Best places to experience Vienna’s café culture

Vienna cafesVienna is one of my favorite cities. I spent a happy year living here far too many years ago, and I’ve returned countless times as a tourist.

To truly enjoy the city, a visitor shouldn’t rush, but should instead slow down and enjoy age-old Viennese traditions. Few of these traditions are as enjoyable as taking time to relax, warm up, people watch, and read in the venerable institution of the Viennese café.

Outside these lovely cafés, the hectic and distracting pace of 21st century life may go on as usual, but inside, be sure to pack away your laptops and hide your iphones in order to fully enjoy the splendors of 20th century Vienna.

The cafés are all well stocked with international newspapers. The coffee is served Viennese-style, on a platter, accompanied by a glass of water with an overturned spoon. Desserts are, of course, sinfully rich. Be sure to incorporate one (or many) visits to some of these cafés into your next visit to Vienna.

Vienna cafesDemel
The grande dame of Viennese café culture, Demel was established in 1786.

The “K.u.K” proudly displayed on its portal and on its confectionary boxes, indicate that it was the official imperial bakery (Kaiser und Kaiserin). Emperess Sissi was said to have been extremely fond of the sweets produced by Demel.

Firmly wedded to tradition, Demel refused to remove the “K.u.K” even after the collapse of the Empire rendered it irrelevant and unpopular. Almost one hundred years after the Empire’s Vienna cafescollapse, it still remains proudly on the door – as you can see in this photo – and a visitor to this lovely café may indeed feel he’s been transported back to 19th century Vienna.

The beautiful window displays change frequently. Even if you don’t manage to go inside to sit down, be sure to see what’s on display in this most famous of Viennese cafés. Demel is located on Kohlmarkt, just a few steps away from the Hofburg.

Vienna cafesCafé Schwarzenberg
Café Schwarzenberg  is on the Ringstrasse, midway between the Opera house and the Stadtpark. It was established in 1861 when the Ringstrasse was first built by tearing down Vienna’s defensive walls. Café Schwarzenberg is famous for having been occupied by the Russian army after liberating the city in 1945.

Today, the café upholds Viennese traditions and is a pleasant place to stop on your walk around the Ringstrasse. On warm days, there is outdoor seating on the adjoining sidewalk.

Vienna cafesCafé Central
This is my favourite Vienna café. Opened in 1861, the Café Central is housed in the Palais Ferstel on Herrengasse. Over its long history, the Café Central has seen many famous – and infamous – patrons sipping coffee within its lovely vaulted spaces. Adolf Loos, Tito, Sigmund Freud, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler and Leon Trotsky have all spent time here.

At a time when many Viennese flats were unheated, many young intellectuals and revolutionaries spent hours nursing their coffees – and staying warm – at the Café Central.

Vienna cafesThis was the case with Leon Trotsky, who became such a fixture at the Viennese coffee house that when the Russian Revolution began, the Viennese laughed it off, assured that “Herr Trotsky of the Café Central” could never succeed in such an endeavour.

Join the ranks of history and culture with a visit to these beautiful Viennese cafés on your next visit to the Austrian capital.

For more tips on what to do during a  Vienna trip, see some of my earlier posts on Wienerschnitzl at Figlmüller, the Palmenhaus, plague art and the Lipizzaner horses.


  1. ledrakenoir on May 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

    very well written, a wonderful city
    – been there several time and really likes the atmosphere… 🙂 😉

  2. kimberlysullivan on May 14, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Agree with you – Vienna has such a nice atmosphere. And I love visiting its cafes.

  3. Ellie on May 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I lived in Vienna for three years, 25 years ago and just returned from a three week visit. Loved sipping cafe melange in all the cafes you mentioned as well as visiting the house we lived in when I was a young wife and mother. Nice post!

    • kimberlysullivan on May 15, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Ellie! Happy to meet another ‘wannabe’ Wienerin. I must have lived there just after you. I was there before I had children, but it seems such a great place to live with young children (all so wonderfully organized). Glad to hear we enjoy the same places. Maybe our next visits will coincide – I’ll look for you in the cafes! Tschuess!

  4. Ellie on May 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Hi Kimberly! Thanks for your kind words. I also had dinner at Figlmueller (sp?) and smiled when I read that in your blog. Vienna is indeed a beautiful city. We lived in Grinzing, in the 19th district and I remember pushing a pram with two babies to the market every day and then, back up the steep cobblestone streets toward home and the vineyards! I was in much better shape back then 🙂

    On this trip, I revisited Hungary, as well and discovered Brasov and Bran, Romania. I highly encourage you to check out Romania, a gem off the beaten path. I’ll look for you in the cafes on my next trip, as well!

    I wrote about my travels in my blog – The Writing Life


    • kimberlysullivan on May 16, 2013 at 7:47 am

      Ooh, Grinzing really is lovely. LOVE the vineyards in the fall. But yes, I can imagine pushing a pram up those cobblestoned hills was quite a workout. I’m dying to see Romania, and especially Transylvania. Look forward to exploring your post and getting new ideas. Thanks for the link!

  5. Julia on May 16, 2013 at 5:31 am

    Thank you for the lovely virtual visit to these cafes in Vienna. Café Schwarzenberg reminds me of a cafe in Buenos Aires. Hey, I made a similar comment on another blog. Somebody will suspect I have an obsession with Buenos Aires, but it does look like one there. Thank you for the interesting post. Great pictures.

    • kimberlysullivan on May 16, 2013 at 7:49 am

      Julia, you have me mentally a half a world away. I haven’t yet been to Buenos Aires, and I’m really dying to go. I’ll certainly be checking in with you first! Obsessions with beautiful places are a good thing…

  6. Catherine on May 17, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Lovely suggestions here. I went to Vienna one freezing winter as a student and I remember having ice in my nose! We were almost moneyless (the things you do when you are young!) so we didn’t enjoy much chic cafe warmth. I love the idea that Sissi adored sweets from Demel!

    • kimberlysullivan on May 17, 2013 at 8:18 am

      Ha! I used to go in my student days, too … back when Italy was inexpensive and Austria cost a fortune. Now the situation is the exact opposite. You’ll have to go back and enjoy. Yes, Sissi certainly had excellent taste…

  7. Holidays in Vienna | kimberlysullivan on December 17, 2013 at 7:01 am

    […] If you’re looking for activities in Vienna on your visit to enjoy the Christmas decorations, be sure to see my earlier posts on taking in a  performance at the Spanish riding school, stopping in at the art deco Palmenhaus, admiring Vienna’s plague art, eating Wienerschnitzl at Figlmueller’s, or enjoying Vienna’s fabulous cafe culture. […]

  8. […] more Vienna tips, see my earlier posts on Vienna cafes, eating Wienerschnitzl , visiting the Palmenhaus ,  Vienna’s plague art, The Spanish Riding […]

  9. […] itself emerges onto Herrengasse and one of my favorite café houses in Vienna, the Cafe Central. See my earlier post, which also include information about  other impressive Viennese […]

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