There is perhaps nothing more Parisian than taking a few moments out of your day to sit with an espresso in one of the city's thousands of cafes. Whether you're nestled indoors on a cozy banquette or lounging out on a sunny terrace, drinking and people-watching is one of the most cherished past-times in France. The cafe-brasserie makes a great refuge on rainy days in Paris, too. While there are charming and unique spots dotted all over Paris, this list focuses on some of the classics. Celebrated artists, writers, and musicians frequented many of these traditional Paris cafes and most have done their best to retain that old-Paris glamor.
Café de la Paix
Declared a historic site by the French government in 1975, this iconic café is the setting for many a painting, film and poem. The ornate frescoed interior and proximity to the Paris Opera Garnier make this classic look more like a museum than a simple watering hole. Once loved by French writers such as Guy de Maupassant and Emile Zola, the café is so well-known that legend claims that you will surely run into a friend there.
Address: 12 Boulevard des Capucines, 9th arrondissement
One of the great classic Parisian café-brasseries in bustling Montparnasse, this one gets bragging rights for its long list of past clients. Henry Miller, Hemingway, Picasso, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all took their coffee breaks here as the sun draped over them on the terrace. Mosaic tiles line the floor and prop up the wicker chairs found in most traditional Parisian cafés. The one noticeable difference between the cafe's former and current guise is the lack of cigarette smoke trails swirling through the air: smoking has, contrary to popular belief, been banned indoors.
Address: 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement
Les Deux Magots
When Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir weren’t debating across the street at Cafe de Flore, they were lounging here, at this now- upscale hangout for tourists and the Paris elite.
Grab a newspaper and a café crème, and plant yourself on the sunny terrace while you imagine the days when Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, and Pablo Picasso rubbed elbows in this very spot.
Address: 6 place St Germain des Pres, 6th arrondissement
Cafe de Flore
Across the street from rival Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore has changed little since World War II: red booths, wide mirrors, and an enviable clientele. While it has become a hotspot for tourists and upwardly mobile types and no longer attracts as many students and artists, it still merits a visit for the ambiance. The café once hosted Sartre and de Beauvoir’s passionate discussions, among those of many others.
Address: 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arrondissement
The Hemingway Bar
Located within the recently renovated Ritz Hotel, the Hemingway was a favorite haunt of Sartre and James Joyce and pays special tribute to the eponymous American author with a wall display of 25 of his original photos from A Moveable Feast. Enjoy beers from around the world here, or Hemingway's old favorite, the single malt whiskey. The wood-paneling and cushy leather stools will make you feel like you've just stepped onto the set of An American in Paris.
Address: 15 Place Vendome, 1st arrondissement
If not for the glass-roofed area and brass rails, stop by this revered Montparnasse haunt for its tables, which are name-plated after the café's former regulars: Oscar Wilde, Paul Cézanne, Emile Zola, and Paul Verlaine, to name a few. Enjoy an afternoon café, or stop in for a drink at the piano bar followed by a candlelit dinner in one of the comfortable banquettes.
Address: 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement
The oldest café in Paris, founded in 1686, Le Procope was once frequented by such emblematic 18th-century figures as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. With its chandelier-clad high ceilings and walls lined with antique paintings, to visit this café is to step back in time. Come in for a café and stay on for their scrumptious coq au vin.
Le Café Tournon
Two steps from the Luxembourg Gardens, this swanky spot is filled with the city’s journalists, politicians, and celebrities. The Saint-Germain neighborhood’s jazz scene got its start here, where Duke Ellington used to play with his band. Other luminaries include American writer James Baldwin and painter Beauford Delaney.
Known for its selection of regional wines and market-fresh cuisine, Le Café Tournon is great for a mid-afternoon cappuccino or an evening meal.
Address: 18 Rue de Tournon, 6th arrondissement
Founded in 1899, this café, restaurant and accompanying hotel is the quintessential spot for Parisian hobnobbing. French President Nicolas Sarkozy himself celebrated his electoral victory here in 2007, and Fouquet's is also a top venue for Cesar Film Awards after-parties. After having your photo taken atop the gold-plated stars on the sidewalk entrance, slide into one of the plush leather chairs for a drink overlooking the Champs-Elysées.
Address: 99 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, 8th arrondissement
Le Baron Rouge
If you’re all coffee-ed out, check out this hip wine bar in the 12th arrondissement. Tables are makeshift, constructed from stacked up wine crates and slabs of redwood, and the alcohol flows aplenty. Here, you can rub elbows with real Parisians, mostly young, middle-class folks stopping in for an after-work tipple.
Address: 1 Rue Théophile Roussel, 12th arrondissement
The Hotel Costes is a five-star hotel, bar, and lounge opened in 1991 under the direction of designer Jacques Garcia. Situated right in the heart of the Rue Saint Honoré fashion district, the Costes is frequented by wealthy jet-setters and those curious to get a glimpse of the elite lifestyle. While not strictly a cafe in the most traditional sense, it made our list because it's become a contemporary favorite for sipping an espresso, lounging with your shopping bags, and people-watching.
Cafe de la Rotonde
Back when Victor Libio opened this corner café in 1911, starving artists like Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani could spend hours nursing a ten-centime cup of joe, paying only with a drawing if they didn’t have the cash. These days, drinks at La Rotonde cost a bit more than your latest work of art, but the café is still worth visiting for its Art Deco elegance and Old Paris feel.
Address: 105 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement
As much elegant diner as stylish café, le Coupole can be equally enjoyed for its iced coffees and flutes of champagne as for its shrimp scampi and platters of oysters. The former wood and coal store was transformed in 1927 into the largest brasserie in Paris and welcomed many a Left Bank artist, including Joseph Kessel and Hemingway. The basement dancehall is an after-hours treat and was once a favorite of Josephine Baker, de Beauvoir and Sartre. The Tango and Jazz tunes of yesteryear have been replaced with salsa, house and electro-soul beats.
Address: 102 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 14th arrondissement
Café des Deux Moulins
While some Parisian cafés start out as classics, others acquire the status through creative means. This local corner café was chosen by French Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet to play host to several scenes in the 2001 film Amélie and has since paid tribute to it by decking out the place with movie stills, photos and ceramic dwarfs in the restroom. Prepare to sip your Kronenbourg amidst the incessant flashing of tourist’s cameras.
Address: 15 rue Lepic, 18th arrondissement
Le Bar du Relais
This unassuming hangout hidden under the Butte in Montmartre is every bit classic Parisian café during the day as it is a happening bar in the evenings. Enjoy a hot tea on the square where Picasso’s Bateau-Lavoir studio once was, while you soak up Montmartre’s bohemian, village-like ambiance.
Address: 12 rue Ravignan, 18th arrondissement