The Most Beautiful Cafés in Budapest
Budapest has some of the most beautiful, opulent coffee houses we’ve seen anywhere. The reason for that was a thriving coffee culture that started around 1910 and continued until the 1930’s. Cafés were where writers, poets and artists would meet. During this period there were about 500 scattered around the city. That ended during World War II when many were destroyed. In the Communist period that came after, coffee houses were shut down as they were considered meeting places for subversives. The end of communism in 1989 meant the slow re-emergence of Budapest’s coffee culture. While you may have a hard time finding a great cup of coffee (we were surprised by how much bad coffee we were served in Hungary) you’ll find many beautiful coffee houses. And the good thing about all the places that I’m about to list is that we had good coffee in each one 😉 .
The Alexandra Bookstore Café.
This café has a fascinating history. Built in 1884 on beautiful Andrassy Boulevard (Budapest’s most prestigious street) it was first a casino, then a department store. It fell into disrepair during Communist rule and it wasn’t until a French real estate group bought it in 2005 that it was restored and renovated. In 2010 the building was reopened and rented by the Alexandra Bookstore. Today it serves as their café (more on it’s history here).
I’ll say it right off the top: this is our favorite café in Budapest. It is absolutely stunning, really comfortable (nice leather chairs),and reasonably priced. Actually it may be the least expensive café on this list.
This coffee house is one of the most famous in all of Europe. The café was established in 1858 and in 1884 sold to Swiss confectioner Emile Gerbeaud. He expanded the café and decorated it with marble, bronze, fine wood as well as crystal chandeliers. Today the beautiful building, situated on one of Budapest’s most famous squares (Vörösmarty Square), houses a restaurant, a bistro, as well as a confectionary (café).
Everyone had told us that Gerbeaud is an essential Budapest experience. I’ll be honest; it didn’t bowl us over. The café itself is no that big (most of the building houses the Bistro and Onyx Restaurant) and the furnishings not as lavish as we would see elsewhere. It is beautiful, but also both very touristy and over-priced. The building from the outside however is arresting, the most beautiful building on the square.
This café was established in 1887 and was one of the most popular coffee houses for artists and writers. In 1949, during the Communist period, it was closed down and was turned into a diner for construction workers. In the 1960’s it became a club for ELTE University (situated next door) and in the 1990’s an amusement arcade. In 1999 it once again became a coffee house and has been restored to its former glory.
Different in style than the other cafés on this list, Cafe Central is described as a ‘Vienna-style coffee house’. For us it evokes “Mad Men” times, you can imagine Don Draper here drinking shots of scotch while chain-smoking. A beautiful café with reasonable prices and situated on one of our favorite squares (Ferenciek tere) looking across at the ELTE library.
New York Café
Along with Gerbeaud, this café is cited as a ‘must see’ coffee house. The café is part of a 4 story building that was built by the New York Life Insurance Company in Italian renaissance style. The café was built on the ground floor and was the most exclusive of Budapest coffee house . It was also a favorite among Hungarian writers. World War II and Communism left the building in ruins until Italian hotel chain Boscolo Hotels bought the building and restored it (to the cost of 80 million Euro) into a 5 star hotel that opened in 2007.
Touristy and expensive – but incredibly impressive. And although it cost us the equivalent of $40 US for 2 cakes and 2 coffees, everything was top notch.
After Gerbeaud, Auguszt is the 2nd oldest confectionery in Budapest (it has 3 outlets in Budapest but the one near Astoria metro dates back to 1870). Highlights include a huge crystal chandelier and a large courtyard in the back. Auguszt also serves the ‘cake of the year’ chosen every year on St. Stephen’s Day (August 20th).
We came here about a week after St Stephen’s Day to taste the cake of the year (detailed on this post). Auguszt is not as impressive as some of the other cafés on this list – but what you get is friendly service, few tourists, and very good cake and coffee.
Note: Budapest is one of the few places I know where you can take a Café Tour. It covers most of the cafes above plus a few more.
Our Top 3? If you have limited time, visit the Alexandria Book Store Café and the New York Café. If you have a a bit more time, also include Café Central.
What’s you favorite Budapest Café?
Related: The Perfect Day in Budapest
Related: We Spent 2 months in Budapest. Here is what to See and Do (and what to Skip).
Related: The Coolest Ruin bars in Budapest
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We were in Budapest two weeks ago (March 2019) and had afternoon tea in New York Cafe. Yes, it is expensive (cost us about 180 Euros for 4 people, but the food, not to mention the palatial decor was top notch). That said, how often do you get live performance by world class pianist playing over your head while sipping coffee and admiring the ceiling paintings? The one complain, however, is the coffee was served at 1/2 cup (can’t they at least fill it to 80% full) and NO free refills. LOL.
Thanks Greg. Yes, totally agree. Top notch…but really expensive.
I visited eastern Europe at the end of last month, and I really enjoyed reading your blog as part of my preparations. Thank you for writing it! I am just now going through my receipts, and I had to come back to this post to comment. The Alexandra Bookstore Cafe is now closed, sad to say. (Maybe it is just undergoing improvements?) So we went to the New York Cafe, and although it was beautiful, the service was pretty terrible, the cakes were in the range of mediocre to very good, and the pricing was outrageous, in my opinion. 55 USD for a desert sampler with two cappuccinos, which made it the most expensive “meal” we had during our entire vacation. This included an additional surprise fee for using a credit card.
I would recommend trying to enter through the Boscolo Hotel entrance, snapping a few pictures, and then going somewhere else for coffee!
Thanks for the comment Naomi.
That’s a real shame about the Alexandra Bookstore Cafe! I hope it’s only temporary.
New York Cafe – yes it’s expensive. Our desserts were excellent but expensive, just a 1 time splurge. We had 2 deserts and 2 cappuccinos and ended up around 45 US, pretty vulgar in Budapest. I agree with your recommendation but I think the staff is on to that…curious how long they’ll give you until you get accosted out by a couple of big security guards 🙂
Definitely agree on the Alexandra Bookstore Cafe. We really enjoyed it. But I’m kicking myself on the New York Cafe. We stayed a block away for a week, even taking photos of those gargoyles outside of it, but never poked our head in there. Next time!
New York cafe actually had the best cake and coffee and it is beautiful – but very pricey!
I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I would love to see the inside of these buildings as I enjoyed a slice of cake. Although I better save up some more money – that is very pricey 🙁
Sand In My Suitcase
Wow! These cafes are a far cry from the Starbucks places around us in North America (sorry Starbucks!). George loves to read the newspapers in coffee shops – these cafes in Budapest would be reason alone to get him to go and visit :-).
Sounds nice Janice! He’d have a good time (until presented with a bill of $50 for a couple of coffees and cake 🙂 )
I seriously had no idea! Way to make general caffeine consumption go through the roof! How bloody amazing are these?
Nice, right? Thanks Andy
Natascha from Westwards
After reading your posts about ruin bars and cafes in Budapest I really feel like visiting this beautiful city again. There is a convenient overnight train from Berlin – I think I have to look for discount fares…:-).
Thanks Natascha! I remember you mentioning that you weren’t that crazy about Budapest. It took us a while to enjoy it, you have to look deeper in Budapest than in other cities like, for example, Prague. But once you spend a bit of time there it really starts to get under your skin.
The Alexandra is the most beautiful coffee house we have ever been to! It is stunning. That whole Andrassy street is so cool!!!! I am positive at some point, we will return..cos you know, l like visiting favorite places and don’t care to count countries. Nice write up ..need to visit the other places mentioned too, they all look so lovely.
Did you have a chance to see the New York cafe Kemkem? I think its really between those two, but we just liked the Alexandra more because it didn’t have those airs that New York cafe does…just feels like an ordinary cafe except really gorgeous.
No we did not. It would have been nice. We were just walking down Andrassy when we spotted the Alexandra. I would be happy being locked in there for a while. It is just so pretty ,,,but l want to see all the rest..
Frank and Spanky, you are doing us a big favor, we (wife, daughter and I) are leaving this Friday October 9 to Vienna, Prague, Budapest and Venice(this one we have been there before the other 3 cities is the first time) and your mails from Prague an lately form Budapest are giving us a lot of wonderful tips of places to visit, thank you so much, this one of the Budapest’s coffee houses is beautiful, I think we will visit all of them, I will keep you informed of our experience.
Great to hear Carlos! Look forward to hear what you think of them 🙂