Hotels à la 1873: Stately Home from Home
"I have never had such a beautiful room in any hotel in the world." The person behind the quotation? Charlie Chaplin. But which hotel was he talking about? The Hotel Imperial located directly on Vienna's Ringstrasse. And probably the highest profile hotel in the city. In fact, the Imperial is a living legend that has played host to hundreds of heads of state and superstars from all over the world. When music god Richard Wagner descended from on high to stay at the Imperial, he and his family took no fewer than seven rooms. The Imperial has always been a source of inspiration for the Viennese: Sigmund Freud celebrated his 80th birthday here. Its guest list is like a roll call of everybody who is anybody: King of Pop Michael Jackson loved the regal ambience, as did Queen Elizabeth II. And US moviemaker Wes Anderson, a self-confessed Vienna fan, drew inspiration here for his film Grand Budapest Hotel which went on to win four Oscars. It was here that Anderson met Herr Moser – the Imperial's long-standing concierge – and was so taken with this Viennese original that he based on-screen maître d’ Monsieur Gustave on him. And the rest is movie history. The dazzling history of the Hotel Imperial began on April 28, 1873, just a few days before the Vienna World's Fair opened on May 1.
Diplomatic Nerve Center
In the run-up to the main event, which would establish modern city tourism in the city, Vienna needed to build countless new hotels to ensure there were enough beds to accommodate the expected influx of visitors. Existing buildings were also repurposed – including Duke Philipp von Württemberg’s 1865 palace which was turned into a luxury hotel in 1873. In fact, the Imperial was one of the very first palace hotels of all. And the qualities of the original ambience continue to shine through to this day: walking up the stairs is for other hotels – at the Imperial one ascends in style. Spacious, elegant, and oozing sophistication, the Imperial soon earned itself a global reputation as a unique overnight experience. This is absolutely the place to be for anyone who is looking to bask in the aura of the World's Fair era. A quick look at the guest list from 1873 says it all: King Christian IX of Denmark stayed here, as did Queen Olga of Greece, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, French general and statesman Patrice de Mac-Mahon and Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro. Put simply, the Imperial was the diplomatic nerve center of the World's Fair. A location that has been reaffirming its exceptional status for 150 years now. A good way to experience the hotel without committing to an overnight stay is to call in at Café Imperial, where no visit is complete without a slice of the legendary Imperial Torte.
Hosted by Theophil Hansen
The Imperial is not the only hotel on Vienna's Ringstrasse boulevard that is suffused with the spirit of the Vienna World's Fair. Another, Palais Hansen Kempinski, among the largest World’s Fair hotels of the era, was designed by Theophil Hansen. One of the most important Ringstrasse architects, he also created the Parliament and the Stock Exchange. It is a building with an eventful history. The largest private building to go up on the Ringstrasse, it initially served a residential purpose but was transformed into a hotel for the World's Fair. After the big event it returned to its original role before being converted into an administrative building for the local district authority. In 2013 it celebrated its grand reinstatement as a hotel and now ranks among the best that Vienna has to offer. Guests staying at the Palais Hansen Kempinski can look forward to high-end five-star amenities, a great deal of Viennese charm and no end of architectural flourishes.
Inspired by Greek antiquity, Theophil Hansen's architectural signature is still clearly recognizable. Original elements from the World's Fair period, including the grand staircases, provide a feature in the Palais Hansen Kempinski. Elsewhere, pure luxury reigns supreme. The presidential suite is, in fact, the largest in Vienna. And the Kempinski also delivers a reminder that Vienna is one of the most important meeting destinations in Europe. The numerous function rooms provide an impressive setting for any type of meeting. Though aesthetically the Palais Hansen Kempinski embodies Vienna's illustrious history, the underlying amenities are every inch the technological state of the art. And to keep guests nice and warm or pleasantly cool, the building uses energy from Vienna’s ultra-efficient district heating and cooling networks.
Rosewood Vienna: Wallow in Luxury
Located at one of the top addresses in the heart of the city, the newly opened Rosewood Vienna is a beacon of Viennese luxury. Part of an international hotel chain synonymous with timeless elegance, a sophisticated atmosphere and outstanding service, it is the Rosewood Hotel Group's first property in the German-speaking world. Here, the ethos is brought to life through a series of quintessentially Viennese elements: the chandeliers that hang in the Presidential Suite come from veteran Viennese crystal glass manufacturer J. & L. Lobmeyr – which, incidentally, will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2023 and appeared at the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair. In terms of textiles, the ensemble combines a certain cosmopolitanism with another rich slice of Viennese history: the Art Nouveau patterns used in the furniture coverings and curtains were produced by another manufacturing stalwart, Backhausen. In all, there are 71 rooms and 28 suites, a superb restaurant including a rooftop terrace, as well as function rooms for meetings of all kinds. Guests staying at Rosewood will find themselves on hallowed ground: it was on this site the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed parts of his famous work The Abduction from the Seraglio.
Hotel Indigo Vienna: Experience Hip Vienna
A hidden gem for urban explorers: the Indigo hotel brand specializes in boutique hotels that are embedded in hotbeds of art and culture worldwide. In Vienna, Indigo plumped for the hip-and-happening neighborhood with Naschmarkt at its center. Here in Margareten, Vienna’s fifth district, quirky stores, contemporary bars and restaurants and a unique cosmopolitan flair await. Charming squares and side streets such as Zeinlhofergasse set the architectural tone. But this newly built hotel and its striking geometric facade (BWM Architects) have a distinctly contemporary aura, which continues inside where a huge atrium-like courtyard adorned with plenty of lush greenery exudes an intimate atmosphere – a genuine city center oasis that wears its green credentials on its chest. But fans of fine design will also be in their element here: spread over nine floors, the 158 rooms are stylish and modern. The perfect base for exploring what Vienna has to offer outside the city center.
The Leo Grand: Monument to an Exotic Emperor
A fantastic building with an even more fantastic underlying concept: just a short distance from St. Stephen's Cathedral, The Leo Grand puts a highly contemporary and luxurious spin on Baroque era pomp. The figurehead of this extraordinary design hotel is Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705), an eccentric and art lover who dabbled in composing and left behind 230 pieces of music. So it follows that the interior design of The Leo Grand is perfectly composed and could scarcely be more colorful. No wonder: Emperor Leopold I had a soft spot for all things exotic, which is reflected with aplomb in the design of this 77-room hotel. A fantastical world of wonders awaits at The Leo Grand, which puts a modern spin on time-honored traditional patterns and colors to create plenty of magic. It is also geared up to host meetings. The Baroque courtyard was designed so that it can be used by diners even in winter. In terms of energy, The Leo Grand is definitely tuned into the spirit of our times: environmentally friendly district cooling and district heating bring everything up – or down – to the right temperature.
Bassena: Celebrating Viennese water
The name of the hotel could hardly be any more Viennese: the word “Bassena” refers to a water point with a cast-iron basin of the sort once found in the corridors of every old Viennese apartment building. The term is now synonymous with gossip, because the Bassena played a similar role to a modern-day office watercooler. This social undercurrent, and a celebration of Vienna's crystal clear spring water – which has been flowing into the city from the Alps since the Vienna World's Fair in 1873 – are the inspiration behind new young urban hotel chain Bassena. Appropriately enough, each of the lobbies is fitted with a bone fide Viennese Bassena to encourage guests to sample the capital’s fantastic drinking water. There are already two of these hip and unconventional hotels in Vienna. One is right next to Messe Wien, one of the city’s top congresses and meeting venues, in the Prater – the very spot where the Vienna World’s Fair was held. The second opened in fall 2022 in the 22nd district, another interesting port of call for visitors to Meeting Destination Vienna. It is located close to the Austria Center Vienna (ACV), another venue that is no stranger to world-class congresses.
Text: Johannes Luxner