Whether you’re a coffee drinker or not, a tour of the Vienna coffeehouses should definitely be integrated into your Vienna itinerary. The coffeehouses serve up so much more than a strong espresso: you can order wine, cake, sandwiches, and—most importantly—a heaping dose of history.
Vienna’s Coffeehouse Culture
You might be tempted to stop at a Starbucks for a dose of normality, but that’d be an affront to a city steeped in coffeehouse culture. So resist! And visit a Viennese coffeehouse instead. These cafés have long been a backbone of Viennese culture—some even date back to the 1600’s! The role of the coffeehouses is a bit like a social club, but a club that’s open for anyone. This democratic appeal is likely what drew in so many artists, thinkers, and writers. Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, and the painter Gustav Klimt (whose work you can see when you visit the Belvedere) were all patrons of the coffeehouse scene.
What to expect on a tour of Vienna’s coffeehouses
Going to a Vienna coffeehouse is nothing like going to a Starbucks. In fact, unless you’re used to your neighborhood cafe waiters serving you in tuxedoes, it’s going to be unlike any coffee experience you’ve ever had. Your waiter will bring you your coffee of choice on (literally) a silver tray, with a glass of water and perhaps a piece of chocolate or small biscotti. Use the water to cleanse the palate before sipping your coffee beverage (or just use it to hydrate, if you’re not such a connoisseur). You can peruse the sweets or savories at glass-fronted cases, then place your order with your server when they come round.
Most coffeehouses have white marble tabletops and racks of international newspapers, giving the establishment a sense of both elegance and coziness.
A Tour of the Vienna Coffeehouses
The classic coffeehouse experience, Café Central is a must for your Vienna itinerary, even if it feels touristy. The arched ceilings, bow-tied waitstaff, and elegant burgundy booths possess their own old-world charm. The cakes and tarts in the glass cases were without a doubt the best I had in Vienna, sweeping the floor even with the Hotel Sacher’s iconic torte.
This little hole-in-the-wall spot is perfect for an afternoon espresso or glass of wine. The name, Small Café, holds true. Inside there’s seating for maybe 15 people tops—in the summer, seating spills out into the square beyond.
Tucked into a small side street near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Café Hawelka opened almost 75 years ago. The same family has run it for all these years, and the interior gives off the cozy, snuggly vibe you’d get when visiting your grandparents. The coffee is strong, the papers are fresh—why not curl up and spend the afternoon?
Zum Schwarzen Kameel
Founded in 1618 (!) Zum Schwarzen Kameel has long been a stop for Viennese on their weekend strolls. Interestingly, it’s a wide sandwich counter that takes the prominent position in the elegant brown room. These open-faced savory treats are similar to German breakfast breads. The breads come thick with buttery egg spreads, lentil salads, or thinly sliced meat, served on a slice of local Kasses bread. This doesn’t mean that their desserts disappoint, however. Whether you’re in the mood for a fluffy cake or a melt-in-your-mouth hot chocholate, the Black Camel won’t let you down.
Located just across the square from the Hofburg Palace, Café Demel has a gorgeous dark wood interior and a spacious terrace. This was the only coffeehouse where we bought savory, as well as sweet treats. The cakes, as you’d expect, were a delight. But honestly, I preferred the savories—petit-fours style sandwiches with roasted beef, buttery mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes.
You’d think from the name that the world-renown sachertorte is the Hotel Sacher’s signature dessert. (In reality, it was first created by a baker’s apprentice, Franz Sacher.) Still, Hotel Sacher remains the most famous place to have your slice—and the Café Sacher is definitely a fashionable stop on your Vienna Coffeehouse tour. Grab a slice and an espresso, or go for the real sugar high and opt for a Viennese iced coffee, served with ice cream.
*Café Oberlaa and more…
Unfortunately closed for renovations during our coffeehouse tour of Vienna, Café Oberlaa came highly recommended by our Viennese friends. Rumor has it that the sachertorte there gives Café Sacher a proper run for its money. But you’ll have to tell me!
One last tip…
Doing a tour of the Vienna coffeehouses is a big item on most trips to Vienna, so if you’re planning to visit, I reco making reservations at the coffeehouses that look most interesting.