Virtuoso Traveler August 2017 Vienna's Best Museum Cafes

Vienna's Best Museum Cafes

In Vienna’s top museums, an emerging class of cafés has elevated eating, drinking, and relaxing to a fine art. 

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.

Salonplafond | MAK Wien (Museum of Applied Arts)
MAK Wien’s café and restaurant showcases Vienna’s trendy bread scene by sourcing from two of the city’s hottest bakeries – Gragger & Cie and Joseph. Dine alfresco in the spacious garden and enjoy tartine-style sandwiches on Gragger & Cie sourdough (staples include a whole, sliced avocado topped with 16-month aged Parmesan shavings and chili flakes, or poached eggs with hollandaise, ham, and chives). This spot is a favorite of healthy-food seekers, with big green salads rounding out the menu selection. The museum itself, housed in a historic Ringstrasse building, focuses on decorative arts and design – think art nouveau furniture – over a span of hundreds of years.
Must-see piece: Cartoons for the Mosaic Frieze at the Stoclet House, a series of nine gilded design drawings created by Gustav Klimt. 
Salonplafond’s sandwiches.
Salonplafond’s sandwiches.
Café & Restaurant | Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts)
“I would say that the Kunsthistorisches is my favorite museum in the world,” declares Schreibmaier. Equal to its illustrious collection (including artworks by Rubens and Vermeer, and Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities) is the Café & Restaurant in Cupola Hall, an extravagant rotunda with marble columns, gold-leaf details, and plush red seating. Look for the finest Austrian cakes – such as Mohntorte, a sweet poppy seed cake, and glossy chocolate Sacher torte – alongside a large selection of Viennese coffees. On Saturdays and Sundays, a special breakfast menu (Americans would call it brunch) features local jams, organic yogurt, and alpine cheese. On Thursday nights, book the museum’s multicourse “gourmet evening” dinner.
Must-see piece: Saliera by Benvenuto Cellini, a Renaissance-era pure-gold table sculpture. 
DO & CO | Albertina
Given its proximity to the Vienna State Opera and Hofburg former imperial palace, the Albertina is one of Vienna’s most popular museums, with a large graphic art collection (including drawings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt) and 20 Habsburg Staterooms, centered around the Hall of the Muses. But you could also return time and again to its all-day dining experience at DO & CO. Here, classic Austrian dishes join global offerings such as sushi and miso-glazed beef ribs, alongside casual coffee options, paninis, and cakes from famed Viennese bakery Demel. You’ll want to walk through the nearby Hofgarten park after dining.
Must-see piece: Hare by Albrecht Dürer, one of the museum’s most recognized works. For preservation reasons, they alternate the real painting with a replica. 
Café Leopold | Leopold Museum
Many Viennese consider the Leopold to be their favorite in-town museum. It’s best known for its collection of paintings by Egon Schiele, an Austrian artist who died at age 28 from Spanish flu, just days after his pregnant wife passed away.  The story is tragic, and the art is fascinating. In June, the Gyoza Brothers Group (which runs several Asian restaurants in Vienna) took over Café Leopold on the museum’s upper level, bringing the poke bowl trend front and center – try the tuna bowl with sushi rice, vegetables, and avocado. In warmer months, don’t miss the recently opened pool bar in front of the museum, with offerings such as sushi burritos and steamed dumplings.
Must-see piece:
Egon Schiele’s Die Eremiten, a portrait of the artist with his mentor, Gustav Klimt.  
Sushi rolls served at Café Leopold.
Sushi rolls served at Café Leopold.
CupCakes Wien | MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art)
Vienna’s contemporary-art showcase pops in the city’s MuseumsQuartier, featuring a 9,000-piece collection with works by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Yoko Ono, and more. Stop by its small café, which sells 20 varieties of organic cupcakes. Count on classics such as red velvet and strawberry, but the real draw here is very Viennese flavors such as marzipan amaretto and apple strudel, as well as vegan and gluten-free options. Look for Maroni (chestnut) cupcakes in the fall and, in December, a lebkuchen (German gingerbread) version. Everything is crafted in their bakery, ten minutes by foot from the museum, where you can see the cupcakes being made.
Must-see piece: Very few pieces are shown permanently (the museum has many temporary exhibits), but look for Pop Art pieces by Andy Warhol.
Colorful creations from CupCakes Wien. 
Colorful creations from CupCakes Wien. 

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Since its opening in 1876, Hotel Sacher Vienna has earned a firm place in the city’s tradition. The hotel’s 149 rooms are fresh and modern, many with views of the Opera house and Albertina museum. It goes without saying that you can’t miss a slice of Original Sacher-Torte at its Café Sacher (the original recipe remains the hotel’s well-guarded secret), and the Blaue Bar is a great spot for a drink.

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