Mini guide to Vienna’s coffee houses
Cafe Central is one of Vienna's many traditional coffee houses. (Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty)
Vienna’s kaffeehäuser, or coffee houses, have graced its alleyways and grand avenues for centuries. Coffee is most definitely an excuse to linger, over a paper and a slice of cake picked from Austria’s long list of sweet inventions.
Best for food
Dark, bohemian and characterful, Kaffe Alt Wien, attracts a young, art-school crowd with meaty Austrian staples (its legendary goulash is best eaten with dark bread and beer). It also provides the lowdown on events in the city: wall spaces are plastered with posters for upcoming shows, exhibitions and concerts. (00 43 1 512 52 22; Bäckerstrasse 9; goulash from £5).
Everybody wants to visit Café Sacher – the reason being its celebrated Sacher-Torte, a rich chocolate cake with apricot jam, although its other sweet offerings are worth trying too. It doesn’t quite have the authenticity of a small, neighbourhood coffee house, but nonetheless it does much to please with its opulent furnishings, battalion of waiters and an air of nobility (Philharmonikerstrasse 4; slices of Sacher-Torte £3.80).
An elegant and regal café within sight of the Hofburg Palace, Demel wins marks for the sheer creativity of its sweets: its window displays are an ever-changing array of edible art pieces, including ballerinas and even manicured bonsai. Demel’s speciality is the Demeltorte, a chocolate and nougat concoction to compare to Café Sacher’s torte. Demel is also well known for its own rival ‘Sachertorte’. (Kohlmarkt 14; slice of Demeltorte £3.30).
Best for architecture
While not as venerable as the Stephansdom cathedral behind it, Aida is still a timewarp: its pink-and-brown colour scheme – waiters’ socks included – matches the streamlined ’50s décor. Order a mélange (coffee with a head of whipped cream) and a slice of cake, and head upstairs to spy on the shopping crowds on Kärntner Strasse. (Singerstrasse 1; coffee from £1.60).
Café Rüdigerhof’s exterior is a glorious example of Jugendstil (German for ‘youth style’) or Art Nouveau architecture with its name in golden letters, while the furniture and fittings inside look little changed since the Vienna of The Third Man. The atmosphere is homely, and the shaded terrace huge. On Saturday mornings it fills up quickly with shoppers from the Naschmarkt. (00 43 1 586 31 38; Hamburgerstrasse 20; coffee from £1.80).
With its gorgeous Jugendstil fittings, low-lit pool tables, cosy booths and unhurried air, the vast, hall-like Café Sperl – founded in 1880 – looks as much like a speakeasy from Prohibition-era America as a fine kaffeehaus. Grab a strong coffee, a slice of Sperl torte and a newspaper, and join the rest of the patrons in some people-watching and daydreaming. (Gumpendorferstrasse 11; closed Sun in Jul & Aug; coffee from £2).
Best for music
Café Braunerhof is an authentic coffee house of some standing among coffeehouse aficionados. It remains little changed since the days when author Thomas Bernhard frequented the premises, with its smoke-stained walls and tight tables. Classical music features at the Bräunerhof from 3–6pm on weekends and holidays. (00 43 1 512 38 93; Stallburggasse 2; snacks from £2.40).
Café Diglas comes straight from the classic coffee-house mould, with red-velvet booths, sharp-tongued waiters, an extensive coffee range and old dames dressed to the nines. Meals are light, but they extend beyond the normal specialities to include a variety of Hungarian dishes. You can hear live piano music on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8–11pm. (Wollzeile 10; meals from £4).
Café Landtmann has attracted politicians, theatregoers and a celebrity clientele since 1873, with its elegant interior and close proximity to the Burgtheater, Rathaus (city hall) and parliament. Plus, its list of coffee specialities is formidable, and live piano music can be heard here on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays between 8–11pm. (Universitätsring 4; lunch menus £8.50).
Where to stay
Design reigns at the exceptional Belvedere Appartements, a fully renovated altbau (traditional Viennese building) close to the gardens and palaces of the Belvedere. High ceilings and huge windows make all the spaces feel wide and expansive. (Fasangasse 18; from £50 excl breakfast).
The studio rooms at Appartements Riemergasse are small, simple and come with kitchenettes, but the suites are sizeable and equipped with full cooking facilities. (Riemergasse 8; from £110).
Walking into Hotel Sacher Wien is like turning back the clock 100 years. The reception is reminiscent of an expensive fin-de-siècle bordello, and even the smallest rooms in the hotel are surprisingly large. (Philharmonikerstrasse 4; from £400).
Vienna International airport, 11 miles southeast of the city, is served by Austrian Airlines, British Airways and easyJet from Heathrow and Gatwick (Gatwick from £95; easyjet.com). Trains from the airport to Wien Mitte station take 16 minutes (single tickets from £8.70; cityairporttrain.com). The city has one of Europe’s best-integrated public transport networks, and flat-fare tickets are available on buses, trams, U-Bahn (underground) and trains (24-hour tickets £5.30; wienerlinien.at).