A visit to (at least) one Vienna coffee house is a must when you’re in the Austrian capital. Here’s a look at six of the best.
When one thinks of Vienna, coffee houses are unsurprisingly one of the first things to come to mind. And it’s with good reason as these epic institutions have played an integral part in shaping the city’s social culture since the seventeenth century and hold a spot on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage to prove it. If their walls could talk, the stories they’d be able to tell about the conversations of the luminaries, politicians, and other characters who passed time inside these “living rooms”. For centuries, the culture hasn’t changed!
People converse, eat, work, read, hang out, play pool or chess, and just pass the day away in these cafes, and nowadays, it’s not unusual to see someone typing away on their computer. You can honestly park yourself at a table for the day and have all your meals there as you read a newspaper or two, work or just people watch, without wearing out your welcome. A table near the entrances is covered with the day’s newspapers so patrons can take their time and read the news while they eat and/or sip.
Contemporary coffee houses have been popping up on the scene and they’re lovely, but the opulent old-school ones are where it’s at for an old soul like myself. Stepping inside one feels like leaping back in time, all your worries seem to wash away and calmness ensues. In no particular order, here are six of the best coffee houses in Vienna you should drop in on when you’re in town. Feel free to seat yourself at any table that’s not topped with a Reserviert sign.
1. Cafe Sperl
Cafe Sperl opened in 1880, but didn’t take on its current name until the ownership changed the following year. The gorgeous interior boasts the original decor complete with a smoke-stained ceiling that has never been properly cleaned. Enjoy scrambled eggs with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil and cheese (a traditional breakfast dish available all day long), and get your coffee on. Sip a melange, the Viennese version of a cappuccino and don’t miss the apple strudel, it is to die for! (Gumpendorfer Str. 11; Monday – Friday, 7.00am – 10.00pm; Sunday, 11.00am – 8.00pm; website)
2. Café Landtmann
Since 1873, Landtmann has hosted the Viennese and visitors, counting legendary psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, composer Gustav Mahler and writer Felix Salten among its patrons. So, it’s a bit touristy, yes, but a must. Visit for a typical cafe experience of course, but it’s also worth noting that their schnitzel Viennese came recommended to me by one of the savviest palates I know, and it was delicious. Kill two birds with one stone by checking “eating schnitzel” of your Vienna list at one of the traditional cafes. You’ll want to save room for dessert, though, as the delights displayed in the dessert case you pass on your way into the dining room are quite tempting. (Universitätsring 4; open seven days, 7.30am – 12.30pm; website)
3. Sacher Café
Sachertorte is required eating when in Vienna, and there’s no place like eating the chocolate and apricot jam cake in the cafe for which it’s named. Located on the ground floor of a historic five-star hotel, the cafe has been frequented by patrons since 1832 eager to sample the original sacher torte cake. Although variations of sachertorte are found at cafes all around the city, Cafe Sacher’s recipe is a secret and it’s only possible to savor the original version here. (Philharmoniker Str. 4; open seven days, 8.00am – 12.00am, website)
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4. Café Tirolerhof
Outfitted with plush velvet banquettes, Café Tirolerhof Art Deco interior is more minimalist than its opulent counterparts and the space not as large, but its typical cafe vibe is no less charming. I sipped a Franziskaner, like the aforementioned melange but with whipped cream instead of foam, and noshed on Palatschinken, fluffy Austrian crepes filled with apricot jam and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar that tasted just dreamy. (Führichgasse 8; Monday – Saturday, 7.00am – 10.00pm, Sunday, 9.30am – 8.00pm)
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5. Café Schwarzenberg
The first cafe ever built on the ring road that circles Vienna’s historic center, Cafe Schwartzenburg is still a local favorite. Although it didn’t cater as much to the luminaries who frequented its counterparts, Café Schwarzenberg has stood strong since its 1861 opening, and even survived being an office for the Soviets during the post-World-War-II Allied occupation. The menu features all the typical Austrian coffee house drinks, cakes, and eats, and I opted for a Maria Theresia, named for the Empress who loved the liqueur made from oranges grown at Schönbrunn Palace that is added to the coffee drink, which is also topped with cream. Yum. (Kärntner Ring 17; Monday – Friday: 7.30 am – 12.30am, Saturday and Sunday: 8.30am – 12.30am, website)
6. Café Central
So, I didn’t go here. There was a super long queue outside and I don’t do queues if I can help it, but I know I would have been remiss if I omitted this classic so I had to mention it. Freud, Trotsky and even the Furor himself frequented Café Central that opened in 1876. The arched ceilings and elegant chandeliers give the cafe an all-around regal aura. There will always be a line here, which means there will always be that dapper doorman sporting a jacket and bowtie greeting the soon-to-be patrons and letting them know they’re next. (Herrengasse 14; Monday – Saturday, 7.30am – 10.00pm, Sunday: 10.00am – 10.00pm, website)
If the coffee houses leave you hungry for some more time travel, head to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs. Whether you tour the vast grounds by day or attend a classical music concert in the evening, you’ll get a feel for Imperial Vienna at its finest.