The Habsburg’s capital city adopted a range of delights from the imperial regions and vanquished enemies, then threw in its own creations to produce what we know as traditional Viennese food and beverages.
So, if you want to go native, what should you eat and drink in Vienna?
- See also: Authentic experiences
You might have heard of Wiener Schnitzel pork cutlets, which are the bread and butter of the Viennese meat-eating diet. But traditional local fare also includes many other delights. For example:
- Tafelspitz – a boiled beef dish and a favourite of Emperor Franz Joseph
- Knödel – various dumpling-like items you find in your soup or as a side with hearty meat dishes
- The ubiquitous sausages – sold at booths around the town and at any sporting event. The queen of the sausages is the Käsekrainer
(The Viennese have invented a whole new vocabulary to go with sausage eating. A word of warning, though: the words involve rather graphic metaphors for these staples of the local diet.)
For more suggestions, try my guide to Viennese main courses, which covers such wonders as Krautfleckerln and Zwiebelrostbraten. And, if we’re talking breakfast, then you need to know about Austrian bread.
Finally, if meat’s not your thing, here some tips on vegetarian Vienna.
Traditional Viennese food tends to focus on the final moments of the meal: the desserts. For example, try Kaiserschmarrn – shredded pancake with plum compote (another favourite of Franz Joseph). Or sweet dumplings like Marillenknödel.
For more alternatives, take a peek at my guide to Viennese pastries and desserts.
Cakes form the bedrock of these desserts (and coffee breaks. And breakfast. And all cultural life, frankly). Here’s a handy guide to cakes in Vienna. Three of the more local creations include:
- The Sachertorte – the legendary chocolate cake invented at the house of Prince Metternich
- The Gugelhupf – a marbled cake with a distinctive ring-shape. Yet another dish associated with the Kaiser
- The Imperial Torte – another chocolate cake and another connection to Franz Joseph, whose visit to the opening of a hotel prompted the cake’s creation
(A Leberkäse roll)
People born in Vienna arrive in the world with a sweet tooth. Which is one reason for the ongoing popularity of Manner Schnitten – a wafer
For something a little different, consider:
- Langos – a huge fried disc of potato dough. Often consumed in vast quantities at just about any organised outdoor event, along with sausages.
- Leberkäse – a meatloaf-like substance usually eaten hot in a roll. Like many Viennese “delicacies”, it tastes better than it sounds.
If Vienna had a middle name, it would be coffee (and cake). The city brims with coffee houses serving a variety of coffee specialties.
An hour or two spent in one of the more historical establishments is perhaps the most iconic and authentic Viennese experience you can have. But if you find yourself staring at the menu and wondering what a Kleiner Brauner could possibly be, then you need a Vienna coffee glossary.
Your coffee traditionally comes with a glass of water. This is often simple tap water rather than mineral water (because the stuff that comes out of the taps is quite likely to actually be mineral water).
Oh, yes. Wine.
Thanks to some geological luck associated with the Danube river and hill formations, Vienna supports a significant local wine industry with vineyards and a centuries-old tradition of wine making.
The city even has its own state-owned winery, which you can visit on its open day.
And when not drinking coffee or water (or wine), your average Austrian is perhaps consuming large quantities of beer. Only the Czechs drink more. The local brewery is Ottakringer, whose industrial premises also host a lot of events (including a beer festival).
BTW, this is how you say cheers.
Christmas food and drink
Learn all about traditional Christmas meals and food on the main Christmas in Vienna page. But the longest queues at the Christmas markets surround the stands selling Christmas punch in infinite varieties, which you might accompany with roast chestnuts.
And visit any Viennese home during the advent period and you won’t escape without first consuming an array of Lebkuchen (a little like gingerbread), Stollen (a kind of dried fruit bread loaf), home-baked Christmas biscuits and/or Spekulatius biscuits.
Festivals of food and drink
Finally, if you’d like to take a deeper dive into specialist Austrian cuisine, try these festivals that usually return each year to Vienna (though COVID has played havoc with schedules):
Selected combined festivals
- Gourmet festival (all of Austria’s provinces gather in the Stadtpark to celebrate their food and drink)
- Styrian Spring (promoting the food, drink, and culture of the province of Steiermark)
- Burgenland Kultinarium (another province drops into Vienna to showcase its wines, beers, and regional produce, all accompanied by live music)
- Waldviertelpur (food and drink from the lowland Waldviertel region, known particularly for its poppy seed breads and pastries)
- Harvest festival (when the farming community visits Vienna to celebrate its wares)
- Bread Festival (the clue is in the title)
- European Street Food festival (dozens of food trucks serve both Austrian and international cuisine)
Selected drink festivals
- Vienna Coffee Festival (pays homage to the the city’s favourite beverage)
- Craft Beer Festival (twice-yearly event that reflects the growth of microbreweries and the craft beer movement)
- Ottakringer Bierfest (Vienna’s main brewery opens up to guest beers, too. Music and food also available)
- Vienna Beer Festival (the Am Hof square fills with Austrian breweries large and small offering their wares)
- VieVinum (international wine festival held in the Hofburg congress centre)
- Liquid Market Cocktail Festival (a tribute to the bartender’s art)
- Vienna Rum & Gin Festivals (held jointly across the premises of Ottakringer brewery)