bed, a restaurant serving cheap goulash with Champagne. Up on the roof is the crowning glory: the glass-walled Restaurant Bel Étage, for guests and members only, with white banquettes and armchairs overlooking the Ringstrasse, and views of the Belvedere palace from the terrace pool.
Rooms: From €210 (£182), B&B. Dorms from €30/£26.

Terence Conran has a thing for Vienna — he's designed two hotels and a coffee house here. The most recent, The Guest House, is a swish affair, with minibars restocked with four bottles of wine daily, and the in-room coffee machines grind fresh beans (roasted by local company Naber) for every cup. There's a homely feel, with rooms kitted out with sofas instead of desks; most have window-seats overlooking the central Albertinaplatz (standard rooms don't — the upgrade is well worth it), and guests are encouraged to bring their free wine downstairs to drink in the packed-with-locals downstairs brasserie.
Rooms: From €255 (£220), room only.

For budget: RUBY LISSI
The city's two Ruby hotels — Ruby Sofie, near the Hundertwasserhaus, and Ruby Marie, by Westbahnhof — are already two of Vienna's best-value digs, but the newly-opened Ruby Lissi eclipses them both. Set in a former monastery in the historic Innere Stadt, its 107 small-but-chic rooms have a 19th-century theme, inspired by Empress Sisi. Modern touches include in-room tablets, hire bikes and a 24/7 bar. Ruby hotels attract a youngish crowd, so expect excellent tech and the odd burst of rock music (guests can borrow electric guitars).
Rooms: From €59 (£51), room only.

For second-timers: GRÄTZLHOTEL
Straddling the divide between a hotel and an Airbnb, Grätzlhotel's rooms and suites are set in former business premises (including a bakery and a cobblers) close to three landmarks: Meidlinger Markt, the Belvedere Palace and the Karmelitermarkt. There's no check-in, as such; guests pick up their keys from an outdoor safe; each location has a makeshift reception — a local business, ranging from a restaurant to the offices of the Grätzlhotel's architect owners. Clearly, this quirky setup won't appeal to everyone, but visitors looking to live like a local while enjoying the convenience of a hotel should check it out.
Rooms: From €120 (£104), room only.

Three to try

You'll either love or loathe the Brillantengrund, in trendy Neubau; the decor is deliberately dowdy and frequently kitsch: funky wallpaper, naff artwork, furniture unchanged since the 1970s. The restaurant, Mama, serves Filipino food cooked by the owner's mother and the 'garage' hosts everything from art exhibitions to arts workshops and parties. While it's not rowdy, it's not really for early-nighters.
Rooms: From €69 (£60), B&B.

Set in a former apartment block with high ceilings and parquet floors, the Altstadt whisks guests back to the days of Freud and Klimt. Rooms are individually designed — some kitted out with antiques, others saucy modern art, peek-a-boo showers or Swarowksi crystal-encrusted walls; four junior suites have recently been refurbished with the help of top local designers. Yet it all feels homely; there's even free afternoon tea.
Rooms: From €149 (£129), B&B.

Built in 1802 as a palace for the Saxe-Coburg family, Palais Coburg retains a regal feel; some of its 34 suites boast a sauna, others a whirlpool bath, while the gold-plated staterooms — renovated to their original outré glory — are where Johann Strauss composed two polkas and, more recently, where the Iran nuclear deal was done. That said, the wine bar and pretty garden restaurant Clementine have a pleasantly informal vibe.
Rooms: From €795 (£687), B&B.

Published in the June 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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