Our author loves cafes – not only because she is a coffee aficionado but also because they reveal the social fabric of a place. In cafés, the working day is suspended long enough to allow the trading of gossip or an argument about politics over a cup of coffee. For travelers, these places are a respite from overly ambitious itineraries and portals into a place’s culture, especially for those who dare to follow the caffeine trail down alleys and streets away from the usual tourist haunts.
This guide showcases places around Eastern Europe.
Just a street over from the heart of the city – narrow cobblestone paths lined with artisan shops, restaurants and cafés – is the small Buregdzinica Orijent (Marsala Tita 136B, 063-980-803). You won’t find many tourists here, but rather older Bosnian men leafing through their morning newspapers. The atmosphere of the place is welcoming and the coffee – served on the brass tray – is both delicious and cheap, just like locals like it (only 1KM or 65 cents). Best of all, the café sells traditional Bosnian pies, where a special baking method is used to trap the flavor in the thin, home-made crust. The seasonal pumpkin pie, tykvenyacha is absolutely spectacular, and at just 2.5KM ($1.65), a must-have. One note: unlike American pumpkin pie that is eaten as a dessert, Bosnian pumpkin pie is a meal.
Coffee drinking in Bosnia is a ritual, a legacy of the 500 year rule of the Ottoman Empire over the region. In both Sarajevo and Mostar, you will find many places that offer traditional Bosnian coffee (Bosanska kafa), usually served in a brass pot (dzezva) with a small ceramic cup (fildzan) from which to drink it. It is a dark and rich demitasse, sweetened by a cube of sugar or followed by a rahat lokum treat. You will find many cafes in Sarajevo’s Bascarsija (Old Town) and in the center of Mostar.
Decked out in all the glamour of 1001 Arabian nights, Café Baghdad (Bazerdzani 6, Bascarsija (Old Town)) is, according to the locals, the place to see and be seen. The coffee is below average, but the décor compensates for it. Instead order tea and a fruit-flavored hookah (10KM or $6.60 for a small). In the late evening hours the café becomes a popular hangout, its menu brimming with coffee-inspired alcohol concoctions. We dare anyone to try the Peanut Coffee (Kahlua, cream, vanilla ice cream, sprite and peanut butter, 8KM; $5.80). Open from 10am until dok ima raje (‘til the crowds go home)
Dubrovnik has only recently made it to the top of lists of great travel destinations. The city, enclosed by ancient walls, is filled with cafes: a morning walk along the main street, Stradun, will introduce you to many. Plenty also lie hidden in the narrow streets that lead from the city center, and all have a certain fairytale charm. But if you want a truly unique experience, it may be worth it to invest in the most expensive coffee of your life on the island of Lokrum.
Just a short ten minute boat ride from Dubrovnik (round-trip is 40KN, about $7), the island of Lokrum is a nature reserve home to a botanical garden, a beautiful lake, marvelous beaches (unrivaled by any of the ones that surround the city) and plenty of peacocks that stroll freely through its woods. Though just ten minutes from Dubrovnik, Lokrum feels light years away and may just be what you need after a few days of elbowing your way through the crowded city streets.
Just off the boat, near the shore is Lokruma, a place with live music, friendly waiters and a lovely atmosphere. Cappuccino at 15KN ($2.60) is not a splurge, but that doesn’t include the boat ride. The café offers light but hardly exciting fare. Pack for a day-trip as you will want to explore the whole island, and take a dip in the crystal clear sea.
Boat hours: Every half hour from 8am to 8pm during high season (May-October). Last boat leaves Lokrum at 8pm.
Schwarzes Café (Kantstraße 148, website) is an eclectic café seemingly known to every traveler and hipster traversing Berlin. The sprawling space takes up multiple floors and has an outdoor garden in the back. The food is cheap and surprisingly good considering the shabby chic surroundings. Better yet, the café is open 24 hours a day, every day meaning you can hit it before or after partaking in Berlin’s late-night party scene.
Café de Athens (Corner of Panepistimiou and Voukourestiou), is a large café and restaurant on the ground floor of the Attica department store building. Extremely busy, expect a wait to be seated – unless you want the non-smoking section, which is generally desolate and not as nice as the main room. Try the Greek coffee with cardamom, the frappés and selection of excellent pastries.
There seems as many cafes in the picturesque city of Ljubljana as there are Slovenes. People linger at the tables in these kavarnas, drinking coffee and discussing modern life in this relatively young country. Try one of the spots in the old town such as Bar Café Antico (Stari Trig 17), which is very antico indeed. Like most cafes in Ljubljana, the café serves all manner of coffee, cocktails, beer and food. Tables are set on the street outside or inside the X room. One note, the restroom is outside and down the hall – you’ll need a key from the staff to access it.
A. Blikle (ul. Nowy Swiat 33, website (Polish only)) was established in 1869 and somehow managed to survive the country’s partition, wars and Communism. Located on Warsaw’s most prestigious street, the original Blikle Kawiarnie (café) is where Varsovians go for traditional Polish pastries. Try the poppy seed cake or the paczek, the Polish version of a donut. Next door is a cukiernia or pastry shop to take away cakes and pastries, as well as a delikatesy (delicatessen). The café is open daily from 10am to 10pm. You will also see other A. Blikle shops around the city, but the original is still the best.
To read our guide to the cafes of Western Europe, click here.