More than 300 years later the Kaffeehaus has become an institution, without comparison in the world. Vienna has developed a whole culture around coffee drinking and elevated it to an all-encompassing attitude of life.
You feel at home in a Kaffeehaus as soon as you step inside. The setting is spacious yet intimate, there is plush seating around marble tables, the scrape of traditional Thonet wooden chairs on parquet floors and mirrors reflecting mildly steamy light. Some are furnished with genuine showpieces - time-worn and darkened, they exude an indefinable atmosphere.
You take your seat in an era far removed from daily modern bustle. Your entrance ticket is a cup of coffee, just as it has been for generations. Once you have ordered - be it a kleiner schwarzer, kapuziner, einspänner or melange (and these are just some of the specialities) - you can sit back, relax and do just what you like. Read from the selection of complimentary newspapers, browse the book you brought with you, surf the internet with free wi-fi, discuss religion or world affairs, or talk business. In certain Kaffeehäuser you can enjoy a game at card and billiard tables dating from monarchic times.
The Viennese Kaffeehaus is an extended living room. It is ideal for people who need company to be alone. It is both a stage and a private space. People sense that they are following in a great tradition of leisure and creativity, and love it because it is always reinventing itself. Around 1900 a group of authors went down in history as coffee house literati.They not only socialised in the Kaffeehaus, but used it as their workplace. One of them, Peter Altenberg, wrote the address of his local Kaffeehaus on his visiting card and in return the Café Central has a monument to him. Before writers claimed the Kaffeehaus as their own, composers discovered its charms for themselves. Johann Strauß and his father before him introduced new works here. Even Mozart and Beethoven performed in a Kaffeehaus.
A particular joy of the Kaffeehaus lies in its service. The opening times alone, from early morning until midnight, are impressive. And of course the serving staff, almost always waiters, who are addressed as "Herr Ober", and who reward a prompt order with some banter and Viennese charm. Not to be forgotten, the comfortable seating, and of course the light snacks - sweet or savoury - which make a prolonged stay in a Kaffeehaus so very pleasant and satisfying. Apart from dishes of the day, classics include sausages with mustard or open sandwiches, and the combination of newspaper and breakfast is legendary.
Cakes and pastries are of course a special attraction of every Kaffeehaus. They are almost always home-made, often to carefully guarded house recipes. The „SperlSchnitte" at Café Sperl is just one such delicacy, or the cake of the house at Café Alt-Wien. Café Korb, admired for its original 1950s fittings, serves the best Apfelstrudel in the city. On the other hand Café Hawelka, which boasts Jugendstil decor almost overlooked in a room full of patina-darkened wood, serves the "Buchteln mit Powidl", a bun with plum jam. Hot from the oven at 10 in the evening, it very quickly disappears. For whatever reason the Viennese go to a Kaffeehaus - to relax, to chat, to snack, to read, to play, to do business, to see and be seen - they always get something out of it. The Kaffeehaus is an elixir of life - the longer you stay, the better it works.
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