Full of Art Nouveau flourishes, and a coffee drinking culture that goes back centuries, the cafes in Budapest are a sight to behold
Is there anything more agreeable in the world than to while away the hours over a cup of rich, dark coffee and a deliciously-decadent pastry? Perhaps the only way to improve this scenario is to set your scene in one of the opulent grand cafes in Budapest. Full of picturesque architecture, Art Nouveau flourishes, and a coffee drinking culture that goes back centuries, the cafes in Budapest are a sight to behold. Called kávéházak here, these coffee houses are living vestiges of a past era: with their decadent décor, old world pastries, and artistic reputations, they offer plenty of palate-pleasing delights. Whether you go boho at Művész Kávéház, or opt for more refined surroundings at Ruszwurm, make like a 19th century local and seek solace away from the snow at one of these wonderful grand cafes in Budapest.
With chandeliers on the ceiling, gilded stucco on the walls and marble counters and floors, café-cum-confectioner Café Gerbeaud is definitely no Starbucks. In fact, having opened in 1858, it ranks among the oldest classic cafes in Budapest. There’s nowhere better to sit back with a decadent glass of Hungarian sparkling wine and cream-filled delicacy and pretend to be a Hapsburg monarch.
Mere sugar-addled steps from the Buda Castle, lovely Ruszwurm makes up in desserts what it lacks in space. Open since 1827, the interior’s carved wood and golden chandelier gives the diminutive space the aura of a very well appointed living room. The Dobos torte – a Hungarian caramel many-layered sponge cake – served here is rightly legendary so make sure you try a slice of this heavenly confectionary.
Grand Cafes in Budapest tend to wear their founding years as proud emblems and with 1887 emblazoned on its chest, elegant and old world Centrál Kávéház fares very well indeed as one of the city’s most popular kávéházak. Entering feels a bit like taking a step into another, more highly-gilded era – except that the complimentary newspapers by the door reference the EU rather than the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
But not every café in Budapest requires a 100-year-old history in order to count as suitably “grand.” One glimpse of Callas Café’s interior, designed by celebrated interior architect David Collins, and you’re bound to respond with superlatives. The Art Deco chandeliers, marble patterned floors, and gilded arches have a way of inspiring such a reaction – as does the Szatmári plum cake.
Its name (Művész Kávéház means Artist Coffeehouse) is no subtle nod to this grand café’s bohemian credentials, and it’s true that, having been open since 1898, this café has seen a fair few artistic types pass through its doors. Just steps from the Hungarian State Opera House, Művész Kávéház today draws operagoers with the siren call of its many cakes.
Though shut for a lengthy period after the end of World War II, Hadik Kávéház has thankfully been restored and reopened since. One of the grand cafes in Budapest most frequented by the city’s artists and intellectuals, this kávéházak now boasts meta murals of creative tête-à-têtes of yore. Admire its past with a custardy dessert in front of you.
Perhaps more patisserie than café, the august Auguszt is nevertheless an old world icon – it was opened in 1870, after all. Those wondering what to do in Budapest need only look to the desserts: underneath a sprawling crystal chandelier, a glass counter displays jewel-like sweets varyingly glazed with fruit, stuffed with custard, or powdered with icing sugar.
Where better to house a café than within a bookshop? After all, if it’s snow flurries you’re hiding from and powerful coffee you seek, some accompanying (and edifying) entertainment is advised. Of course, keeping your eyes on the pages may prove difficult – with Alexandra Book Café’s soaring, golden, fresco-covered ceiling, you may just find yourself gawping skywards.
With stuccoed ceilings, globe lights, chandeliers, and curio-filled antique cabinets, Múzeum Café and Restaurant (just next door to the Hungarian National Museum – surprise, surprise) has been in operation since 1885. Don’t just stick to the sweets, though: at this cafe the entire menu is equally appetising.
Ice cream, cakes, chocolates, and marzipan. If that isn’t reason enough to settle into one of the marble-topped tables at this confectionary-themed coffeehouse, know that, for guests staying at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, Szamos Marcipan Royal Café is located just downstairs. Make sure to sample their decadent Royal Cake, a delicious chocolate and raspberry temptation inspired by famous Jazz star Josephine Baker and her performance at the hotel’s Orpheum Club in 1928.