The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, buildings buzzing with life. Funnily enough, the capital of Austria, so rich in history, is heavily shaped by the small coffee bean. The metropolis has a very strong and distinct coffee house culture where being a waiter at these establishments is highly respectable and a great honour!
Expect high quality coffee no matter where you go, with the only differentiating factor between coffee houses being the types of desserts and food they serve. So, grab your favourite brew and sit back while we bring you a glimpse of Viennese history through some of the most culturally significant coffee houses (and their must-try specialties!) as well as a lowdown on the places to visit before and after enjoying a cuppa.
1. Café Central, where a revolutionary met a writer and transformed the world
Known for its luxurious design and important role in literary history, Café Central is one of the most popular Viennese coffee houses around. First opening its doors in 1876, the coffee house grew to become a key meeting place of intellectuals in the late nineteenth century. The group of regular customers even had a name — “The Centralists”. The establishment was also commonly referred to as the Die Schachhochschule (chess school) due to the fact that the first level was used by many chess players for their games.
Prominent Centralists of this time period were Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky and famous Austrian writer Alfred Polgar. The two held debates and discussions over their intense games of chess, eventually shaping their world view which ultimately impacted not only Vienna, but the entire world.
Specialty Menu Items: Try the Sisi’s Marille, one of the café’s specialty dessert. Named after Empress Elisabeth of Austria (nicknamed “Sisi”), the dessert has an interesting taste profile, being both sweet and sour. It is formed by a tangy lemon custard top, placed over a chocolate base.
Nearby places to explore: Visit the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) which houses many museums with artifacts dating back to the 13th century. One of which, is the Sisi Museum, which houses exhibitions centered around Empress Elisabeth, the inspiration behind Sisi’s Marille.
Address: Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Austria
Operating Hours: Mon to Sun: 7:30am to 10:00am
2. Café Landtmann, the birthplace of Psychoanalysis
With a curved glass window that creates a visually intriguing shape, Café Landtmann is another that is in the running for the most popular Viennese coffee house. Founded in 1873, the coffee house is one of Vienna’s oldest, and served as a meeting place for many leading industrialists and politicians in Austria. It is also next to the University of Vienna, one of the oldest tertiary institutions in the German-speaking world. As such, the two establishments have a strongly linked history.
Sigmund Freud, world-renowned neurologist, was a regular patron of the coffee house while he was lecturing at the University of Vienna. The constant discussions and reflections over a cup of coffee set the foundational building blocks for his most well-known accomplishment: Psychoanalysis.
Specialty Menu Items: Start with the café’s classic soft-boiled eggs, served de-shelled for ease of eating. Interestingly, it has been described to be similar to eating a savoury version of peeled grapes. Follow this up with the famous apple strudel, filled with a rich custard sauce and sprinkled with sugar. The apple strudel is considered one of the best available in Vienna, an impressive feat considering that the dessert is a city staple.
Nearby places to explore: Take a glimpse into the hallways that Sigmund Freud must have walked down a million times at the University of Vienna just next door. Admire its grand architecture and soak in its rich history dating all the way back to 1365 when the university was founded.
Address: 4 Universitätsring, Innere Stadt Wien, Wien, 1010, Austria
Operating Hours: Mon to Sun: 7:30am to 12:00am
3. Café Hawelka, the city’s age-long artistic hotspot
Café Hawelka’s entrance might seem inconspicuous, but don’t that let that fool you. As you walk in, be transported into a café reminiscent of pre-WWII Vienna. The coffee house was opened in 1939 but was forced to shut down due to World War II. It reopened in 1945 but it was only after the end of the Vienna occupation in 1955 that it started to boom in popularity. It became the central point of focus for the art scene in the city, frequented by writers, critics and painters.
Popular Austrian singer-songwriter Georg Danzer was so inspired by the artistic atmosphere of the place that he wrote a song about it (Jö schau). The single went on to win a Golden Record award and was voted one of the ten best Austropop songs in history, on the Austro Pop Show!
Specialty Menu Items: The café is home to its specialty, the delicious Buchteln, which still follows the original recipe created by the shop’s founders. In fact, eat as the Viennese eat and have the pastry, a sweet roll filled with apricot jam, as your main course with a warm cup of coffee by the side.
Nearby places to explore: Delve deeper into Vienna’s art scene by heading to the Gallery Ernst Hilger, just a short walk away, where you can marvel at a wide range of Austrian modernism art pieces.
Address: Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien, Austria
Operating Hours: Mon to Sun: 8:00am to 12:00am
4. Café Sperl, a land where peace and harmony reign
Since its opening in 1880, the café has maintained a tranquil atmosphere through the use of warm lighting and gentle pads as an accompaniment to your freshly brewed cup of coffee. Prior to World War I, it attracted an interesting range of characters, from authors and actors to military officials from the nearby Imperial and Royal (K.u.K) military academy. Although there were divergent political and social differences between the regulars, they continued to coexist peacefully.
As a matter of fact, the variety of personalities resulted in the creation of the Secession, consisting of architects, artists and military personnel. The group cross-pollinated across the various disciplines, leading to a Gesamkunstwerk (an all-embracing art form). They met at the coffee house weekly and grew to become a large art movement in Austria.
Specialty Menu Items: Indulge in a rich slice of one of the city’s best Sacher Torte, an Austrian version of chocolate cake and a famous Viennese culinary specialty. The café’s bakers pay attention to the details, ensuring that every slice looks as good as it tastes!
Nearby places to explore: Showcasing pieces inspired by the Secession, the Knoll Galerie Wien Budapest is the place to visit to learn more about the movement.
Address: Gumpendorfer Str. 11, 1060 Wien, Austria
Operating Hours: Mon to Sun: 7:00am to 10:00pm
5. Café Schwarzenberg, Vienna’s olden day financial hub
This coffee house was established in 1861, and interestingly, it didn’t only attract the artistic types of people, but was also an important meeting place for influential entrepreneurs and financiers. Comparable to a Viennese Wall Street of that time period, it was a place where businessmen compared newspaper reports, held business meetings or simply networked over a game of billiards. The famous architect Josef Hoffmann, co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte (production community of visual artists), even had his chauffeur drive him to the café daily. It was here where he penned some of his most revolutionary ideas, laying down the foundations of modern design.
Specialty Menu Items: For a traditional Viennese meal, start off with a piping hot bowl of liver dumpling soup before having the succulent Tafelspitz (prime boiled beef) for mains. If you’re in Vienna during the ball season (think dancing with tuxedos and evening gowns!) when the day starts bright and early, have a hearty bowl of Goulash, a Viennese meat stew seasoned with spices and served with a side of dark bread, for breakfast. Trust us, you’d want to fill your stomach up for a full day of dancing!
Nearby places to explore: What’s a trip to Vienna without listening to a performance at the Musikverein music hall, a traditional concert hall just a 3-minute walk away.
Address: Kärntner Ring 17, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Operating Hours: Mon to Sun: 8:00am to 12:00am
As you can see, coffee houses have their roots deep in Vienna’s culture and history. Many important industries and world-defining ideas have been developed and debated in the confines of such spaces. So, do check out these heritage-rich establishments when you’re off to Vienna — you never know, you might just be inspired to create the next big thing too!
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Best time to visit
The best times to visit are between June and August during summer as the weather is warm and dry, and September to October during spring when the room rates are mild.
Buses, trains, trams and underground lines are easy ways to get around.
The official currency of Vienna, Austria is the Euro (EU).
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