Probably the most alluring part of Vienna is the abundance of Viennese Cafes. Many tourists in Europe or all over the world spend their time frantically dashing from one hotspot to another, always stressed that they won’t fit in everything they dreamed of seeing. Vienna is a different sort of city. Vienna is about culture and relaxation. Of course, that isn’t to say that Vienna doesn’t offer stunning architecture or a plethora of interesting museums. But there’s no pressure to see it all, when the best part of being in Vienna is just taking your time to sip your tea and read a book.
During my recent Vienna trip, I had the opportunity to visit several of these cafes, so I thought I’d summarize my experiences here. Maybe it will help you decide which cafes in Vienna are right for you.
I’ve been to Cafe Central twice in my life, once in 2010 for a relaxed drink with my mother and the second time during my recent trip with my wife. They were two very different but excellent experiences.
In 2010, my mother and I were looking for a place in the afternoon to sit down and relax, to have a drink and read the paper. It wasn’t a busy holiday season and we arrived after the lunch crowd was gone, so the place was quiet and easygoing. We could take our time with our drinks, read the paper, and take in the atmosphere of this historic cafe.
Of course, Cafe Central is famous for being an important meeting place of the Viennese intellectual elite. In 1913, Tito, Freud, Hitler, Lenin and Trotsky all visited Cafe Central. With its grand ceilings and central location among Viennese political buildings, you can really feel that this cafe is some place special.
The trip with my wife was something entirely different, yet still was a wonderful experience. We went in early December, when the Christmas crowds weren’t yet at their height but when the city was clearly taking on extra visitors with each passing day. We decided to go to Cafe Central for lunch.
We were worried for a few minutes, upon entering the front door, that we wouldn’t get a nice seat, as the restaurant was completely full. After a little patience, we were actually seated at a wonderful table. To be honest, almost every table in this cafe could be described as wonderful. There are only a few extra tables obviously added to increase capacity, which would not be nice for more than one person to sit at, much less eat at.
I decided on the Schnitzel and my wife the liver. For the most famous cafe in Vienna, the prices were quite reasonable, if you know the price of a Wiener Schnitzel. Normally, you pay about 20€ for a proper Wiener Schnitzel (made from veal) and that’s about what we paid in Cafe Central. The Schnitzel came with some delicious boiled potatoes. We both enjoyed our meals thoroughly.
So whether you’re just looking to have a quiet drink or you’d like to treat yourself to a nice lunch, I can wholeheartedly recommend Cafe Central.
Pluses: great atmosphere, okay prices for a fancy place
Minuses: can be very full at busy times, especially in the holiday season; not relaxing during busy times
Cafe Landtmann is another central and historic choice of Viennese cafes. Sigmund Freud visited this cafe regularly and it has long served as a meeting place for leading politicians, thinkers, and artists. Lavishly decorated, Landtmann doesn’t offer a relaxing atmosphere and has been completely full every time I’ve tried to visit. In fact, the one time I managed to get a table, in 2010, was for breakfast, where my mother and I took one of the only remaining tables. Breakfast was good but the prices were a little high.
We only managed to sit outside, which is a very nice experience in the summer. In the winter, the outside area is enclosed in a very ugly temporary addition to the building. If you go during a busy time, be prepared to be seated somewhere that does not match the atmosphere you expected to experience on your way there.
Overall, Landtmann gives the impression of a stop for the experience of having been to such an historic location but isn’t really the place for the typical Viennese cafe goer. Look in the window, walk in the door, but move on and find a different cafe if there’s nowhere to sit.
Pluses: impressive atmosphere, located among some of Vienna’s most beautiful architecture
Minuses: always full, not cheap, not relaxing
Only a little less central than Central and Landtmann, Cafe Tirolerhof is quite well located in the historic centre of Vienna. The building is not as grand as the aforementioned cafes and could do with some repair but this actually serves to make it more cozy and inviting. Tirolerhof was still quite busy each time we went but somehow it all faded into the background and didn’t cause any disruption.
The service in Tirolerhof is a little more curt than the others and you won’t receive a paper bill at all but if you aren’t in a rush and aren’t a high maintenance customer, there won’t be any problems. Feel free to spend hours reading the papers from around the world, as you drink your coffee or sip your tee. Don’t forget to order some Kaiserschmarrn. Theirs is quite tasty.
We enjoyed Cafe Tirolerhof so much that we came back multiple times during our week in Vienna. It can also be busy, like all centrally-located cafes in Vienna, but it’s a better bet than Cafe Central and Cafe Landtmann, so put it on your list. For a relaxed atmosphere with tasty desserts, I highly recommend Cafe Tirolerhof!! My only major gripe is that there is no wireless Internet connection available. You can try to mooch off of a neighbouring connection but service is spotty.
Pluses: relaxed, great desserts, lots of newspapers to read
Minuses: the window sill was wet, so some repairs need to be done; no wifi!!
Getting out of the centre and looking for a cafe with more real people brought us to Cafe Sperl. This cafe may not be as famed as the others and may not look as spectacular but we actually found that much better. With a little darker lighting and a more out of the way location, Cafe Sperl has a much more relaxed atmosphere. There are plenty of newspapers to read and nice tables to sit at. You’ll have more of a chance to find a seat here. We also went to Cafe Sperl multiple times during our stay in Vienna.
My only major gripe is in the dessert selection. They have several different cakes, if that’s your thing, but I was hoping for other types of desserts, like pastries. At any rate, if you’re looking for a decent Sachertorte or Gugelhupf, Cafe Sperl is your place. Although we didn’t order food, everything we saw on other people’s plates peaked our interest. Sadly, we never made it for lunch but I bet it’s great.
If you’re looking for somewhere the locals go to, with a more relaxed atmosphere and less tourist fuss, I can recommend Cafe Sperl to you.
Pluses: relaxed, cozy, great prices
Minuses: less dessert selection
Cafe Francais is not one of the typical Viennese cafes but that may not be a bad thing. When we went, this more modern cafe was filled with locals, many of whom were students. With the Votivkirche nearby, if you are doing the tourist thing, don’t forget to check out this great neo-Gothic church!
We went to Cafe Francais looking for lunch. We had walked by earlier and peeked in the windows. What we saw was enough to convince us to come back! Well, we weren’t disappointed. What you’ll find here is decent food at good prices and in large quantities. Cafe Francais isn’t a place you go to treat yourself or discuss the plight of the working class. It’s where real people go to eat real food and live their real lives.
The salad on the left is what my wife took. She asked the waitress beforehand if it would be enough as a main meal. Turns out there was nothing to worry about. It could have fed her twice over! Service here was friendly and we comfortably sat for a couple hours. The table was reserved after 3pm but it was no problem for us, since we only wanted to eat. Come here if you’re looking for a good meal but don’t expect the old fashioned atmosphere.
Pluses: great food, large portions, fair prices, good service, real people
Minuses: not the typical cafe for relaxing (may not be a minus for you)
Located on the grounds of Schloß Schönbrunn, Cafe Residenz is certainly surrounded by beauty and history. With a large park and a public swimming pool nearby, you might think this would be the ideal cafe. It’s certainly well located and I can recommend it if you’re on the tourist trail but that’s what it is – a tourist stop.
This isn’t the place to relax and read the paper. It’s a place to try some famous Viennese delicacies, like Apfelstrudel. The food is good but the prices are a little higher, as you might expect of the cafe next to the Hapsburg’s palace. If you’re looking for somewhere to rest after checking out Schönbrunn, by all means, stop by Cafe Residenz. But don’t go out of your way!
Pluses: convenient location if you’re already at Schönbrunn Palace, good selection of the classic desserts
Minuses: for tourists, higher prices, not really an example of Viennese cafes
Sadly, we never made it into Cafe Hawelka, even though it was on our list. The original owner was greeting people at the door until his death 2011, so like many famous Viennese cafes, Hawelka comes with an interesting history. My wife had bad service there last time she was in Vienna and because it was too full during the holiday season, we skipped it and went back to Tirolerhof. Maybe we’ll check it out next time.
My favourite Viennese Cafes
It’s hard to say which cafes are the best because it comes down to why you’re going and what you enjoy. My top favourites are Cafe Central, Cafe Tirolerhof, and Cafe Sperl. Central just can’t be beat for atmosphere but may not be the most relaxing place during busy times. The food is excellent, so it’s a great choice for a meal. Tirolerhof has a nice atmosphere, is great for relaxation and has excellent desserts but sadly lacks Internet access! You’ll find a seat at Sperl much easier, won’t have to deal with tourists, and can relax as long as you like – I only wish there was a more varied dessert selection.
I hope you enjoyed my selection of Viennese cafes. Let me know in the comments what your experiences were! Maybe you can also plan your next Vienna trip on Travel to Live.