El Fishawy Coffee Shop
Photograph by David Silverman, Getty Images
Cairo, Egypt—For more than two centuries, this smoky, mirrored café has been an inviting respite within the labyrinthine tangle of the 14th-century Khan el Khalili bazaar. Beneath checkered archways and tin lamps, wobbly brass-topped tables teeter under the traffic of steaming glasses of mint tea, dark coffee, and apricot-flavored shisha tobacco from hookah pipes. In this hazy atmosphere, Nobel Prize–winning Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz sipped his way to inspiration.
Photograph by Eddie Gerald, laif/Redux
Budapest, Hungary—This elegant escape from Budapest’s bustle has hummed along since 1887 as an intellectual center (barring stints as a paprika market, disco, and arcade). Inkwells, not iPads, populated a large writers’ table in the early 20th century, counting such national notables as Jozsef Kiss, Mihály Babits, and poet Geza Gyóni as regulars. Writers are still celebrated under the café’s high ceilings, brass fixtures, and grand windows. Bring a book, sip a frothy cappuccino, and nibble on confections such as cseresznyes joghurtos piskota—a tart cherry-yogurt sponge cake.
Antico Caffé Greco
Photograph by Dave Yoder
Rome, Italy—Marble tables, upholstered chairs, jacketed waiters, and countless mirrors reflect an age of elegance that’s remained suspended in time since 1760 in this classic café on stylish Via Condotti near the Spanish Steps. Decades of travelers on their Roman holiday have made this a must-stop, where the caffé macchiato is molto delizioso. But what else did you expect? Goethe, Byron, Berlioz, Dickens, Keats, and Mark Twain were a discriminating lot—and each of them whiled away the hours in one of the oldest coffeehouses in the Eternal City.
Photograph by Yadid Levy
Vienna, Austria—Say you want a revolution? Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky did—the Russian Marxists brewed up big ideas beneath the vaulted ceiling of Vienna’s central gathering place. Great Austrians, from Sigmund Freud to architect Adolf Loos and modernist poet Peter Altenberg, energized their ideas with a steady diet of coffee and apfelstrudel at this landmark café, which was opened in 1876 and glimmers today with gilded columns and a glowing pastry display offering a treasury of sweets, including Linzer, Esterhazy, and Sacher tortes.
Photograph by Sara Remington
Buenos Aires, Argentina—Talk about porteño pedigree: Since opening in 1858, Argentina’s oldest café has been a hotbed of culture that merges a Parisian aesthetic with an Argentine intellectualism. Launched by a Frenchman to recall the elegant coffeehouses of his homeland, Café Tortoni is an amber-lit gallery of ceiling-high columns, stained-glass panels, and marble-topped tables. Buenos Aires–born writer Jorge Luis Borges frequented this café; Albert Einstein ate alfajores (dulce de leche cookies) here. A basement stage hosts jazz jams, tango shows, and poetry readings.
Photograph by Ed Alcock, eyevine/Redux
Paris, France—What do Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and the Lost Generation have in common? They were coffee lushes with a fierce veneration of Left Bank cafés. The genre-defining coffeehouses of the sixth arrondissement—from Hemingway’s Les Deux Magots to Apollinaire’s La Closerie des Lilas—trace their roots to Le Procope, the oldest café in the City of Light. Founded in 1686, Le Procope hummed with the brainpower of Voltaire, Ben Franklin, and Victor Hugo.
Long Bar, Raffles Hotel
Photograph by Philip Hollis, Alamy
Singapore—Ceiling fans, rattan chairs, and candy-colored cocktails re-create the sensations of a Malaysian plantation at this two-story retreat from the heat. The Singapore sling (gin, cherry brandy, fresh pineapple juice, and a variety of other spirits) was invented here by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon around 1910, but the most famous names are those of the writers who have graced these low tables and stepped over thousands of empty peanut shells. Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, and W. Somerset Maugham each spent hours here, sweating out the noonday sun and dreaming up their spirited fictions.
Coffee House at College Street
Photograph by Washington Post, Getty Images
Kolkata, India—Generations of writers, artists, and scholars have turned this caffeinated space near the University of Calcutta into a home base for intellectual exchange. Political and cultural movements gathered steam in this bare-bones café, which opened in 1942, as luminaries such as Bengali Renaissance man Rabindranath Tagore, filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and singer Manna Dey fueled their intellects here. Today, the small café still simmers with college students and a variety of coffees.
Shop National Geographic