In Vienna, coffee is held as something of an art form, and its consumption is a lifestyle. The Viennese coffee house (known locally as a Wienner Kaffeehaus), is a Viennese institution that has played a central part in shaping the city’s culture.
An integral part of the city’s social experience, Vienna’s coffee houses are often described as the city’s public living rooms. The social practices, rituals and elegance of the establishments create a very specific atmosphere that is hard to find anywhere else. And, unlike in British coffee houses and cafes where nursing a single cup of coffee all day is very much frowned upon, in Vienna, a single coffee is all you need to buy to be free to linger beneath the high ceilings and striking décor for an entire day.
According to locals, the city’s love of coffee came about by accident. In 1683, when Turkish invaders were forced to flee the town by allied forces, headed by the Polish-Habsburg army, they left behind sacks of mysterious small, brown, beans. The army mistook the coffee beans for camel feed and wanted to burn them, but the Polish King Jan III Sobieski passed them on to an officer called Jerzy Francieszek Kulczycki.
Kulczycki started to experiment with the strange beans and, adding milk and sugar, he unknowingly produced what would become the country’s beverage. Shortly afterwards, Kulczycki opened Vienna’s first coffee house.
Today, Viennese coffee houses are famous around the world for their wide variety of coffee drinks and pastry creations. In 2011, Viennese coffee house culture was even listed as ‘intangible cultural heritage’ in the Austrian inventory of the National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is part of UNESCO. The Viennese coffee house is described in the inventory as a place ‘where time and space are consumed, but only coffee is found on the bill’.
Viennese locals all have their own favourite coffee shops, and they can become very possessive over them!
Here are just a handful of the city’s best coffee houses, where you can sit back, relax, and soak up Vienna’s café culture…
Tucked away deep within Vienna’s Old Town, Café Bräunerhof is bursting with traditional Viennese flavour. Once writer Thomas Bernhard’s favourite coffee house, this atmospheric venue offers the perfect spot to sit back, relax, and read the paper whilst taking in the laid back ambience and the retro interior.
As well as serving up fresh coffee, the café also has a delectable pasty menu – the apple strudel and the poppy seed cake are simply delicious!
Located at Herrengasse 14, in the first district of the city, the grand Café Central occupies the ground floor of the former Bank and Stockmarket building.
Opening in 1976, the café fast became a favoured meeting place for the Viennese intellectual scene, attracting regulars such as Anton Kuh, Afred Polgar, Sigmund Freud, and Vladimir Lenin.
Today, the legendary café serves the finest homemade pastries and coffee and has a certain charm, which visitors say turns a visit into an experience. The building itself is simply stunning with polished stone columns, high vaulted ceilings, and magnificent grand piano.
The café is open daily, with piano music from 5pm until 10pm - so sit back, relax, and enjoy an abundance of homemade cakes and pastries, and of course, coffee.
Opened by Leopold Hawelka in 1939, Café Hawelka is the epitome of traditional Viennese coffee houses.
Like every good coffee shop, Café Hawelka has had a tumultuous history. Opened by husband and wife Leopold and Josephine Hawelka, the café was closed at the outbreak of World War II. Luckily, it remained intact, and the couple reopened it in 1945 and continued serving delighted customers.
In 1955, influential figures such as Heimito von Doderer, Albert Paris, Gutersloh, and Hans Weigel began to frequent the coffee house and its reputation grew.
After 66 years of service at the café, Joesphine sadly passed away in 2005, but Leopold continued to run the legendry establishment, positioning himself at the entrance every day to greet his customers, until he passed away in 2011.
We’d recommend trying the Buchteln (sweet rolls filled with jam).
With its understated elegance and commitment to serving up great coffee, Café Weimar is known for its warmth and welcoming atmosphere.
Originally established in 1900 as Café Orleans, the coffee house was renamed Café Weimer at the end of the First World War, marking the beginning of the Weimar Republic.
Today, the café is one of the most traditional classic Viennese coffee houses in Vienna’s 9th district and is a favoured spot among artists and those visiting the nearby Imperial Jubilee Theatre.
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