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Vienna’s Venerable Coffeehouse Tradition

By August 21, 2018September 2nd, 2018History, Travel, Travel to Europe
Travel to Vienna, Austria

Vienna’s Venerable Coffeehouse Tradition

Discover the elegant world of the Viennese Coffeehouse, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage that is synonymous with the history of the Austrian empire and its dynamic capital city.

Vienna’s Coffee Houses are an Integral Part of the City’s History

What the pub is to London and the sidewalk café to Paris, the coffeehouse is to Vienna:

A central meeting place to exchange ideas, digest news, and Austrian pastries, and meet one’s peers and linger over a libation of one kind or another.   Since the seventeenth century, Vienna’s coffeehouses have been an integral part of the sophisticated, polyglot cultural, intellectual and political capital of the Habsburg empire.

Jennifer Eremeeva Vienna coffee houses

Mysterious Beans in a Burlap Sack

Locals know the legend by heart: coffee first came to Vienna in 1683, when the Ottoman army laid siege to Vienna.  They were overcome by the imperial forces, and beat a hasty retreat, leaving much of their supplies behind, including several burlap sacks of mysterious beans.   The legend goes on to tell of Koischitzky, a Polish army courier who had spent much time in the Ottoman Empire and knew that the mysterious beans were not camel food, but something much more valuable.  He asked if he could keep the sacks in place of his pay and proceeded to open a small café or coffeehouse near St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of Vienna.

Learn more about the Habsburg Austria and Fin de Siecle Vienna: On Sissi's Trail in Vienna

Cultural, Social, and Political Affinities and Associations

The rest is history.  Caffeine suited the energetic, eclectic Viennese, and soon much of daily intercourse, commerce, and politics was centered around the growing number of elegant coffeehouses in the capital. In the nineteenth century, coffeehouses served the same role for Viennese men as London clubs did for their English peers: one’s coffeehouse affiliation was a key hallmark of slotting a Viennese into a cultural, economic, or political caste.  Where he took his coffee and read his newspaper reflected a man’s politics and interests.  Many of the critical movements that shaped the twentieth century were hotly debated in Viennese cafes, and many of these storied institutions are still open today.   

Historic Vienna Coffeehouses

 Sigmund Freud pondered the mysteries of the human psyche in Café Landtmann, while Austrian politician Peter Altenberg made speeches at the Café Central, where a statue has been erected in his honor. Leon Trotsky and other liberal thinkers and writers plotted world revolution at Café Griensteidl.   

Coffeehouse tradition dies hard, and modern-day Vienna carefully preserves the rituals and traditions of its coffeehouse culture, so much so that UNESCO included Viennese coffeehouse culture in its list of Intangible Cultural Heritages in 2011.   

Jennifer Eremeeva history travel to Austria Vienna coffee houses

The elegant presentation of coffee in a Vienna Coffee Shop.  Photo Credit: Shutterstock

How to be Viennese in a Coffeehouse

Visitors to Vienna quickly learn that a Viennese coffeehouse is no place to grab a no fat triple shot latte on the fly.   Coffee is still served on an elegant silver tray with a glass of water by professional waiters in formal attire, and newspapers are still laid out on their iconic wooden poles to be lingered over. The privilege to sit in one of the old coffeehouses doesn’t come cheap, so do as the Viennese do and linger for a few hours, discuss the state of the world, read, or just ponder the mysteries of something.  

And feel Viennese.

Jennifer Eremeeva Demel Cafe in Vienna

The kitchen of Demel’s in Vienna

Practical Information

Jennifer Recommends:  5 Great Historic Vienna Coffeehouses

Café Demel (Demel K. & K. Hofzuckerbäckerei)

Dating back to 1786, Demel takes pride in its storied history of Imperial patronage, outstanding confectionary, and a fine tradition of the family’s women at the helm.  For almost 150 years, Demel’s has been an integral part of the history and culture of Vienna.  Try the famous “Anna Cake” and, if time permits, visit the Demel Museum.


Kohlmarkt 14
A-1010 Vienna


+43 1 535 17 17 0

Opening Hours

Daily 09:00 - 19:00



Café Hawelka

Founded in 1939, the Hawelka has always been the haunt of artists and bohemians, particularly in the post World War II era.  Still managed by a descendant of the founder, the cafe is famous for its “Buchtein” or sweet rolls, and the area around the café is often redolent with their delicious smell!  


Dorotheergasse 6
1010 Vienna


+43 1 512 82 30

Opening Hours

M-W 08:00 - 00:00
Th-Sa 08:00 - 01:00
Su 10:00 - 00:00



Café Hofburg

If you are on Sissi’s Trail in Vienna or visiting the Hofburg Imperial Palace, this elegant cafe located just one floor below the apartments of Emporer Franz Joseph and his enchanting Empress Elisabeth is a great place to stop and rest between visits to the Imperial Apartments, the Treasuries, and the Spanish Riding School.  Try the decadent apple strudel or Kaiserschmarrn flakey pancakes.


Hofburg, Innerer Burghof
1010 Vienna


+43 1 24 100 420

Opening Hours

Open daily 10:00 - 18:00



Café Imperial

The Café Imperial has been keeping Vienna’s creatives fed and watered since 1873, the year of the Universal Exhibition on the Ring Boulevard.  Frequented by Gustav Mahler and other great musicians, artists, and writers, today the café offers a full menu including their signature Wiener Schnitzel.  Chef Patissière Katharina Kurz refuses to be pinned down to just one recommendation.  She lists her favorites by season: rhubarb tart in the spring, apricot-lemon balm cake in the summer, Berry Cupola in the fall, and chestnut cranberry Christmas Tree Ball in the winter.  Clearly, the Café Imperial warrants more than one visit!  


Karntner Ring, 16
1010 Vienna


+43 1 501 106 389

Opening Hours

Open Daily 07:00-23:00



Café Landtmann

For over 140 years, the Landtmann management has striven to maintain its lofty moniker of “Vienna’s most elegant café.”  This has meant changing and adapting with the times and the history of the Landtmann reflects Vienna’s own.  The Landtmann’s cakes and pastries are so many and so legendary that it is hard to choose between them.  The classic Wiener Apfelstrudel is a popular favorite, as is the Esterhazytorte.  


Universaitätsring 4
1010 Vienna


+43 1 24 100-120

Opening Hours

Open Daily 07:30 - 00:00



Further Reading and Viewing

Learn more about Vienna’s history and the role of the coffeehouse.

Creatives have been working in coffee houses for centuries.  This collection of essays, articles, and sketches by luminaries such as Peter Altenberg, Karl Kraus and other Austrian authors captures the mood and leading ideas of fin de siecle Vienna and the Viennese coffee house culture.

I always pack a Wallpaper guide when visiting a major European city, and this handy pocket guide to Vienna was a marvelous resource for finding great restaurants, shops, and yes, Vienna’s leading coffee houses!

No exploration of Vienna’s cultural history is complete without a deep dive into Frederic Morton’s seminal work on the cultural world of 1880s Vienna as Crown Prince Rudolf takes his own life and that of his young mistress at Mayerling.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl E. Schorske’s seven studies on Vienna’s intellectual history are a must-read for anyone trying to get under the skin of the city: from its architecture to the ideas that were nurtured in the coffee house culture of Vienna.

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Jennifer Eremeeva on Vienna's coffeehouse tradition

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Notes from the Author

Thank you for visiting my site!  I welcome your comments and input on these travel posts. I think that travel knowledge is best when shared, so please do weigh in below in the comments section.  Subscribe to my newsletter to get updates and notification when new posts are up.

If you would like to immerse yourself more Vienna coffeehouse history and culture, I invite you to visit my Pinterest Board dedicated to the subject.  Many of the images in this post come from that collection.

An earlier version of this post was commissioned by Alexander + Roberts in conjunction with their independent Vienna itinerary.  It has been updated for publication here.

This post does contain affiliate links, of products I recommend for further exploration of the topics I cover on my website.  You are, of course, under absolutely no obligation to purchase anything.  Any purchase you do make pays a small commission to me from the retailer, which I use to support my work as a freelance writer.  I only recommend items I personally endorse, and if you are interested in enjoying but not owning, I urge you to patronize your local library!!


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