Prior to visiting Vienna, I didn’t really know what to expect. Besides it being home to a Shakespeare & Company bookshop, and my Uncle Rory having declared it as ‘the best city in Europe by far’ it wasn’t a city I had ever given much thought to.
But suffice it to say, as soon as I knew I would be visiting for a couple of nights in November, I did what any self-respecting bookworm would do, and started researching the city’s literary links. From its array of independent bookshops, to its breathtaking national library (which was – devastatingly – closed for refurbishment which we were in Vienna), Vienna is very much a dream destination for anyone with a penchant for books.
On the day we arrived, the weather was as picture perfect as it gets. The sky was blue and cloudless, yet there was a crisp autumn bite in the air. The city was laced with burnt orange leaves, while the early onset of Christmas decorations were making their way into the windows of the city centre shops, in short: a heaven-sent dream, and within a couple of hours of arriving, I was beginning to think my uncle was right.
We stayed at Hotel Altstadt: a beautiful boutique hotel, within easy walking distance of Vienna’s main shopping district. Nestled on a vibrant street in the heart of Vienna’s 7th District surrounded by bric-a-brac shops, and wood-panelled, dimly-lit restaurants, it was unlike anywhere I’ve stayed before, and one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever seen.
Having taken over an apartment block that was once an early 20th-century townhouse, part of the building is still lived in by residents, and it beautifully retains its rich heritage and classical flair. The definition of a boutique hotel, each room has been individually decorated by celebrated architects, designers, and fashion gurus – and they are characterful, vibrant, and fun.
Our beautiful suite was light-filled, dotted with stacks of books and came complete with a plush chaise-lounge – the perfect spot for an afternoon of reading. One of the rooms on the corridor in which we stayed had a classical piano and, being serenaded almost every time we left our room was quite the cultured experience.
With a well-stocked buffet breakfast served in Hotel Altstadt’s elegant lounge and daily afternoon tea on offer from 4pm – a spread that includes home-made cake, sweet treats, and a range of herbal teas – while Hotel Altstadt doesn’t have a restaurant per se, it certainly doesn’t let its guests go hungry.
A treat of a hotel that is rich with character and allows guests to make-believe that they might actually reside in the most liveable city on earth, please for the love of God, make your next city break Vienna. A heavenly creature, a pretty-as-a-postcard hotel, a haven for book-lovers, art aficionados and anyone who might like to be serenaded to the sound of a classical piano (we were, every morning, it truly is like no-where on earth.
Hotel Altstadt Literary Links
With an on-site hotel library bedecked with plush chairs and a stunning piano (but of course – it is Vienna, after all), there are far worse ways to while away an afternoon in Vienna than with a glass of red from Hotel Altstadt’s honesty bar, and a book from the well-stocked shelves.
What to read at Hotel Altstadt
If, like me, you like reading books set in the city in which you’re staying, there are several options to choose from when it comes to books to read at Hotel Altstadt. Perhaps one of the most famous is The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. Set in Vienna, it’s a sweeping yet intimate biography in which unfolds the story of a remarkable family and a tumultuous century. Another book set in Vienna that I’ve been meaning to read for yonks is The World According to Garp by John Irving – whose book – A Prayer for Owen Meany – is among my all-time favourites.
An absolute haven for bookworms, Vienna has a solid offering of bookshops to peruse but three of them really stood out to me, and are within easy walking distance of Hotel Altstadt. First up, Shakespeare & Company, which, much like the bookshop of the same name in Paris is home to an extensive collection of English-language books offered in a warm, old-fashioned setting. Pickwicks is another great option – a cosy pub complete with oversized chairs and large servings of fries, while it’s not the most obvious place to find your next-best read, the wall-lined bookshelves are groaning with second-hand books; all of which are for sale. Finally, the no-laptops-allowed Phil is an stylish café that has living-room vibe, and a curated selection of books to buy.