OK, so Vienna is a river city: Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront
Going with the flow
Truth be told, it always used to amuse us somewhat whenever we heard this description. “River city? River city?,” we wondered. No, it isn’t, we said to ourselves, superiorly and quietly. Vienna is a canal city, the Donaukanal being merely an unimpressive branch of the Danube, with the actual river being out there somewhere on the edge of the city, largely unseen, at least by us.
If you want to see a real river city, well, you can hardly do better than good old Budapest.
But here at the Hilton, away from the Rathaus, the Burgtheatre and the others, a new world has unfolded. We’ve had to change our minds. It’s a bit like discovering the source of the Nile.
Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront is not a name that exaggerates or misleads. It is as apt a moniker as you could find. Only a public footpath-cum-bicycle lane separates the hotel and its terrace from the flow of Europe’s second-mightiest river. You can simply reach down and put your fingers in.
Our sixth-floor room looks right down onto the wide expanse of water. Having noticed a nearby poster that geriatric rocker Alice Cooper is coming to town, we fall prey to the idle fancy that if we too were an ageing singer wishing to relive misspent youth, we reckon we could toss the television out the window and into the water, rock star-style. Televisions were far heavier in Alice’s heyday than today’s lightweight flat-screen variety, and they exploded satisfactorily on the concrete below. Fortunately, we are not so inclined, and instead a barge comes floating past, causing us to speculate on what it is carrying and where it is bound.
The windows are indeed openable, which isn’t always the case in hotels, and there’s a ton of fresh air out there. We breathe it in, and over on the other side of the Danube/Donau is a long, long wooded island that divides the river at this point. Rather than being in a hotel in the Innere Stadt and probably looking out onto a lot of concrete, here we look out onto a lot of trees. A couple of swans emerge briefly from the greenery for a float around.
But while it is quiet and relaxing to sit, to eat or to swim in the outdoor hotel pool on the terrace, or walk or cycle alongside the river, we are not exactly in isolation here. The Donau may not be central like in Budapest but the Stadion U-bahn station is only 10 minutes walk away and from there you can be in the city centre in another 15 minutes. It is nine stops on the U2 line direct to the Museums Quarter and 10 to Karlsplatz. From either it’s just a short walk to the opera house, the cathedral, the palaces, the museums and all the fabulous rest.
The Stadion U-bahn station is so-named because it is next to the Ernst Happel Stadium, named after a legendary Austrian football player and manager, and the venue of the final of the Euro 2008 football tournament. The stadium and the Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront are handy for each other, then, and you can always combine a concert or a match at the former with dinner or a room at the latter. Alongside the stadium is the mid-size Stadion shopping mall.
Looking out from the top, eighth floor of the Hilton, just half a kilometre upriver on the right is Vienna International Centre, known locally as UNO City, consisting of three big buildings and being one of the four official headquarters of the United Nations, along with New York, Geneva and Nairobi. UNO City opened in 1979 and behind it we see the 252-metre Danube Tower, erected in 1964 and still Austria’s tallest structure. Nearby is the dark bulk of DC Tower 1, just four metres shorter than the communications tower after its completion at the end of 2013.
Looking over to the left from the eighth floor, towards the city centre, a kilometre or so away we see the Ferris Wheel and other high-flying thrill rides of the Prater amusement park standing out against the darkening evening sky. The wheel turns so slowly you have to keep watching it to detect the movement.
Also, on another ride, adventurous people sit in simple chairs that dangle on wires and rotate after being raised high up a tall metal column. They’ve got guts, those folk, hanging there in mid-air over a fatal drop. As night falls, red aircraft warning lights begin blinking atop the tower and the tallest buildings, their reflections shining on the river.
Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront is one of three Hiltons in Vienna. Hilton Vienna Plaza is on the Ringstrasse almost opposite the Bourse and Hilton Vienna Park is further round the grand boulevard, near the Stadtpark (and the rather unimpressive Wien River; this and the canal having contributed equally to our previously disdainful attitude to the “river city”).
The Hiltons share certain attributes. At Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront, the sixth and seventh floors are Executive Floors, with access to the Executive Lounge. Your room keycard allows day-long access to the lounge for drinks and snacks. This comfy room atop the building is an alternative venue for breakfast, in mid-afternoon tea is served and in the evening hot snacks are introduced along with wine, beer and a good selection of spirits, all included for the price of the room. Being a member of the Hilton Honors scheme accumulates points for such benefits.
On the seventh floor are found the hotel gym, whirlpool and sauna. This guest’s sixth-floor room is a waterfront suite with a panorama window. At 45 square metres the room is bigger than some cramped flats and has plenty of space for a big double bed, sofa and coffee table, work desk, goodly size television (still safe from harm), minibar, metal combination safe, iron and ironing board, electric jug and two fluffy bathrobes and slippers.
The riverside terrace down below has the open-air pool and is perfect for diners using the Waterfront Kitchen restaurant and the Pier 269 Bar, and for other people meeting in the 13 flexible conference rooms.
The river traffic is much less than in the Hungarian capital, despite the adjacent Marina Wien; just the occasional barge or sightseeing boat drift silently by. It is calm and peaceful here in the newly discovered “river city”, and makes the Budapest stretch of the Danube seem like Piccadilly Circus.
Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront
Handelskai 269, 1020 Vienna
Tel: (+43 1) 72777