Coffee houses have played an important historical role in shaping Viennese culture, acting as key meeting places for important writers, artists, musicians and philosophers in the 19th century. In recent years there has been a visible shift within the world of coffee in Vienna, with the emergence of young and progressive coffee houses giving the tradition a makeover. Both the old and the new are well worth a visit – here’s our pick of the best.
Café Schwarzenberg is famed for being the oldest café on the Ringstrasse (the fast-moving ring road that wraps around the city). Unusually for the Austrian capital, literary figures and artists were not traditionally among the regular guests. Instead, it was – and still is – frequented by businessmen who enjoy reading a newspaper over a coffee and strudel after work. As well as the many dainty desserts and hot drinks on offer, there is a spread of Austrian dishes on the menu. For a truly traditional experience, you could order a liver dumpling soup as a starter, Tafelspitz (prime boiled beef) as a main, and – if you have room – an apple strudel for dessert.
This micro-roastery was founded in 2014 by Nikolaus Hartman, who has a great passion for sourcing the very best beans for his blend. The Süssmund Kaffeebar in the Old Post Office is a hip, stripped-down venue with an elegant layout – white and baby-blue walls and chipboard flooring. Its minimal appearance is perhaps a nod to what really matters – the quality of the drink itself. The coffee is ethically sourced, with the company paying close attention to the processing and cooperation with farmers.
For more than 100 years, the iconic Café Prückelhas been a pillar of the Viennese coffee house movement. Embodying all the traits synonymous with the culture of Viennese coffee-drinking (including the imperative tuxedo-clad waiters), the beautifully decorated 1950s-style café was added to the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list in November 2011. Dressed in pastel pink and filled with soft furnishings, the café’s interior wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson film.
Café Central opened its doors in 1876, built in the style of late Romantic Historicism, which combines the architecture of old buildings with new elements. Numerous notable historical figures – such as Leo Trotsky, Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud and Hugo von Hofmannsthal – were among its regulars, and the café continues to profit from the reputation of its literary past. After the Second World War, Café Central was closed for roughly four decades, but was renovated and reopened in 1986. It has lost nothing of its originality, charm and style, and still spoils its guests with traditional Austrian dishes.
Furnished in an industrial style – with raw-brick walls, grey concrete floors and simple seating – Zweitbester is a far cry from the cosy warmth of the traditional coffee houses. Nevertheless, the ambiance is comfortable and unique. The dishes are fresh, created using organic vegetables, regional meats and bread from an organic bakery, and guests have the option of either a daily curated menu or the fixed menu, as well as a sustainable and tasty brunch served until 2pm at weekends.
Situated in the newly gentrified 2nd district of Vienna, Leopoldstadt, this innovative and chic café has a clean and uncomplicated feel, making it reassuringly clear that they are focused on the art of coffee alone. The interior is elegant and thoughtfully designed, with smooth grey walls and a few unusual and intriguing features, such as the golden, crinkly light shades that hang above the counter. With cheerful and attentive staff and coffee with a strong yet smooth taste, this isn’t one to be missed.
To say Kaffee Alt Wien is already an institution in Vienna’s coffee culture is an understatement. Located in the heart of the city center, tucked away in the cobbled back streets, it was founded by the Viennese café entrepreneur Leopold Hawelka back in 1936. Guests can enjoy one of the coffee specialities, have a tasty typical Austrian dish or go the whole hog and settle in for the evening. The extraordinary thing, though – which attracts students, artists and tourists alike – is the interior with its poster-covered walls.
In German, kleine means small, and this café certainly lives up to its name. Often full of locals, this place has authentic Viennese vibes – it’s smoky, charming and delightfully low-key – and is very much the place to be if you want a break from the well-trodden tourist track. Located a stone’s throw away from the action on the bustling Kärntner Strasse in the 1st district, Kleines Café – nestled in the tranquil, private square of Franziskanerplatz – feels a world away from the madness.
Both a café and a roasting house, this modestly sized venue makes you feel instantly welcome. The coffee is, for the most part, from organic cooperatives and fair trade producers, and the coffees on offer are in regular rotation and served with organic or lactose-free milk. Guests can also order homemade tea, hot chocolate, juices, cakes and tarts.
Despite the fact that Café Espresso first opened its doors in 2004, there is a distinct 1950s vibe to the interior. It has a relaxed ambiance that will draw you in, and a great selection of ‘cult coffees’ – including a wide variety of caffeinated beverages, from vanilla lattes, white hot chocolates and carajillos (espressos with Spanish brandy) to the more traditional Viennese favourites.