Once favourite haunts of aristocrats, writers, poets and louche libertines, many of Europe’s coffee houses have a colourful history. Where better to sample of a slice of Europe’s bygone past than one of the beautifully preserved historic cafes? From fancy Art Deco to one of Amsterdam’s oldest brown cafes here are 15 of the best historic cafes in Europe…
La Closerie des Lilas, Paris – best for literary history
La Closerie des Lilas is the perfect place to visit on Paris weekend breaks. A former philosopher’s favourite, the cafe is known for its rich history of hosting such heroes of literature and art as Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Apollinaire, Cézanne and Picasso. Every Tuesday night great thinkers, artists and poets would pile into La Closerie and mull over the latest theories, sharing their work and their ideas. Fans of Hemingway will most certainly want to visit the lush secluded terrace where the great author spent endless hours scribbling out his work. Hemingway lived a mere stone’s throw from the café and his favourite place at the glistening mahogany bar is marked with a well-polished brass plaque bearing his name.
- La Closerie des Lilas 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse 75006 Paris, France
Café New York, Budapest – best for most beautiful
Café New York, Budapest is often mentioned as one of the most beautiful cafes in Europe – if not the world – and if you happen to vist you’ll probably agree. Renowned for being the place to meet for early 20th century artists, today it’s also a restaurant offering both traditional and Italian dishes to locals and tourists alike. The décor is suitably lavish with elaborate and decorative traditional pieces combined with more contemporary elements. Grab yourself a seat at one of the mirrored tables you may be lucky enough to experience a short performance from the local actors who frequently tread the boards at this popular café.
- Cafe New York 1073 Budapest, Erzsebet korut 9-11, Hungary
Café Central, Vienna – best for classical music
With its marble pillars, a glistening array of chandeliers and sweeping ceilings Café Central in Vienna is a fabulous example of early 19th century architecture. Nestled within a grand expanse of a historic palace it has long been associated with intellectuals since its opening in 1876. Most European cafés have used the idea of a Viennese café as a template, and the Café Central is probably the most superb example of them all. If refined elegance stirs you then you must visit this beautiful place, afternoons are particularly pleasant as they offer live classical music recitals. As you can imagine the acoustics are incredible.
- Cafe Central Herrengasse / Strauchgasse, 1010 Vienna, Austria
Majestic Café, Porto – best for Art Noveau
Fans of Art Nouveau will adore the glorious Majestic Café, Porto which exhibit’s a stunning façade, exquisite interiors and a delightful winter garden. Famed for its Belle Epoque atmosphere it is perhaps one of the most photographed and aesthetically pleasing cafés in the world, let alone in Europe. The architecture was executed by the exceptional Joao Queiroz. As well as the beautiful surroundings the café boasts a rich calendar of cultural activities throughout the year.
- Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Oporto, Portugal
Cafe Chris, Amsterdam – best for interesting locals
Amsterdam is famous for its ‘Brown cafes’ so called for their dark but cosy wooden interiors and the nicotine-stained walls and ceilings. Cafe Chris – established in 1624 – is said to be the oldest “Brown Cafe” in the city. A truly historic landmark located in the attractive Jordaan area, people come for the genuinely old interiors and probably also to meet a handful of colourful local personalities.
- Bloemstraat 42, 1016 LC Amsterdam, Netherlands
Caffe Torino, Turin – best for glamorous past
Turin is actually the first place in Europe where coffee fever first took hold and the Italian city is still home to a thriving cafe culture. Another café that can claim a Belle Epoque atmosphere is the attractive Caffe Torino, Turin first opened in 1903. Clustured amongst the other coffee houses on Piazza San Carlo, Caffe Torino certainly stands out with its rich velvet furnishings, expanses of wood and homely fireplaces. The café has welcomed a whole host of famous names including Ava Gardner, Alcide De Gaspari and pianist Ludovico Einaudi. Boasting a heated terrace since the 1950s, it also has a refined restaurant which adds to its charm.
- Piazza San Carlo, 204, 10121 Turin, Italy
The Antico Caffe Greco, Rome – oldest cafe in Rome
Anyone who has visited Rome knows it’s filled with many excellent cafes, but the one that really stands out is The Antico Caffe Greco. It is the second oldest café in Italy, and the oldest bar and café in the whole of Rome. Since opening its doors on Via dei Condotti in 1760 it has hosted such historical figures as Stendhal, Goethe, Byron, Franz Liszt, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, Keats, Wagner, David Reynolds, Felix Mendelssohn, Maria Zambrano, Levi and Casanova. More contemporary visitors include artists, politicians and writers.
- Via Condotti 86 | Piazza di Spagna, Rome, Italy
Ultieme Hallucinatie, Brussels – best for stained glass decor
Formerly a popular historic cafe, then closed and fully restored ‘The Ultimate Hallucination” is housed in a mansion built in the second quarter of the 19th century. With an elegant neo-classical style filled with beautiful stained glass the restaurant consists of three parts. The front has Art Nouveau Empire style, the middle section refers to the Art Nouveau style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the dining room of yesteryear has a distinctive French Art Nouveau flavour. A truly unique place to dine or grab a coffee.
- Koninsstraat 316, Brussels, Belgium
Café Slavia, Prague – best for understated
Café Slavia, Prague is handily situated near to such beloved landmarks as Charles Bridge, Castle Hill and the National Theatre. Since its opening towards the end of the 19th Century it has hosted a number of dissidents, artists and writers. Even Vaclav Havel enjoyed a coffee here prior to his engagement as president of the Czech Republic and supposedly, this is where Apollinaire used to sup absinthe. Today it’s a more sedate example of Art Deco nostalgia, although it still maintains a nationalist aura.
- Smetanovo nábřeží 1, 110 00 Prague, Czech Republic
Jama Michalika, Krakow – best for quirky decor
One of the quirkiest cafés in Europe has to be Jama Michalika, Krakow. The walls are adorned with caricatures of the great cabaret artists, actors and writers who have visited this favourite bohemian haunt. With its secret backroom hideout, delicious bigos stew and the tradition of enjoying lashings of absinthe, European historic cafes don’t come any more interesting.
- Floriańska 45, Kraków, Poland
Caffe Florian, Venice – oldest cafe in Italy
Caffe Florian in Venice – first opened in 1720 – is considered to be the oldest café in Italy, if not the world. Famous patrons of the two-room café include Goethe and the legendary lothario Casanova. Today Caffe Florian has huge displays of diverse artwork that grace the walls, ranging from comic strips to classical oil paintings. Hosting the world-renowned La Bienniale de Venezia art festival, this café is the perfect place to indulge in some Italian culture as well as enjoying some of the finest coffee in Europe.
The Italians are famed for their coffee, so there really is no better place to grab an authentic espresso or macchiato. According to a recent food map created by Explore on the origins of traditional foods, coffee was only introduced to Europe from Ethiopia and North Africa during the sixteenth century, to become a staple of Italian culture and cuisine. The Italians then adapted coffee to be drank in all manner of variations, such as with steamed or frothed milk, cocoa powder or the occasional shot of liqueur. Coffee then made its way overseas to South America in 1727, but nothing quite beats a coffee served in one of Italy’s most legendary cafés.
- Piazza San Marco, 56, 30124 Venice, Italy
Café de l’Opera, Barcelona – best for Opera fans
Fans of Art Nouveau will probably enjoy this cafe the most. Idyllically located just across from the opera house amidst the bustling hub of Las Ramblas, it is the perfect place to absorb the buzz of the city as well as look out for familiar faces and meet new friends. It has welcomed opera goers and performers for over a century.
- La Rambla, 74, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
A Brasileira, Lisbon – best for old school elegance
Lisbon is also known for its fine collection of historic cafes. One of many people’s favourites is the ‘The Brazilian Cafe’ – one of the oldest and most famous cafes in the city’s old quarter. Tourists flock to the place drawn by its early original early 20th-century facade, old carved wood and burnished metal decor and glinting bottles behind the bar. Service may not be the quickest but at least it’ll give you a chance to people watch in gorgeous surroundings.
- Rua Garrett 120, 1200 Lisbon, Portugal
Cafe Buchwald, Berlin – best for sweet tooth’s
Many traditional cafes in Berlin specialise in baking but this cafe has to be one of the oldest. The house specialty is the cake, a tradition first started by confectioner to the Royals, Gustav Buchenwaldmade. Opened in 1900, decor still lingers in a bygone era with kitschy wallpaper, floral curtains and simple furniture will give you an authentic feeling of sitting in old-fashioned parlour.
- Bartningallee 29, 10557 Berlin, Germany
Cafe Odeon, Zurich – best for famous past
One of Zurich’s most famous cafe, this fancy Art Deco establishment -opened in 1910 – was a favourite haunt of a number of writers, painters and musicians. Albert Einstein, James Joyce, Lenin and Picasso are just a handful of its former famous visitors – giving it a reputation as a meeting point for intellectuals and high society. Today it draws a crowd aching for a bit of Europe’s old school elegance with high ceilings, brasserie fittings and formally dressed waitresses.
- Limmatquai 2, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland