As budget travelers, we always look for a good hostel in each destination we visit. This is particularly true in Europe, where even budget backpacking can be pricey. Hostels are the answer to our budget traveler dreams: the price and amenities can’t be beat. There are kitchens to cook in, affordable meals and inexpensive drinks, and a social atmosphere full of travelers – all the things we absolutely crave when we’re travelling! And if the thought of a dorm room freaks you out, don’t worry: most hostels have private rooms too, which means you get all of the benefits of staying in a hostel for a fraction of the price of a hotel.
With our love for hostels in mind, we’re happy to report that we found a gem in Vienna, Austria. Hostel Ruthensteiner is the oldest hostel in Vienna, and is considered one of the best hostels in Europe. We jumped at the opportunity to stay at the best hostel in Vienna and discover its charm for ourselves!
Hostel Ruthensteiner: The Oldest Hostel in Vienna
Hostel Ruthensteiner dates back to 1968, when backpacking was just becoming a “thing” and eager young people – think like, cool travelling hippies – were setting out with packs on their back to explore new and unknown places. It’s hostels like this that set the tone for what we think of today when we imagine a great hostel: warm, cozy, social, and the perfect jumping-off point to explore a new place.
Places like Hostel Ruthensteiner make me think of my dad, who backpacked through Europe and Southeast Asia in the early 70’s (I inherited the wanderlust gene from every member of my family). In fact, it turns out that he actually stayed at Hostel Ruthensteiner during his travels in Austria, which blows my freaking mind.
How different was it then compared to now? Unfortunately, all my dad remembers is that he stayed there – trust me, I had a ZILLION questions, but this was nearly 50 years ago. I inherited both the wanderlust gene AND the forgetful gene from my family. Isn’t that nuts, though?
It was with an awed sense of history and retracing my dad’s footsteps that we navigated to Hostel Ruthensteiner through the streets of Vienna, itself a city rich with history. 50 years in a city like Vienna is nothing: the city was first founded in 500 …. BC.
I wonder how different Vienna looked to my dad 50 years ago. I wonder if it looked terribly different at all.
Checking into Hostel Ruthensteiner
The first thing we did when we arrived at Hostel Ruthensteiner was to fill up a mug with hot, steamy apple cinnamon tea to warm up from the chilly Vienna winter outside. I say tea, but it was really more like a cider, in that it was sugary and delicious and tasted like Christmas and happiness.
We sipped as we checked in with the friendly staff. Although we’d arrived before the check-in time of 2pm, we were able to leave our belongings safely locked up inside the roomy free lockers – SUCH a helpful perk! We dumped our backpacks, and free of our luggage, set out for a day of exploring Vienna.
When we returned later that night, we settled into our cozy private room. Hostel Ruthensteiner is not a luxury hostel: you’ll get what you need, without frills. Our room contained a double bed with a heater conveniently placed to keep the tops of our heads toasty and warm, a few shelves, a bar with some coat-hangers, and a sink with a mirror (we opted for a cheaper room with a shared bathroom and shower, which was located just next door and quite clean). The room was warm and comfortable, with just enough room for the both of us and our belongings – and if it was perhaps a tad bit musty, we forgave it immediately. What else do you expect from a hostel that’s been around since 1968?
After settling into our home for the next few nights, we headed straight to the bar for Happy Hour. Hostel Ruthensteiner’s bar is located in the lounge, along with a piano, several guitars and ukuleles, and a wide selection of games and books. This is what we love about hostels: these cozy spots to relax, unwind, and meet other travelers while sipping a cheap drink. We ordered a cold draft beer from the small bar and did just that.
Relaxing in the Lounge at Hostel Ruthensteiner
The lounge was fairly quiet at 7pm but within a few hours, groups had joined and mingled and excited chatter soon drowned out the chillwave emitting from the room’s speaker. For our readers who don’t teach youths like Jeremy does, and perhaps aren’t up on the hip musical trends: chillwave is a kind of music. It’s very chill.
We heard snippets of conversation, mangled attempts at Spanish followed by laughter and appreciation in broken English; notes being compared on the best places to visit in Vienna, Prague, and Budapest; a few chiming chords on Hostel Ruthensteiner’s free-to-use guitars; and the ever-present “so where are you from?” and “where have you been?”
These are the sounds of a hostel: conversation, shared experiences, travelers coming together to bond over their passion for exploring new places.
Chillwave aside, I think this is exactly the kind of night my dad must have experienced at Hostel Ruthensteiner in the 70’s.
I like to imagine that my dad had some of these same kinds of conversations here and at other hostels around Europe and Southeast Asia during his travels. Perhaps he and the other guests swapped earmarked copies of The Lonely Planet, which came out in 1972, or Let’s Go, founded in 1960. He gave me Let’s Go Europe for my very first backpacking trip to Europe 5 years ago and still insists that I refer to it on each trip I take. I like to imagine him with a worn copy sitting in his pack.
I also like to imagine him with a bushy Jew-fro, a blonde mustache, and a bright red beard, because this is apparently the look he was rockin’ in the early 70’s. Sadly, pictures have since been destroyed.
Breakfast at Hostel Ruthensteiner
The next morning we woke bright and early (which for us just means before 10am) and devoured the breakfast buffet.
The breakfast at Hostel Ruthensteiner is super affordable and offers plenty to fill you up for a day of exploring Vienna. There’s everything from a fresh-ground coffee machine (it’s actually surprisingly good! I recommend #8, the Macchiato) to cheese, meat & bread; cucumbers and tomatoes; fresh fruit; cereal and milk; and even fresh waffles griddled on a waffle iron.
We obviously made waffles, and of course we covered those waffles in Nutella … and jam. #YOLO
During breakfast, we sat at long family-style tables overlooking the gardens. I imagine in the summer, many folks might choose to eat outside; but it was December, so we contented ourselves with the view instead. We met a few other travelers and compared notes: most had either just come from Prague, or were soon headed to Prague (like us). Others would soon be leaving for Budapest. Everyone had photos to share, suggestions to make, and travel tips to provide. Yet another reason why we love hostels: the people, the energy, the vibe. Yes, we’re from California and we say things like “vibe” un-ironically. Sorry not sorry.
After breakfast, we consulted the front desk to get some travel tips for our day. Hostel Ruthensteiner is an incredible resource for travelers looking to discover Vienna. From a giant blackboard decorated with useful information, to maps printed seasonally with relevant information (we picked up a copy of their Christmas Market map & guide, which was immensely helpful during our trip) to “How to Get There” instructions for popular destinations printed on handy strips of paper, there was a wealth of information without even needing to ask for help.
The staff behind the front desk was also incredibly knowledgeable, cheerful, and super friendly. They directed us to our chosen destination for the day – Schonbrunn Palace – and we managed to get ourselves there without getting lost, which is quite a feat for us.
Last Night at the Best Hostel in Vienna
After another long day of sightseeing and stuffing ourselves silly at Christmas Markets, we headed back to the hostel. We chose a restaurant down the block – most restaurants we wanted to visit in Vienna were closed for the winter holidays, but Cafe Mozart was blessedly open.
We ordered a Schnitzel von Schwein and some delicious beef broth with a giant cheese fritter in it. Why have I never thought to fry up some cheese and put it in broth before?! Genius. If you’re missing a few Austrian dishes from your must-eat list, Cafe Mozart is a good place to get your fill at decent prices.
Finally we returned to Hostel Ruthensteiner, for another night of relaxing with a cold beer and good conversation.
Flash back 50 years ago to my dad’s last night in Vienna. He left Hostel Ruthensteiner, bought a used VW van from a friend, and headed west from Austria into Switzerland to spend the next 6 months #vanlife-ing through Europe. My dad was the original OG backpacker, y’all. It kills me that there are no pictures from his travels – and of course, he didn’t have a blog to record his experiences. Practical Wanderlust is my personal insurance against forgetting my trips. When my kid asks me 50 years from now about our travels, I’ll just send them a link 😉
The next morning we would be heading from Vienna to Halstatt on our own journey, saying goodbye to Hostel Ruthensteiner and to Vienna. But for the moment, we were just a couple of travelers on an adventure, excited to wake up and venture off somewhere new.
About Hostel Ruthensteiner
- Cost: Dorms from €10, private rooms from €35
- Location: About 5 minutes walking from West Bahnof, a major train station with both inter-country trains and underground routes connecting throughout Vienna. The actual area surrounding the station is not very pretty, but the hostel is conveniently close to the train station on a much quieter street.
- Check Pricing & Availability on Hostelworld or book directly
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