Drink in the Culture: 5 Best Coffee Houses

“The coffee house is for people who want to be alone but need company for it,” said Alfred Polgar, a famous Viennese coffee house poet. Polgar, along with many other famous writers, such as Peter Altenberg, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Karl Kraus, Robert Musil, Arthur Schnitzler and Friedrich Torberg, were known as “coffee house literates”.

Austrian coffee house culture is listed by UNESCO as “Intangible Cultural Heritage”. According to legend, the origin of coffee in Vienna stems from the end of the Siege of Vienna in 1683, when Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki opened the first coffee house after finding a sack of brown beans left behind by the Turks. It’s a nice story, but fake news! In fact, the first coffee house in Vienna was opened by by the Armenian spy Diodato in 1685.

Top 5 traditional Viennese coffee houses:

Leopold Hawelka at Café Hawelka / Screenshot from “Jö schau…” by Georg Danzer

Café Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6 near Stephansplatz is not the place to go to if you want  opulence, but this shabby-chic coffee house — once a popular hangout for artists — is one of my favorites in Vienna. The furniture looked old when I first visited about 30 years ago and it has not been updated over the years. If you want to experience a typically traditional coffee house, go to Hawelka!

Café Central, ©Philipp von Ostau / Wikimedia

Café Central at Herrengasse 14, near the U-Bahn station Herrengasse, was home to many coffee house literates. Take my advice and skip the queues outside Café Sacher or Café Demel and instead head to the slightly lesser-known Café Central, where you can still enjoy imperial grandeur (and where the coffee and cakes are just as good, in my opinion!).

Café Sperl / Maria Pflug-Hofmayr

Café Sperl, Gumpendorferstrasse 11, a 10-minute walk from the nearest U-Bahn station Mariahilfer Straße, is a great place to head to on a lazy Sunday, with lots of newspapers, carom billiards and live piano music. You’ll find the selection of pastries and cakes is more limited here, but what they do serve (including Apfelstrudel and chocolate cake, that is very similar to Sacher Torte) is delicious.

Café Schwarzenberg; Andreas Faessler/Wikimedia

Café Schwarzenberg, Kärntner Ring 17, near the U-Bahn station Karlsplatz, is less baroque and more end of the 19th century in style. It has long opening hours: from 7:30 (weekend: 8:30) until midnight, so you can head there for breakfast or late in the evening when most other coffee houses have closed. Live piano music is available Thursday-Sunday.

Café Dommayer / Kurkonditorei Oberlaa

Café Dommayer, Dommayergasse 1, a 10-minute walk from the U-Bahn station Hietzing (close to Schloss Schönbrunn), is not simply a coffee house — it’s an institution. It was formerly the site of Casino Dommayer, where Johann Strauss Sr., Johann Strauss Jr. and several other waltz composers performed for the first time.