The 4 Best Coffeehouses in Budapest

Like Vienna, Budapest enjoyed a thriving coffeehouse culture during the Austro Hungarian Empire — around the turn of the 20th century, more than 500 cafés swarmed across Budapest. Apart from low-priced caffeine, coffeehouses offered a home away from home to the city's fast-growing populace. These high-ceilinged spaces were central to social life: Many artists and journalists camped out for the whole day, even directing their mail to their favored café.

Most coffeehouses shuttered during the communist era (1947-1990). The few that have reopened since quickly became tourist attractions, especially the New York Cafe. But I do recommend that you visit them for a coffee, a cake, and a travel back in time. If you're also curious about the contemporary "coffeehouses" of Budapest, drop by some of the best specialty coffee shops, too.

#1 Café Gerbeaud

Gerbeaud is a historic pastry shop and café in Budapest's downtown inside a gleaming white building lavishly decorated with crystal chandeliers, marble-topped tables, and cherrywood paneling. It was Swiss-Hungarian patissier Emil Gerbeaud, who, after taking over the business in 1884, revolutionized the Hungarian confectionery industry with inventive sweets and pastries. Café Gerbeaud has always been known as a see-and-be-seen hangout for Budapest's upper crust. Even when it was nationalized during the communist era it maintained an air of splendor.

#2 New York Café

Budapest's New York Café is a glitzy historic coffeehouse on the ground floor of the New York Palace, a grand 1894 building that was once the local headquarters of the New York Life Insurance Company (and today home to a five-star hotel). The café's fame harkens back to the pre-war days, when renowned Hungarian journalists, artists, and entertainers spent raucous nights here fueled by cigarettes and alcohol. Countless stories of their debauchery have become part of Budapest’s collective memory.

#3 Central Cafe

Central Cafe is one of the few remaining coffeehouses dating back to Budapest’s golden era, before WWI. At the time, the city was swarming with cafés like Central that stayed open around the clock and attracted artists who've spent endless caffeine-fueled hours working and socializing under the sky-high ceilings. Today, one of Central's walls is blanketed in framed photos of prominent writers, poets, and editors who were once regulars.

#4 Gerlóczy Cafe

Gerlóczy is a snug café and restaurant tucked away on an unusually quiet pocket of Budapest's downtown. The charming plaza outside the restaurant, surrounded by elegant pre-war buildings, is one of the best kept secrets of this otherwise tourist-packed neighborhood. Gerlóczy's interior evokes French bistro vibes, complete with small round tables, leather banquettes, and a high ceiling. In the warm months, the outdoor terrace is especially enjoyable (whenever the local municipality isn't using this precious space for construction equipment storage).

Rankings are based on a combination of food/drink, atmosphere, service, and price. The author visits all restaurants incognito and pays for his own meals and drinks.