Coffee and strudel in Vienna. Photo by iStock

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It’s almost 2 pm and I’m on a mission. The afternoon sun is beginning to wane as I make my way down the cobblestone streets of Vienna’s 1st district. I’m heading to one of my favorite coffeehouses in search of the best coffee in Vienna.

The air is filled with the rich smells of dark coffee and sweet cakes that are being served up all over the city. While coffee is usually a morning drink, in Vienna, the afternoon is the perfect time to stop and have a coffee and a thick piece of torte. It’s a tradition that has survived since Vienna’s imperial days. 

Café Diglas Vienna
Café Diglas © WienTourismus/Christian Stempler

History of Coffee in Vienna

For nearly 640 years, Vienna served as the heart of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire. The ruling family, the Hapsburgs, stretched the fingers of their rule from Austria to Hungary and even into what is now the Czech Republic. The royal family built beautiful palaces, ordered court composers (like Mozart) to write dramatic music and ate the royal pastries that were invented just for them.

When the empire fell after World War I, the remnants of this imperial past remained as part of Vienna’s culture. A visit to the city’s famous coffeehouses is a revealing window into that royal past.

Vienna’s coffeehouse culture offers a chance to slow down, savor life and enjoy the best coffee in Vienna with the company of friends. #Viennacoffee #viennacafes
Café Central, Tortenvitrine Palais Ferstel, Wien

This thriving coffeehouse culture is deeply ingrained in Viennese life. From the incredibly elegant to the everyday, each coffeehouse serves its fare with a touch of class.

They boast many revered coffee drinks. From the ever-popular Melange, an extended expresso with frothy milk, to a Fiaker, a double espresso with rum, cream and a cocktail cherry to an Einspänner, a mocha topped with whip cream.

When I lived in Vienna as an exchange student, I quickly learned that coffeehouses are the living rooms of Vienna. It’s common to meet friends at coffeehouses for stimulating conversation and nice company.

Others prefer to enjoy their coffee alone, relaxing with a good book or local newspaper, which is often displayed on a reading stick for ease of use. Coffee is often served with flair on a silver tray, along with a small glass of water and sometimes a tiny piece of chocolate.

Café Central Best coffee in Vienna
Café Central © WienTourismus/Christian Stemper

Where to Enjoy the Best Coffee in Vienna in a Beautiful Setting

If you’re looking for Vienna, you will find it in a coffeehouse. With that in mind, I head into Café Landtmann, which has been a coffeehouse since 1873. I take a seat on an original Thonet chair that dates to the imperial age and glimpse my reflection in mirrors from the 1920s.

A waiter in a crisp white shirt, black bow tie and coat brings my coffee on a silver tray. Along with a slice of my favorite poppy seed cake. My friend and I linger for more than an hour, chatting about the day and enjoying the setting.

Vienna has more than 2,500 coffeehouses to choose from, so it’s easy to find one you like. Café Central is among the most beautiful. Housed in a small Palais that reflects Venetian and Florentine architecture, it was once a meeting place for famous artists, writers and thinkers, including Franz Kafka and Sigmond Freud.

KHM in Vienna. Photo by Janna Graber
KHM in Vienna. Photo by Janna Graber

Café Sperl is much more Bohemian. Founded in 1880, its marble tables and parquet floors still retain their original charm. The café has been in several movies, including Before Sunrise and A Dangerous Method.

Café-Restaurant at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (Art History Museum) is another beautiful coffeehouse. The museum building itself is a stunning art piece, and the coffeehouse is no exception. Plush red seating under a stately dome hall feels almost regal and diners have a breathtaking view of Vienna through its tall windows.

Café Diglas on Wollzeile is just steps from St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the heart of Vienna. A true traditional Viennese coffeehouse, it offers a huge selection of coffee and cakes. The city’s bakers must be busy, for every restaurant and coffeehouse has its own creations.

Vienna Coffee and sweet treats
Coffee and sweet treats. Photo by Janna Graber

Sweet Treats to Enjoy with Your Viennese Coffee

Sacher Torte is among the most famous of the city’s cakes. It was created at the grand Hotel Sacher in 1832 by 16-year-old Franz Sacher, who made the special dessert for Prince Metternich. Today, Hotel Sacher bakes more than 360,000 hand-made Original Sacher Torte each year. I’ve even had it shipped to my house in the USA.

In even the most modest coffeehouses in Vienna, you can find delicious coffee and pastries. On my last morning in Austria, two friends and I stop at Kleines Café, a tiny establishment with a few outdoor tables in a square next to a Franciscan monastery.

The restful soundtrack of Vienna – footsteps on cobblestone, shopkeepers unloading their wares and children laughing at a nearby table — plays in the background as I listen to my friends talk. I sip slowly on my coffee, wanting to make the moment last. Then I sit back and soak it all in. It feels good to be in Vienna.

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Author Bio: Janna Graber has covered travel in more than 45 countries. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.

Janna Graber

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