Spend a couple days in Austria, and you’ll inevitably hear one word tossed around: gemütlichkeit (pronounced liked guh-MOOT-lih-kite). It’s one of those wonderfully punchy German nouns—think “schadenfreude” or “zeitgeist”—that not only sound cool but also capture something that’s hard to express in English.
What does gemütlichkeit actually mean? Its essence hangs somewhere between relaxed well-being, an open and welcoming attitude, and a feeling of profound comfort. The moment you embark on a flight to Austria via the national carrier, Austrian Airlines, you'll begin to sense it: service is warm and charming, and in business class, the airline's signature Flying Coffee House brings a cozy cup of Viennese coffee to your seat. Gemütlichkeit is something that shapes the way Austria functions, and it’s part of what makes the country so special.
More Than Just Comfy Chairs, Gemütlichkeit Is A way Of Life
Thanks to centuries of producing some of the world’s finest music, art, and philosophy, Austrians are a refined people. They value quality food, quality wine, and quality design—step inside an Austrian home, and the ornateness of the decor will show you exactly what I mean—but outwardly, their aesthetic is understated. This isn’t a country where millennials flaunt the latest designer wares or cocktail parties become an excuse for people to promote their accomplishments and careers.
Adia Trischler, whose work as a television host, film director, and stylist has brought her into the cultural limelight, is someone who understands this. She moved from New York to Vienna in 2007 and notes a key difference between the United States and Austria. “The longer you have been in Vienna, the more you understand this constant presenting of yourself. You don't talk about what you do. The questions that people ask of each other are like, 'Where do you go on vacation?' You can know people for a while and not know what their profession is.”
Gemütlichkeit can even extend to interactions with strangers. As Adia notes, “If I ever go and sit somewhere by myself—I have never done that and not had somebody start talking to me. Somebody is going to be like, “What are you doing? What are you reading?”, and make some sort of observation about you, which is interesting."
Gemütlichkeit Is How Austrians Think Of Themselves
When we asked two locals from Salzburg to describe their fellow countrymen, what was the first word to come to mind? Gemütlich.
Sabine Bauer-Wolf, the communications director of the Austrian wine marketing board, and her boyfriend, Max Hanke, a sports scientist and trainer who works with outdoor fitness company Frischluft, explain it like this: “Easy going, chilled out, very social—make a mix of that, and it will mean gemütlich.”
It makes sense that Austrians use gemütlich as much to describe themselves as to describe their preferred environments. You are being gemütlich when you gather a group of friends for a night of watching movies on your living-room sofa. You are being gemütlich when in the midst of chatting, you insert a joke that makes everyone chuckle. Austrians may seem a bit reserved at first, but it’s because they value friendliness that feels comfortable rather than exuberant.
That affability is prominently on display at the many Wirtshäuser, or traditional inns, that dot Salzburg. At these mom-and-pop establishments that serve the best of Austrian comfort food, it’s common for the owners to do the cooking and for the guests to be large groups of family and friends who come back to the Wirtshaus time and time again. Grab a pint with the locals—Salzburg is a huge beer city, after all—and you’ll start to sense how gemütlichkeit pervades the community.
Alpine Gemütlichkeit: The Best Of Outdoors Living
There’s a particular sort of gemütlichkeit that attaches itself to Tirol, a mountainous region in the west of Austria. André Cis, the general manager and owner of Panorama Hotel Cis, puts his finger on what makes Tiroleans so likable: “I would describe them as a good mix between German efficiency and punctuality and southern or Slavic laid-backness.”
Travel to Innsbruck, Tirol’s capital, and you’ll find that that blend is a result of its location; to its north is the German state of Bavaria, and to the south is the Italian province of South Tirol. Among Austrians, the city and its surroundings are widely admired for their warm hospitality and outdoors-loving spirit, a reputation Innsbruck has secured by offering some of the best ski resorts in Europe.
In Innsbruck, you might find yourself chatting with locals on the snowy slopes before cozying up in a traditional inn and digging into the gloriously filling dumplings that are hallmarks of the region’s cuisine. Though Innsbruck bursts with culture, it retains a rustic small-town feel, lending it a particular kind of gemütlichkeit that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Experience Quintessential Gemütlichkeit At A Classic Coffeehouse
In 2011, UNESCO recognized Austria’s coffeehouse tradition as an example of intangible cultural heritage. The best place to experience one of the defining qualities of Austria is, fittingly, at a coffeehouse.
One particularly storied coffeehouse is Cafe Central, which has been in operation since 1876. According to Director of Sales and Marketing Anna Karnel, “Gemütlichkeit means that you sit down, relax, have a chat with others, really enjoy your coffee and your pastry.”
Many of these institutions boast lavish decor and decadent desserts. But to focus only on those things is to miss the point of gemütlichkeit. In a world where social media is inundated with “next-best-thing” pictures of latte art and many movers and shakers just want their cappuccinos to go, it’s nice to slow down and live in the moment: to focus on the interpersonal warmth that the coffeehouse encourages.
Anna explains it best: “The Viennese coffee houses are still a place to meet. I think that is one core point of it. It is not only a chance to go in, grab a coffee and maybe a piece of pastry, but you come there to meet friends, relax, grab a newspaper and see what is going on in the world.”
Places To Experience Gemütlichkeit
landmark cafe in the heart of Innsbruck’s old town
Mon-Sat: 8:00 a.m.-12:00 a.m.; Sun: 9:00 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
official patisserie to the Imperial court
Mon-Sun: 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
lovely outdoor seating just by the river
Mon-Sat: 7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sun: 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
300 years of cafe excellence
Mon-Sat: 7:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.; Sun: 8:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.
old-school cafe once favored by Freud and Trotsky
Mon-Sat: 7:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Sun: 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
live music at a coffeehouse from 1880
Mon-Sat: 7:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Sun: 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Austria’s Wirtshäuser And Inns
traditional Alpine inn with beer cellar
Mon-Sun: 10:00 a.m.-12:00 a.m.
hearty food in the heart of Innsbruck since the 1500s
Gasthof Weisses Rössl
Mon-Sat: 8:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.; 5:00 p.m.-12:00 p.m.
cozy eatery tucked into one of Salzburg’s most romantic streets
Mon-Sun: 7:00 a.m.-11 p.m.
tiny inn with 680 years of history
Mon-Sun: 12:00 p.m.-11 p.m.
classic Viennese inn near the Freud Museum
Mon-Sun: 11 a.m.-12:00 a.m.
modern, whimsical joint in Vienna’s trendy Karmeliterviertel
Skopik & Lohn
Tue-Sat: 5:00 p.m- 1:00 a.m.
Is your interest piqued? This is just the start.
Learn more about Austria and how Journy can help you plan your trip in Vienna, Salzburg, or Innsbruck at austria.gojourny.com!