Having been a meeting place for creative types and thinkers (think Sigmund Freud and Gustav Klimt) for centuries, coffee houses are an institution in Vienna. Both locals and visitors go to Viennese coffee houses for the delicious cakes, the peculiar formality of the waiting staff, and the Viennese practice of table-sharing. Yet, because there’s one pretty much on every corner of Vienna’s inner city, you’ll want to choose wisely. Factors like the interior decor, a special house cake, or the quality of the service tend to separate the ordinary from the extraordinary. And since nobody’s got time for the ordinary, here are the seven best coffee houses in Vienna.
1. Cafe Frauenhuber
For every flashy and OTT cafe in Vienna, there’s an understated one like Café Frauenhuber. Rather than wowing people with glamour, the oldest running café in the city is simply cozy, quiet, and low-key — the kind of place where you want to spend hours chatting away. Best of all, you should be able to get a table straight away since there are few tourists. Enjoy it because it probably wasn’t all that quiet when Mozart and Beethoven performed here for the café’s guests.
Of course, Café Frauenhuber still has the trademark formality of Viennese coffee houses, but it also has a more intimate feel. Take the service, for example. It can be challenging to get a typical waiter’s attention in Vienna, but not here.
Café Frauenhuber is the perfect place to try an Austrian classic: strudel. You’ve got your choice of the standard apfelstrudel with apple or the less common house special zwetschgen strudel with plum.
Hours of operation: 8:00 AM — 11:00 PM from Monday to Saturday; 10:00 AM — 10:00 PM on Sundays
2. Café Sacher Wien
The most famous Viennese cake is undoubtedly the incredibly rich chocolate sachertorte. Made with a lot of chocolate, a little apricot jam, and topped with plenty of whipped cream, you probably won’t be getting seconds. While it’s available in many Vienna coffee houses, you have to try it where it was first created in 1832 — Hotel Sacher. It’s in the café of the hotel, Café Sacher, that you can now taste this famous treat. There’s more to this coffee house than one cake, though, as you sit in its plush salon lined with red damask. Positioned on a busy pedestrian street, the café is also a great place to people watch. While it’s normal for there to be a line to get a table, you can visit after 4:00 PM to get in quicker.
Hours of operation: 7:30 AM — 10:00 PM from Monday to Saturday; 10:00 AM — 10:00 PM on Sundays
3. Café Central
Coffee houses in Vienna have a habit of collecting famous regulars, and no other in the city has a greater collection than Café Central — Freud and Trotsky certainly brought fame to the establishment. But the elegant décor inside also plays a huge part in Café Central’s reputation. The café is in a grand building that once housed Vienna’s national bank and stock exchange, with small tables set between thick marble columns under an elaborate vaulted ceiling. It’s much snazzier than your average Starbucks.
Café Central is very popular, so avoid the long lines by getting there before 10:30 AM or after 8:00 PM on weekdays; noon is definitely the worst time for you to show up. Once inside and shown to your table, it’s more efficient to visit the cake display than simply read the menu. If you’re struggling to decide, consider house specials such as the chocolate-orange Café Central Torte or the lemony cream of the Café Central Schnitte. For something lighter, the small lemon curd tart goes down well.
Hours of operation: 7:30 AM — 10:00 PM from Monday to Saturday; 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM on Sundays
4. Café Gerstner
When it opened in 1847, Café Gerstner was just a small pastry shop, but by 1873, it had become the dedicated supplier of desserts to both the Opera House and the royal family, so all of Vienna’s high society congregated here for cakes and pastries. The cafe’s full name, Gerstner K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker, actually means the “Confectioner to the Imperial Court.” Looking at the display cabinets, that prestige is easily noticed with several of its desserts, which use gold flakes as an element of presentation.
Each level of the Café Gerstner comes with its own style, from the elegant ground-floor confectionary store to the cool, intimate cafe/bar above. What takes the cake, though, is the upstairs salon, which looks like a royal residence with its chandeliers and hanging portraits. This cafe is one of the few places that gets busier in the evening, but even if there’s a line, it’s usually a short one.
Hours of operation: Open daily 10:00 AM — 11:00 PM
5. Café Prückel
Café Prückel’s decor may not be as sumptuous as the ones mentioned previously, but it’s still pretty fancy for a café. Inspired by a more modern design, the banquette-booth by the windows and the seats are straight out of the 1950s while the grand chandeliers are full-on Art Déco. Café Prückel is far more popular with locals than tourists, which is a shame because it has a staggering selection of local and international newspapers, as well as several drinks that you can only find here. The Prückel Creme, a small mocha with whipped cream, as well as various liqueur coffees, including the Original Fiaker with rum and Saloneinspänner with vodka, are some of the house specialties. Naturally, there are also various cakes to accompany your hot beverage, including topfenkuchen, which is a standard Austrian cheesecake.
Hours of operation: Open daily 8:30 AM — 10:00 PM
6. Cafe Hawelka
Not all of Vienna’s coffee houses have been around for a century and a half, but that doesn’t mean that they lack either history or character. Café Hawelka is proof of that. This coffee house doesn’t look as if it has changed one bit since it reopened in 1945 after the war. That’s no surprise given that the same couple, Leopold and Josefine Hawelka, ran the cafe for its first 66 years in business.
Café Hawelka is a popular spot for artists and writers. With its humble wood panellings and modest decor, it’s a lot more low-key than places such as Café Central. You’ll often find locals having buchteln, sweet buns filled with jam made from a family recipe, with their coffee here. Into the evening, locals and visitors take advantage of the cafe’s peace and quiet to read a book or the many newspapers available.
Hours of operation: 8:00 AM — 12:00 AM from Monday to Thursday; 8:00 AM — 1:00 AM from Friday to Saturday; 10:00 AM to 12:00 AM Sundays
Vienna’s grand coffee houses can sometimes feel formal and impersonal. If you’re after a more cozy touch, head to Vollpension. Located outside Vienna’s inner city, this family-owned café focuses on home cooking to accompany its coffee. Using local ingredients, locals come here to find food that resembles what their omas made back in the days. All the cooks in the house actually are Austrian grandmas, and the café decor — with all its mismatched chairs and nicknacks — looks like grandma’s house, too.
Hours of operation: 9:00 AM — 10:00 PM from Monday to Saturday; 9:00 AM — 8:00 PM on Sundays