World peace, I am convinced, just might come from one of Vienna’s endlessly comforting cafés. Sitting in one, you want life to always be like this – quiet, calm, and passing slowly in a place where you can simply be alone or with friends for a leisurely breakfast, glass of wine, or espresso. Kaffeezeit, or coffee time, is a daily ritual for many in the German-speaking world. Viennese coffeehouses emerged in the late 1600s and developed into a vibrant culture in the late 1800s through the imperial reign of the Habsburg dynasty. Today, fortunate Austrians – the country consistently ranks as one of the world’s happiest – gather in these second living rooms to mingle, work, and eat.
During a recent visit to Café Landtmann, a famous café frequented by Sigmund Freud, I gazed out at Vienna’s Rathaus (city hall) and people-watched – a woman with shellacked red lipstick, tightly coiffed hair, and sunglasses worn inside, pecking at her smartphone; a man sitting with his lazy, happy dog (yes, Viennese cafés are dog-friendly). I relished in dozens of international publications threaded on wooden newspaper sticks.
“For conversation, excellent food, or an inexpensive cup of coffee, Austrian cafés are very much part of the culture today,” says Austrian-born and Doral, Florida-based Virtuoso travel advisor Emanuel Schreibmaier. His top coffee picks? Wiener Melange, (espresso with frothed milk), Grosser Brauner (a “big brown” coffee), and Eiskaffee (cold coffee with vanilla ice cream).
Since studying in Vienna, I’ve returned to Austria many times, but I recently discovered a new twist on the treasured café ambience: cafés and restaurants in museums. You can still get your coffee and Kuchen (cake), but these artsy Viennese spots are upping their culinary game with artisan breads and desserts, modern interpretations of favorites like schnitzel, and even Asian specialties such as Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and Hawaiian poke bowls.
Here are some suggestions for combining contemporary café culture and eye-catching environs on your next trip to Vienna.