These Are All The Restaurants, Bars & Coffee Houses You Must Visit In Vienna
In case you’re planning a trip to Austria’s brilliant capital city of Vienna any time soon, this morning I thought I’d take the time to put together every brilliant coffee house, restaurant, wurst stand and bar we loved during our time there (travel guide to follow) as unlike say on our trip to Old Town Dubrovnik where everything we ate was fantastic, as you’d expect from any major metropolitan hub, a little bit of research and guidance is needed to pick the best places to eat.
Now, a bit of a disclaimer here before we start: surprisingly, and I think as a first on my travels we both found the food in Austria quite challenging; the coffee houses and cakes were a fantastic highlight, but otherwise certainly dining out the food can be very heavy, very fried and carb loaded without many vegetables, so some of the places we ate I’ve not included. These are just the highlights, the places we loved, and which I think looking at them as a whole are a good selection of places you can go to enjoy and discover good Austrian food, but with plenty of other excellent options on the menu so you can be guaranteed to really enjoy your meal regardless of how you’re feeling and what you fancy.
Aside from the frankly incredible art and architecture (more on that in my travel guide which will follow next week) the highlight for us both in Vienna was their famous coffee houses, good for a meal yes, properly perfect to stop by in the afternoon for a good coffee (or something a little stronger!) and a piece of cake the like of which you’ve probably never tasted before. Move over Paris, if you’ve got a sweet tooth Vienna is the place to be.
There are things you, as a visitor or tourist, ‘must’ do in certain places. Bathe in the Blue Lagoon when you’re in Reykjavik, climb Rocamadour in the Dordogne, go tapas hopping late at night in La Rioja. In Vienna, the ‘thing to do’ is to go for a slice of cake at Cafe Central, the historic former bank and meeting point of some of Austria’s greatest minds through history (as well as a few former patrons the cafe would also probably rather forget!) Because of this I was worried that it would be terrible, that it would be a massive tourist trap, but all my research said that it was excellent, and I’m so glad we went because lunch and cakes in their stunning hall turned out to be the highlight of our trip. For somewhere so busy and popular it still felt relaxed and we did not feel rushed, and honestly I think it is as atmospheric as Vienna can get, stepping through those doors on a chilly day.
After lunch, we started with a sandwich (ham, cheese, curry mayo, horseradish, cocktail sauce for dipping, a bit strange to be honest) and their house wurst and a roll which is a popular coffee house preparation and worth getting for something light whilst you’re in the city, it is on a lot of menus with an excellent roll, two types of mustard, and a generous bowl of fiery grated horseradish. To drink J tried their house coffee with apricot liqueur before moving onto their good house white wine (apricot is the flavour for things in Vienna) which he pronounced as delicious, but very rich and sweet, and I had both a glass of Austrian sparkling (I’m glad I tried it, but it was just fine) and their Kaiser Spritz which I can highly recommend: a day-drinkable blend of Austrian white wine, sparkling water and elderflower cordial, another common flavour. Austrian coffee houses to the spritz in an excellent way.
But, what we were really there for was the cake. Before leaving for Austria, everyone had told me that the Sachertorte was overrated, but I still felt like I had to try it; Cafe Central’s own torte takes that recipe and puts a layer of orange and marzipan in the middle… and it is the reason I never tried a slice of Sachertorte because it was a little dry and far too sweet. And coming from a kitchen our other cake came from, we decided it was the dessert’s format that was the issue, not Cafe Central itself. Because the Alternburgtorte (what they called it after a famous patron, and I still can’t figure out what the cake is so I can recreate it at home, if you can help please let me know!) was so incredibly good we were fighting over every bite: layers of white, milk and dark chocolate mousse between torte covered in chocolate shavings. Light, sweet, balanced and addictive. The best thing we ate all trip.
You can order cake to the table if you know what you want, but it is more common to go up and look at the cases for the days specials before ordering.
If you have your heart set on a trip to Cafe Central and you can plan ahead, you can book on their website. Otherwise, join the queue and hope that it does not rain! We only waited for 20 minutes, which my research before the trip told me was about average, though looking at busier times out the window and as we passed on other days I’d plan for about 30 minutes. However, you can simply skip the queue to get cakes to takeaway (which we did on our last night as we just needed another slice of that Altenburgtorte), and sometimes you might get luckily and get to queue jump if a table comes free that matches your party size – happily here, they will call this out to the queue in English after they’ve done it in German, and holding fingers up to help things along!
Gerstner Culinary is one I found on Instagram due to it’s stunning interiors, with different dining rooms set over several floors. Like Cafe Central you can make a reservation online, take cakes and chocolates away with you, or queue, and a positive to note on a rainy day is their queue is inside, and in the warm. If a table comes up suited for you there is also the chance of queue skipping – we were there about 10 minutes and halfway up the stairs before we nabbed a seat from the German-language call out (happily J speaks German quite well!)
We sat at the bar and had more Austrian white wine, an excellent Lillet Spritz, a slice of their house torte which was the same format to Alternburgtorte but with just two chocolates and some almond flavour, and what turned out to be the second best thing we ate in Austria and something I’m still thinking about: a slice of their Dobos Torte, a Hungarian speciality of layered, alcohol-soaked torte with a light chocolate buttercream, finished with a caramelised sugar lid. Dobos Torte is something I urge you to try in Vienna; Demel also had a great looking one in their case.
Walking into Demel, the Royal and Imperial confectioners in the shadow of the Hofburg palace you’re hit with a sweet, addictive wave of warmth, sugar and vanilla. A beautiful interior with several spacious upstairs lounges whilst I’ve heard their apple strudel is excellent we were there for breakfast because there was one thing I just had to sample: their Kaiserschmarrn that they make in the window, torn and caramelised Austrian pancakes – named for Kaiser Franz Joseph I who adored them – served with a beautifully spiced and tart plum compote. Light and etherial on the inside, whilst being caramalised and nutty with charred sugar on the outside, whilst very filling they’re a flavour I wish I could hold on to, and another must for your trip, as well as being a good breakfast option.
J also had one of their vanilla cream stuffed pancakes (a bit like a doughnut) the pastry chef was making just by the door when we entered (plum and apricot jam fillings were also available) but whilst the cream was delicious, he would not let me try the pancake doughnut itself because it was apparently a bit of a let down, and there was a fear that it would ruin my simply fantastic Kaiserschmarrn experience!
As with most of Vienna’s popular coffee houses, during peak times at Demel you’ll need to queue and you can’t book online, though warm portions of Kaiserschmarrn are available to take away, as are any of the cakes.
In Vienna we made our home at the fantastic Hotel Motto (which I’ve already reviewed here!) and whilst it is not worth specifically going out of your way to find, if you’re a guest at the hotel or you’re headed up the main shopping street it is worth stopping by for their Viennese-with-a-French-twist pastries, including their excellent vanilla cream and sour cherry compote number I snaffled down for breakfast twice on our trip.
Our first stop, before we realised how challenging to our different palettes eating exclusively at old fashioned Austrian taverns would be we had lunch at Gmoa Keller which is my pick for the full experience; a little out of the way from the main sightseeing hub (but only 15 minutes off the beaten track) it is one of the oldest taverns in the city, backed with traditional dishes cooked impeccably in an old fashioned dining room with a stunning cellar also if you go for dinner. It was an excellent sign as J pulled out and polished off his German securing us a table that I scanned the dining room to find it full of business men meeting for a Friday long lunch, families catching up and individuals stopping in for a quick plate of something before heading back to their working day.
We’d just arrived, and all my research told me the wienerschnitzel – one of my favourite dishes – was exceptional at Gmoa Keller (and the businessmen next to use were eating it), so it was a wienerschnitzel the size of my head I ordered, with a pork one of J. Honestly? It was fantastic spritzed with lemon and served with wild blueberry jam and with a fantastic Austrian-style potato salad made with generous chunks of potato and an impossibly rich, zingy dressing made with plenty of sweet mustard. A fantastic lunch and a brilliant experience, but it is very representative of the heaviness of Austrian dining out. We polished off the schnitzel but only managed about 1/4 of the potato.
Glacis Beisl is a slightly more modern offering of Viennese cuisine with a fantastic Austrian wine list from their partner vineyards (everything we tasted was excellent) and who take extreme care to use local suppliers – in the evenings, it is really worth booking a table which you can do online.
I had a decent salmon tartare to start, ut the real star was J’s cream of parsnip soup, which was one of the best we’d ever tasted. He adored his perfectly cooked rack of lamb with bacon wrapped green beans and a root vegetable gratin, and I was equally enamoured by my Polish pierogi filled with curd cheese, though after that lunch I only managed half the dish, coming as they did deliciously loaded up with butter, sour cream and chives.
Visiting in January, we ate in the glass-lined restaurant, but in the summer their terrace for dining out looks like a must visit.
Now, Lugeck came up in my research as great, but I discounted it as it appeared to be owned by Figlmüller, the tourist trap schnitzel restaurant around the corner which locals warn to avoid like the plague. However, it was a Sunday night, lots of places were closed, and we were at the point where we’d accept a table anywhere whose menu outside listed a side salad as a possibility. And do you know what? With a great atmosphere, brilliant Austrian beers on tap and wine by the glass we had a lovely meal.
J opted out of Austria and had the truffle burger which he pronounced as ‘fantastic’ – it surprised me how on board he was with his usually hated truffle in Austria – but if you’re a truffle lover you’ll realise this is because they use real black rather than white truffle oil everywhere, for a better, purer flavour.
I ordered two starters so I could try smaller, lighter versions of local dishes I’d been wanting to try. Beef tartare is everywhere in Vienna, and I was curious to try their version; it is different from the French in that their meat is usually minced rather than chopped before being mixed with the flavourings rendering it more like a paste – I absolutely loved it. I also really, really loved the beef and vegetable soup I’d been seeing everywhere (Lugeck’s had such a clean, pure yet unami flavour), served with a choice of shredded pancake or Austrian dumplings – I went for pancake which was the traditional and an excellent choice, but now I’ve also tried their dumplings, I’d recommend that when you get a choice on a menu instead.
We came across the Franziskanerplatz branch of Artner on our very first day, after the schnitzel lunch when J had already been keen to explore dining options away from the Austrian tavern. Snapping a picture I looked it up in the hotel, then promptly handed the iPad over to him as everything was in German, including the booking system I could not work out. I’m really glad he can speak German so we got to visit this gem; they do speak English there though, so it is worth walking in to book for a later time. They’re attached to a vineyard, and the wine they make is excellent, and the food is fantastic, a mix between a steakhouse and an Italian restaurant with traditionally Austrian notes running throughout the menu; it was the perfect last dinner for us on the trip.
Pictured above you’ll see my langoustine bisque pasta, so, so good; when it arrived I had no idea how I’d finish it because of the size, but I savoured every single bite. J’s steak was also apparently one of the best he’d ever had, the truffle fries excellent, and my foie gras starter with notes of coffee both delicious and unusual. Aperitif’s are popular in Viennese restaurants and I was over the moon to find a pitch perfect Garibaldi on the menu, and utterly charmed by the delicious addition of cut your own cress for the table designed to go with your bread and butter.
I’ve reviewed Chez Bernard, the top floor bar and restaurant above Hotel Motto in my hotel review, so do pop over there because the staff are lovely, the cocktails excellent, wine list extensive, and French food with a Viennese twist sublime; honestly our joint best dinner along with our final night experience at Artner.
Finally, not quite a restaurant but if you’re looking for a quick bite on the go and you fancy a wurst, the Bitzinger Würstelstands are the ones to look out for (they have light up signage and the one by the Opera House in the shadow of the Albertina has a big green bunny on the roof!) – their wurst were fantastic, so much better than the ones we had at Cafe Central, or at the zoo. Whilst you can stand at the stand for a tray of wurst sliced and doused in sauce and a glass of fizz, I recommend getting them in a wonderful French-style roll. Have either the classic wurst with plenty of mustard and ketchup, or their great currywurst, a spiced wurst with a meatier flavour which I think might have included beef as well as pork (it tasted a lot like a kosher vienna) with a sweet slightly sliced sauce. But take plenty of napkins and be careful; we lobbed the ends of ours in the bin once our sausages were gone as the bottoms turn into a bucket for hot, sticky sauces!
I think these are open pretty much most of the time; I found them in my pre-trip research but their site said they were closed for the winter season; imagine my surprise when we walked past for the first time and saw the queue!
If you’re after cocktails in the heart of things, Kleinod is an excellent cocktail bar with several locations, but one happily placed right around the corner from the cathedral. They do excellent cocktails (at London prices in case you were wondering – supermarkets, beer and tavern food is very cheap in Vienna, international restaurants and museum entries are not!) which are worth trying, but I actually recommend you order the classics from the QR code menu as our Singapore Sling and French 75 were impeccable. Also, that towering charcuterie board, olives, caper berries and breadsticks? Suprisingly and happily complimentary.
Whilst their traditional Austrian tavern food looked like you could do better elsewhere, Zwölf Apostelkeller is where you want to go for a drink. A hidden cellar underneath a 13th century building the atmosphere is pure Austria and it is a great place to rest your legs before dinner; wine is their speciality, but the local bottled pilsner is good too.
1516 is a great bar to go for beer drinking. With a bit of an American vibe, the packed out bar plays sports but still has a local feel, and it is where to go for great jugs of Austrian beer or simply a tankard full. Also, even if you are practicing your German the staff, mostly students, prefer to speak English and practice on us visitors!
Not stricktly a bar but a coffee house, I wanted to mention Cafe Tirolerhof as a very traditional, in the off season almost exclusively locals only old school coffee house we stumbled upon as it was the best non-cocktail bar we went for a drink. We struggled a bit to find places to drink beer, actually on the trip. Going for just a drink did not seem culturally the same as it does at home in Vienna; in Zwölf Apostelkeller and one other tavern we slipped into there was surprise we would not be eating, but we did not want the crowded atmosphere of 1516 more than once.
Cafe Tirolerhof was wonderfully relaxed with incredibly friendly staff in both English for me, and German for J. It was filled with tables of locals meeting each other for drink after work, and not just for a slice of coffee and cake, and it felt totally normal to be slipping in there for just a couple of pints (well half litres) before heading back to the hotel to change for dinner. Somewhere to visit for a relaxing chat without any expectations.
And there you have it! Everywhere excellent we ate and drank spending 6 days in Vienna; when you’re planning your trip, I hope this guide comes in helpful – and if you need any more advice or recommendations, feel free to reach out on Instagram!