6 Historic Coffeehouses in Budapest

Similar to Vienna, Budapest enjoyed a thriving coffeehouse culture during Austria-Hungary – 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 establishments were also central to social life: Many artists and journalists camped out for the whole day, even directing their mail to their favored café. Most coffeehouses have long since disappeared but a few are still around (or have reopened), drawing a tourist-heavy crowd. If you're curious about a contemporary "coffeehouse," drop by some of the specialty coffee shops too.

#1 Café Gerbeaud

Gerbeaud is a historic pastry shop and café in Budapest's downtown. 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.

Today, still, Gerbeaud puts out some of the best traditional Austro-Hungarian pastries, including Dobos, Esterházy, and Sacher tortes, krémes, and the namesake Gerbeaud cake. You can also try two of their signature treats: konyakmeggy, a brandied sour cherry bonbon enclosed by a chocolate shell, and macskanyelv, a milk chocolate shaped like a cat’s tongue.

The inside is lavishly decorated with crystal chandeliers, marble-topped tables, and cherrywood paneling. Gerbeaud was the see-and-be-seen hangout for Budapest's upper crust; it maintained an air of splendor even in the Communist era (1947-1989), under national ownership and a less Western-sounding name (Vörösmarty Cukrászda).

Today, Gerbeaud is mainly a tourist attraction, but I recommend you stop by for the pastries and a glimpse of the city's now-vanished coffeehouse culture. Part of the experience is basking in the historic glow of the space, but note that all to-go orders are half-priced.

#2 New York Café

Budapest's New York Café is an opulent coffeehouse on the ground floor of the New York Palace, a grand 1894 building and today home to the five-star Anantara Hotel. The café's fame harks back to the pre-war days, when renowned Hungarian journalists, artists, and entertainers spent unruly nights here fueled by cigarettes and alcohol. Countless stories of their debauchery have become part of Budapest’s collective memory.

The space itself has had its ups and downs during the Communist era, in the 1950s, a sports retail store sold sneakers beneath the frescoed ceilings. It is thanks to a 2006 gut-renovation that the New York Café has regained its former glow: Marble columns, bronze statues, and stuccoed angels burst once again from the completely unbridled Baroque Revival interior.

Today, the New York Café is a major tourist attraction, with a perennial line outside it. Prices aren't exactly wallet-friendly for the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and pastry offerings on the menu (a cappuccino runs €10 including the mandatory service charge). Every day, a live band performs cabaret music between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Despite the engineered experience, you may still want to visit to glimpse the most extreme case of Budapest's coffeehouse culture.

#3 Central Cafe

Central 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 such as Central that stayed open around the clock and people 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.

The elegant space complete with mahogany wall paneling and red leather banquettes didn’t escape Budapest’s tragic post-war history, but in 2000, Central was restored to its former glory, preserving an essential slice of the city's cultural history. The place wears many hats these days, being a pricey café, a bar, and a restaurant all at once. Most people come here for breakfast, coffee, or cakes, and also to people-watch from the outdoor tables. The pastries are among the best in Budapest.

#4 Café Astoria

Budapest’s oldest hotel, the Astoria (1914), has been a close witness of history: the short-lived first Hungarian Republic was proclaimed from its balcony in 1918; the Gestapo headquartered here during the occupation by Nazi Germany in 1944-1945; the Revolution of 1956 nearly knocked down the building. Thou glorious 20th century.

There's a grand coffeehouse on the hotel's ground floor with public access. The owners haven't spent any money on maintaining the premises, so an emphatic pallor sits over the lavish and gilded surroundings. In our age of all things sleek and polished, perhaps not such a bad thing.

So many details to take in! The Borromini-esque ceiling stuccoes. The Baroque mirror frames. The giant windows that snake around the block (a pity they overlook a five-lane highway – or is it six? – instead of the people-filled promenade Kossuth Lajos utca once was). The longtime waiters and their adorably uncommercial attitudes. It's a miracle that Cafe Astoria hasn't yet morphed into a squeaky clean cash-cow aimed at tourists – enjoy while you can.

#5 Gerlóczy Cafe

Gerlóczy is a snug café and restaurant tucked away in an unusually quiet pocket of Budapest's downtown. The charming square outside the restaurant, ringed by elegant pre-war buildings, is a well-kept secret of this otherwise tourist-heavy neighborhood. With small round tables and leather banquettes, Gerlóczy's soaring interior evokes French bistro vibes. In the warm months, the outdoor terrace is especially enjoyable.

The breakfast menu includes reliable pan-European staples such as a pair of frankfurters with a side of mustard and various omelets. Be sure to also order a bread basket with warm and crusty slices. The dinner menu is a hodgepodge of dishes spanning chicken paprikash, seafood pasta, and pricey steaks. If you like the atmosphere, note that Gerlóczy operates a boutique hotel on the upstairs levels.

#6 Három Holló

Budapest has excellent specialty coffee shops but its historical coffeehouses have vanished or become pricey tourist attractions to which locals rarely go. But I’m here to report that Három Holló, which opened in 2017, has started to fill this gaping void and so appeared marble-topped tables, Thonet chairs, multilingual papers and magazines under the soaring ceiling. It didn’t hurt that the cafe’s enormous windows overlook downtown’s Elizabeth Bridge, the Gellért Hill, and the neighboring Gothic cathedral.

Today, Három Holló is a lively hub for culturally minded locals of all ages. The affordable menu features pretzels, toasted sandwiches, Frankfurters, vegetarian lunch specials, and Kaiserschmarrn shredded pancakes. Every evening, there’s a music concert or a book event in the below-ground auditorium. As all self-respecting coffeehouses in days of yore, Három Holló is open until midnight every day of the week.